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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.