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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Reflections - Time and Eternity

 The ball will drop in Times Square, fireworks will light the night sky in large cities and small, the Rose Parade will make its way through the streets of Los Angeles, stadiums  will vibrate as the best college teams face off against each other.  This week marks the end of 2021 and the arrival of 2022.

 Every year on New Year’s Eve I write down my reflections of the year past: the goals I achieved, and the ones I failed to meet, the major events that surprised me along the way.  On New Year’s Day, I write down my expectations for the year to come: what I hope to accomplish, my goals and dreams. The process reminds me how swiftly time flies.                                                                                                                          

Time waits for no one. We try to capture the moments with videos and photos, but time continues to fly.  By the time I write this sentence, and by the time you read it, the moment of the writing, and the moment of the reading are gone, never to return. Every moment of every day, week, month and year flees.

 We can remember what was and we suspect that somewhere in the universe the past still exists, just as we experienced it. We can imagine the future, but have no way of knowing what it holds. Only the present is ours, and it slips quickly through our grasp to join the memories of our past. It is the mark of our mortality. We are prisoners and servants of time.  No measure of wealth can restrain it.  No power on earth can contain it.

 Our mad dash to get ahead, to climb the ladder of success, to add to our possessions, to get to our destination faster are symptoms of our mortality.  We know that our time is limited.  There are only so many hours in the day, and so many days in a lifetime.

 The Bible agrees with this sense of mortality.  “We have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life they are seventy years, or if due to strength eighty years. … soon it is gone, and we fly away,” (Psalm 90:9-10).

 Only God is beyond time.  He is the great “I AM.”  He has no beginning and no end.  Past, present and future are alike to Him.  John wrote of Jesus, saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:1-3). Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58).

 On this new year. God invites us to transcend time and enter into His immortality. Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish.” (John 10:28).  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

Monday, December 20, 2021

Leap of Love

 I grew up near Waco, Texas and have fond childhood memories of family picnics at Cameron Park.  I was ten years old when I first visited Lover’s Leap, a site high atop the limestone cliffs that overlook the Brazos River.  In my youth I could throw a rock across the river striking the trees on the other side.  It was here, as a junior at Baylor that I first dated the girl that would become my wife.  And it was in this park that I proposed to her 53 years ago.

 In 1912 Decca Lamar West published the romantic story of Wah-Wah-Tee and her Apache Indian Brave who leaped from this precipice to their death rather than live their lives separated by tribal hostilities.  The story has been passed down countless times by generations.  

 In Hannibal, Missouri, another majestic site that overlooks the Mississippi claims a similar story.  According to a tradition dating to 1840 an Indian princess and an Indian brave from opposing tribes fell deeply in love. Hunted by the maiden’s tribe, they climbed to this pinnacle, embraced each other and leaped to their death.

 When I lived in Minnesota, I became familiar with Maiden Rock, a high bluff overlooking Lake Pepin, where, by one legend, a beautiful young Indian Maiden, the daughter of Chief Red Wing, leaped to her death after her Dakota Sioux tribe killed the Chippewa brave whom she loved. 

 There are many Lovers Leaps across the country.  You can find them in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Connecticut, Virginia and California.  Mark Twin noted, “There are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped.” 

 Why are there so many legends?  Why are they so similar? 

 I suppose it is because we all know that love is a leap. We cannot truly love someone without taking a chance, leaping into the unknown, making a commitment, risking everything.  It is the leap that makes life worthwhile. It was a leap for me, and certainly for my wife, 53 years ago when she was 19 and I was 22. I look back now, and it was the best jump of my life. 

 This Christmas we celebrate God’s leap of love for us.  It was love that caused God to send His son, born as a babe in Bethlehem, destined to die on a cross outside Jerusalem. He made the leap, risking everything in order to rescue us.  This is what the Bible means when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Majesty and the Mystery

 For the last four years astronomers have been studying a massive black hole with a total mass greater than 800 million suns.  Scientists estimate the black hole is over 13 billion light years away.  Such dimensions of time, space and mass boggle the mind.

 These dimensions give us a clue to the majesty of our Christmas celebration.  The Apostle Paul tried to capture that majesty with these words: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

 Our understanding of God is too small. We think in simple terms of time and space.  But, like the universe, Jesus is more than we can comprehend.

