What Others Say

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Marriage

 Last week Prince Philip died at age 99 after 73 years of marriage to Elizabeth.  They met when she was 13 and he was a dashing young naval cadet. They married 8 years later, 5 years before she unexpectedly ascended to the throne as queen.  Their marriage has been an enduring love story for almost three-quarters of a century.  

 Few marriages are as well known as Elizabeth and Philip.  But, in spite of all the odds against it, more than half of all those who make their vows at the altar remain married to one another throughout their lives.

 Alexander and Jeanette Toczko met when they were eight years old in 1927 and fell in love.  Thirteen years later they married each other.  75 years after they said their vows, they knew they were dying.

 Alexander played golf into his nineties and remained active until he broke his hip.  Their children knew how much they wanted to be together and had their beds placed side-by-side in their home.  On June 17, 2015, Alexander died in his wife’s arms.  His wife hugged him and said, “See this is what you wanted.  You died in my arms, and I love you. I love you. Wait for me. I’ll be there soon.”  In less than 24 hours Jeanette joined her husband. They were buried on June 29, 2015 in San Diego, California.

 I understand a little of how Alexander and Jeanette felt about each other.  My wife and I celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2018.   I married her when she was 19 and I was an older and wiser 22.  In a little church in Freeport, Texas we said our vows and promised to love and cherish each other until death. A few years ago, I wrote a poem in which I tried to capture my feelings:

Where did she come from?

This woman who walked into my life

When I was young,

Who joined her life to mine,

And all the time

My life was joined to hers.

Who bore my children,

Who raised them and taught them

By her example, how to love

By loving me.

 

How did this happen

That she became more than my lover

And my friend;

That she became my very soul?

Marriage is God’s wonderful gift to the human race.  He bestowed it in the garden when He saw that Adam was lonely.  God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, took from his side a rib, and fashioned the first bride.  When he saw her, Adam said, ““This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24).

God gave us marriage as a mysterious bond and endowed us with the awesome power to pro-create.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” God said. (Genesis 1:28).  And so we did.  It is the one command we have been pretty good at.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

O My Soul

 Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy.  We spent 2020 hunkered down, masked up and isolated just to stay alive.  

 Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy.  United States health care expense passed $3.81 trillion in 2019.  Most of this, of course, was corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than 13 billion dollars.  This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.

 I can understand this.  Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it.  Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field. 

 I can also understand our interest in money.  We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations.       

But what happened to the concept of the soul?  We seldom hear the word mentioned, including in our churches.  Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul. 

Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”   With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  

Horatio G. Spafford,  a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s, seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to scarlet fever.  When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived.  Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.

We are more than our bodies and more than our money.  Our “soul” is who we really are, whether rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

We Beheld His Glory

Different people did different things to cope with Covid. I wrote a book. We Beheld His Glory, A Novel will be launched this week on Amazon.com, free as an eBook April 1-5. It was a great way to spend the days huddled at home during the pandemic.

 The book is based on the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Since it is a novel, I could let my imagination run free.  What was it like for Peter, Andrew, James and John when they first met Jesus after John the Baptist baptized him? (John 1). John was baptizing just north of the Dead Sea.  Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen who lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, several days’ journey to the north.  How did they get there?  How did they find Jesus?  What was it like?

 I have studied, preached, taught and pondered the stories in the Gospels all my life. My mother first told the stories to me when I was a toddler.  I heard them in Sunday School and at church growing up. I was called to preach and became pastor of a church when I was 19.  55 years later, I am still mesmerized by “The Story.”  The story of Jesus has shaped my life and my world view.  It has shaped me.

 When I was a youth, we would sing old hymns that I have never forgotten.  “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word, tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”  “I love to tell the story, for those who know it best are hungering and thirsting, to hear it like the rest.”  I have never grown tired of the story. I still love to think about it and to tell it.

 So, I started thinking, imagining, and writing.  One year and 26 chapters later, it was a book. 

