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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Fourth

This Saturday we celebrate the Fourth, a uniquely American holiday. No other nation has a holiday quite like it. No other nation on earth has aspired to a higher and simpler ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Eighty-seven years afterward, on July 4, 1863, Lee’s Confederate army withdrew in defeat from Gettysburg. On that same day, Vicksburg fell to Grant, two pivotal battles that decided the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

In many ways the history of our nation has been written by our efforts to live up to the Declaration of freedom and equality for all. We are currently engage in perhaps our greatest struggle to rise to the ideals of our nation since the Civil Rights movement.

We have learned that ultimate freedom can never be achieved though legislation and government alone, as important as those are. Ultimate freedom must be achieved in each human heart. Every one of us must fight a personal war with our own sin nature that seeks to make us captive and steal our freedom. We see everyday in the lives of our politicians, sports heroes and celebrities the consequences of losing that battle in the secret places of the heart. Greed, corruption and prejudice remain the greatest obstacles to freedom and equality.

The pervasiveness of sin is perhaps the best documented reality in our world. The media is filled with daily accounts of its presence and the horrendous consequences it can create.

Two thousand years ago another document was drafted. It was not voted upon by representatives and did not found any government. But those words spoken long ago hold the secret to the ideals that we have embraced. Jesus said, “I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

God sent His Son into the world not merely to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter Heaven, He sent Him in order that He might overcome sin’s grip on our lives and set us free. The Apostle Paul had once been enslaved to ambition, anger and prejudice. He started his early career arresting the innocent and locking them up. But he found a better way. He confessed, “The good that I would do, I don’t. And that that I don’t want to do is exactly what I end up doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24).

This Fourth, as we celebrate the freedom envisioned by our nation’s founders, may we experience true freedom that is found through faith in the One who laid down his life for all people of every nation and every generation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What Are You Worried About?

The world gives us plenty to worry about. 

Many worry about Covid-19. Following efforts to re-open, more than half of the States report increased Caronavirus cases. Last week my wife and I ventured back to a restaurant wearing our masks and seated in an isolated booth. We attended our first church service since March, again wearing a mask and sitting apart from our friends. The U.S. continues to lead the world with more than 2.3 million confirmed cases and 120,000 deaths. 

Students worry about their educations.  Colleges, universities and schools remain undecided about whether they can open their campuses, and to what degree. Many are preparing to continue online-education in the fall.   

Some worry about their jobs.  Stimulus checks have been spent and, over 20 million Americans remain unemployed. While job opportunities are improving, millions worry about their income after unemployment checks run out.

Some worry about the stock market.  Although it has made a dramatic recovery since its collapse in mid-March, the economy remains uncertain and a second wave of Covid-19 could trigger another dramatic downturn.

Some worry about the social upheaval and unrest that has swept across our country with demonstrations for racial equality in cities large and small.  Racial icons of the past are being pulled down. The Confederate flag has been banned from NASCAR.  The commissioner of the NFL has apologized to those who took a knee to protest police brutality.   

The list goes on.  There are lots of things to worry about.  Some big. Some small.

Worry can be a good thing.  Like physical pain, worry can serve as a signal that we need to take action for ourselves and the welfare of others. But worry can also debilitate. All of us experience circumstances beyond our control.  In such cases, worry can rob us of sleep, steal our energy and cripple our creativity.

Jesus clearly wanted us to live our lives free from debilitating worry.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Liberty and Justice for All

I don’t remember when I learned the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.  I guess it was sometime before I learned to read or write, probably when I first entered school.  I grew up reciting the pledge at school assemblies, cub scouts, Vacation Bible School and on many other occasions.  We all said it in unison, hands over our hearts our eyes focused on the stars and stripes.  “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” When I first learned those words, there were 48 stars on the flag.  By the time I entered high school, there were 50.

When I first recited the pledge I did not know the word “indivisible” or how to pronounce it.  Like many children, I thought it was an “invisible” nation.  At church I learned that our nation was “under God.”  This was reinforced by the inscriptions on our currency that declared, “In God we trust.” 

I was proud to live in a country that provided “liberty and justice for all.” It wasn’t until later that I realized that promise wasn’t true for everyone.  I attended Robert E. Lee elementary my first six years of school in a small Texas town.  When we recited the pledge of allegiance the Confederate general was staring down at us from his picture on the wall.  He looked proud astride his horse Traveler. But there was a sadness in his eyes.  There were no black students in our school, nor did any attend the others elementary schools named for Texas heroes: Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, William B. Travis and James Fannin.  All the black students attended Lincoln elementary on the East side of town where black families lived.  I did not know any of them. There were many liberties, I learned, that my black contemporaries did not enjoy: drinking fountains, swimming pools, restroom facilities, colleges and universities, employment opportunities.

I lived through the Civil Rights movement and, as a young pastor, worked to integrate our churches and overcome prejudice. But we continued to fall short of our national pledge.  The killing of George Floyd has catapulted our nation to a new threshold. We pray that recent events will lead to a better day when the reality of our world might reflect our pledge of allegiance:  “liberty and justice for all.” 

Seeking justice and equality is at the center of God’s heart. David writes, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Ps 33:5). Isaiah says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isa. 1:17).

“Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another’” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Prayer Perspective

Perhaps you have heard the story of the church that was incensed because a local bar opened across the street.  Knowing nothing else to do, the church members mounted a prayer campaign to rid themselves of this blight on the neighborhood.  They prayed that God would intervene to remove the bar. 

