What Others Say

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Blind Spots

 All of us have have blind spots. Our brain fills in the picture so we don’t realize it. But the blind spots in our field of vision are very real. In medical terms, “it is the place in the visual field that corresponds to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc.”

 Here is a simple way to “see” your blind spot.  Put your thumbs together, the tips touching, with your index fingers pointed upward. This will separate your index fingers by approximately six inches. Extend your arms with your hands directly in front of you. Close your left eye. Focus with your right eye on your left finger and move your hands closer or further away.  The right finger will disappear in your blind spot. You can do the same for your left eye. If this doesn’t work, go to google or you tube and you will find plenty of help to find your blind spot.

 Several years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma in my left eye, something very similar to the blind spot, but bigger. About ¼ of the vision in my left eye is missing, and I didn’t know it.  With both eyes open, my right eye compensates for it.  With just my left eye open, my brain tries to fill in the gaps. But when I move my finger into the blind spot, it disappears.

 We also have a blind spot when we are driving.  It is the place just behind us on the left side, just off the left rear bumper. We can check our rear view mirror and our side view mirror, and it appears no one is around us, but when we try to change lanes horns blare and people swerve. We can easily miss our blind spot.

 Jesus spoke about our spiritual blind spot.  We think that we can see all things clearly.  We believe that we have a full field of vision, but the truth is that we are unable to see some of the most important elements of life and reality. We are blinded by our prejudice and presumptions. We assume we have no prejudice.  Other people may be prejudiced, but not us.  We assume we see all things objectively.  But do we?  

 Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

 Jesus often told simple stories so that we might see our spiritual blind spot and understand the important lessons of life.  Jesus said, “This is why I speak in parables: though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  (Matthew 13:13).

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Where Are the Birds?

 I have often risen before dawn to sit outside under the stars listening  as the birds announce the coming day.   It starts with a tweet or a chirp and then, as a crimson glow streaks the gray sky, their songs rise to a chorus as the sun breaks above the horizon.  But lately, there have been no songs.  The pre-dawn darkness is shrouded in an eery silence.  The first shadows stretch across the  landscape where there is no movement. The birds are absent. Where have they gone?

 Probably it is a matter of seasonal migration.  But this is the first year I remember watching the sun rise without a single bird to signal the day.  There are no Sparrows, no Juncos, no Finches, no Blackbirds, no Geese.  Where are they?  According to a study out of Cornell University, birds are, in fact, disappearing.  Since 1970 the bird population in North America has plummeted by 29%, from 10 billion to 7.1 billion.  Almost 3 billion birds are gone.  Scientists point toward climate change and the destruction of natural habitats as the primary reasons for the decline.  Imagine a world without birds to greet the sunrise, geese to fill the skies, trees without songs. Imagine the natural world replaced with concrete, steel, plastic and virtual reality.

 Years ago, I visited the abandoned coal mines near Birmingham, England, an area known as the “Black Country” due to its early industrial pollution.  We toured the caverns where men labored to extract the coal.  As we descended the guide pointed out the cage where they placed a canary to detect the build-up of dangerous gases.  As long as the air was good, the canary sang. But when the canary stopped singing, and eventually dropped dead, the miners knew it was imperative they evacuate the shafts.  Perhaps the birds are sending us a warning.  Perhaps like the canary in the coal mine, the silence of their song signals the imperative that we take climate change seriously. 

 Birds play an important role in the Bible’s redemption story.  When Noah emerged from the catastrophic flood he sent out a dove that returned with an olive leaf, the first sign the waters were receding, (Genesis 8).  When Elijah hid from Ahab by the brook Cherith, God sent ravens to feed him bread and flesh in the morning and evening, (1 Kings 17).  When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the bodily form of a dove, (Luke 3:22).  Jesus urged us to consider the birds as an example of God’s provision and care.

 Our planet is a marvelous, mysterious and miraculous place.  There is nothing else like it in the known universe. We share our space with the myriad of other living species.  At the dawn of creation God gave his first commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth,” (Genesis 1:28).   

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Seasons

 This week we visited Rocky Mountain National Park.  The elk were out. Their bugle echoed through the hills.  Peaceful cows grazed in the meadow under the watchful eye of an antlered bull.  Through winter and summer they disappear into the vast forests, but, in the fall, when the Aspen tinge the mountain slopes with yellow, they appear, bold and fearless. Rams foraged among the rocks above the tree line overlooking the vast vista in the distance. They have been doing this for thousands of years, long before humans wandered these mountains.

