What Others Say

Thank you for writing the article in Saturday's edition of New Castle News. It was very good and very interesting. You bring it all to light, making everything very simple and easy to understand. - Kathy L. - New Castle, Pennsylvania

Monday, December 30, 2019

Keeping Our Focus in 2020


We will soon turn the page to 2020.  It seems like such a perfect number, so much better than 2019, an odd number that always seemed to fall just a little short. 2020 rings with the hope of perfect vision and a perfect year. 

But we already know 2020 will have its challenges.  It is likely to open with a Presidential impeachment trial in the Senate and conclude with a bitter political battle for another Presidential term.  2020 will not be easy. It certainly will not be perfect, but it can be better.

Evangelicals seem to be in the forefront of the early political discussions.  I have considered myself an Evangelical since my youth.  When I was a young pastor in Texas I considered myself Evangelical because I was evangelistic.  I wanted to introduce others to faith in Jesus Christ.  When I moved to Minnesota in the 1990s I discovered that Evangelicals include a broad swath of denominations interconnected through a movement largely defined by Billy Graham whose offices were in Minneapolis. (“That’s all the address you need.”)  I admired Mr. Graham then and still do.

In 1956 Billy Graham launched Christianity Today as the flagship publication for Evangelicals.  Recently Mark Galli, the current editor, rattled the Evangelical world with his editorial calling for President Trump’s removal from office.  He wrote, “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

In response to the firestorm that followed, Timothy Dalrymple, Christianity Today’s president wrote, “The problem is not that we as evangelicals are associated with the Trump administration’s judicial appointments or its advocacy of life, family, and religious liberty. We are happy to celebrate the positive things the administration has accomplished. The problem is that we as evangelicals are also associated with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more. In other words, the problem is the wholeheartedness of the embrace.”

I remember when Billy Graham endorsed Richard Nixon in 1972.  He had never endorsed a political candidate before. After Watergate he vowed he would never endorse a candidate again. In 2011 Graham said, “Looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.” “I… would have steered clear of politics.”

As we enter 2020, we can only have a clear vision for our actions within our families, our businesses our churches and the world by keeping our focus on Jesus and the conduct he demonstrated.  That conduct is best explained in the Sermon On the Mount and 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

A New Year's Gift: Download Bill Tinsley's Civil War Novel, Bold Springs, Free eBook.  Available January 1-5, 2020.  Click the image to the right.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

When the "Most Wonderful Time of Year" becomes the most difficult



For most of us, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, stretching from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year.  But for some, it can be the most difficult time of year.  We may feel the keen absence of a loved-one, the anxiety of measuring up, the pressure of trying to please those we love with gifts we cannot afford. We are constantly bombarded with images of perfect families and happy faces exchanging perfect gifts. All of this can lead to “holiday depression.”

Depression is widespread. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. It affects the rich and poor, the unknown and the famous.  Abraham Lincoln was well known for his bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

According to Mayo Clinic, Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself:

Refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” In his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”  Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play.  Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.

Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche.  Going to church is good for us. 

Do something good for someone else. Guilt and depression are common companions.  The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression.  Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light.  Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others.

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance.  We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods.  Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor, can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”

Trust in God who cares for you. Look beyond and beneath all the holiday hype to remember the basic message of Christmas.  God has loved you so much that He has given His only begotten Son, just for you.  God loves you just as you are.  He is reaching out His hand to you!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Another Star Wars Christmas


Star Wars is back for Christmas. This week, December 20, the final episode, The Rise of Skywalker, hits the theaters.  McDonalds Happy Meals are stuffed with Star Wars holograms of Yoda, R2D2, C3PO, Darth Vader and 12 other well-known Star War characters.   Light sabers and remote control droids are vying for space under the Christmas tree. 