A thunderous storm soon swept across the town and a streak of lightning lit up the sky, striking the bar. The building burst into flames and burned to the ground.  The owner of the bar sued the church for the destruction of his property as a result of their prayers. The church defended itself claiming that the lightning strike was an accidental act of nature.  The judge sat perplexed in front of the plaintiff and defendant.  “It appears,” he said, “that I have a bar owner who believes in prayer and a church that doesn’t.”

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln pondered the issue of prayer. Both the north and the south were religious. Both believed they were right and both prayed for victory.  After his death, the following note was found in his papers: “The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party.” 

It is widely reported that during the civil war Lincoln met with a group of ministers at a prayer breakfast who tried to encourage him. They told the president that they had prayed that “God would be on our side.”  Lincoln corrected them saying, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

How do we pray and what do we pray for?  The Bible is clear that we should let our needs be known to God, that nothing is too great or too small for prayer.  We must be careful, however, that our prayers are not merely extensions of our own self-interest and desires.  And we must not allow prayer to degenerate into a tug of war to get God to line up on our side against the interests and desires of others.

When Jesus gave us the model prayer, he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Everything else in the prayer flows from this and is secondary to this.  But Jesus went a step further.  He not only gave us a model prayer to guide our words, he demonstrated how to pray when he faced death on the cross and  prayed, “Father, not my will but thine be done.” 

Prayer works best when it brings us into alignment with God and his purposes on the earth, purposes that often are at odds with our own.  When we pray this way we will love our enemies, do good for those who abuse us and give ourselves generously for others.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Our Moral Drift and the Way Back

Five years ago I wrote about Sandra Bland, a 28-year old black woman who changed lanes in Waller County, Texas to allow an approaching patrol car to pass.  Instead of passing, the patrolman pulled her over for failure to signal a lane change. The video of her arrest was haunting.  Sandra was understandably upset.  How many times have we all changed lanes without giving a signal? She was simply moving over to let the policeman by.  It seemed like such a trivial stop.

 She showed her irritation.  The officer was insulted and grew angry, demanding she put out her cigarette. She refused.  He threatened to “light her up” with his Taser, forced her from her car, manhandled her off to the side of the road, wrestled her to the ground, handcuffed her and carted her off to jail. Three days later, unable to post bond, Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell, victim of an apparent suicide.  A graduate of Prairie View A&M, she had been a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

 The video was disturbing because of the injustice of it all, similar to the video of George Floyd.  Both videos are disturbing because of repeated incidents of police brutality against black persons.  They are disturbing because they represents our cultural drift from the values that make life work.  Our politicians hurl insults at one another, calling names, seldom restrained by the truth.  People scream at one another in movies and dramas, releasing unrestrained anger.  We laugh at the snide remarks of comedians. The principles of courtesy, respect, patience, honesty and forgiveness seem to be slipping away.  

 Have we slipped our Christian moorings?  Are we adrift in a sea of uncertainty that has no true North, no compass? Are the darker impulses of prejudice, fear and hatred leading us off a cliff?
 We turned to science and technology believing they would pave the way to a brighter future.  And, while science and technology have given us a higher standard of living with conveniences our forefathers never dreamed, they cannot provide the values necessary for living with each other.

 They are found in the words of Jesus:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Be merciful as your father is merciful.”  “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down and running over.”  They are found in the Lord’s Prayer.

 The stones for our pathway forward are found in the fruits of the Spirit that overcome the flesh: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, ...  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23).

 I was appalled when the President used federal officers to disperse peaceful protestors so he could have a photo op in front of St John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible. The Bible and the church must never be used as political props. 

 Faith that fosters forgiveness and respect for all people of all races is essential to our survival

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Eyes Have It

We have entered a new era unfamiliar to us all.  We are greeted by family, friends and strangers wearing masks everywhere we go.  Some masks are like my own, a dull and unremarkable: black, white or gray. Others, like my wife’s, are bright and cheerful.  Her mask is decorated with little birds.  The designs and decorations are unlimited.  But all of them have one thing in common.  They hide our faces.  We cannot determine if someone is smiling, frowning, sneering or simply dead-pan.  We cannot read lips.  A significant percentage of our normal public face-to-face communication has been stolen. 

My wife and I were watching an old black-and-white Gary Cooper movie the other night.  When the villain suddenly pulled up his bandana to mask his face we were struck with how familiar he looked. Once upon a time, meeting a masked stranger on the street might create shivers of suspicion and fear. But, today, it is normal, expected, even required.

But one facial feature remains:  the eyes.  Even with masks, the eyes communicate. They seldom, if ever, lie.  They portray innocence, beauty and wonder; the sparkle of imagination, compassion and love.  They can also convey anger, fear, suspicion, even deceit.  Our music recognizes this fact:  The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes,  Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, and the Beatle’s Close Your Eyes and I’ll Kiss You, to name a few.

Our eyes are the window of the soul. Whatever we choose to see, to read, to watch on TV or the internet floods our soul with images that enlighten, inspire, encourage or corrupt.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when He said, “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eye is healthy your whole body is full of light.”  The eyes not only fill the soul, they also reflect the soul.  Our secret thoughts, the things within our heart are often reflected in our eyes. 