 All of nature is synchronized with the seasons.  The geese fill the skies with wind singing in their wings.  Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico. The maple, oak and sumac fire the hills with crimson and gold preparing the way for white blankets of snow.  

Our concrete, plastic and glass world insulate us from nature’s rhythms.  So do our drugs. They deaden our souls and our senses.  We are more alive when we connect with the rhythms God has built into nature. The changing seasons seek to awaken us, to remind us that the same creative power that painted the mountains and designed the migrations of the birds also created us.   

All of life is lived in seasons, from birth to death. Each is made for celebration, for life and learning and loving: playful childhood, visionary youth, responsible adulthood, reflective old age.  The seasons of life fill our souls with songs of faith, love, hope, joy and sorrow. We all experience seasons of health and seasons of illness, seasons of plenty and seasons of lack, seasons of pain and seasons of joy. 

 Ecclesiasts puts it best:  “There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes  3:1-8).

 In all of our seasons we can celebrate God’s presence as our creator and sustainer, the Savior of our soul.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Creation, The Big Bang and Eternity

In 2016 scientists documented the existence of gravitational waves in the universe, a phenomenon Einstein postulated 100 years before. With this discovery, they said, they could look back to the earliest beginnings of the universe.  In 2019, scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Planck Collaboration concluded the universe was hundreds of millions years younger than previously thought.  Rather than 14 billion years, it is only 13.77 billion years old.   They all seem to agree the dawn of the universe took place in a fraction of a millisecond, commonly referred to as the “big bang.”

 But what happened before that split second in time?

 One of the foundational elements of theology is the idea that God is eternal.  He has no beginning and no end.  If that is the case, we have to ask, “What was before the ‘Big Bang’?”  After all, if God is eternal, 14 billion years (give or take a few hundred million) are less than a blip on His screen. The Bible says, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8).

 We don’t know what happened before the Big Bang or Creation. Nor do we know what happens after the universe comes to an end, another fact science has confirmed.   Scientists have discovered evidence that the universe is winding down and will cease to exist. The universe definitely has a beginning and an end.

 What we do know is that the universe exists now.  We know that a fragile planet, delicately rotating on its axis around an insignificant star in a remote corner of a minor galaxy somehow spawned life as we know it. How can this possibly be?

 We have one of two conclusions.  Either life on Earth and our ability to comprehend it, is a random accident, or, it is an extravagant and profound miracle produced by the mind of God.  Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 I choose the latter.  It makes more sense to me.  Every morning when we wake to the rising sun and behold the beauty of the earth, we behold the miraculous.  Einstein is also credited with the observation, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

 Perhaps the poet-king David expresses it best, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that you thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God, and you crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9).


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Crowd Is Back

A year ago the stadiums were empty.  At the U.S. Open, Arthur Ashe echoed like an empty cavern, its silence disturbed by the smash of a tennis racquet on the ball and the grunts of the competitors. Major League baseball completed an abbreviated season in front of empty seats with cardboard cutouts serving as eerie reminders of the people who were not there. Some resorted to recordings in an effort to emulate crowd noise.  Olympic athletes conducted opening ceremonies and competed on the track and field trying to imagine the people who were not present.

 All that changed last week. The fans are back!

 At the U.S, Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows both the players and the commentators were in agreement: the most important factor in the tournament was the crowd. 27,000 fans, including past champions and celebrities packed Arthur Ashe stadium to cheer two previously unknown teenagers in the women’s final.  19 year old Leylah Fernandez and 18 year old qualifier Emma Raducanu gave credit to the crowds for their unparalleled success. 

 Novac Djokovic’s statement after his heartbreaking loss, falling one match short of completing the Calaendar Grand Slam, captured the importance of the crowd.  I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special on the court."

 71,829 showed up at the Chick Fil-A Kick Off game in Atlanta to watch #1 Alabama route 14th ranked Miami.  In Fayetteville, Arkansas 76,000 fans went ballistic as the unranked Razorbacks dismantled 15th ranked Texas.  84,000 turned out at Neyland stadium in Knoxville, TN  to watch the University of Tennessee battle Bowling Green. 

 The Super Bowl defending Tampa Bay Bucs opened the NFL season at home against Dallas on Thursday in a packed stadium with official attendance at 65,556. The largest NFL attendance showed up in New York where 74,119 watched the Giants fall to the Denver Broncos 13-27. 

 Coaches, teams, competitors and commentators all agree, the crowd makes a difference.  We always suspected it was true, but now, after a year of empty arenas, we know without a doubt the power of the home field advantage.  There are no spectators. Everyone present is a participant.