 Next Sunday the world will again celebrate the resurrection.  It is the high moment of the year for everyone who believes and follows Jesus.  The Gospel writers devote most of their writing to this final week in Jesus’ life: more than a third of Mark, one-fourth of Matthew and Luke and over on-half of John.  And they leave us with many questions. How did the 12 misunderstand Jesus so completely prior to the resurrection? What happened on the Sabbath after Jesus was buried and what did they do? How do we reconcile the records of the resurrection? How and when did the disciples return to Galilee?

 I have enjoyed thinking about the three-year journey with Jesus, including some of the dynamics among the 12, John’s friendship with Jesus’ mother, as well as the questions above.  I have tried to capture my thoughts through imagination in the form of a novel.

 We Beheld His Glory was released on Amazon.com on March 15.  I hope you will download a free copy as an eBook April 1-5 and receive it as an Easter gift.

 Bill Tinsley’s book, We Beheld His Glory is available at Amazon.com, free eBook April 1-5.  Visit www.tinsleycenter.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

No Respecter of Persons

 We adopted Buddy, our tri-color corgi, 11 years ago. He spent time wandering the streets as a stray and endured the indignities of animal control before he found us. They called him “Tex.”  But he soon made it clear that his name was “Buddy.”  You can read his story in the children’s book, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.

 When I go for a walk without Buddy, I am invisible. Few people notice me or speak.  But when Buddy takes me for a walk, we are celebrities.  Children stop what they are doing and run to us, asking if they can pet him.  Some adults do the same. We have gone for walks on beaches in Texas, in neighborhoods and parks in Minnesota, Montana and Colorado.

 Buddy never seems to meet a stranger.  He doesn’t care what people look like, what color their skin, what kind of tattoos they might have. They can be gay, straight, male, female, old or young, rich or poor, educated or disabled, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White or Native American.  He loves them all and they all seem to love him.

 A few years ago Buddy helped us “adopted” a group of international students at Baylor who met in our home for Bible studies. They were from Indonesia, South Africa, Zambia, China and the Czeck Republic.  They loved Buddy, took him for walks and kept him when we were away. Buddy loved them. They became our “children” and, although they have earned graduate degrees and scattered to ends of the earth, we remain in touch. Our world that is beset by prejudice, suspicion, hatred and violence needs to learn the lessons Buddy has been teaching

 It’s a lesson I am still working on, a lesson Buddy is still trying to teach me.  It is a lesson Jesus taught and one that Peter struggled to learn.  Jesus intentionally led his followers through Samaria, a region Jews refused to visit, and introduced them to a woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. He incensed his hometown authorities when he pointed out that God used Elisha to heal a Syrian rather than a Jew.  He embraced lepers who were outcast from their families. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame.  He dined with despised tax collectors. This was not the journey Peter and his companions expected. 

 It was only later when the Holy Spirit led him to enter the home of a Roman Centurion that Peter seemed to understand.  Upon entering the home, Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Acts 10).

 Every person we meet, however they look, wherever they are from, is special in the eyes of God, made in His image, a person for whom God has declared and demonstrated His love. (John 3:16).

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

How Big Is God

 In 2009 I bought a 1977 VW Bug.  Every fender was dented and it had no bumpers. Peeling paint fluttered in the wind.  It was on its last legs.  Its next stop, if not with me, would probably be the junk yard.  It might have been melted down for scrap metal and recycled as a Porsche. Who knows?

 But when I drove it, in spite of its rattles, it appealed to me. It was kind of like the Love Bug, Herby, begging for another chance.  So, I bought it on a nostalgic impulse and towed it home.  When I hooked it to my truck and pulled away from the house where I found it, the wife of its previous owner stood on the porch and applauded. She was happy to see it go, an eyesore removed from her driveway.  When I showed it to one of my friends, he asked if I found it at the bottom of a lake.  My wife is understanding and allows me these little follies, but made it clear I had to clean it up.

 I took it to a body shop where they took one look at it and said, “We don’t do that kind of work.”  But they pointed me to someone who did body work in his backyard and had experience with old VWs.  He walked around my bug, examined it carefully and announced, “I’m not afraid of it.”  That sealed the deal.  We painted it silver and named it Bullet.  I drove Bullet for 8 years, until we moved to Colorado and it refused to pass the emissions test. Old VW bugs are hard to kill.   