One of the great treasures of the human experience is to find favor in the eyes of another, as when a groom lifts the veil and looks on the face of his bride.  Or when a mother beholds the face of her newborn child. The eyes can bestow unimaginable and unforgettable blessings.  With the eyes we can bless, and we can be blessed by another.  

Most important of all is how we are seen by God.  The Bible says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 14:2).   And again, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

The Bible tells of a young man who came to Jesus wanting to go to heaven.  In response “Jesus looked on him and loved him” (Mark 10). Unfortunately, the young man turned away and missed his opportunity because he loved wealth more than he loved God.  I have always loved the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face, and things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”  What are we choosing to see with our eyes?  Whose eyes do we seek?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Class of 2020

Every May, when trees splash green lawns with shade and wildflowers fill the air with fragrance, we celebrate one of the significant rites of passage for each generation.  Normally young men and young women robe themselves in their school colors and don mortar-board-caps with dangling tassels to accept diplomas signifying their educational achievement.  But this year isn’t normal.  Not for the class of 2020. 

Some are watching commencement speeches online in the same way they completed their course assignments with their teachers and professors.  Some will dress for photos taken in their living rooms with family, or outside with their school building in the background.  Family and friends will do their best to make it special. But it is not the same.  The pressing crowd of friends with whom they once played on playgrounds, with whom they studied, competed, worked and grew to adulthood, will be missing. They will not stand shoulder-to-shoulder, searching the crowd to locate parents who search for them.  They will not walk the stage when their name is called and they will not pose together for a class picture.

I feel a sense of grief for the class of 2020.  The coronavirus pandemic has stolen something precious from them that will be difficult to replace.  Rites of passage are important.  But even if the pandemic restrictions take away the pomp and the circumstance of the moment, it cannot steal away the love and admiration we feel for these graduates. I hope in some small way, the words of this weekly column can add to the affirmation for this special Class of 2020.

My best friend’s granddaughter is a member of this class, one of the brightest young women I have known. When she was seven-years-old and entering second grade, I said to her, “You are very smart. But it is important as you grow up to be wise.” I asked, “Do you know the difference between being smart and being wise?” Without hesitation she said, “Sure, smart is knowing that 3 + 3 equals 6. Wise is doing the right thing.”  This month she graduates from high school with the Class of 2020, a very wise young woman with full scholarships to college.  I want to shout congratulations to Gillian and to the entire Class of 2020!

Many high schools and colleges are hoping to carry out graduation exercises later this summer.  I hope they can, although most expect it will still have social distancing restrictions.  Whether they do or not, my hopes are high that these youth will lead the world forward to a better day.  There is so much that needs to be accomplished in social justice, equal opportunity, environmental stewardship, global cooperation, and mutual respect among all peoples.

I am reminded of Paul’s instruction to his young friend Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).   And Jeremiah’s prophecy, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Children and the Secret of the Kingdom

Children are found on every continent in every culture. Without them the human race would be doomed to extinction.  They fill the air with laughter, like the sound of water gurgling in a happy brook. Their capacity for imagination and happiness is almost boundless. 

They make friends of complete strangers.  In a matter of minutes they are playmates making up imaginary games. They are as happy and excited to kick a half-deflated soccer ball in a back alley as any player in a World Cup stadium. They see the world with wide-eyed wonder, and they are blind to color, race or social standing. Even the Carona crisis cannot stifle their spirit. 

We are born reflecting the eternal light that enlightens every man. (John 1:9).  But, somewhere along the way, the light dims. The carefree joy of childhood is lost. 

Too often, and too soon the children will learn the lessons of prejudice and competition. They learn it from watching grown-ups around them. They learn it from pressure to perform in sports, pressures to live up to the expectation of adults who too often measure life by fame, fortune and winning at all costs.

Jesus treasured the innocence of childhood.  He once took a child and stood her in the midst of his grown-up disciples who were arguing among themselves about which one of them was the greatest.  Holding the child in his gentle hands, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2).

We all were children once, full of hopes and dreams with boundless imagination.  We are prone to lose the magic, exchanging laughter for worry, innocence for anger, expectation for resentment.  But somewhere, down deep inside, is the child we once were.

I have known adults living into their eighties whose eyes still twinkle with the joy of a child, whose faces are wrinkled with lines of laughter, who seem to wake up each morning with a child-like excitement for the next day’s adventure. We need not surrender to the bitterness of disappointment.  The wisdom of experience can serve as seasoning for the joy of childhood.

Regardless of our circumstances; in spite of our difficulties, set-backs and disappointments; Jesus invites us to enter the Kingdom as a little child, to be filled with a faith that expects to be surprised by glory.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Changing the Way We Live

A strange thing has happened in our neighborhood.  Two months ago we barely knew most of our neighbors.  We would recognize familiar vehicles leaving for work, shuttling kids to school. But when they returned they either disappeared into their garages or quickly ran inside not to re-emerge.  Their lives were centered elsewhere, with their co-workers, their teachers and friends. 

But then the Covid crisis hit. Schools and businesses were closed.  We were told to shelter in place, which meant “stay home.”  We became desperate for a friendly face and a familiar voice.  We introduced ourselves to one another on our neighborhood walks, keeping a respectful 6 foot distance. And our neighborhood began to change. 

Today young mothers go for walks together, pushing their strollers.  Parents and kids play baseball in the front yard.  A young couple across the street eats their dinner on the front porch, waving to passers-by and chatting with those who stop to talk.  Neighbors offer to pick up groceries for neighbors.  And bikes.  Bicycles are everywhere: children, teenagers, adults of all ages, small bikes, big bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, expensive bikes and bikes, like mine, that are over 20 years old.  Whole families: children, parents and grandparents ride bikes together. 