 At Texas A&M it is known as the 12th man.   Each and every game the student body stands for the entire game, a symbol of the 12th man ready to play dating back to 1922 and the legend of E. King Gill.  

 The book of Hebrews draws on this metaphor to inspire and encourage every believer in their devotion to Christ, “Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the initiator and the finisher of our race.”  (Hebrews 12). The Apostle Paul makes a similar reference, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize.  Run in such a way that you may win!”

 Can you hear them? Those who have gone before, those who have paid the price, those who have finished well, they are cheering from the ramparts of heaven.  We are all participants. Each and every one makes a difference each and every day. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whether young or old, there is a race to be run and there is a race to be won. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Remembering 9-11

 This week our nation looks back to remember and reflect on 9/11.  Twenty years have passed, and an entire generation has grown up with no knowledge of a world without TSA security lines, a world where passengers stepped off the plane to be embraced by loved ones at the gate, a world where spectators entered public buildings and stadiums without metal detectors and bag searches.  Mid-twenties and younger have learned about 9/11 from history books.

 Those of us who lived through it remember where we were and what we were doing when the airplanes slammed into the twin towers.  That moment changed our world.

 On September 11, 2001, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans vanished. Not literally, of course.  But prior to that date we felt isolated from a distant and violent world in which terrorists attacked innocent crowds.  We felt protected by the vast bodies of water that separated us from Europe, Africa and Asia.  After 9/11 those barriers no longer existed.  We were connected and vulnerable, a feeling that has increased with cyber-security issues, Covid, and the fall of Afghanistan.  

 Every generation has its 9/11 to remember, a staggering event that freezes the moment in memory.  For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, it was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy fell to an assassin’s bullet at Dealy Plaza in Dallas. For our parents it was December 7, 1941, a quiet Sunday morning when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

 Every generation experiences events that threaten to steal their freedom, destroy their dreams and leave them frozen with fear. But one event stands alone that places all others in perspective. One event above all others enables us to rise above our fears to embrace the future.  September 11, 2001, November 22, 1963 and December 7, 1941, are all dated in reference to the birth of Jesus Christ.

 The prophet Isaiah predicted Jesus’ life when He wrote, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious,” (Isaiah 11:10).  Paul summed up His significance when he said, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His son,” (Galatians 4:4).  It was the perfect moment. Everything in history is dated in reference to His birth as BC, AD or BCE, CE.  From Him flow the faith and courage to face any disaster, to overcome any foe and to live with confidence knowing that goodness and righteousness will prevail upon the earth.

 An old song captures the experience of millions who have persevered and prevailed through devastating tragedies for more than two thousand years.  Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote it and first sang it fifty years ago. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.  Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives … we can face uncertain days, because He lives.”


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

What Are We Missing?

 When we listen to the news regarding the economy, international politics and religious trends in America, we could easily conclude that the world is spiraling out of control. The sudden fall of Afghanistan set chills around the globe. The world is weary of the Covid pandemic that refuses to release its grip.  Christendom seems to be on the skids. Church buildings that once housed vibrant congregations stand empty. Some have been turned into offices, lofts or restaurants. Many of the great cathedrals of Europe now operate as museums.

In a similar day to our own, Habakkuk posed the following questions to God, “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.” It seemed to Habakkuk that God had abandoned the world to its own destructive devices.

God’s answer to him was quick and clear: “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe,even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5).

Like Habakkuk, maybe we are missing something.

The Bible teaches that God is active in human history. The Old Testament carefully charts God’s hand at work among the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The New Testament concludes Scripture by introducing Jesus in the “fullness of time.” It would be illogical to conclude that God turned his back on human events and walked away two thousand years ago.

While Christianity has waned in the West, it has exploded in South America, Africa and Asia. Only 35% of the world’s Christians live in the United States and Europe. In some regions of South America, the number of Christians has grown at more than twice the rate of the population. South Korea has become the second largest mission-sending nation in the world. Despite persecution in China, the number of Christians has grown from 22 million to 38 million in the last decade. The number of Christians in Africa skyrocketed from 10 million in 1900 to more than 300 million in 2000. The Pew Forum projects the African continent will be home to more than 1 billion Christians by 2050.

Christianity is growing faster than at any time in history. It simply is not happening in America or Europe. And Christianity outside the West does not look like the Christendom structures of the Reformation. They are not building cathedrals. They are becoming passionate followers of Christ. When people become passionate followers of Jesus they become more honest, generous and industrious, the very elements that create an economic, political and spiritual future.

