What Others Say

Every time I read one of your columns, I am always always touched and moved in some way. Your heart and spirit come through clearly in your words. It's an oasis of comfort and serenity in a time when everything is so chaotic and unsettling.
- M Gardner, Deputy Managing Editor, Galveston Daily News

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Long Dark Winter

 They say we are in for a long dark winter.  Covid cases are surging out of control.  Many states are breaking records and the U.S. single day case count exceeded 180,000 on November 13.  It has been a long, difficult and wearisome journey since the first U.S. Covid-19 case appeared on January 21 in Seattle, Washington. 

 We weathered the lock-down in March, huddling in our houses, shutting down non-essential businesses, shuttering restaurants and shops.  We howled at dusk in our neighborhoods, a good-natured national protest against the virus.  And we did it.  We lowered the infection rate, survived the spring and earned a slight reprise from the restrictions in summer. 

 The bicycle business boomed as people took to streets and trails for natural distancing, fresh air and exercise.  I pulled my 27-year-old Giant bike out of storage; the same one I rode across Wisconsin in 1997.  It took 6 weeks for an appointment to have it tuned up, but I put over 400 miles on it and dropped 25 lbs. of excess weight.

 We walked our dogs and greeted neighbors who were walking theirs.  We attended church outside, setting up our lawn chairs under shade trees on green lawns where small children played in the grass.  The NBA played basketball in a bubble. Major League baseball completed an abbreviated season with empty stadiums and professional golfers competed without patrons. For the first time we watched the Masters with fall foliage.

 Many returned to work. Schools cautiously opened for students. Some ignored the Covid restrictions altogether and rode their Harleys to the Sturgis motorcycle rally.    But, as many of the epidemiological experts had predicted, fall and winter weather has resulted in an uncontrolled surge in Covid cases.  Increasingly we are hearing of people we know who have fallen prey to Covid.

 The most painful period of the pandemic is immediately in front of us.  We are faced with foregoing our most cherished American traditions: gatherings as family around Thanksgiving and Christmas tables; packing churches to hear children sing as shepherds and angels; The Messiah sing-a-longs.  We can scarcely imagine the echo of holiday music in empty hallways at the mall or virtual worship streamed from empty churches at Christmas.

 But there is hope.  Scientists have identified two vaccines promising 90% and 95% effectiveness against Covid by the end of the year.  The experts predict that we could have wide-spread distribution and “herd immunity” as early as spring or summer of 2021. 

 Now is the time, in this long hard winter, to redouble our efforts to protect our families, our friends and ourselves.  We are like a marathon runner nearing the finish line, weary an exhausted, but determined. The end is in sight.  It is time to sprint to the finish.  We must double-down with the disciplines of distancing, wearing our masks, washing our hands, never failing to encourage one another.

 Jesus set the example for us.  As Hebrews says, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We can do this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lift Up Your Eyes to the Stars

I normally begin my day outdoors where I spend time in prayer.  When winter drops the temps and the sun rises late, I bundle up and find my place on our back deck, under the stars.

 Our deck is on the south side of the house.  Orion and Taurus greet me in the winter sky, easily distinguished among the lesser lights.  They have always been there, occupying their same place in the sky since time immemorial.

 These are the same stars Abraham saw when he left Ur of the Chaldees. The same stars that guided Moses in the wilderness. The same stars David watched when he shepherded sheep. The same stars the Magi studied when they found a star in the east that led them to Bethlehem.  When I look at the stars, I feel connected to the entire universe, no longer limited by time and space. In my fleeting moment on earth I am part of all that has gone before and all that will yet come.

 They are a stabilizing force.  Nothing we can do on earth will change them. The nearest star is approximately 25 trillion miles away, or 4.24 light years.  When the dust has settled from the Presidential election and the pandemic has passed, the stars will remain in their place as they have done through every plague, every war, every natural disaster, and every lifetime.  They are a constant, silent and brilliant testimony to God’s majesty.   

 The Bible has a lot to say about the stars: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?  Human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4) NIV.

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  He determines the number of the stars; and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:3-5).

 “Praise him sun and moon; praise him all you shining stars. Praise him highest heavens, and you waters above the skies.  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created and he established them forever and ever” (Psalm 148:3-6).

 “’To whom then shall you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. … Do you not know? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

 The stars have a way of putting things in perspective. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Dogs To The Rescue

 When Covid first hit us in February, we thought perhaps it would be short-lived.  As it raged through Europe and set its sights on the U.S., we accepted the “stay-at-home” initiatives, hunkered in our houses, gave up shopping and eating out.  When the NBA cancelled its season, we knew it was serious.  We hoped, tough, that by summer it would be over. 