Churches are changing.  Instead of gathering in buildings to listen to a worship team and hear a preacher, families gather in their living rooms to stream their local church service and meet in small groups during the week through zoom.  Instead of shuffling their kids off to a Sunday school teacher, parents are opening the Bible and telling Bible stories to their children.  Church is no longer about a “performance” on Sunday morning.  It is increasingly about ministering in neighborhoods, helping those who are hurting; caring for those who are sick and dying; comforting those who grieve, finding ways to create community.

We are all anxious to get back to work and return to school, to see friends and co-workers, to shop without fear.  We look forward to eating out at our favorite restaurants with smiling wait staff.  We long for the day when we will again hear the laughter of children on the playgrounds and in the park, to stand in the bleachers and cheer our home team.  We can’t wait to return to our churches without masks or distance restrictions, to greet one another with hugs and handshakes.

But in the meantime, God may be teaching us something.  Under the Covid restrictions we are learning to relate more closely to our neighbors and our families, to be “church” in community.

The admonitions of Scripture give guidance: “Each one helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ … Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:6, 10).

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Good and Evil in the Garden

Maybe our gardens will save us during this Caronavirus crisis.  Most of us are going crazy trying to “shelter in place.”  We are bored, lonely, sometimes irritable with those we love most who share our confined space.  But the garden offers a welcome release.  There is something therapeutic about digging in the dirt, sifting the soil with our fingers, planting seeds and seedlings that flourish in the sun,

When I lived in Minnesota, I always had a garden.  I guess it was “our” garden, my daughter and mine. She was seven when we moved to Minnesota. Every spring we would pick out what we would plant and, after I spaded up the earth, we would plant our garden together:  cilantro, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cabbage.  One year we grew a pumpkin two feet in diameter.  We tried okra, but apparently it needs the searing heat of Texas.   Rhubarb didn’t require planting, it just volunteered itself every year.

I wasn’t a very good gardener. After the ground was turned and the garden planted, we pretty well left it alone, and it grew. That is what things do in Minnesota.  Long days of sunlight, pleasant summers and occasional rain. Things just grow.

But, the same conditions that cultivate vegetables also stimulate weeds.  By harvest we had a wonderful crop of both.  Our whole family would visit the garden like children on an Easter egg hunt.   Searching among the weeds we celebrated the discovery of tomatoes, squash, cabbages and a “great pumpkin,” hiding among the weeds. 

Jesus used a similar image to help us understand the mystery of good and evil in the world: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.  The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered ‘because while you are pulling the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.  At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into the barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-29).

The world is kind of like our garden in Minnesota. Evil flourishes in the world, like the weeds.  It dominates the news and grabs the headlines. But hiding among the weeds are the vegetables, those things that are good, righteous, wholesome and healthy.  In every situation where it appears that evil will triumph, we find, hidden beneath the headlines, acts that are heroic and sacrificial, acts of forgiveness, kindness, goodness and faith.

Someday the harvest will come.  When John introduced Jesus, he said, “One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the straps on His sandals; ... His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  (Luke 3:16-17).

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Persistence During Covid

Some of you will remember that we adopted Buddy, a tri-color corgi, 11 years ago after he was found starving on the streets of Fort Worth.  I wrote his story for my grandkids, “just the way Buddy told it to me”: how Barney the Blood Hound helped him survive on the streets until they were picked up by the dog police. I named the story, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi because his left ear flopped when we first met.

Like other dogs and pets, Buddy is doing his best to get me through Covid-19. He follows me from room to room and sits patiently near my chair on our back deck.  I am always learning something from Buddy. 

During these difficult days of “sheltering in place” he is teaching me persistence. “Persistence” isn’t a word we use much.  But we all know what it means: never quitting, never giving up and never becoming discouraged. Like most humans, I am not very good at it, but Buddy is a natural. He communicates most by “persistence.”

If he wants to go outside, he goes over to the door and sits there looking out the glass pane.  He never moves.  He just sits there until I notice and obligingly open the door and let him out.  He does the same thing about coming back inside. If I am eating he locks his eyes on the food and stares, again refusing to move.  I can scold him, tell him he isn’t getting anything from me, act as callous and cold as possible, but it doesn’t faze him. He just sits there staring with those big brown corgi eyes until I finally give in. He wins his arguments with persistence.

I need to learn more of that. We humans are always looking for shortcuts to get what we want.  We resort to tantrums, tears, weeping and wailing, pouting and protests. We get angry and argue.  But it seldom achieves our goals.  We need to learn from Buddy.  Persistence and peaceful perseverance is irresistible.

This must have been what Jesus was getting at when He said, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children [e]and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’”

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.  So I say to you,ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10). 

Be persistent.  Be patient. Don’t get upset. Don’t give up.  A better day is coming.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Howling Encouragement

A few nights ago, on a beautiful evening in Colorado, we opened our windows to a refreshing breeze of mountain air.  We listened to the stillness, interrupted by the distinct sounds of howling.  We stepped outside.  It is not entirely unusual for coyotes to howl in the open spaces of the Front Range that sweep up to the foothills and the towering snow-capped mountains.  But these howls were coming from the wrong direction. They were echoing from the streets of our neighborhood.