My oldest son was three when the first Star Wars movie premiered in 1977.  He is now 46. Across the years new characters have emerged.  Droids have come and gone (except for R2D2 and C3PO who somehow survive).  One theme remains constant in every Star Wars movie:  the battle between evil and good, the Dark Side and the Force. The Force for good always triumphs. Good overcomes evil and hope remains. 

It is the timeless theme of human history.  The Dark Side represents tyranny, lust for power, absolute control, hate and revenge without regard for the individual.  The Force represents freedom, respect for persons, the value of life and love, sacrifice for the good of others and hope for the future. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Star Wars has “stuck around.” 

Star Wars is fiction. But the battle between good and evil is real.  We see it all around us. In August of this year 22 people were gunned down in a Walmart in El Paso. 26 were killed at First Baptist Sutherland Springs, TX in 2017. We all remember 9/11, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, SC.  Graft, greed, corruption, drugs, murder, abuse.  The news continually reports the darkness that seeks to overwhelm us. We are left confused and hopeless unless we have “The Story” to help us. 

“The Story” is the Christmas story.  It is the defining story of good and evil, the reason Jesus was born.  Jesus was sent as light to overcome the darkness. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). 

Hundreds of years before He was born, Isaiah wrote, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that  my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).  Jesus said, “This is the verdict, light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

Jesus was born into an evil and unjust world.  King Herod sought to wipe out any threat to his throne by slaughtering the children of Bethlehem.  Jesus was only spared by the wisdom of Joseph, who fled with Jesus and Mary to the distant deserts of Egypt after he was warned in a dream. 

Unlike Star Wars, Jesus’ triumph does not come by rallying others to rebellion and war.  His triumph comes by overcoming evil with good, by refusing to curse those who cursed him, by enduring the Cross and forgiving his tormentors.  His triumph came through the resurrection and the transformation of human hearts through faith in Him.  Unlike Star Wars, the Jesus story is not fiction.  It is documented in history and authenticated in 2,000 years of personal experience. He will prevail. He will overcome. And He will come again!

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Christmas for the Soul


We don’t talk much about the soul.  Other generations did, but not ours.  We are far more focused on our bodies and our money.  This is apparent in our approach to Christmas with our lists of what we want and our search for the perfect gift at the deepest discount.  We seem to have abandoned discussions about the soul to practitioners of New Age and metaphysics. 

The soul is not an organ that can be removed, placed on a laboratory table and analyzed.  We cannot perform a “soul-ectomy.”  We all sense that there is something within us that is more than the sum of our parts, the substance of our being where we make decisions that affect the health of our bodies, our mind and our emotions.  This is our soul. It is the substance and the essence of who we are, especially in relationship to God and to each other.  When the body withers and dies, the soul remains.

Jesus emphasized the importance of the soul.  Regarding the soul in comparison to the body, he said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   (Mat. 10:28). With respect to money, Jesus said, “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?” (Mat. 16:25-27).  He told a story of a rich man who was focused on his wealth and amassed greater fortunes. “But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'” (Lk 12:20).

David was intimately aware of his soul and referred to the soul often in the Psalms. He gave us clues as to how we can nurture and shape our soul. He said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”  And “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in His salvation.” (Ps. 19:7; 35:9).

In some way, the Christmas season reveals the condition of our soul.  If we focus on satisfying ourselves and others with possessions and self-gratification, Christmas becomes a season of stress, leaving us disappointed, exhausted and empty.  But, when we approach Christmas in faith, our soul is stirred.  When we focus on the goodness of God who sent His Son and when we seek opportunities for generosity and comfort to others, we discover joy and gladness. 

Our soul resonates with Mary, the mother of Jesus who sang, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior. For he has had regard for the humble state of his bondslave; for behold from this time on, all generations will count me blessed.  For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name. And his mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent the rich away empty handed.” (Lk 1:46-55).

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Beautiful Day


My wife and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood last weekend, the Mr. Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks.  We usually go to the matinee, but in this case we had to wait until evening since all the theaters were sold out.  We made our way over snow packed streets, found our seats and sat back to view the movie in a packed theater.