 Perhaps it was the sacrifices we made in the spring, perhaps it was luck, but Covid seemed to relax its grip and we ventured out.  Sports found a way, with the NBA bubble, golf tournaments without spectators and stadiums mostly empty.  Major league baseball concluded an abbreviated season and delivered a nail-biting World Series.  In some respects, we have learned to live with Covid.

 But, with our guard down, the number of infections has sky-rocketed and we could face more stringent measures going into winter and the holidays.  At least, for many of us, we have our dogs to get us through.

 Dogs are an important part of our neighborhood.  Our young neighbors across the street moved in a year ago with their pet bulldog, Rooney.  They adopted him as a puppy, pure white.  He is now full-grown and built like a bowling ball.  Rooney never meets a stranger. Everybody loves Rooney.  The newlywed couple next door to them just adopted Scout.  I am not sure of Scout’s breed. She is 5 months old and already a big dog, sweet, compliant and happy to have a home.  They treat her like their child. 

 We have a 12-year-old Pembroke Corgi named Buddy.  If you have read this column in the past, you are familiar with Buddy.  When he was younger Buddy went fishing with me in my flat-bottom boat.  The front of the boat was his.  He stood in the front and sniffed the wind to locate the fish.  He was good at it. At least he thought so.  Corgis think they are good at anything.

 Once he leaned too far and sniffed too hard and fell in the lake. Corgis aren’t built for water. Their stubby legs don’t give much traction for swimming. He coughed, sputtered, went under and splashed for all he was worth until I grabbed him and hauled him back into the boat, soaked and shivering.

 It reminded me of Peter’s experience when he stepped out of the fishing boat to meet Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  I expect Peter was a better swimmer than Buddy, but there he was splashing and floundering around in the sea, helpless. Until Jesus reached out, lifted him up and hauled him back into the boat.

 God has done that for me many times. Across the years I have fallen out of the boat financially, unable to sleep at night, worried about how to make ends meet.  I have sunk over my head in work, overwhelmed by responsibilities and challenges.  I have found myself drowning in grief with the loss of someone I love.  And now Covid, and an uncertain future, seems to be overwhelming us all.

 Every time I have fallen into waters over my head, God has pulled me up and hauled me back into the boat. He is strong enough to save you and He will not let you drown when circumstances threaten to overwhelm you.

 Jesus said, “In the world you have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33).  “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8). 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Covid Fatigue

 They call it Covid Fatigue.  I think I have it. I am tired of wearing a mask to enter a store.  I like to see the smiles on people’s faces.  Or, are they smiling?  Maybe they are frowning, or smirking.  It’s hard to read what people might be thinking behind those masks.

 I am tired of distancing.  I want to host friends and family in our home. I want to have all our kids home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I want to attend church, to greet fellow believers with handshakes and hugs, to sing without restraint or restriction.  Gathering is one of the important elements of our Christian faith.                                                                                                                                                         

I started a Bible study this summer with several men in our neighborhood, meeting outside on our back deck. They are all much younger than me. One is 27 and another is 31. We greet one another with fist-bumps.  But, with snow this weekend and darkness settling in at 5 PM when we “fall back,” I proposed that we take a winter break.  As a diabetic in my 70s, I explained I was not comfortable meeting with a group of guys inside. They fully understood my concerns but suggested we continue meeting outside in the cold and dark.  “We can bundle up,” they said.  So, we plan to continue gathering around the fire pit on my back deck for Bible study.

 Our response to Covid has created some positives.  The American Family Survey recently discovered that most marriages have actually strengthened under the stresses of Covid.  58% of those 18-55 reported they have grown to appreciate their spouse more.  Men have become more involved with housework and childcare. Husbands and wives have spent more time together walking and talking. Those who reported their marriages were in trouble fell from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020.

 Covid has forced us to strengthen our online connections for extended learning, work and family.  Last Saturday my wife and I attended the wedding for my cousin’s daughter online in Shreveport, Louisiana while sitting in our home in Colorado.

 But we are far from out of the woods with Covid.  Last week the U.S. reported the highest single day of new cases since the pandemic started. More than 85,000.

 For now, we must remain perseverant and patient. For the sake of our friends, family and others we must continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. while encouraging and praying for one another. 

 As Paul stated, “We celebrate in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:2-4).

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Choosing a President

 

When I listen to the insults and accusations political candidates continue to level against their opponents, I want to throw up my hands.  I find myself wishing for an earlier era when politicians were more civil, when the world was stable and people were in agreement.   

 I thought, “If we could only return to the days of our founding fathers!”  I did a little research about those days and was surprised.  Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams and Aaron Burr to become our third President in 1800. But, he was not popular. And the campaign looked a lot like today.