Perhaps, if we look at the nations and watch, we will stand in utter amazement at what God is doing in our day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Faith in a Violent World

 The rapid collapse of the Afghan government and swift rise of Taliban control has sent chills throughout the world. We are haunted by the desperation written on thousands of Afghan faces huddled at the Kabul airport seeking escape. Our hearts and our prayers go out to them.

 Why is the world so broken? Why does violence stalk every generation? Why does this continue?

 My grandfather fought in France during the First World War.  But twenty years later the world was engulfed in another global conflict and the “War to End All Wars” was largely forgotten.  Since WWII America has been at war in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and several other lesser known places.

 James explained violence this way: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2).

 Jesus was under no illusion regarding our circumstances. He said, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:6-7).  “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

 It is difficult to imagine the violence and cruelty of the first century.  Crucifixion was common under Roman rule. More than 2,000 Jews were crucified and displayed on Galilean roads about the time Jesus was born following a revolt led by Judas ben Hezekiah. As far as we know every one of the Apostles, except John, was martyred.  In spite of this, they lived their lives with hope, joy and peace.

 Often persecuted and suffering for his faith in Christ, the Apostle Paul gave us this instruction: “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people,”  (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).)

 It is easy to give in to the relentless stream of negative news: wars, violence, abuse and natural disasters.  Many see dark clouds gathered on the horizon with little hope for the future. But faith can withstand the most dismal circumstances.

 For every act of violence, we can find a thousand acts of kindness. Every overwhelming flood unleashes a greater flood of human kindness, courage and sacrifice.  The same can be said for every terrorist attack and every war. God is present.  Goodness will triumph. He will not leave us nor abandon us.  The righteous will not be forsaken.  Nothing can destroy the life of the spirit in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi

 Those who read this column regularly are familiar with Buddy, our tri-color corgi.  We adopted Buddy in 2009 and, across the years I have written numerous columns about all the things Buddy has taught me.     

 He was picked up starving off the streets of Fort Worth by animal control and given to Corgi Rescue.  When we first met him he was skinny and sick.  But we instantly knew he was right for us.   Buddy and I bonded. He told me his story and I wrote it down in a book for my grandchildren, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi. (It’s free this week as an eBook on Amazon). He went with me everywhere and helped put life in perspective.

 Across the years we had pets, mostly mutts and strays that wandered into our lives.  They helped us raise our kids.  Each was different.  “Punkin” was our first. I brought her home on Christmas Day for our three-year-old son.  I was too busy to give her much attention, but the children loved her.  She grew old and blind.

 After Punkin we adopted a cat. Rascal was a gray-and-white kitten our boys picked up off the street.  He was part of our family for fifteen years and made the move with us from Texas to Minnesota.  We picked up a puppy from a Minnesota farm and named him Max.  We thought he would be a small dog, but in six months, he was bigger than our daughter, had eaten all the furniture and dug up the back yard.  We offered him to a good home.   One interested lady tried to take his picture and he ate her camera.  Fortunately, a young couple with a farm adopted him.  We threw in his crate, dog food and anything else we could think of.  We last saw them chasing him down the street. 

 So we went back to cats.  My wife and daughter found a cute black and white kitten that our son named “Fido.”  Our daughter loved Fido.  But, Fido was apparently insulted by our move back to Texas and ran away.  When our daughter left for college we found ourselves in an empty nest, the kids grown and the dogs and cats gone. It was peaceful.  I guess a little too peaceful.   After awhile I realized I missed having a dog. 

 Then, about the time I started writing these columns, we found Buddy.  He was a pup, maybe one year old. He is now what the vet calls a “healthy geriatric.”  Across the years he taught me to live in the moment; to celebrate each day as a gift.  So often I spend time reminiscing or regretting the past and dreaming or worrying about the future.  But Buddy takes each day as it comes.  Of course, it is good to cherish memories and learn from the past.  And it is good to dream and plan.  That is part of what defines us in God’s image.  But I am prone to miss the moment.  Jesus said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself …” ( Mt 6:34).   “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24).

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Going The Extra Mile

 I went to Walmart the other day.  Something I do as a part of the middle-class ritual.  Sometimes I visit other stores with fewer choices and higher prices just to avoid crowds. But Walmart has most the things I need and I can wear my sweat pants and no one notices.   

While at Walmart, I thought I would pick up a few items for my diet.  I am trying to lose weight again. Three peaches, two bags of frozen vegetables and a box of rice. I didn’t think these staples would get me through a pre-season football game, but maybe, if I eat enough vegetables and rice, it will keep me out of trouble.