 The same year my VW bug was manufactured, NASA launched Voyagers 1 and 2 to explore the solar system and interstellar space.  Traveling at 39,000 mph it took 34 years for Voyager 1 to reach the edge of our solar system.  Although they have reached speeds fifty times faster than the fastest fighter jet, it will take them 70,000 years to reach the closest star. 

 One scientist put the size of the universe in perspective.  If our sun were the size of a grain of salt, he said, the orbit of the earth would be one inch in diameter.  And the closest star would be four miles away.

 When we look into the night sky it is filled with stars, seemingly close together.  But, in fact they are very, very far away.  There are four hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone and scientists estimate billions of galaxies in the universe.  If the cosmic universe is this big, how big is God?

 Shortly before Jesus was crucified, he prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  (John 17:24). The word for “world” in this statement is not the Greek word, “ges” from which we derive our words “geology, geography and geothermal.” It is the word “cosmos” indicating the “cosmic universe.”  When we think about the expanse of the cosmic universe, we get a small glimpse of His glory, and quickly realize that our finite minds are far too small to comprehend His majestic greatness. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Useful


When I was growing up my father would occasionally put his hand on my shoulder, grin at me with his deep dimpled smile and say, “You’re as handy as a pocket on a shirt.” 

 My father never went to college.  He spent his career with Southwestern Bell, who sent him to tech school where he learned electronics and tracked the latest technology of his day, from vacuum tubes to transistors.  He died of cancer of the bone marrow when he was 53, just as fiber optics and the microchip were being developed and years before the internet and cell phones.   He was a blue -collar worker who grew up in the 1930s and married my mother in 1941. 

 In his world, few things were as useful as a “pocket on a shirt.”  He carried his pens in his shirt pocket and a pack of Camel cigarettes, which was common for his generation.  When he told me that I was handy as a “pocket on a shirt,” he was giving me a high compliment for being useful.

 Over the years I have learned the value of that compliment.  Few things are as important in life as being useful.  We all want to know that our lives matter, that we count. 

 Even King David worried about becoming useless in his old age.  After all of his accomplishments, he turned his eyes to heaven and made this plea: “But don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight,” (Psalm 71:9, The Message).

 One of Paul’s greatest desires was to live life in such a way that he was considered useful to others. To this end, he compared himself to an athlete who endures the rigors necessary for victory.  Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air;  but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

 Peter gave us the prescription for living a useful life regardless of our profession or circumstances.  “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they do not make you useless nor unproductive in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8).

 A useful and productive life is not determined by our length of days on the earth, or the extent of our fame and fortune.  Each of us can live a useful and fruitful life when we pursue the qualities outlined by Peter with the discipline described by the Apostle Paul. If we do this, some day we will see the smiling face of God and hear his words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21). 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Bread of Life

 Bread has become a delicacy.  When my wife sends me to the store for a loaf of bread I stand dumbfounded in front of the shelves.  Which bread to buy?  There’s white bread, whole wheat bread, gluten free 7 grain bread, garlic bread, rye bread, and a dozen others.  Then there are bagels: plain bagels, blueberry bagels and everything bagels.  And what about donuts?  I think donuts are included in the bread family.  Okay, I choose donuts.

 From ancient times “bread” has represented the staple of life.  Even today, in all its various forms, bread is still the most widely consumed food in the world.

 Scholars have found evidence that people started baking bread 30,000 year ago. But the first breads were “flat.”  They lacked leaven. It is the leaven that makes it rise, light and fluffy and sweet. Historians believe that the Egyptians were the first to develop leavened bread, somewhere around 1000 years before the great pyramids were built.  The most famous “unleavened” bread was the Passover bread, cooked up in a hurry by the Israelites to escape Egypt. 

 In 1917 Otto Rohwedder invented the first bread-slicing machine. He set the standard for all other inventors who searched for an idea that would be“better than sliced bread.”  In spite of Rohwedder’s invention, there is nothing quite like pulling apart a fresh steaming loaf of bread and adding butter.  