 If Jefferson were elected, one newspaper warned, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."  Aaron Burr leaked a private letter from Alexander Hamilton that accused Adams of having “great and intrinsic defects in his character.”  The Richmond Examiner referred to Adams as a “blind, bald, crippled toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

 When the votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr were tied in the Electoral College with 73 votes each.  Adams received 65. The tie between Jefferson and Burr threw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  After 35 ballots, Alexander Hamilton persuaded some of Burr’s backers to shift their votes and Jefferson was elected.  Aaron Burr then challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel and killed him, completing a story that would inspire Hamilton, the modern musical.  

 Jefferson, as President, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase that extended the U.S. territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Congress tried to block the purchase, but the vote failed 57-59. 

 In 1860 Lincoln was elected President with 40% of the popular vote. He was referred to as an “idiot, yahoo, the original gorilla.” Abolitionists abhorred him, calling him “timid, vacillating, and inefficient.”  One Ohio Republican claimed Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity.”  Southern states were so incensed by his election that they seceded from the Union. The nation was thrown into Civil War.

 The past often appears more peaceful and purposeful than the present. We know the outcome. It is “today” that confuses us.  We must exercise our best judgement without knowing what will happen.  On November 3 we must choose the next President.

But every day we must make choices that shape our lives and the lives of those around us. We are like those who stood before Joshua at Shechem.  After reminding them of God’s repeated providence for their fathers, Joshua challenged them: ‘Choose you this day whom you shall serve. ... As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Recognizing the Moment

 My neighbor was walking down the street and greeted me with a wide grin. He had just bought a new bicycle for his eleven-year-old daughter.  “Is it her birthday?” I asked. “No,” he replied, almost giggling. “I realized she had outgrown her bike and decided to buy her a new one.  She hasn’t stopped smiling all day.  I just recognized the moment.” He grinned again.

 Every day we are presented with moments that make a difference with our families, our friends and with strangers. Recognizing these moments ultimately determines how we impact our world.

 Jesus was the master of recognizing the moment.  When He entered the city of Jericho, no one noticed a tax collector who had climbed a nearby tree to get a glimpse of him. But Jesus stopped, called him by name and spent the afternoon in Zacchaeus’ home. That moment changed Zacchaeus’ life. Later, when Jesus was leaving the city, a blind man named Bartimaeus cried for His attention. Many rebuked the blind beggar and told him to be quiet. But Jesus stopped, called for him and restored his sight.

 Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable is a lesson about recognizing the moment.  Twice passers by missed the moment of opportunity. Both the priest and the Levite continued on their journey without stopping.  Perhaps, like so many of us, they were too busy to take the time. For whatever reason, only the Samaritan saw the moment of opportunity and stopped to help. I sometimes wonder how many such moments I have missed.

 God presents all of us with moments that can make a difference. A few years ago I met Giuseppe who was working in his family’s pizza restaurant. We struck up a conversation and he spoke of his spiritual hunger. We prayed together and I returned to give him one of my devotional books.  Some time later he sent an email, “Now I read the bible before I go to bed. God’s been working in my life so much. I have been preaching the word of God to people that don't know him. … My heart hungers for the Lord.” He went on to tell how God used him to help a friend find a job.

A few years ago I met a young mother who was struggling with a decision about her husband’s alcoholism. Later she wrote, “God is healer and awesome in power! My husband will celebrate one year of sobriety next month and his health hasn't been better in years. He is completely off his meds and living a Christ-filled life. He was baptized and is growing spiritually every day.”  Her entire family is now active in a local church.

To each of us God presents life-changing “moments” of opportunity. How we recognize those moments and what we do with them may be the true measure of our faith. When Jesus described the final judgement He said, “The king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom that is prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me. … In that you have done it to the least of these, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:34-40).

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Journey

 

I grew up in a small town in north-central Texas.  Our family never traveled far.  I sometimes tell people that my first visit to a foreign country was across the Red River into Oklahoma. But when I was 18, I started a journey that has taken me to places I never imagined: the Opera House in Sydney Harbor, the coast of New Zealand, fishing for piranha on the Amazon, volcanoes in Guatemala, a lighthouse at Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the pyramids of Egypt, Mozart’s home in Salzburg, the Docu Zentrum in Nuremberg, the Pantheon in Rome, Lennin’s Tomb and the Kremlin in Moscow. If someone told me in my youth that I would visit these places, I would have thought they were crazy.

 Something about the human spirit is drawn to the journey.  Maybe that is why On the Road Again remains one of Willie Nelson’s most popular songs. We are mesmerized by the expeditions of Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. We are drawn to the imaginary journeys of Hobbits seeking Mount Doom and Star Trek’s quest to go where no man has gone before. Covid has caused many of us to cancel or suspend our trips.  But we still hunger to travel.  Journeys, both real and imagined, change the world and they change us.