 I was clearly under the express limit of twenty items, so I went to the express check out and got in line.  I stood behind a young Hispanic woman who was obviously pregnant and had a small child on her hip.  She started emptying her cart onto the counter. In all she had well over forty items, including a few cases of coke and a large sack of potatoes. She piled up the counter not once, but twice.

I smiled and was patient.  The cashier was apologetic that she did not see the woman’s cart before she unloaded it.  Several customers behind me rolled their eyes, groaned, and asked if the girl couldn’t read.  I waited, smiled, bought my items and did not complain. “Maybe she made a mistake and got in the wrong line,” I thought.  Anyway, we ought to give a break to a young woman with a child on her hip and a baby in her womb. She is trying to feed and take care of her family.  I am just trying to stay on a diet. I was feeling rather good about myself for not complaining or rolling my eyes. 

 After I got home, I started thinking.  Why didn’t I offer to help the young woman?  I could have lifted the potatoes and cases of coke. I could have helped her with her basket. Maybe I could have offered to pay for her grocery bill.  Was it enough to simply smile and not complain?  I could imagine Jesus saying, “Don’t be so smug. If I had been there, I would have helped the girl.” 

 “Okay, Lord,” I said.  “I am listening.” But sometimes ‘going the second mile’ is hard to do.  Not so much because I don’t want to do it, but because I simply miss the opportunities.”

 Jesus gave us the concept of “going the extra mile” in his Sermon on the Mount.  “Whoever compels you to go with him one mile, go with him two,” (Matthew 5:41). He also gave us the clearest example of “going the extra mile” when he told us the story of the Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:30-37).   

 Every day we have opportunities to “go the extra mile.” To do something unexpectedly nice for someone.  They occur when we are going about our daily lives, at work, at school, shopping, wherever we go, whatever we do. We just need to open our eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them.  Sometimes it is the little things that change the world.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Dealing with Depression

 Naomi Osaka made international news when she withdrew from the French Open and opted not to play at Wimbledon due to her struggles with depression.  This past week Simone Biles, the world’s most gifted gymnast, catapulted into the spotlight by withdrawing from competition at the Olympics due to mental health issues. Simone Biles wrote, “The outpouring of love and support I have received has made me realize I am more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.” 

 If you are suffering from feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness or despair, you are not alone. Depression is widespread.  It afflicts the wealthy, the famous, and the talented: writers, artists, musicians and athletes as well as the unknown and obscure.  In 2020 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than a third of U.S. citizens show signs of clinical depression and anxiety.  Our battle with Covid has caused this number to grow.

 No book in the Bible is filled more with adoration, praise and prayer than the book of Psalms, most of them attributed to King David.  There is a strange stream in the midst of these songs written by the musician who, in his youth, soothed King Saul with his skill on the lyre.  We see it in Psalm 42, a Psalm that starts out with a beautiful imagery for worship, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, O God,” (Psalm 42:1). Followed by another recurrent theme, “Why are you in despair O my soul, and why have you become disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5).

 Can it be that the young shepherd who slew Goliath and became the beloved King of Israel could have suffered from depression?

 When I have felt the dark clouds of depression gathering above my head I have learned several important things.  First, do something.  Sitting and brooding only throws the mind into a deeper spiral of despair. More than that, do something good for someone else. It doesn’t matter who or what or how small. Find someone you can help in some way, whether within your family, among your friends or a total stranger. Meditate on the Scripture, especially the Palms.  They will encourage your trust in God, even when times are difficult. And remember that moments of depression will pass.  God will see you through.

  In his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, Abraham Lincoln wrote, “You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”

 In the midst of his own mental anguish David repeatedly affirmed, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence,” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

living in a Lonely World

A couple hundred years ago people lived in isolation, farming land on open prairies. Travel and communication were slow and uncertain.  Letters took weeks, if not months, to reach their destination. Responses were long delayed.  A visit to town might take an entire weekend.

 Modern technology has changed all of that.  Travel is rapid and relatively cheap. We can travel to the other side of the earth in a day. Communication is immediate and global.  Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, and Zoom connect us with family, friends and strangers.  We can as easily communicate with someone in another corner of the same department store as we can someone on the other side of the earth.  

 Strangers stroll down grocery store aisles with cell phones “talking to the cabbage.”  Young girls jog along the street, their pony tails swinging in rhythm to their stride while they jabber away on their headset. Distracted motorists navigate through traffic, one hand on the wheel, another holding a cell phone to their ear. Text dings are commonplace.