 Jesus referred to bread to help us understand who He was.  “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35).  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word ...”  Through Jesus Christ, God nourishes our soul and satisfies our innermost emotional, personal and spiritual needs, a nourishment more important than the nourishment of our bodies.

 Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He reminded us that we need nourishment each and every day.  Just as God provides for us daily the nourishment that is necessary for our bodies, He will provide for us each and every day the nourishment that is necessary to replenish our soul. 

 When Moses led Israel in the wilderness, God provided bread every morning so that “he who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.”(Exodus 16:18).  They could not store and keep the bread. It had to be eaten when God gave it.

 Like the Israelites in the wilderness, our relationship with God is daily and constant.  We cannot put our faith in a religious box to be taken out occasionally.  Just as our bodies need bread in order to live, our souls need a daily and constant conversation with God, the bread and substance of life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Reboot

 I bought my first computer in 1982, a Commodore 64.  It used a 340k floppy disc and operated with machine language.  After typing in the machine code, the little floppy started to whirr ... and whirr ... and whirr a little more.  It whirred so long that I could get a cup of coffee or make a sandwich.  When it finally loaded the program it worked great.  With each program, I started the process all over again, something they called “booting up.”

 I think the term came from the farm.  You didn’t want to track that barnyard stuff into the house, so when you went inside, you took your boots off.  And, when you wanted to go to work, you put your boots back on.  So, for the little PC, we put our boots on, or “booted up” the program if we wanted to go to work or play.

 Today I use a laptop. I usually leave it in sleep mode so it wakes right up and we get going whenever I want. I get my cup of coffee before I turn it on.  I like leaving my “boots” on with my laptop. But sooner or later, it begins to creep along. It has too much going on in its PC memory, too many programs trying to run at once. Too much “barnyard stuff” tracked in and making it stink. There is nothing to do but “reboot” it.  So, I turn it off and let it reload the operating system.  After the “reboot,” we are good to go and back up to speed.

 We are a lot like my computer.  We fly from one task to another, filling our lives with frenzied activity, trying to constantly multi-task between family, business, community and personal obligations. We are no longer efficient. We do nothing well.  Sometimes we need to “reboot.” 

 This is why God gave us the Sabbath.  It is the fourth of the ten “Big Ones.”  And, as Jesus pointed out, it was given to us by God because we need it.  “Man was not made for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. “The Sabbath was made for man.” 

 If we want to live full, meaningful, productive and effective lives, we need time for worship and rest.  We need to “reboot” physically, emotionally and spiritually.  We are made in such a way that we have to power down if we want to power up.  This means turning off the TV, disconnecting from social media and taking a deep breath. We need to listen to the laughter of children, to birds singing, the wind in the trees, waves lapping on the shore. We need to listen to God.  Meditations in the Bible and fellowship with other believers help me most.

 We need to take the Apostle Paul’s advice: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things,” (Philippians 4:8).

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

When God Seems Far Away

 There are times when God seems very near.  We feel his forgiveness, acceptance, comfort and peace.  Our hearts are filled with joy and songs of praise for His goodness and beauty. But what about the times when God seems far away?

 King David sometimes felt this way.  Repeatedly he asked, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps 42:5, 11; 42:5).  “O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Ps 88:14).  After confronting the prophets of Baal, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life … he went a day’s journey into the wilderness … and prayed that he might die.  ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:3).

 Going through times when we feel God is far away is a normal human experience. The prophets felt it.  God even allowed his own Son to experience it. At the moment He paid the penalty for our sins,  He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). So, when those times come, what are we to do?

 When we feel God is far away, we are often filled with worry, uncertainty, doubt and despair.  But this will not last.  We will yet feel His presence again and praise Him. Our feeling that God is distant is temporary. This is what sustained King David in his dark times. In every case, he declared, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him.”  