 God chooses to reveal himself through our journeys.  Redemption starts with God’s call to Abraham to leave his father’s country and go to places he had never seen.  Moses’ journey out of Egypt produced the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding.  No journey was ever more life changing than the journey Jesus started when he left Nazareth and gathered 12 men to follow him.  Their travels on foot through the regions of Galilee, Judea and Samaria changed the world.  The stories of their encounters with the lame, the blind, the rich, the poor, prostitutes and priests provide us the framework for understanding God and ourselves.

 We are all on a journey.  The journeys we choose, where we go, how we get there and who goes with us will shape us and change us for the better or the worse.  Sometimes our journeys lead us to distant places, sometimes close to home. The most important decisions about any journey is how we trust in God and how we treat others along the way.

 We like to think we will all arrive at the same destination no matter what we believe, what we do or how we live.  But the fact of the matter is that different roads lead to different places.  Jesus said “broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)   He alone knows the way that leads to life and He continually invites us to join the journey that leads us there saying, “Come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Courage and Confidence During Covid

 

Last week the number of deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 200,000.  Experts predict that this number could double by the end of the year. Had we known these numbers in the spring we would have been staggered.  But now, more than six months into the Caronivirus pandemic, we have become numb.  Most of us read the reports as statistics, a way of keeping score.  Some have even concluded that the number of deaths is “acceptable,” a relatively small percentage of our population, even though it is equivalent to 1,000 airline crashes with 200 fatalities each in the span of 7 months.  But for those 200,000 families and their friends, it is personal.  Each has a story.  Each feels the loss.

 Last week a young couple from Minnesota with their three small children spent four days in our home in Colorado so they could visit his mother who lives nearby and is dying of cancer.  Knowing her cancer is terminal, she has chosen not to pursue additional treatment.  Instead, she has been assigned to hospice care in her home. They stayed with us so they could give her space while spending the best parts of the day loving and caring for her.  They comforted one another while facing death with courage and confidence, the children and grandchildren gathering around her in her final days.

 Whether it is Covid, cancer, or some other means, death will come to us all.  We try to avoid it, try to not think about it. But it comes to everyone, to the obscure and the famous, the rich and the poor, all nations, all races and all cultures. Every generation must learn how to deal with death.

 Psalm 90 recorded this prayer from Moses: “You turn men back into dust and say, ‘Return O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.  You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass that sprouts anew. ... toward evening it fades and withers away. … We have finished our years like a sigh. … So teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. … O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:3-14).

 The song, Ten Thousand Reasons, has become one of my favorites.  It contains these stanzas:

 “The sun comes up there’s a new day dawning,

It’s time to sing your song again.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,

May I be singing when the evening comes.

 

And on that day, when my strength is failing,

The end draws near and my time has come,

Still my soul will sing your praise unending,

Ten thousand years and then forever more.”

 During this pandemic year may we discover the lovingkindness and comfort that comes from the One who holds eternity in His hands.  “Everyone who lives and believes in Me,” Jesus said, “shall never die”  (John 11:26).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Character and Leadership

 

The political cauldron is beginning to boil.  Presidential and congressional candidates are in full campaign mode.

 Each candidate tries to persuade us they can guide us through the multiple storms of the pandemic, social unrest, climate crises and economic recovery.  Some cite their business success and financial achievements. Others tout their political experience.  But the most important element for effective leadership might be the most difficult to discern.  In his book, Return on Character:  The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, Fred Kiel concluded that the most important trait for successful leadership is character.

 According to the Harvard Business Review, “In this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers that evidence-solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.”

 Kiel identifies four basic traits that set effective leaders apart:  integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.  Leaders with character tell the truth and own up to their mistakes.  Most importantly, they care about people.

 By contrast, those with weak character demonstrate a negative view of human nature. Their behavior is fear based.  “They assume that they know better than anybody else what people should be doing.”  They are judgmental, quick to place blame on others.

 3The positive and negative traits identified by Fred Kiel are consistent with the Bible.  Among the negative “deeds of the flesh,” the Bible lists “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.”  The positive fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23).   

 In 1908, Leo Tolstoy identified Abraham Lincoln’s greatness when he wrote, “Why was Lincoln so great that he over-shadows all other national heroes?  He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Wahington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

 King David had his flaws. His shortcomings are clearly laid out in Scripture. But He remains one of the great leaders of history. The Bible says of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72).

 The way forward through this painful and challenging year will ultimately be determined by the character of our leaders, our nation and ourselves.  As the Scripture says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What Does God Want?

 

When I listen to myself pray, and when I listen to others pray, it seems that most of what we say to God revolves around what we want.  Sometimes our lists are heart-rending.  We desire healing from a deadly disease, comfort from the loss of someone we love, a job and a paycheck. More often, our prayers are day-to-day: a passing grade on the exam, strength to get through another day at work, safe travel.  Sometimes they are trivial:  a victory on the football field, our favorite team in the playoffs.  Most of our prayers are filled with the things that we want God to do for us.