Perhaps the “Mr. Rogers” movie is so popular because we are exhausted by the constant media barrage of political accusations, hatred, prejudice and violence.  We are hungry for gentleness, kindness, acceptance and encouragement.

I expected the movie to be about Fred Rogers, the well-known children’s show host, but the movie focused instead on what Mr. Rogers taught with applications to adult brokenness.  Specifically it focused on the fact that we are neighbors.  Everyone is our neighbor, regardless of race, gender, creed or age. It focused on the importance of forgiveness, especially in our closest relationships.

It does this by introducing us to Lloyd Vogel , a fictional character based on the real life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist, Tom Junod.  Junod began writing for Esquire magazine in 1997 and received two national awards for journalism.   In a live interview, Junod claims the friendship with Mr. Rogers was transformational. He says, “I wasn’t the only one.  He had a long list of people that he ministered to, that he prayed for.  He saw something in me at the time that maybe I didn’t see in myself.”

Of course these teachings do not originate with Mr. Rogers.  He was an ordained Presbyterian minister and believed the teachings of Jesus.  It was Jesus who taught we should love our neighbor as ourselves and defined the meaning of “neighbor” with His story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).

It was Jesus who underscored the importance of forgiveness: “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your heavenly Father will not forgive you” (Matthew 6:14-15).  “Then Peter came and said to 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).

Jesus demonstrated what He meant when He hung upon the Cross, the nails ripping at his flesh and the crown of thorns pressed deep into his brow.  He looked upon His tormentors and cried, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

What a different world we make when we treat every man, woman and child as our neighbor, when every wrong suffered is forgiven.

Bill Tinsley’s childrens book, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi is available on Amazon. Click the image to the right.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019


When we think of Thanksgiving, we usually think of Pilgrims and Indians gathered for a harvest feast at Plymouth, but it was Abraham Lincoln who gave us Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Prior to Lincoln, each state celebrated Thanksgiving on different dates according to the discretion of each state’s governor. In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln issued a Presidential proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving.

After noting the many blessings of God in spite of the Civil War with all its suffering and severity, Lincoln wrote in his proclamation, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

We must never take the blessings of God for granted. He holds every nation of every age accountable.  We cannot descend into the chasms of corruption, deception, anger, prejudice, arrogance, greed and immorality and expect God’s blessings to remain upon us. 

Jeremiah counseled, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood … If you will not obey these words, I swear by Myself,’ declares the Lord, ‘that this house will become a desolation. … Did not your fathers eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?  Then it was well with him.  He pled the cause of the afflicted and the needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:3,5, 15-16).

Thomas Jefferson’s words are inscribed on the Northeast Portico of the Jefferson Memorial: “Can the liberties of a nation be secured when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?  Indeed I tremble for my nation when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.” 

In an interview with Jeremiah Greever, Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoffer and If You Can Keep It, reflected  on the failure of the German church to confront and oppose the rise of totalitarianism under Hitler. He referred to Alexis de Toqueville’s  assessment concerning America in 1835, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith … despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.”

As we enter the 2020 Presidential election, it is important that we approach this Thanksgiving with humility, gratitude and prayer that as individuals and a nation we might fulfill God’s will in our treatment of one another and the nations of the earth.

A Thanksgiving Gift: Bill Tinsley’s devotional book, Authentic Disciple: Sermon on the Mount free eBook on Amazon Nov. 26-30.   Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Master Potter


A few miles north of Waco, Texas on the east banks of the Brazos River sits the Homestead Heritage, an agrarian Christian community committed to preserving nineteenth century craftsmanship.  The community offers shops where visitors can observe “artistry-in-action” complete with a pottery barn, blacksmith forge, grist mill and a carpentry shop.  George and Laura Bush commissioned the Homestead to construct and furnish their house at the Crawford Ranch.