 We must rely on God’s promises and not on our feelings. Even when we don’t feel His presence, He is near. Repeatedly God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).  Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).  David wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.”  (Ps. 139:7-12).                                                                                                                

We must continue to do everything that is right and good in His sight.  One of Jesus’ favorite parables was the story of a wealthy landowner who left for a long trip.  In his absence, some of his servants decided he wasn’t coming back and began to abuse his property, doing things they knew the landowner would never condone.  But the landowner returned, and when he did, there was a reckoning.  The real evidence of our faith is not what we do when we feel His presence and know He is near. The real evidence of our faith is what we do when we feel God is far away. He will return.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Valentines

 Next Sunday is February 14, Valentine’s Day, a traditional day when we express our love to those who mean the most to us: heart-shaped boxes of candy, cards, flowers, a candlelight dinner.  

 While Valentine’s Day is not found in the Bible, love is.  And the Bible has some incredible things to say about love.  To husbands, the Bible says, “Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives” (Ephesians 5:25-28). 

 To wives, the Bible says, “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. … each wife is to honor her husband” (Ephesians 5:22-24, 33 The Message.)

 My wife and I have celebrated 52 anniversaries. I still remember how she looked on our wedding day, a 19-year-old bride in a beautiful lace wedding dress.  I can still see the tear in her eye when her wedding veil was removed.  For more than half a century we have learned to love each other.

 Of course, love is far greater than romance. According to recent studies only 52% of the US population over 18 are married.  Almost half of the US adult population are single, including widows, widowers, those never married and those who are divorced.  Regardless of our marital status, everyone needs to love and be loved. 

 The Apostle Paul gave us the best definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails,” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).

 When God sent his valentine, it came in the shape of a cross and cost him the life of his Son.  “By this the love of God was revealed in us, that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we may live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” (1 John 4:9-11).

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Pandemic Heroes: Teachers

 I like teachers. They are among my favorite people.  They work long hours, up early preparing for classes, on their feet most of the day, grading papers and writing lesson plans late into the night, often spending their own money to help their students. Add to this the extracurricular activities: sports events, performances, contests, parties and dances.  They are almost always underpaid and too often underappreciated.

 My wife is a retired public-school teacher who poured her life into kindergarten, elementary and high school students.  Her last assignment was a drop out prevention program for pregnant and parenting teens.  Her goals were to help them have a healthy birth, learn to be good parents, stay in school, earn a degree and have a future. She loved her students and helped them achieve a 98% graduation rate.

 Teachers are our pandemic heroes.  Many have made the drastic adjustments to teach remotely using zoom, facetime and social media.  Others have borne the risk of exposure in order to teach classes in person.  According to a CBS news report last September, a 34-year-old special ed teacher, AshLee de Marinis died in Missouri after contracting Covid-19 and spending 3 weeks in the hospital. A 28-year-old teacher in South Carolina, Demi Bannister, was diagnosed on Friday and died on Monday. 

 No one knows how many teachers have lost their lives to Covid, though the American Federation of Teachers reports at least 530.  According to a January 29 NY Times report, “Educators lost to the coronavirus in recent weeks include a married couple who taught at public schools in Grand Prairie, Texas, and died within hours of each other; an art teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., whose students left her personal messages on a memorial outside the school; and Bobby Hulse, a 76-year-old principal in Arkansas, who died on Wednesday after contracting the virus. “Hulse was known for his love of basketball, his bright shirts and ties and for affectionately calling everyone ‘chief.’”J

 All of us can remember one or more teachers who made a difference in our lives, someone who took the time to encourage us, tutor us, help us get past the hurdles and find the open doors to our future.   

 Jesus was the master teacher.  Matthew says that “He went throughout Galilee teaching in they synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.    the crowds were amazed at his teaching,” (Matthew 4:23, 7:28). His stories, like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan have inspired, instructed and shaped generations. He taught by example. He demonstrated love, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance never seen before or since.  And, at the fulness of time, he gave his own life a ransom for many.

 I look forward to the day when we are able to look at the pandemic in our rearview mirror.  But for now, we need to encourage one another, especially our teachers. We need to cheer them on and pray for them as they pour their lives into the hearts and minds of our children and youth. I am hoping that our educators will be moved to the front of the line to receive the Covid vaccine soon. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Comfort For Those Who Grieve

Most of us first experience grief as a child with the death of a pet who shared our childhood.  Many dogs, cats and birds have been buried beneath carefully turned soil moistened with childhood tears. 