 But sometimes I wonder, what does God want?

 Maybe he wants a great cathedral constructed in His honor, a building that rises out of the concrete and towers over the city with majestic spires and stained glass windows. Perhaps he wants a more modern structure that resembles the headquarters of a major corporation or a shopping mall. Something designed to make a statement to the world that God is important.

 Maybe He wants music. Perhaps God wants classical music like Ode to Joy, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Or, maybe he prefers contemporary music: amplifiers, electric guitars, drums, drums and more drums.  Maybe God prefers Blue Grass or Country.  Who knows?  I sometimes wonder what we will sing in Heaven.

 Maybe God likes His own sounds: thunder in the heavens, the whisper of wind in the wings of a bird, echoes in a canyon, a babbling brook or the powerful rush of Niagara Falls.

 The Bible gives some pretty good clues about what God wants. 

 In Isaiah’s day, God made it clear that He was fed up with efforts to impress Him with religious behavior. He said, “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts?

Bring your worthless offerings no longer. … Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson,
they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:12-18).

 When I think about how I feel as a parent, this makes perfect sense.  I am happiest as a parent when my children are together, when I hear them laughing, when they enjoy one another and go out of their way to help each other.  Of course, I want them to love me.  But somehow I feel like they love me best when they are loving each other.

 Many people assume that God measures our love for Him by how religious we become.  But John set us straight when he wrote, “One who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  (1 John 4:20).

 The bottom line is this:  God wants us to get along with each other.  He wants people to be kind to each other, to do good things and help each other. Jesus said,  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  … This is my commandment.  That you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  (John 14:15; 15:12).

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Jesus Communities During Covid

We have been dodging the Caronavirus for more than six months.  In the early days, when we first came to grips with the pandemic sweeping our world, we literally shut down our cities and our neighborhoods.  At first, we hunkered in our houses refusing to venture outside except for the bare necessities.  Some stood in line for toilet paper.  Our brave grocery store staff continued to work, stocking shelves, cheerfully shuttling grocery orders to the parking lots where they loaded food into the trunk of our car.  Drive-through and fast-food restaurants remained open with masks and gloves.  Other “essential services” kept us afloat. Churches closed their doors and learned to stream on Facebook and the Web.  We zoomed in until we were zoomed out.

 For the last month or more, we have been cautiously re-opening and re-connecting.  Restaurants have learned how to isolate and distance their tables.  Wait staff have learned how to “smile through a mask.”  Outside dining has been expanded into sidewalks and streets.  Shops are re-opening. Masked students are re-entering classrooms.  We are even starting to move about the country, albeit cautiously and slowly.

 Churches have started to re-convene, attempting to refrain from impulsive hugs and handshakes that are integral to Christian fellowship.  Some, who have the option, are choosing to meet inside, scattered six feet apart among empty chairs and open pews.  Others are meeting in the open air as long as weather permits.

 Since my wife and I are in the high-risk group, we have chosen the open-air option for worship, taking advantage of the opportunity to visit different churches that are meeting in open space.  We take our folding chairs, look for shade, or open an umbrella against the sun’s rays and find a space at least six feet apart from other families.  I have found my heart warmed by these “Jesus communities,” as I like to call them, gathering in parks, parking lots and open spaces for worship.  I love to see small children running barefoot through the grass; families gathered in the shade where children play on blankets while their parents sing songs of praise and the preacher preaches.

 It reminds me of the first century when Jesus walked in Galilee and people sought him in the open fields, when churches sprang up without buildings and places to meet.  Surely God is up to something through all the global suffering, heartache and struggle in 2020.  Surely, He wants to draw us to Himself for comfort, encouragement, healing and a reminder that we are all his children.  We were all created in His image and His greatest desire is that we love one another regardless of our racial, cultural or national differences. 

 As the Scripture says, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward one another that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:5-7).

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Labor Day 2020


This weekend is Labor Day.  The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is light with the first hint of fall.  The lakes are still warm enough to ski and the fishing is good. As usual, friends and family will gather in parks for volleyball, football and frisbees while hamburgers sizzle on the grill. 

But the pandemic has changed things.  School classrooms and hallways that normally burst with energy at this time of year host students nervously muted with masks. Some schools remain empty and closed.  Early mornings that normally echo with the thud and smack of football practice  and the distant rhythm of marching bands remain eerily silent.  In many places “Friday night lights” are dark.  Stadiums should be packed with fans cheering their teams on to the World Series and kick off for the NFL.  But this year they remain empty.   

