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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.