What we were hearing was a phenomenon sweeping across our nation.  People are emerging from their “stay at home” shelters at 8 PM in the evening and howling!  For some it is perhaps a protest, a way to “let off steam” from being cooped up and shut in. But for most it is a way of connecting with strangers and shouting support for those who continue on the “front lines” of the coronavirus crisis. 

The next day this message appeared in our neighborhood blog: “I work in the Emergency Department for UC Health.  … Some days you feel like you have made a difference and other day are, like last night when I came home exhausted and praying that individuals we put on ventilators that day would still be alive.  When wearing protective gear for 12-15 hours it is uncomfortably hot, and it is a challenge to remember to drink enough water because of being masked up all day.  At the end of our shifts we shower and put on fresh clean clothes carefully bagging up our uniforms from that day which will be laundered as soon as we walk in the door of our homes – all before driving home to our loved ones hoping we have done enough to protect our families from our day’s work. 

Last night as I parked in our garage, I heard a riot of howls from around our neighborhood … I want each of you howlers to know that your support helped lift the tired heart and soul of someone who somedays wonders if what I did was enough.  Last night it brought a tear to my eyes and a big lump in my throat.   I is a pleasure to be your neighbor, and an honor to help support our community.” 

This morning I spoke to my neighbor across the street as he left for his job as a firefighter.  I wished him well and told him I would be praying for him.  The day before we pulled into a space at our local grocery, popped our trunk and waited while one of the workers cheerfully loaded our car with our order for the week.  We gave her a tip and thanked her. She had been working since midnight, stocking the store and filling orders.

We may not be able to do much in the current crisis. But the one thing we all can do is encourage each other, whether by personal greetings, well-wishes and prayers or by howling in the street at 8 PM.

More than ever we need to heed the instruction of Scripture: “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).  “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5).

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Empty Churches and An Empty Tomb

The U.S. Surgeon General predicted that this would be the hardest and saddest week we have faced since COVID-19 reached our shores.  At the beginning of this week the death toll surpassed 10,000 and continued to climb.  Every death has a story, a life with family and friends suddenly snuffed out in a matter of days.  In Florida a couple who had been married 51 years and were in good health contracted COVID-19. Within 3 weeks the husband and wife died within 6 minutes of each other.  In Colorado a 41 year old Sheriff’s deputy picked up the virus.  He died of COVID-19 on April 1.

In New York funeral homes were struggling to process the bodies.  Morgues, cemeteries and chapels are closed.  Loved ones were being cremated and buried without funerals.  Families are left to mourn alone without the comforting presence of clergy and friends. 

In 1997 I attended a conference in Boston and stayed at the historic Omni Parker House Hotel.  With a bit of free time on my hands, I ventured outside, crossed Tremont Street and wandered into the Granary Burial Grounds, the third oldest cemetery in Boston established in 1660.  Some of America’s founding fathers are buried here: Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and five victims of the Boston massacre along with Benjamin Franklin’s parents.

As I wandered among the grave markers I was struck by the contrast.  Those gravestones that were erected in the late 1600s bore images of skulls and cross bones. They appeared stark and painful.  But in the early 1700s something changed. The images were replaced with angels and cherubim along with Scripture quotations. They radiated hope and expectations for heaven.

I wondered what happened to cause the change.  Why were those buried in the late 1600s interred beneath morbid markers while those who died in the 1730s and later had gravestones symbolizing hope of heaven?  The only explanation seemed to be the Great Awakening.

The earliest beginnings of the Great Awakening can be traced to Gilbert Tennent who founded a “Log College” In Pennsylvania in 1727 to train Presbyterian preachers.  The “Log College” was later named “Princeton.”  But it took wings in the 1730s on the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism, and George Whitefield, whose sermons were widely published by his friend, Benjamin Franklin. The Great Awakening changed the spiritual fabric of the Colonies and transformed the way people viewed death.  Death released its grim grip of despair and was replace by the hope of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.

It is more than interesting, perhaps providential, that our generation is engaged in its greatest struggle with death at the precise moment when the world remembers the resurrection!  But this Easter will be different.  Churches will be empty. Perhaps our vacant churches will serve as a powerful reminder of another empty room where the body of Jesus was entombed 2,000 years ago.  “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. … O death where is our victory?  O death where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 55-57).  The churches may be empty but the message prevails and Jesus’ resurrection will be proclaimed this Easter more widely than ever.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Essential Connections for the C Crisis

A week ago, my wife and I went for a walk keeping our 6 foot distance from others.  Two children rode up on their bikes, a brother and sister ages 8 and 6.  They asked us to come to their house so we could play with them.  When we stopped at our daughter’s house, our granddaughter drew blue circles in the street with sidewalk chalk 6 feet apart so we could visit.   Their neighbor asked me if I had ever seen anything like the Covid-19 crisis that we are experiencing.  I said, “No, I am only 73.”

This is unique in our lifetime.  We have never seen Americans encouraged, if not ordered, to stay in their houses and isolate from their neighbors. 

Silence has settled over the earth.  Gone are the roars of the crowd from baseball stadiums in America and soccer stadiums in Europe.  Arenas stand starkly empty and quiet where amplifiers vibrated the air and tens of thousands danced and sang.  Churches are vacant, amplifiers and organs silent. Children’s laughter has vanished from playgrounds and parks, replaced by a whispering wind and an occasional bird.  Waves wash up on empty beaches closed to tourists and residents alike.