All of this makes Labor Day even more significant.  The laborers and minimum wage workers are the heroes. They are the ones who are carrying us through this dark valley. On this weekend, we celebrate those who have kept our grocery stores open with shelves stocked, those who deliver our drive-through and carry-out orders along with restaurant staff who prepare and serve us at distanced tables.  We honor the postal workers who deliver our packages and mail, the first responders and hospital staff who care for the sick.  Most of the time we fawn over celebrities.  But on this day, the common worker takes the stage. And, in 2020 we recognize their essential importance.

On Labor Day I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age 53.  His example of honesty, generosity and hard work inspired me.  I think of Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.  Jesus elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

This year many are being forced to take jobs that are not their first choice.  Some who trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are accepting jobs that differ from their dreams.  It is important that whatever job we find that we give our best.  The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return.  The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Good Morning!


 In various languages and cultures all over the world, we greet each other every morning with a simple but profound greeting: Guten morgen. buenos dias, bon dia, buongiorno. selamat pagi. dobroe utro.“Good morning!” It is best spoken with eye contact and a smile.  This year it is often muffled behind a mask. But, in this of all years, it is even more important, a social “contract” we must not lose.

It is a way of acknowledging our common existence and bestowing upon others our best wishes for their welfare. We share the greeting on the beach, in the park, on busy city streets, in the workplace and the home. I have exchanged this familiar greeting with others in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and Brazil.

One morning I strolled along the seawall in Galveston at sunrise and was greeted by others who were walking, jogging or simply watching the sun rise. They were old and young, men and women, white, brown and black. Their simple “good morning” seemed to say, “I recognize your humanity, that you exist and you are here. Although I do not know you and will likely never see you again, we occupy together this passing moment in time when the sun is rising over the sea.”


We shared the sun’s red glow among the gray clouds and the rippled red reflection on the waves that lapped against the sand where sea gulls waddled on spindly stick legs. We filled our lungs with the cool morning air, awake and alive to a new day and greeted one another, “Good morning.”

All creation celebrates the dawning of a new day. The birds, it seems, do it best. I have often watched their mystic ritual at the dawn of day. They seem to be surprised every morning, as if they wondered if the sun would rise again. When it does, they are delirious with joy. In the forests, a single bird chirps the first signal of the graying dawn, awakening another, and another, until by the time the flaming ball of fire rises in the east they have joined their songs in a chorus of celebration.

It is much the same way with God who greets us at sunrise, a moment when God seems to make eye contact with us and smile, affirming His pleasure in having created us and having given us life. That is why David says, “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Ps 5:3). “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.(Ps. 90:14). And again, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Ps 143:8).

Good Morning!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Stories That Save Us


When our children were growing up, we read to them.  All children, it seems, love books. Of course they love video games, iPhones and iPads, but there is something about turning pages and touching pictures in a book. How else can you “pat the bunny?”  Our children memorized many of the stories long before they could read: Goodnight Moon, Little Engine That Could, Snowy Day, Corduroy, Bible Stories for Little Eyes. If I went “off story” and made up my own lines, they knew it. And corrected me.



When we put our granddaughters to bed, who are 9 and 7, they always want us to tell them a story of when we were growing up.  Stories are the stuff of life.  The best stories are told outside on summer evenings while fireflies flicker in the gathering dusk.  Children listen to adults who reminisce with laughter and tears. When my wife and her sister get together, they stay up through most of the night retelling stories of their youth. Sometimes we find them there in the morning where they fell asleep.

                                                                                            

We inherited storytelling from our ancestors. Pioneers forging their way west told stories when they gathered around campfires. Old men related stories on the porch where they swayed in rocking chairs and whittled shapeless sticks. Whole families told stories when they gathered in the summer shade to shell peas. These story telling moments shaped their lives and future generations.  



In the last century Hollywood became our primary source for stories. But sometimes Hollywood and history got things mixed up. A few years ago we visited Philadelphia and encountered a group of high school students who were gazing at Independence Hall.  One of them pointed to the clock tower and exclaimed to another, “Look!  That’s where they hid the map!” 



Even Hollywood has been shut down by the pandemic.  Movie sets and movie crews are idle.  The re-runs on Netflix are getting a bit boring and some families are rediscovering the magic of telling stories.   



With many churches forced to rely on streaming and almost all having suspended children’s classes, parents have an opportunity to step into the gap, to read books and tell stories to their children. Imagine the power of reciting and reading once again the stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah and the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Ruth and Boaz, David, Elijah, Jonah and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?



Much of the anxiety and despair that has afflicted our nation may be due to our neglect of the stories of our heritage that give us value and meaning.  The Bible says, “I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. ... so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands” (Psalm 78:2-7).