When we visited the pottery shop, I marveled at the talent of those who worked there. The artists applied water and shaped the clay spinning on the potter’s wheel in front of them. With nimble fingers and just the right amount of pressure, they brought the clay to life and shaped it into the form they desired.

Pottery is an ancient art.  For thousands of years the trade was passed down from generation to generation in cultures around the world.  Communities developed around clay deposits in India, China and the Middle East.  Archeologists continue to excavate pottery from the earliest sites of civilization.

Jeremiah must have marveled, as I did, when he visited a potter’s house in ancient Jerusalem.  When he watched the clay spin upon the wheel, he saw the potter’s ability to change the shape of the clay in an instant.  He sensed God speaking to him, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6). 

Isaiah made a similar observation. “Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay?
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?” (Isaiah 29:16).

God has made each of us unique.  We are, each and every one of us, special in His sight.  He never abandons us or gives up on us.  Like the clay, we continue to be molded in His hands.   With every pressure, whether success or failure, joy or sorrow. God is fashioning us for His purposes so that we can reflect His glory, bless others and be filled with joy. He wants us to love ourselves and one another just the way He made us.

This is what Paul meant when he said, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  All things work together for good when we realize the Master Potter is shaping us for His purposes on the earth.

“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Monday, November 11, 2019

Little Acts of Kindness


Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name.  After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board.  For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career.  This one act made him a national hero.

Most don’t remember the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate.  He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked. Like most heroes, he did not consider himself heroic.

 Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news.  And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it. 

Celebrated heroic actions make a difference.  They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known acts of kindness that often make the greatest difference.  They are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and nourish the earth.  

Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions.  He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.”  Of course, this is what He did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But He also taught the importance of little acts of kindness.  In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.

All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness.  We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter.  We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college. 

A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s.  Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a large woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them.  He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?”  She refused.  He insisted.  Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely.  She said, “God sent you, you know.”   When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.” 

Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world. Jesus said, “In that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

Monday, November 4, 2019

When I'm 64


Paul McCartney wrote the song, “When I’m 64” at the age of 16 and later recorded it in 1966.  I have listened to it most of my life. I remember reciting the lyrics in my youth, thinking of the inconceivably ancient age of sixty-four. I assumed by then I would be in a nursing home or dead. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” Well, I blew past 64 years ago and, strangely, I don’t feel old or anywhere near incapacitated.

Every year I spend several days with some of my childhood friends. Several of us were in first grade together in1953 and graduated high school together in 1965, one year before McCartney recorded his song.  We have the photos to prove it. While we don’t feel old, and still think of ourselves as we once were in our youth, others apparently think we are old. When we went out to a restaurant together for dinner, the owner took pity on us and gave us a free dessert.

But, I realize something when I am with my childhood friends. I realize we are all still on the journey. We started this journey together as children in post-World War II. We were the first baby boomers. We didn’t know what that meant. We just knew there were lots of us. We have journeyed through the Sixties, Viet Nam, Flower Power, the Moon landing, Watergate, Floppy Disks, the World Wide Web, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the Dot Com Bust, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Great Recession.

Our individual journeys have taken different turns and twists. A couple entered the military graduating from West Point and the Air Force Academy, one became a physician, two entered business, one became an educator, one became an Episcopal priest, another a Baptist minister.  We have different political, economic and religious opinions. But we are still together on the journey.

It reminds me of the words Jesus first spoke to his followers. “Come and follow me.” God always invites us to a journey. His invitation is to all of us and His invitation is life-long. The journey never stops. It has valleys and mountaintops. It leads through sorrow and celebration. It encompasses wonder, worship and war. It includes pain, poverty and prosperity.

Now that I am past 64, the age our generation has sung about since we were young, I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for the companions God has given me to travel with.  And I am grateful for Jesus who invited me to follow Him when I was young and still leads me when I am old.