We believe a better day will come. But now we need the love of another human being, a smile, an embrace, a kiss on the cheek.   Now, more than ever, we need to know God’s love.  We have been shocked to discover how fragile our lives are, not just for the aged and infirm, but for all of us, for the entire human race.  For China, Iran, India, South Korea, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and us. This is global.  We are faced with a stark reminder that we are all human and we are all mortal.

Previous generations walked where we walk and discovered what we need to discover: that even death cannot separate us from God’s love. David wrote, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.  As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.  But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13-18).

While most of us expect to survive this crisis and look forward to resuming life as we knew it, there are thousands who will lose loved ones. Their stories are heart-rending.  Thousands are dying in isolation, their families unable to comfort them or gather for their funeral.  It took one month for the first 1,000 to die. Two days for that number to double.  I have no idea what the numbers will be when you read this. At the same time stories of kindness, thoughtfulness and sacrifice abound.

We have an opportunity to listen, to embrace God’s lovingkindness demonstrated in Scripture through the life of His Son.  We have the opportunity to emerge on the other side with appreciation for the true treasures we have taken for granted: the laughter of children playing on the playgrounds, dinner at the table with neighbors and friends, assembly in churches for worship, congregational singing, hugs and kisses.  

The whole world has been connected through common suffering and loss. We have been reminded that every single human life is important.  Every human being needs God. He will never leave us nor forsake us.  His love is everlasting.

Bill's ebooks, Authentic Disciple: Sermon on the Mount and Bold Springs, a Civil War novel are available FREE on Amazon as eBooks April 1-5, 2020.  Click images to the right.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Weathering the C Crisis Together

Last Saturday afternoon, March21, my wife and I invited a group of our neighbors to bring their lawn chairs and meet in our driveway.  Ten of us showed up and positioned our chairs 6 feet apart. (If more had come, we were prepared with a second driveway across the street). A few had met, but most did not know each other.  Our neighborhood has been typical of most suburbs. We pass each other coming and going to work, then disappear into our garages.  We occasionally see each other walking our dogs, but we rarely speak. Faces may become familiar, but we don’t know each other’s names. But this Saturday was different.  Under the ominous cloud of the coronavirus, our neighbors were hungry to meet each other, to talk and to share.

The group included a widow in her 70s, two young couples in their 20s, a couple in their 30s recently moved from Philadelphia and a couple in their late 40s, recently married and adjusting to a blended family.  My wife and I married over 50 years ago. The gathering was not somber. There was much laughter. One couple brought gifts of toilet paper with a card: “Just a little something to show that we got your back.”  But there was a serious undercurrent, not knowing what comes next. We each introduced ourselves and shared how the COVID crisis is affecting us and our families. At the end, I led the group in prayer.

We are praying for the people of the world.  We are all in this together.  The pain and suffering includes Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.  All the nations of the earth are being affected. We are praying for the sick and the dying, and for those who have lost loved ones. We are concerned for first responders, for our medical professionals, for the elderly and the weak. We pray for students whose studies have been disrupted, whose classes have been cancelled.  We are burdened for those who are suffering economic disaster, for hourly workers, minimum wage employees, those who live week to week, who cannot pay their rent next month or afford food for their children. 

We are discovering in this crisis that the place to which we can turn is to God and to one another. We are discovering that more than big government, more than money, we need people. We need our families and we need our neighbors and we need God.  Instead of seeing a society implode in anger and frustration and chaos, we are watching people step up to stand in the gap.  We are looking for ways to encourage one another, to support each other. We want to help. 

Jesus taught us this amazing truth about human nature centuries ago when an arrogant young lawyer asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”  He replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Across the ages in every culture where the message of Christ has been told, that story has enabled people to overcome and withstand the most severe catastrophes.  Instead of “passing by on the other side,” instead of just thinking about ourselves and our own concerns, we must stop and help just one, somebody for whom we can make a difference.

One of my neighbors reminded me that often Jesus stopped to help just one. That’s what we need to do. That is what we each can do, like the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Looking for a Better Day - Lessons from Fred and Ethel

Last year two robins built their nest in the Aspen tree in front of our house.  I named them Fred and Ethel. Ethel, it appeared, was in charge.  Fred helped.  But, as with most females, the nest was hers.  Fred brought twigs and did his best, but Ethel corrected his mistakes, laid her eggs and faithfully incubated their young while Fred foraged and occasionally got distracted.

They made their appearance March 9, perched side-by-side on the fence near our deck. I don’t know where they have been.  Maybe they spent the winter in Mexico, flitting around some sunny beach, maybe Acapulco!  After all, a wall is nothing to a bird. They can literally fly right through customs, or over any man-made barrier whenever they choose. But then, again, maybe they settled for southern California, munching on grapes and black berries.

Fred greets the morning, before sunrise, with song.   Maybe Fred has been hanging out with Willie.  He seems happy to be “on the road again.”  The red-wing black birds join him, their red epaulets flashing in the sun as they fly to the grassy marsh behind our house to build their nests.  After a joyful winter foraging with friends and family in distant places, they are coming for a summer of hard work.  A nest to build, maybe two or three broods of young to repopulate the planet.

The trees are still bare-limbed and the grass is not yet green. We will likely have another snowfall or two in Colorado, but the temps are spiking into the 50s and the Aspen are starting to bud.  Fred and Ethel seem oblivious to the coronavirus, the devastated stock market, school closings, suspended athletic contests, closed concerts and shuttered cafes.  They know the sun will rise and that spring will come, so they are getting ready.  Fred and Ethel are confident a better day is yet to come. 