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Growing Old With Buddy


I recently stumbled across an old prayer:  “Lord, help me to be the man my dog thinks I am.” Anyone who has a dog will understand that prayer.  It took almost a year for me to convince my wife I should have a dog.  We had dogs when we were raising the kids, but they weren’t my dog.  They belonged to the kids and the family.  After the kids grew up, I decided I wanted my own dog, and she finally gave in, as long as I promised to take care of him. She grew to love him as much as I do and makes sure he is cared for.

 My dog’s name is Buddy, a tri-color corgi who has been with me most of his life.  We adopted him twelve years ago from Corgi rescue.  He had been picked up off the streets, skinny, sick and lost.  We bonded.  He wants to be wherever I am and go wherever I go.  I usually get up about 5:30 in the morning, brew a cup of coffee and go outside on our deck to watch the sunrise, meditate and pray.  Buddy goes with me. He sits nearby, sniffs the air and thinks his “dog” thoughts.

 After breakfast Buddy goes to my office, finds his spot under my desk, and starts the day’s work, napping while I write.  If I go downstairs to watch a ball game (now that they are playing baseball again), Buddy stands at the top of the stairs and waits to be invited.  If I don’t invite him, he eventually comes anyway.

 We used to go on long walks every day, usually two miles.  We have had several routes which he marked on trees, fire hydrants and bushes. He always checked for “pee-mail” left by other dogs.  About a year ago, Buddy developed arthritis in his right front leg.  Walks of a half-mile or more leave him limping.  Sometimes he cannot put weight on the leg for a day or more. So, we don’t take walks any more.  Still, the vet says he is a “healthy geriatric.”  My grandchildren who are 9,7and 3 calculated his age in “dog years” and informed me that he is now 90 years old.  By that measure, I told them, I must be 490.

 Buddy apparently thinks a lot of me, even when I don’t think much of myself. When I return from a trip, he is beside himself. He whimpers, dances and barks like a puppy, overjoyed to see me.  When I am in a foul mood, he isn’t.  He just waits for me to feel better.  Once, when I was overcome with grief, he jumped into my lap to comfort me.

 Across the years Buddy has taught me many lessons.  Patience, forgiveness, trust, acceptance.  Now he is teaching me how to grow old. Buddy never complains, has no regrets, wakes up happy to greet the morning.

I am reminded of God’s promise.  “Listen to me …  you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I  have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:3-5).   “Bless the Lord O my soul … who satisfies your years with good things so that your youth is renewed as the eagle”  (Psalm 103:1-5).

Bill Tinsley's children's book about Buddy is available on Amazon.  Click the image to the right. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Risk Tolerance


Investors talk about “risk” and “risk tolerance.”  A few years ago, even the most conservative of investors could expect to receive a return of 5% percent, or more, by simply placing their money in CDs or savings accounts.  But times have changed.  Those kinds of risk free investments have disappeared. Savings Accounts usually earn fractions of a percent.  Certificates of Deposit do little better.      

Those who want to invest for the future, including retirement funds, are left with higher risk options.  But for many of us, risk leaves our stomachs queasy.  Our introduction to 2020 has been gut wrenching.  The Dow Jones industrial average recorded its worst ever loss in March, with many economists predicting the “greatest depression” in history.  But a massive $3 trillion infusion of money by the government created an immediate rebound.  The stock market, since that time, seems disconnected from the economic indicators.

Stocks, investments and economics have always confused me. I have never been able to figure it out.  I guess that is why I find Jesus’ story in Luke 19 confusing.  He told of a wealthy owner who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone.  To each he gave the same amount.  Let’s say he gave each $1,000.  When he returned one servant had invested and multiplied the $1,000 into $10,000.  Another had invested and multiplied it into $5,000.  But the third was afraid of losing the $1,000.  Maybe he wrapped it in some newspaper and hid it under his mattress. 

The wealthy owner commended the first two, but he was furious with the third.  “You should have at least put it in the bank so it could earn interest,” he said.  He then took the $1,000 from the last one and gave it to the one who had $10,000.  He said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-27).

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there are many applications to be made and much to learn. Of course, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about money. After all, when he died all he had were the clothes on his back. But he clearly understood how the world works. And he clearly understood how life works.

So, what was his point?  It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to learn to take risk for the Kingdom’s sake. Whenever we grow fearful and withdraw into ourselves, we shrivel up. What little we have is taken away from us. I have watched people do this.  I have even seen churches do this, pinching pennies and worried that they will not make budget.  But when we lay it all on the line, when we give our lives away for others, we experience pleasure and joy unspeakable.  This is why he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, shaken together and running over.”  And, again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, but he who will lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it.” 

Jesus’ early followers clearly understood this.  There is no evidence that any of them became wealthy. But there is abundant evidence that they were willing to risk everything to serve God and help others.