 That is why, when Moses met God in the desert and asked His name, God answered, “I Am That I Am.”

And that is the reason Jesus spoke of Himself in the same terms.  “Before Abraham was, I Am.” These words change all our concepts about existence and time.

 The religious leaders of the first century failed to recognize Jesus because they were conditioned to think in linear terms, past and present. Like them we miss Him as well when we think in such terms.  He is past, present and future.

 John attempted to capture His mystery in more symbolic language: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men,” (John 1:1-5,14).

 We have limited our understanding of Jesus to a mere mortal man who was born, lived and died at a particular time in history. While He was born in Bethlehem, lived in Galilee and was crucified outside Jerusalem, He was far more than anyone understood.  We must chip away all the religious brick and mortar of 2,000 years, remove all the plaster and paint.  We must look beyond the musty pages of theology and church history to discover the miracle and the mystery of that moment when all that is eternal entered into our narrow frame of existence, calling to us from beyond, calling us to be more than we ever imagined, to be better than we believed we could be, to link our lives with the eternal, to enter, literally, eis aionos, “into the age.”

 When Jesus was born, God touched the earth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Christmas Blind Side

 I like going to the movies.  I like sitting in the front row of the upper section, my wife’s favorite spot.  We prop our feet on the rails in front of us, sit back buried in surround sound and share a box of popcorn and a diet coke. After a year of Covid closure, we are glad to be back.  I especially like movies that are based on true stories: Akeela and the Bee, The Great Debaters, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Chariots of Fire.  They capture faith, hope and courage greater than any fiction. About ten years ago, I added The Blind Side.

 The Blind Side opens with the actual footage from Joe Theisman’s career ending injury.  I watched it live when it happened.  It still makes me cringe. The offensive tackle’s job in football is to protect the quarterback and keep that from happening. The title of the movie comes from the role of the left tackle who protects the quarterback’s blind side. 

 The Blindside is based on Michael Oher’s true story.  A homeless youth who wandered the streets of Memphis, Oher was befriended by a well-to-do Memphis family who took him in.  Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy made him part of their family, paid for his education, encouraged and befriended him. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Ann in the movie.  Michael went on to play 8 years in the NFL, including two Super Bowls.

 All of us have a blind side. We are blind sided when we are surprised by something we didn’t see coming. The title of the movie, “The Blind Side,” could stand for those moments in life when God blindsides us with an opportunity to be transformed by making a remarkable difference.  Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy were, quite literally, blind sided by a homeless black youth named Michael who gave them the opportunity to make a difference.  When commended by a friend for changing Michael’s life, Leigh Anne responded, “No, he is changing me.”

 Jesus was the master of the blindside.  He never missed an opportunity to make a difference.  When others tried to silence a blind beggar by the road, Jesus called for him and gave him sight. When his followers urged him to ignore a woman who timidly touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped and healed her twelve-year hemorrhage.  When the citizens of Jericho rebuked the despised tax-collector, Zacchaus, Jesus visited him in his home. When He encountered a crowd of men about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery, he exposed their hypocrisy and forgave her.

Christmas is, of course, about being blindsided.  The whole world was blindsided by the birth of the babe at Bethlehem.  Few took note, and those who did totally misunderstood.  Most just didn’t see it.  Maybe this Christmas God wants to blindside us with an opportunity that will change us and make a difference in someone else’s life.   Sean Tuohy said regarding Michael Oher, "We think God sent him to us. Earthly explanations don't make sense."

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Vanishing Generation

 Next week the world will mark the 80th anniversary of a date President Franklin Roosevelt declared would live in infamy, December 7, 1941.  Just before 8 AM on a quiet Sunday morning the skies over Honolulu Hawaii echoed with the drone of Japanese Zero aircraft. The first wave bombed and strafed the airfields to prevent the launch of counter attacks.  Fifteen minutes later, the second wave dropped their torpedoes into Pearl Harbor permanently sinking the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma. Four other ships were sunk but recovered. 2,403 US service members died. It marked the entrance of the United States into World War II. 