Last year technology helped us cope with Covid restrictions.  Churches zoomed and streamed.  We flooded the internet with Facebook, email and texts. But still, loneliness soared. 

 In spite of our technological connections, loneliness is epidemic.  Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education led a study last October that discovered feelings of loneliness were most pronounced among young adults age 18-25.  According to Social Media Week, “Despite being constantly connected, people are still feeling alone. So what gives? With the ability to keep in touch with all our loved ones, why are people lonelier than ever?”  

 The article went on to say, “The problem with social media is the fact that people only share the good things about their lives. This constant barrage of good news causes a vicious cycle in which people post the great things that are happening, which causes their friends to only share the good things that happen in order to keep up. This kills any sense of vulnerability, of genuine shared experiences that were so crucial to emotional closeness between friends.

 We need community, frequent face-to-face committed relationships with others.  This is why we need church. But we need more than assembling to sing a few songs and listen to a preacher preach.  We need honest and transparent friendships.  We need to “bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2).  We need a place to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15).  We need trusted relationships where we can “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (James 5:16).

 This is why many churches are creating “Life Groups” that meet in people’s homes, where they can share a meal, visit over the table and study the Bible. 

 God does not desire that any one should be alone. “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation.  God makes a home for the lonely,” (Psalm 68:5-6).   

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Olympics - Running the Race

Opening ceremonies for the world summer Olympics is scheduled for this Friday, July 23 in Tokyo, Japan after a year of delay due to Covid.  Every Olympics results in incredible stories of courage, discipline, determination, and faith. Perhaps none is more inspiring than Eric Liddell who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. His story was captured in the film, Chariots of Fire, that won the Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1982.

 A native of Scotland, Liddell had earned a national reputation for his speed in the 100 meter dash.  The Paris Olympics would determine whether he was, as many believed, the fastest man in the world. His cousin, Jenny, tried to convince him to give up his running and fulfill his commitment to serve as a missionary in China.  He responded, “Jenny, God made me, and he made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure.”  At 22, he qualified for the Olympics and sailed from England with his teammates.  In route, he had a crisis of faith.

 As a devout Christian, Eric held a strong conviction about observing the Sabbath and had long refused to compete on Sunday.  He learned that the 100 meter race for which he had trained was scheduled for Sunday.  Crestfallen, but consistent with his convictions, he refused to compete.  Instead, he agreed to switch to the 400 meter, an event for which he had not prepared. 

 The film portrays Eric on Sunday, standing in the pulpit at the Church of Scotland in Paris reading from Isaiah 40 while others stumble through their grueling races: 

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary,”
(Isaiah 40:28-31).

 The following week, Eric Liddell ran in the 400, an event for which many had written him off.  He not only won the gold, he set a new world record.  When someone asked him how he ran the race, he said, “I ran the first 200 meters as fast as I could, then, with God’s help, I ran the second 200 faster.”

 The next year, Eric Liddell left for China where he served as a missionary until his death as a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.  He was buried behind the Japanese officers’ quarters at Weifeng in the Shandong Province, 6.5 hours north of  Beijing. A memorial headstone was later erected at the site with the quote, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.  They shall run and not faint.”

 Few ever compete in the Olympics, but all of us must run our own race.  With the first century Olympics in the background, Scripture says, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV). 


Monday, July 12, 2021

Generations

 History is like an expedition.  Each generation helps chart the journey with its twists and turns, and each picks up where the other left off.

 Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. More than a dozen of those who signed it were less than 35.  Fifty years later Jefferson and John Adams died on the anniversary of the Fourth.  Their death marked the end of the generation we know as the “founding fathers.” 

 I remember as a child when the last veteran of the Civil War died. Albert Woolson was a drummer boy in Company C of the First Minnesota.  He died in 1956.  At present we are witnessing the departure of what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation,” those who lived through World War II.  Five years before I was born my mother was on a picnic with my father when President Roosevelt interrupted their 1940s music to report the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Less than 325,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in WW II are alive today.

 Some of us can recall where we were the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles.  Vietnam and Watergate evoke vivid memories. But the young know these events as history. Those born after 9/11 have turned 20.   They have never known a world without TSA security.  The current generation will live their lives in the shadows of Covid.   Every generation makes its own memories, and each generation must find its own faith.