 Grief eventually comes more forcefully with the death of a parent, a brother, sister, or friend. If we live long enough, it will come to each of us when we part with those we love most.

 David, who wrote the Psalms, was famous for his grief over the death of his son Absalom.   Even though Absalom led a rebellion against him seeking to unseat him from the throne of Israel, when David heard that Absalom was dead, he was inconsolable. He wept and cried, ““O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). On another occasion, when David grieved over the death of another child, he said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:23).

 Confidence in Heaven and the resurrection does not eliminate grief, but it takes away the sting.  That is why the Apostle Paul writes,  “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

 My father died when I was 29. My mother when I was 64. I preached my grandfather’s funeral, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends.  Last week my family buried my mother’s sister in Texas. Next week our daughter and grandchildren will bury our son-in-law’s mother in Georgia. We must all face the loss of loved ones.

 A few years ago, I visited a cemetery in old Boston where the tombstones date back to some of the earliest residents of the Colonies.  I discovered an interesting pattern. Those grave makers erected before 1730 bore skulls and cross bones.  They were the picture of death and despair. The markers erected after 1740 bore the images of angels and cherubim and were often inscribed with verses about heaven.  The only event that could have made such a difference in the Boston markers is the Great Awakening that swept the Colonies in the 1730s and 1740s.  Benjamin Franklin wrote of the Awakening that there was a “wonderful...change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. … so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."

 Grief as a believer in Jesus Christ is deep and real, but it is not a grief without hope. Even Jesus grieved when he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus. Although he knew he would call Lazarus from the grave and raise him from the dead, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” When Jesus wept, he demonstrated to us that God not only knows our grief, he feels it. We do not grieve alone or in isolation nor do we grieve without hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Young Generation

 I came across comments from a prominent preacher regarding the deplorable condition of young people.  He complained that they were characterized by “inexperience, indiscretion, immature judgment, uncurbed curiosity, undisciplined appetites and misunderstood passion.”  He went on to say that they despised revered traditions and engaged in “vulgar dances, shameful parties, suggestive songs and obsession with sex.”  Their motto is “try anything once.” 

 I found these statements in a book of sermons my wife brought home from one of her excursions to garage sales. The book was published in 1923.  The youth about whom he spoke later survived the Great Depression and led our nation through World War II. The youth of his day are gone, buried in the graves that populate our cemeteries. A 16-year-old in 1923 would be 114 today. They lived out their life-span, as we all shall do, and generations of youth have come and gone since.

Sociologists have tried to categorize generations by their common historical context. Most start with the “Lost Generation,” those born between 1890 and 1915.  They were born as the industrial revolution revved up. They drove the first automobiles and flew the first airplanes. “The Greatest Generation” (1910 – 1925) stormed Normandy, launched the space race and landed a man on the moon.  “The Silent Generation” (1925-1945) left their mark with Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood and Bernie Sanders.

“Baby Boomers” (1946-1964) got their name from the “boom” that followed WW II.  They were the Hippy generation who later developed PCs that connected the world.  Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump were all born in 1946.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are also members of this generation.

 “Generation X” (1965-1980), often dismissed in their youth, earned a reputation for entrepreneurship. In 2002 three out of four companies were started by Gen Xers.  Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and the founders of Google are Gen Xers.

 “Millennials” (1981-1996) are the first to grow up with computers and cell phones.  Mark Zuckerberg is a Millennial.  “Generation Z” (1997-2012) is the first generation to have no experience of life before the internet. They are the youngest, largest and most ethnically diverse population in history.  It is too early to characterize the “Alpha Generation, (2013-2021), the first to be born entirely in the 21st century.

 In the next few years, we will witness a generational transfer of power.  Joe Biden is 78. Mitch McConnel is 79. Nancy Pelosi is 80.  Every generation must pass the baton.  Every new generation must run their race.

 Years ago, I adopted a life goal: “to encourage the younger generation to do greater things than I ever dreamed or imagined.” Many are already doing that.  One of the most important things we can do is encourage those who are younger. 