 Tom Brokaw called those who experienced that day “The Greatest Generation.”  They grew up in the Great Depression.  They drove some of the first automobiles on the first paved highways in America. They went to work for the Works Progress Administration and built our nation’s infrastructure.  They strung wires across our country and brought electricity and telephones to  homes throughout America. They bought radios and invented the first television. They landed on the beaches at Normandy, raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and defended our freedom in World War II. More than 12 million served in the war. They were the first to enter space and chose to go to the moon.  Today, their generation is vanishing from the earth. Most have passed their 100th birthday and they will all soon be gone.

 Next week, we will pause to pay our respects to that generation and the price they paid for freedom, peace and prosperity.  Our world continues to owe them a great debt

 Every generation must rise to face the challenges of their day: some they will inherit, others they create. The enemies that today’s generation face are as real as the enemies our fathers faced. In some ways they are more challenging and more difficult and more deadly. 

 We are all citizens of one planet.  We all breathe the same air, share the same space, harbor the same needs for respect, understanding, opportunity, freedom and faith. The past two years of Covid bear evidence to how intimately our world is connected. 

 Our greatest tribute to the “vanishing generation” would be to heed the admonition found in Scripture,   “Today, if you will hear His voice. Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness, … ‘I was disgusted with that generation, and said they are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways.’”  (Psalm 95:6).   “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”  (Psalm 102:12).

 At the end of our days, may we all join Jesus’ mother in her confession, “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is to generation after generation to those who fear Him.” (Luke 1:49-50).


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

 Its that time of year: crisp and cool mornings, children kicking through leaves scattered about the lawn, football stadiums packed with cheering fans, parades with marching bands and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. Once again, after the Covid interruption, laughter fills our homes where family and friends gather around the table.  I like Thanksgiving and everything that goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie).  And I like dressing. Those with southern roots cook corn bread dressing.  Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for.  She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never figure out.   With giblet gravy, it is a meal-in-itself.

 After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regain consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers, load up again, and sleep the sound sleep of a thankful soul.  By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off. And now we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping.

 Black Friday isn’t what it was. Online shopping and some stores opening their doors on Thursday have taken some of the zap out of it.  At its peak, lines would form in front of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target on Friday long before the first gray light of day.   A few spent the night camped out in tents on concrete sidewalks.  Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this.  They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures that were sure to disappear.  They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store.  They had it easy.

 Fifty years ago, we eased into Christmas.  No one had heard of Black Friday.  We used Friday to digest the Thanksgiving feast.  It was a quiet day, the day after we gathered at Grandma’s with cousins and kin.  Christmas decorations were not yet up.  We savored the season.  But today, we are jolted from Thanksgiving into Christmas.  

 Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line.  It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I like a good deal and deep discounts.  I want the American economy to thrive.  But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price.

 May the words of the Apostle Paul echo in our heart throughout the holiday season, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Thanksgiving Together

 The trees have turned. Many have dropped their leaves.  Winter is at the door, and Covid has loosened its grip.  Thoughts turn a shared table overflowing with turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin pie and “home.” This year is especially meaningful after last year’s isolation and zoom.  It just wasn’t the same.  Many are making plans to travel. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it.

 Thanksgiving is special to the American experience. George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.  But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks.  When he issued his proclamation, our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields.  Families were gripped with grief.  But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

 In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression, the Great Recession and last year’s pandemic we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.  For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most.  We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts.  We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us. 

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart.  We all experience blessing and loss.  God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love and loss that we do not deserve. We often cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose our response;  bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death.  The latter leads to life. 

 The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving.  The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11).  Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6). 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Believe It Or Not

 “Believe” is an interesting word.  Sometimes we use it to indicate doubt. If we are not entirely certain of something, we will say, “I believe so.”  For instance, if someone asks, “Are your friends joining us for dinner?”  We will say, “I believe so.” Meaning, I think they are, but I am not quite sure.

 Sometimes we use “believe” to indicate our agreement.  If you point to an airplane and ask, “Do you believe this is an airplane?” I might say, “Yes, I believe that is an airplane.” 

 At other times we use the word “believe” to indicate our confidence in someone. We could also use this term with respect to the pilot of the airplane. We could believe in him, meaning we have confidence he can fly the airplane.