 A few years ago I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish with my remaining years.  One of those things was to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever imagined.  I am pleased to see that happening in many places.  More people are coming to Christ every day than at any time in history, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.  I am finding many in their twenties and thirties who are passionate about going to the ends of the earth and living transformed lives for Christ.

 When God looks on humanity, he sees generations.  Following Noah’s flood, God had us in mind when he said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations.”  Moses’ success depended on how well he encouraged Joshua, the leader of the next generation that would enter the Promised Land. David sang, “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.” 

 The world has never been a safe place. Expeditions are dangerous. We face huge obstacles and challenges, but the potential is limitless. As our generations overlap, we have opportunity to build upon the foundations of faith that others have laid and to create a better world for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Blessed

 When I was young, I didn’t use the word, “blessed.”  I thought it seemed shallow and artificially religious, something you say to sound religious when you didn’t know what else to say.  I wasn’t even sure what it meant.  But, as I have grown older, I have changed my mind.

 I grew up in Texas.  When someone asked, “How are you?” any answer other than “Fine,” or “Great,” tended to throw the conversation off course.  When I lived in Minnesota, an understated culture, I learned that the appropriate response to “How are you?” was “Not too bad.”  When I tried to use that response in Texas, it raised all kinds of complications.  But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African American  Christians had developed an entirely different response.  When I asked my them, “How are you?” they almost always responded, “I’m blessed.” I like the African American response.

 Jesus used this term when he introduced the Sermon On the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness … blessed are the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10).   He Greek New Testament used the word makarios which some have translated “happy.”  I think “blessed” is the right word. 

 Being blessed has nothing to do with prosperity, health, comfort or security.  It is all about a relationship with God that blesses us whatever our circumstances happen to be.  In fact, those who suffer poverty, illness and difficulty are more likely to experience God’s blessing than those who are wealthy and well off.

 I grew up listening to Billy Graham each week and looked forward to hearing the Hour of Decision on the radio.  Dr. Graham’s messages, books and, most of all, his conduct always inspired me.  He ended every broadcast by saying, “God bless you real good.”  It wasn’t proper grammar, but we all understood what he meant and, when we listened to him, we always felt blessed. 

 Some churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants.  Most churches take time to conclude their worship with the “benediction,” a blessing of the worshippers as they leave the worship experience. In African American churches the benediction is often the high point of the service. 

 When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised him He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is living every day knowing that we are blessed and seeking ways to bless others.  When we are blessed, we can sing with the Psalmist, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” (Psalm 32:1). “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him,” (Psalm 34:8).

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Our Nation and Prayer

 In 1787 the future of the fledgling United States hung in the balance. The Articles of Confederation that had been adopted at the end of the American Revolution had proven inadequate.  It appeared that the union between the individual states would soon disintegrate and the American experiment would be short-lived. 

 Representatives assembled in Philadelphia in a last ditch effort to draft a constitution that could create a lasting government. After more than a month of frustratingly little progress, Benjamin Franklin spoke. “How has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding?” Franklin had begun his career as a borderline atheist, but in his old age, he had changed his mind. “The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

 Referring to the Scripture, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” Franklin stated, “I firmly believe this.” Without God’s help the delegates would build no better than the builders of Babel.

 Years later, Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar concern when he said, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

 Addressing the generation that bore the agony of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln expressed similar sentiments in his second inaugural, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

 On this Fourth of July, it is no less important than it was in the days of Franklin, Jefferson and Lincoln that we pray for our country.  Emerging from a global pandemic, faced with cultural shifts and cyber-threats that were inconceivable to our nation’s founders, it is all-the-more important that we seek God’s grace, wisdom and protection for our generation.

 In 2 Chronicles God has promised, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

 It is always God’s desire to bless any nation that places its hope in Him, just as Jeremiah says, “And you will swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.”

Click the image to the right to download a FREE eBook copy of my devotional book, Authentic Disciple, Meditations in Mark. June 30-July 4, 2021.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Sparrows

 A couple years ago I wrote about Fred and Ethel, two robins that built their nest on a low-lying limb in the Aspen tree outside our front window.  This year a couple of sparrows showed up, surveyed  the scene and selected the bird house in our back yard for their home.  We were happy to see them move in.  The bird house, a mothers-day gift from our son, sat empty for three years.  A few larger birds showed interest, but after poking, prodding and wiggling with unsuccessful efforts to wedge their way through the tiny opening, they abandoned it and went searching for real estate elsewhere.