During this coronavirus year we should all wear masks, wash our hands,  practice social distancing and continue to live our lives with courage and joyful service to others.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

When We Are Wounded


We bought a rocking horse for our son on his first birthday. It was simple and sturdy, made of unfinished wood.  That was 42 years ago.  Over the years it continued to hold its head high, but the tail drooped between its legs.  I am sure we intended to paint it someday, but that day never came.  Instead, our son decorated it with crayons, pens and markers.  We passed it down to his little sister, born eight years later, and then to our grandchildren.  They covered it with scratches and scribbles, dents and dings.

The little rocking horse had little value.  But it became priceless to us because of the scratches, dents, dings and scribbled drawings left behind by our children and grandchildren.  We treasured it because of its scars.

Life is much like that.  We start out youthful and unblemished, unmarred by the world. But, over time, we become scarred with age.   Cuts, abrasions and burns leave their marks on our bodies. And, at a deeper level, the setbacks and disappointments, the sorrows of separation and loss add up.  We find ourselves scarred and wounded. Perhaps at no time has this been more obvious than this year of the pandemic and social unrest.

But, like our little wooden horse, those scars make us all the more precious in our Father’s eyes.  

Imagine how precious the scars that Jesus endured appear to the Father.  The nail prints in His hands, the sword riven side and the lashings upon His back are the marks of his sacrifice and love.  Isaiah says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5). And, again Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24).

Few have suffered as many hardships as the Apostle Paul.  Of these he wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, ... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. ... But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 11:24-27, 12:9-10).

Our undeserved wounds and innocent scars make us precious in the sight of God. Just as Peter wrote, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Peter 2:20).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bearing Fruit in a Pandemic World



I grew up in central Texas with huge pecan trees that shaded our house in summer.   When the leaves fell in fall they left behind bare branches bearing thousands of pecans.  It was my job to climb to the top-most branches and shake loose a hail storm of pecans that covered the ground.  My mother’s pecan pies were sought after at family gatherings.

A persimmon tree grew outside out kitchen window.  The tree house I built among its branches became my favorite hiding place where I discovered the magic of books that transported me through time and space.  In fall the persimmons ripened into delicious redish-orange fruit. But a bite or two of green ones ruined their taste for life.   My mouth still puckers when I think about it.  

We had pear trees in the back yard whose branches sagged in summer with the weight of golden fruit.  As kids, we munched on pears plucked from low-lying limbs, juice dribbling down our chins.

In my adult years we moved to Minnesota. I was introduced to Minnesota sweet corn, corn is so sweet that Garrison Keillor wrote a hymn about it.  Nothing compares to Minnesota field-ripened sweet corn roasted and slathered with butter. In the fall we picked strawberries in the fields and plucked honey crisp apples from the trees. 

Just as we take pleasure in delicious fruit of summer, so God takes pleasure when we bear good fruit in our lives. Like the garden, the field and the orchard, we can live fruitful lives even in an upside down pandemic world.

Jesus said,  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. … For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:33).

In Galatians, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit that nourish and sustain us: “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).

Peter wrote, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence knowledge, and in your knowledge self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Honesty and Authenticity


I stepped up to the counter and handed the cashier my twenty-dollar bill.  She glanced at me, lifted the bill up to the light, squinted and examined it, then laid it on the counter. She whipped out what looked like a felt tip marker and marked it. After a long second, she placed it in the cash register and gave me my change.  It seemed simple enough. But it made me wonder. 

What made her think my twenty might be fake?  Did I look dishonest?  I reminded myself that it was standard procedure.  She had been taught to check every twenty because you never know who might pass a counterfeit.  You can’t recognize honesty or dishonesty by a person’s looks, with or without a mask.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as easy to discern fake people as it is to recognize a fake twenty?  What if we could hold people up to a light, squint and examine them for watermarks, or just swipe them with a pen and watch for discoloration?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Sometimes the people we trust the most disappoint us. That was the case with Richard Nixon. After winning the presidency by a landslide vote, the Watergate investigations revealed a man far different than the public image. One of our great difficulties today is the widespread doubt that no politician can be trusted. They seem more intent on vilifying their opponents and promoting their own agenda than engaging in sincere dialogue.

We all know that no one is perfect.  We are all human.  We are all sinners and we all make mistakes. We are not looking for perfection.  But we are desperate for authenticity and honesty. We are desperate for authentic parents, teachers, employers, employees, preachers and politicians.

Jesus ranked authenticity among the highest of virtues. His harshest words were leveled at those who pretended to be what they were not. Speaking to people of his day, Jesus said, “You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.” (Mt. 23:27-28, The Message).  He warned his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1).

What really gets scary and complicated is to examine ourselves. Am I authentic?  Is there any hypocrisy in me?  Are we being open, honest and authentic with one another? Someday, of course, there will be a test. God will hold each of us up to the light. He will examine us for authenticity. Are we people of authentic faith living honest and authentic lives?