In the midst of our disrupted lives I find it comforting to watch the birds.  They have survived hurricanes, winter storms, attacks from predators and their own diseases.  They don’t give up. They just keep singing, and building their nests and raising their young.    Maybe we can sing while it is still dark, before the sunrise.  I like the song, 10,000 reasons … “The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning.  It’s time to sing my song again.  Whatever may come and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.”

We are enduring one of the greatest tests of my life-time, which includes 3 quarters of a century. Fortunately the fiction writers who penned and produced the doomsday stories were wrong. When the world population is tested, as we are today, most people refuse to dissolve into chaos and selfish survival. We help one another. We care for one another.  We cheer each other on.  We pull through together, like the birds.

Though these days are difficult and confusing, spring will come. Summer will follow.  A brighter day is yet to dawn with much laughter and joy and celebration.  Like the captives who returned to Jerusalem, we will be able to say, “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’” (Psalm 126:1-2).

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Finding Faith in Difficult Days

We are drowning in bad news.  The coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread. Many corporations are instructing employees to work remotely from home.  Colleges are shifting to online classes.  The The NBA has suspended its season.  March Madness will be played without fans in the seats.  From one case in Wuhan, China, in less than three months, it has spread throughout the globe.  All of Italy has been placed under a lock down that closes all schools and prohibits all public gatherings and suspension of religious gatherings including weddings and funerals.  Israel has imposed a 14 day quarantine on anyone entering the country.  The list is long and growing.

The Stock Market hit the skids on Monday, March 9 with a drop of more than 2,000 points.  Retirement accounts that include stock portfolios were hard hit.  People are worried. It seems like a perfect storm.

Suicides are up. The South Bend Tribune ran an article last week about the alarming rise of suicides among Midwest farmers.  More than 450 Midwestern farmers took their own lives between 2014 and 2018.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that farming is the most vulnerable occupation to suicide in the nation.  At the same time, suicide among the young has escalated. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among young Americans age 15-24.  The suicide rate for those age 10-24 rose 56% from 2010 to 2017.  In 2018 the U.S. recorded 1,400,000 suicide attempts.

Clearly something is wrong.  Many are being overwhelmed by fear.  While we must use caution and avoid unnecessary risk, we must not become paralyzed by fear. 

Our forefathers have something to teach us here.  Previous generations have survived plagues, economic crises, wars and persecution by putting their faith in God.  God alone can sustain us in the most difficult times.

The Bible is rich in reassurance regarding the ultimate source of life and hope.  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. … The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul” (Psalm 121:1-7).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, not depth, nor any other thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-38).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Image and First Impressions

As the Presidential race heats up, candidates are vying for the best image and a positive first impression. But, historically, image and impressions are often deceiving.
Abraham Lincoln was called an “ape.” His voice had a Midwestern twang. He only had one year of formal education. Edwin Stanton first met him in Cincinnati in 1855.  Lincoln had been invited to assist Stanton in an important civil case. Stanton described him as a “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end.”
After Lincoln introduced himself and suggested, “Let’s go up in a gang,” Stanton decided to have nothing to do with him. He even refused to invite Lincoln to dine at his table.

Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address, few listened. The Chicago Times panned the speech stating, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances."

Abraham Lincoln is now regarded as perhaps our greatest president. Every year millions visit his Memorial that overlooks the mall in Washington, D.C. And the speech that the Chicago Times called "silly and flat” is memorized by most students of American history. Edwin Stanton, who later served as his Secretary of War, choked through tears when Lincoln drew his final breath and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

By contrast, in an open and free election on March 29, 1936, Adolf Hitler received 98.8% of the German popular vote. His spellbinding oratory and promises mesmerized an entire generation. He was proclaimed the savior of Germany. At his peak, more than a million gathered in Nuremberg each year to praise and adore him.

 But beneath those appearances lurked a sinister ego-maniac who would exterminate approximately 20 million people including Jews, the mentally ill, the infirm and the elderly. Today, Hitler’s name is synonymous with evil. References to him have been virtually erased in Germany, except for the Document Center in Nuremberg, preserved as a reminder of the nation’s darkest days.

Describing Christ 800 years before He was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Public images and first impressions are often deceiving. What truly matters, for each of us as well as our leaders, is that which is within. The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lessons From Buddy: Why God Loves Me

I started writing these faith columns in the fall of 2009.  A friend had purchased a few local newspapers and wanted a free faith column he could provide to his readers.  The distribution has grown to include newspapers in more than a dozen states.  It has received over 140,000 views online including more than 7,500 in Russia.  Its reach has exceeded anything I ever imagined.

About the time I started writing the column, my wife and I adopted a tri-color Pembroke Corgi that we named Buddy.  We found him at Corgi rescue.  He was picked up by animal control on the streets of Fort Worth, skinny and sick.  How a dog like Buddy could be lost for that long was a mystery to me until he told me his story.  I wrote it down just the way he told it to me and published it as a children’s book, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.  

I wrote my first column about Buddy on October 29, 2009.  Each year I have sought to write at least one column about Buddy and what he is teaching me.  We have traveled many places together: Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado and places in between.  We have walked hundreds of miles together.  But Buddy is growing old.  His muzzle is gray.  He can’t make long walks any more. He limps on his right front leg after a half-mile or so.  I think it is arthritis. 