 The sparrows found it a perfect fit and joyfully chirped in celebration of their good fortune. I named them Ed and Trixie, the side-kick couple from the Jackie Gleason show, one of the most popular sit-coms in the early days of television.  Ed was a plumber.  His best buddy, Ralph, played by Jackie Gleason, was a bus driver. They lived next door to each other in low-income apartments.  Sparrows seem to be blue-collar birds, so the names seemed to fit.

 Ed, the male sparrow, has a dark bib (or is it a beard?), beneath his beak.  Trixie, the female, has a gray breast.  For days they inspected the birdhouse, perching on its ledge, flitting back and forth to a nearby  limb, returning to peek in the small hole.  Finally, they agreed it was suitable, and they started collecting blades of dry grass, straw and twigs.  For several weeks they tirelessly delivered their nesting material and built their home.  Like the robin, sparrows are monogamous, mating for life.

 Last week, the faint sounds of chirping emerged from the birdhouse, and, watching closely, I thought I saw  the movement of baby birds through the narrow opening, their tiny beaks reflecting the sunlight.

 Later in the day, I sat by a pond and watched a mother duck slowly paddle her way along the shore, surrounded by eight ducklings. They poked and prodding in the shallows beneath a yellow-green Willow.  The bright-colored mallard followed close behind, keeping a close watch on his brood.

 We are surrounded by the mystery and miracle of life. It must give God great joy to behold His creation, encoding into the DNA of every living creature the desire to mate and multiply.  No where is this more beautiful than in the human species.

 I love watching young couples pushing their baby carriages, fathers balancing children on their shoulders, mothers watching from a shaded bench while their children laugh and squeal on the playground.  This is the reason weddings are celebrated with such joy.  They represent the hopes and dreams of the next generation.

 The little brown sparrows seem so common, like most of us. Only two of the billions of birds that populate the planet, building their nests, laying their eggs, raising their young, living out the mystery and miracle of life.  They remind me of the old hymn sung with such passion by Ethel Waters.

 

Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

(Matthew 10:29)

Monday, June 14, 2021

There;s Nothing LIke Being a Father

 Last month, at 50 years and 11 months, Phil Mickelson became the oldest golfer in history to win a major tournament when he won the PGA by 2 strokes. He is now considered an “old man,” at least in the field of sports.  But I remember when Phil was young, when his wife gave birth to their first child and he became a father.

 On Father’s Day 1999, Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart stood on the final hole of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.   Mickelson had a 25 foot birdie putt to tie for the lead. Stewart’s ball was 15 feet from the cup for par.

 Mickelson’s birdie putt came to rest 6 inches from the hole.  Payne Stewart stood over his 15 foot putt with a w.w.j.d. (“What would Jesus do?) bracelet on his wrist, a gift from his son a few months earlier.  The putt broke to the right and dropped into the center of the cup making Stewart the 1999 US Open champion.

 Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was at home expecting the birth of their daughter at any moment.  He carried a pager on the course in case she went into labor. At that time, Phil had never won a major golf tournament.

 Payne Stewart joined the PGA tour a decade before, a charismatic playboy wearing knickers and a tam-o-shanter  hat. He burst on the scene with a swagger, chewing bubble gum, caustic and arrogant.  In 1989 he refused to shake hands with Tom Kite when he lost in a playoff for the Tour Championship. All of that changed in the mid-90s when Stewart  came to faith in Jesus Christ through the influence of his children.  His conduct and values changed.

 One of the most memorable photos in sports history is the image of Payne Stewart taking Phil Mickelson’s face in his hands and looking intently into his eyes trying to encourage his competitor in defeat.  Knowing what Mickelson was going through at home, Stewart said. “Phil, there’s nothing like being a father!”  Amanda Mickelson was born the following day.

 Four months later Payne Stewart was killed when his private jet crashed in a field near Mina, SD.  More than 3,000 people attended his funeral at First Baptist Church, Orlando, FL.  His wife, Tracey, spoke. ''When I met Payne, I thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life,'' she said. ''After 18 years of marriage, he was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen, not because of the way he looked on the outside anymore, but because of what he was on the inside.'' Everyone at the funeral received a w.w.j.d. bracelet.

 Phil Mickelson went on to win 45 events on the PGA tour including 3 Masters, 2 PGA tournaments and the British Open.  He has never won the US Open.  In 2017 Mickelson chose to miss the US Open in order to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. Amanda, 18 and the class president, delivered the valedictorian address.  Mickelson said it was not a hard decision. 

 This Father’s Day, Mickelson will tee it up again at the U.S. Open, the one major he has never won. Whether he wins or loses, in the words of Payne Stewart, “There is nothing like being a father!”