What Others Say

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Waking Up Well

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

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

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

That day for Mike came on December 29, 2012.

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Spice of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

God's Metrics

We live in a world of metrics that is obsessed with measuring progress in almost every area of life. The business world has created an entire glossary of terms for measuring CPM (Corporate Performance Management). Every business needs to know its ROI (Return on Investment), Churn Rate (the measure of customer or employee attrition over a specified time) EBITDA. (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), to name a few.

Education has long used measurements to determine a student’s future.  Any student with ambitions beyond secondary education is familiar with the stress and importance of the SAT, ACT or, in to enter graduate school, the GMAT, GRE, LSAT and MCAT.

Sports is filled with metrics. Hundredths of a second separate sprinters, downhill skiers, bobsledders and speed skaters from the podium and also rans.  PGA golfers are rated by average score, percentage of fairways hit, greens in regulation, putts per round and many others. When Phil Mickelson won Pebble Beach last week he was compared to all those who won on that course in the last 100 years.  Baseball is synonymous with statistics: RBI, OPS, BA, BB/K, ERA, etc. The list is long.

If measurements are so important in other areas of life, it might be good to know God’s metrics. How does God measure success or failure?

Most of us assume that God’s measurements are limited to religion: church attendance, offerings, budgets, building, religious ceremonies and service. Surprisingly, according to the Bible these things are not God’s primary concern.

The prophets taught that God could care less about religious ceremonies. In Amos, God says, “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; …Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In Isaiah, God says, “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; … So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; … Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

When Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, he reproved them for focusing on religious disciplines.  “You have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These are the things you should have done.” (Matthew 23:23). 

So, how well are we measuring up by God’s standard of measurement? Not well, I am afraid.
Everywhere and on ever side we are surrounded by infidelity, deceit, prejudice, resentment and anger.  Just read the news. We need to stop fooling ourselves. His measurements are true.

Every generation must come to grips with its sin. If we acknowledge our sins and turn to Him in faith He has promised, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them. Then they will be my people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20), (Romans 6:4), (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Least of These - When Love Costs

Twenty years ago, January 23, 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary to India, was burned to death along with his two sons, Philip, age 10, and Timothy, age 6.  Staines was 57.  For 35 years Graham had ministered to lepers in a remote tribal village in India where he established the Mayurbanj Leprosy Home in 1982.  In 1983 he married his wife, Gladys, who joined him in the work.

The mob that killed Graham Staines and his sons was apparently a  hard-line Hindu organization intent on retribution for the missionary’s effectiveness in converting members of the lower cast to faith in Jesus Christ.  After the attack, Gladys Staines forgave those who murdered her husband and sons.  She remained in India with their daughter, Esther, and continued their ministry among the lepers.  She stated, “I cannot just leave those people who love and trust us. I have high regard for the people of India and their tolerance.”

The government of India awarded Gladys Staines the fourth highest civilian award in 2005,  Padma Sri in recognition for her outstanding contribution to India.  She has been called the best known Christian in India after Mother Theresa.  In 2015 she was awarded the Mother Theresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.

Their story was recently made into a movie entitle The Least of These and released into theaters on February 1.  It appears the movie will be shown in a limited number of theaters for a limited time. The Executive Producer for the film, Victor Abraham, said the movie “beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to overcome hate.” It is a gripping reminder of the cost paid by followers of Christ in every generation and the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ.   According to Christianity Today “215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme levels of persecution.”

Most of us suffer little for our faith. Few of us will ever be required to shed our blood or give our lives.  But such global persecution of Christians is widespread.  Everyone who follows Christ in every time and in every place is called to follow the instructions of Scripture: “ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him to drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).