Once we left him with our daughter who lived 2 miles from our house.  He escaped their backyard and tied up traffic on a busy intersection trying to make his way home.  I was on the road in Nebraska when I got the call from a stranger who rescued him from the frantic drivers who were trying to avoid hitting him.

When we went fishing Buddy sat in the front of my flat bottom boat, sniffing the wind, trying to locate the fish by smell.  He only fell in once.  We discovered Corgi’s can’t swim.  Fortunately I was able to fish him out.

Several times he went with me to sit by the graveside of my college roommate who was buried in Farmersville, Texas in 1999.  Afterward we would go for long walks in the open fields where he could run free, leaping through the long grass (as much as Corgi’s can leap).

Buddy doesn’t do any work.  He never has.  He cannot open doors, cannot carry anything or hold anything with his paws (beyond a bone or a chew toy).  He isn’t Buck like Call of the Wild. He can’t pull a sled.  But he has worked his way into our hearts just by being there, jumping in my lap when I was sad, jumping between us on the couch to make us glad,  following me from room to room, introducing me to strangers who want to pet him, playing with my grandchildren.

We love Buddy, not for what he can do for us, but just because he “is.” 

Maybe that is the way God looks at me.  I can’t do anything for God.  He doesn’t really need me, but He loves me just the same, just because He made me; just because He is and I am.  “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 1:10).  God has declared His love for me, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Beyond Religion

A young friend wrote on his facebook page, “Religion is still the opiate of the masses.”  He got some interesting responses.  One person agreed with him.  Another wrote, “It can’t be.  If it was, I would take it for recreational purposes.” Of course the statement originated with Karl Marx when he was developing the Communist Manifesto, the philosophical foundation that would eradicate religion in Russia for 75 years. When I visited Moscow and Lenin’s tomb 21 years ago, the hopeless despair left in atheism’s wake was palpable.

My first inclination, like many, is to jump to the defense of religion. But that might not be the most thoughtful response.  After all, religion killed Jesus.  The Roman government reluctantly carried out the crucifixion only after Pilate had repeatedly tried to release Jesus concluding, “I find no fault in him.”  It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who incited the crowds and demanded Jesus be crucified.

Mankind is incurably religious.  Every culture on every continent has spawned religion.  And, more often than not, the results have not been good. 9-11 and the Twin Towers serve as a monuments to the deadly effects of Islamic Jihad.  ISIS has terrorized the world. The Hindu caste system of India consigns millions to poverty without hope.

The Christian religion can also become corrupt, self-serving and self-absorbed.  Perhaps Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, found credibility with so many because they suspect that religion can become vicious if its survival is threatened.  The mentally unstable often use religion to justify atrocities against the innocent.  We cannot forget the 909 people, including women and children, who voluntarily drank cyanide out of religious devotion to Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978.

Sometimes religion is not just an opiate, it is a poison. 

Jesus, on the other hand, makes people less selfish, more generous, fills them with hope and leads them to sacrificial efforts to help others.  Jesus transformed a little Albanian girl named Agnes into Mother Teresa who spent her life caring for the poor of Calcutta.  Faith in Jesus made William Wilberforce the leader of reform in England to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Faith in Jesus inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the book that Lincoln credited with igniting the Civil War to abolish slavery. Faith in Jesus Christ changed a backwoods playboy from North Carolina into Billy Graham who preached grace and forgiveness to millions.  Faith in Jesus catapulted Martin Luther King Jr from the backstreets of Atlanta into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. 

The list goes on.  Jesus Christ goes beyond religion.  He transforms us into better people and the world into a better place. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020


I grew up in Texas, often wakened by the rasp of blue jays outside my window, frequently entertained by mockingbirds with their collection of stolen songs.  Buzzards circled in the sky.  On the ground, close up, they are hideous creatures, but high overhead, riding the wind, barely moving their wings, they looked majestic.

When we moved to Rochester, Minnesota we lived on Assissi Heights, next to the Convent that housed the nursing staff for St. Mary’s and Mayo Clinic.  I watched the Canadian geese migrating to and from the fields in their Vee formation. Sometimes they passed so low overhead I could hear the wind in their wings, not to mention their constant honking.  I later learned they can fly 70% further in formation than they can fly alone.

I camped with my sons in the Boundary Waters, a wilderness region of rivers and lakes on the Canadian border.  A bald eagle built her nest in the top of a lone tree on a rocky island less than 50 yards from our camp.  When she circled overhead the sun glistened off her white head.

We owned a beach house for a few years on Galveston Island.  I never tired watching the sea gulls balance on the wind, descending delicately to the shallow surf where they laughed and danced on stick legs. They seemed to think it was hilarious. I watched the pelicans swoop in squadrons over the breaking waves. One or more would suddenly drop in a vertical dive, splash in the surf and return to the sky with an unsuspecting fish.

In Colorado our house looks out on an open marsh.  Every spring the red-wing black birds return to build their nests in the tall grass.  And, as in Minnesota, the Canadian geese occasionally fill the sky from one horizon to the other.

In every region and every climate birds survive and thrive.  They are masters of the air, the forests, the land and the sea. No wonder Jesus encouraged us to “consider the birds.”

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26).

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in [x]hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-29).

He who cares for the birds of the air will doubtless care for you.  You are of great worth to God.   Look to the birds and listen to their song.