 The word translated “believe” in the Bible actually means “faith.” We don’t have a verb form of “faith” in our language. We cannot say, “I faith you.”  We are left with our word “believe.”  In this case, if we believe in the airplane and the pilot, we must climb aboard the airplane, follow instructions and actually fly in it. We trust both the airplane and the pilot to take us aloft thousands of feet in the air.

 The “faith” meaning of the word changes how we understand key passages in the Bible.  For instance, when Jesus says,“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me shall never die,” he is actually saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who puts his trust and absolute faith in me shall never die.” 

 There are many who “believe” in Christ and “believe” they are Christians.  They use the term like the first example.  They are not quite sure, but they think it might be true, or hope it is.

 Then there are others who “believe” according to the second definition. They give mental assent believing that Jesus is the Son of God, but it doesn’t make much difference in their lives. 

 Still others fall into the third category.  They believe in Jesus in the sense that they have confidence in who he claims to be. They think he is a good person, that he spoke the truth, that he would get their vote among the other religious leaders in history.

 But moving into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ requires the New Testament kind of “believing.”  We must trust Him with our lives.  In this case we don’t have to understand or know everything, just like we don’t have to understand or know everything about flight and airplanes in order to fly. When the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” it means more than wishful thinking, mental assent or even having confidence in Christ.  It means we must place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Like flying, we must follow His instructions and trust Him.  If we do this, He will save us.

 We demonstrate this “faith” kind of believing by doing what He says. (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:15).  We live according to His Kingdom that is ruled by kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, hope and love. (Colossians 3:5-17).

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Power of Encouragement

 The length of every football field is 100 yards. Every pitcher’s rubber is sixty feet six inches from home plate. The bases are ninety feet apart. Every basketball hoop is ten feet high, and every free throw line is fifteen feet from the backboard.  Every tennis court is 78 feet long. The service line is 21 feet from the net. But when the game is played, all things are not equal.  One athlete is playing before the home crowd and the other isn’t.  The cheers that fill the stadium make a difference. We have all seen it, the power of encouragement.  It is what sports calls the “home field advantage.” 

Unlike last year, when the World Series was played with eerie silence amid cardboard cutouts, this year’s classic was greeted with thunderous crowds that vibrated the stands and echoed in the rafters. In Houston Astros fans were quick to forgive any past sins and welcome their heroes with standing-ovations In Atlanta the Braves fans tomahawked their way through three games and went delirious with a first inning grand slam in game 5. In all of sports, it is a different game when fans are present cheering the home team.

 We also know the ravages of discouragement.  Discouragement can paralyze and make it impossible to act. It can steal our confidence and throw us into a downward spiral.  We feel it when the stands go silent. We see it in the faces of the losing team in the waning moments of the game.

 We are all players on the field. We are all listening for the voices that will lift us up and cheer us on.  And we are all vulnerable to the voices of discouragement from within and from without.

 When a broken-hearted father received the devastating news that his daughter was dead, Jesus said, “Stop fearing, only believe!” He then proceeded to the man’s home and, in the privacy of their bedroom, gently raised his daughter to life.  (Mark 5:36).   The Adversary whispers into our ear words of discouragement and doubt.  But God’s voice is always the voice of encouragement. God is our constant encourager.  He believes in us.  He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). 

 Every day we need encouragement.  And every day we encounter people who need to be encouraged: the clerk in the Walmart checkout line, the waitress working two jobs to feed her kids, the aging aunt confined by her infirmity to a nursing home, children struggling with the stress of school.  Perhaps the most spiritual thing you can do today is to encourage someone.  It might be the most important thing you ever do.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Halloween 2021

 Next Sunday miniature ghosts, goblins and superheroes will emerge at dusk to comb the streets in search of candy. Even Fauci has encouraged kids to “go out there and enjoy” Halloween.   It is a long tradition in America, one I grew up with as a child and one I enjoyed as a parent. It is, perhaps, one of the few traditions we still celebrate outside with our neighbors. Manicured lawns are transformed into a mystical world of floating cobwebs, jack-o-lanterns and tombstones.

 Watchful parents huddle at the curb and visit while their little ghouls cheerfully threaten their neighbors with tricks for treats. Expectant children hold open hopeful bags and peer into their dark recesses trying to determine what luck they might have had at the door. 