“You have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb.  Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it and I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Secret of a Successful Marriage


The University of Georgia conducted a study some time ago to discover the secret to a successful marriage.  The study discovered one primary factor in marriages that were health and happy.  In every case, those marriages included gratitude.  According to their findings, gratitude was the “most consistent significant predictor” of a happy marriage.

Allen Barton, lead author of the study, said, “It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’” Associate professor and study co-author Ted Futris stated, “Feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you directly influences how you feel about your marriage, how committed you are to it, and your belief that it will last.”

Each bride and groom stands at the marriage altar beaming with gratitude for the “love of their life.” And, it is easy to remain thankful for each other as long as things go well. 

But all married couples will face difficult demands. Hard times will come. Many will experience financial stress, competing demands from in-laws, professional pressure from their jobs, exhausting schedules that leave little time for rest. Most will experience the stress of parenting: sleepless nights with newborns, the constant attention required by preschoolers and the complicated schedules of school, sports and activities as children grow.

It is especially during these stressful periods of life that gratitude matters.  Many marriages crumble under the pressure, choosing to play the “blame-game”, creating a downward spiral that ends in disaster.  Others choose gratitude, building one another up with appreciation and thankfulness under trying circumstances.  These marriages prosper and survive.  According to Allen Barton, “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes."

What Barton and Futris found regarding marriage can also apply to the family.  Strong families are created when parents express gratitude to their children and children are grateful to their parents. Gratitude in the family starts with the marriage.  Children learn to be grateful by watching their parents. 

Nothing cultivates a heart of gratitude better than faith in Christ. When we experience God’s love in Christ, we become more thankful for others.  In Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15). 

And again, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7).  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

We all enjoy being around people who are grateful and thankful. They cheer us up. They give us energy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Space 2.0


I have been fascinated with space exploration ever since my middle school science class watched John Glenn launch into orbit on a black and white TV in 1962.  In high school I corresponded with our congressman Olin Teague, who became chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. He sent me a 1,000+ page tome of the NASA space program in 1964.  Apollo 8 launched on our wedding day, December 21, 1968.  Three days later we listened to the crew read the Genesis account as they orbited the moon.

I have long wondered what went wrong, why we have not returned to the moon in the last half-century.  I expected by this time we would be living in a world best described by Arthur C. Clarke in 2001 A Space Odyssey or 2010 The Year We make Contact.  Space 2.0 helps put all that in perspective.

A few weeks ago, Stan Rosen, one of my high school classmates, gave me a copy of Space 2.0. The book summarizes the history of space exploration, its current status and projections for future development. Written by Rod Pyle with a Foreword by Buzz Aldrin, the book is dedicated to Stan.

We are apparently on the cusp of an explosion in space exploration, including a burgeoning space economy with private enterprise as a major player in developing infrastructure and innovation.  Unlike Space 1.0 (the moon landing Space Shuttle and the International Space Station), the next chapter of space exploration will be driven by entrepreneurs and investors like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Space Angels. Some are well on their way.

So, as a people of faith, how do we respond to this unprecedented moment in time?

Pyle writes, “It is instructive to listen to what some of the people who have traveled to space have to say.  Their viewpoints are unique– and are often formed by seeing Earth from space, a vantage point referred to as the ‘overview effect.’  This phenomenon was identified by Stan Rosen in 1976 …  The resulting impulse prompts the astronauts to share their feelings about the fragility of the earth, the pettiness of human conflict, and the need to work cooperatively for the betterment of all humanity.” 

Apollo 8’s reading from Genesis on our first foray beyond earth’s gravity is symbolic, if not prophetic.  We carry our faith with us into the heavens.  Since God is the creator of it all He knows the farthest star and all the planets, asteroids and comets in between.  The further we probe, the greater the mysteries we find and the more we stand in awe. It seems to me God would want us to explore the heavens with vision, creativity and humility. He designed us for this. 


“He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” (Psalms 147:4-5).

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.