 When Moses knew he was dying and would never enter the promised land, the Lord said to him, “Charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people” (Deuteronomy 3:28).  The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Vaccine For the Ages

 Now that a vaccine is available, it seems like the holy grail, the cure all that will make it possible to keep our grandchildren, host friends for dinner, visit restaurants, attend church, go to the movies and travel.  I have vague memories of those days and long for them once again.

 All over the world, nations and peoples are lining up to be vaccinated.  We are grateful to the medical and scientific community that has broken all records to develop an effective vaccine that will deliver us, and to the front line workers who have cared for Covid casualties.

 Not everyone wants a vaccine. Not everyone trusts them. It seems like the best bet to me, but it is confusing.  I called my primary ca re physician’s office to see if they had access to the vaccine. They said I would have to call a specialist. I called a specialist who had treated me a year ago. They said I needed to call my primary care physician.  So far, I have signed up on two lists that promise to call when they have a vaccine available. But, for now, I will remain cautious, distanced from friends and family and wait.

,This is my first pandemic. This has never happened in my lifetime. But then, I am only 74.  My grandparents went through the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, but they never talked about it.  I guess the atrocities of World War I overshadowed it. But then, they never talked about that either.

 On the other hand, I have been living through a far more deadly pandemic all of my life, a pandemic that has afflicted every generation since the dawn of humanity.  It is far more insidious and deadly than Covid-19.  It is the pandemic that afflicts us all.

 Everyone recognizes the symptoms of this universal deadly disease: lying, theft, lust, selfishness, greed, anger, prejudice, deception, envy, jealousy, violence.  The Bible puts it this way, “Sin entered the world and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).   Here lies the root of our suffering in the world.  Just as James says, “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). 

 Fortunately God has provided a “vaccine,” a cure that not only deals with the consequences of sin, but destroys the power of sin.  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures. … Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15). 

 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting [g]the members of your body to sin as [h]instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you”  (Romans 6:12-14).

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Raising Children

 

Nothing is as challenging as being a parent.  Children have no on-off button.  They cannot be put in the closet like clothes, turned off and parked like cars or placed in a kennel for the night like pets.  They are on a constant quest: poking, prodding, pushing, pulling and climbing. 

 When our children were little, we weren’t allowed to strap them down in the back seat. (It was a long time ago). As soon as they got in the car, they looked for buttons to push and knobs to twist.  When I turned on the key the blinkers blinked, windshield wipers wiped and the radio blared, vibrating the windows. The same was true for our bedroom and kitchen.

 They grew up to be responsible adults.  But the path wasn’t easy.  Every passage brought new challenges: the first day of school, a move from familiar neighborhoods to a new city, puberty, a driver’s license, dating, computer games, technology.  Parenting requires a constant learning curve that never stops, even after children are grown and on their own.  Relationships constantly change and adjust. As a parent, you are always entering new and unfamiliar territory.

 I found across the years that there is no “fix it” book for parenting, no “cure-all,” “read this,” or “do this” simple solution.  Every child is different, and every parenting situation has its unique challenges.  But there are some essential tools that make the difference: patience, consistency, authenticity, trust, love, faith, and a listening ear.  Most of us don’t come naturally equipped with these essential tools.  Most of us have to learn them and acquire them while we are on the job. And all of us have room for improvement.

 Years ago, I visited in the home of a young mother who was caring for several pre-school children. I was amazed at her patience and attention with the children and complimented her on it.  She responded by telling me that this had not always been the case.  Before she trusted Christ, she said, she had no patience with children, but after she gave her heart to Jesus, He gave her a gift of patience, not only for her own children, but for others.

 The Bible says that John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to righteousness. (Luke 1:16-17).  Every generation must struggle against the natural desires of the flesh: envy, jealousy, resentment, anger and self indulgence. These attitudes destroy the family.

 When we put our trust and faith in Jesus Christ, He gives us a new heart.  He produces in us the fruits of the Spirit that equip us to be parents:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”  All of these, the Bible says, are the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23).

 When our hearts are right with God so that we are producing these fruits, we will be good parents.  Then we will be able to fulfill the Scripture’s instruction, “Do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).