 I always enjoyed taking our kids trick-or-treating. We had fun dressing them up and entering their fantasy world.  I liked watching them celebrate their growing assortment of candy gathered from well-wishing neighbors (until a costumed spook jumped from the bushes and convinced our five-year-old he had enough candy for one night). 

 I still look forward to answering our doorbell on Halloween.  I enjoy trying to guess who is hiding behind the princess mask, what little boy is growling in the Ninja Turtle costume.  I like it when ET and Yoda drop by for a visit with their pet ghost-dog. They are polite ghosts, witches and extra-terrestrials. They almost always say, “Thank you.” 

 Halloween, of course, has its dark side. The nightly news reports of abducted children and maps dotted with sexual predators have erased the na├»ve world of Halloween past.  We are aware that we live in a dangerous world where evil is real and present.   

 Many churches are more than a little uncomfortable with Halloween.  On the one hand, it is enjoyable to celebrate community with imagination, fantasy and neighborly generosity.   On the other hand, there are demonic and destructive forces at work in the world that kill and destroy.  It is one thing to celebrate fall and indulge in imagination.  It is another to celebrate the occult, witchcraft, the devil and demons.

 Many people struggle with addictions and impulses they seem unable to control.  They find themselves on a collision course with destruction.  Our world needs the deliverance from evil.

 Jesus once met a man filled with destructive demons.  He lived among the tombs of the dead, often cutting himself with sharp stones.  Local citizens tried to control him by putting him in chains, but he broke the chains and escaped back to his home among the graves.  When Jesus ordered the demons that were destroying the man to leave him the demons entered a nearby herd of swine that immediately rushed into the sea and were drowned.  The man was healed.  When his neighbors found him, he was in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, no longer a threat to himself or to them. But it scared them. They asked Jesus to leave their country and not to come back.  (Mark 5:1-20). Forces that we cannot understand or control always scare us.

 This Halloween we can celebrate an occasion to enjoy our children and their imagination. We can celebrate the turning leaves, dry corn, pumpkins and harvest.  And we can be reminded that in our struggles with the unseen forces of  good and evil, both in our hearts and in the world, we have a Deliverer.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Costly Grace

 I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1970 at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas. The legendary teams of Tom Landry had yet to play in the stadium which was in its last stages of construction.  I sat in rapt silence with more than 50,000 others as Dr. Graham preached.  At the close of the service, thousands flooded the aisles in response to his invitation to trust Christ.  I later witnessed the same in Houston and Minneapolis. For more than 50 years he preached with the same results in more than 185 countries and territories.

 Throughout his ministry he avoided the excess of other evangelists, placing himself on a limited salary and avoiding scandal. I watched him join hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in support of racial integration refusing to preach to segregated crowds.

 Every president since Harry Truman sought him for counsel and prayer, both Democrat and Republican.  Some tried to use their friendship for political advantage, others credited him with strengthening their faith.  Dr. Graham died in 2018 at the age of 99.  He was the fourth private Citizen in U.S. history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.   

 More than thirty years ago, when he was still in his 60’s, Dr. Graham reflected on his evangelistic ministry and asked some sobering questions.  “I look back on my many years as an evangelist, and I wonder, have I made the Christian faith look too easy? … Of course, our salvation is a result of what Christ has done for us in His life and death and resurrection, not what we can do for ourselves.  Of course, we can trust Him to complete in us what He has begun.  But in my eagerness to give away God’s great gift, have I been honest about the price He paid in His war with evil?  And have I adequately explained the price we must pay in our own war against evil at work in and around our lives?”

 A few years ago my wife and I spent the summer in Nuremburg, Germany working with a new church. While there I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and visited his home in Berlin.  Before he was martyred by Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer raised similar questions in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.

 Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.  We are fighting today for costly grace.  … Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘ye were bought with a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”  Speaking of his generation, Bonhoeffer wrote, “We poured forth unending streams of grace.  But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”

 Billy Graham’s probing reflection on his ministry and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prophetic book written during Hitler’s rise to power raise questions about our own faith.  Have we responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him?  Are we His disciples?  Are we seeking to keep His commandments in all our relationships at home, at school, at church and at work? Are we embracing cheap grace that costs nothing or are we embracing costly grace that cost God His own Son?

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).