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Monday, May 31, 2021

Disciples in Disguise

 A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City.  A number of pastors and church leaders assembled at the factory to spend a few days touring the facilities and visiting with the administrators.  Some of us were there because we had a lifelong love of motorcycles.  Most of us were there because we wanted to learn how the Harley Davidson leaders had transformed a nearly bankrupt motorcycle company into a model of success.

 The thing I remember most about the conference was a statement made by a young executive who spoke to the group.  He had just returned from Europe where he helped introduce the Buell sport bike.  He stepped to the microphone and introduced himself.  He said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson Executive.” 

 Since that time I have discovered disciples disguised in many walks of life:  teachers, doctors, mechanics, students, professors, engineers, nurses, administrators, athletes, fire fighters, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, homemakers, … the list is almost endless. 

 Many people consider themselves to be Christians.  Far fewer think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian usually means we give assent to the Christian religion, that we are comfortable with occasionally attending church, and we know we are not Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion.  To be a disciple, however, raises the expectations to a whole new level.

 Interestingly, Jesus never used the term Christian.  In fact the term is only found three times in the Bible, and twice it is used by non-believers.  Jesus chose to speak about disciples. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31). “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).

 So, what does a twenty-first century disciple look like?  They look a lot like those we find in the first century.  Those who followed Jesus then were fishermen, tax collectors, business men and business women, mothers and fathers. Today, they look like you and me.  They come from every nation and every race.  They can be found among the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the famous and obscure. Wherever you find fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have received God’s grace and love others as God has loved them, you will find disciples in disguise.

Be sure to download a FREE copy of my Civil War Novel, Bold Springs on Amazon June 2-6. Click the image to the right. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

To Live Again

Last year I planted a rose bush in our garden, a knock-out rose that produces deep red fragrant blooms. Winter came, the flowers faded, and the leaves withered.  The bush spent weeks buried beneath a bone-chilling snow in Colorado. 

 When the snow melted, and winter began to lose its grip, it looked dead.  The plant showed no signs of life.   Birds started to return: red-wing black birds, chickadees, blue jays and few finches.  Two sparrows decided to build a nest in our bird house.  The male with a dark bib beneath his beak. The female with a gray breast. They worked tirelessly stuffing strands of straw through the tiny opening.  The aspen bloomed and the grass turned green.  But the rose bush remained as it had all winter, to all appearances, dead.

 I almost gave up, but then, low on the stem a leaf, and then another, leaves bursting from the limbs preparing for another summer with blossoms and blooms!  What appeared to be dead was alive and merely waiting.    

 Job made a similar observation.  “For there is hope for a tree, when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and its shoots will not fail.  Though its roots grow old in the ground, and its stump dies in the dry soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and produce sprigs like a plant.  But a man dies and lies prostrate. a person passes away, and where is he?” (Job 14:7-10).

Anyone who has buried a loved-one has doubtless asked the same question and felt the same feelings Job felt.  I wrote a poem about my experience visiting the burial spot for my wife’s father: 

I stand here where we stood, alone,

and look at your stone

seeing your face, and hearing your voice

as you saw and heard and spoke to me,

of those who share your soil. 

What of those who populate the cemeteries, our own loved ones whom we have committed to the earth.  Will they live again?  Will we?

 After an agonizing season of suffering, Job answered his own question. “Yet as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last, He will take His stand on the [d]earth.  Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I will see God.  Whom I, on my part, shall behold for myself, and whom my eyes will see, and not another,” (Job 19: 25-27).

 Paul used a similar metaphor.  “That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own,” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

 Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18). “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in me will live, even if he dies,” (John 11:25).

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

To Dream Again

For much of the world, 2020 was more of a nightmare than a dream. The physical, emotional and economic struggles brought all the nations of the earth to their knees.  But finally the first light of a new day appears to be dawning. It is time to dream again.

 Most of us know the song, I Dreamed A Dream because of Susan Boyle’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. April 11, 2009, Susan stood on the stage in her frumpy dress and outdated hairdo. The audience and judges snickered and laughed during her interview, enjoying the misery of this out-of-touch want-a-be in an out-of-place position. But, when she began to sing, everyone sat stunned. In a clear voice that was perfectly on pitch, she sang. “I dreamed a dream of time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I dreamed that God would be forgiving. …”

It seemed that Susan Boyle was singing her own song, a dream of youth faded and gone. After a moment of stunned silence, the crowd leaped to their feet in a standing ovation for this obscure Scottish woman who lived alone with her cat. In November of 2009 she released her first album. It immediately became the number one best selling album in the world.

The song Susan chose to sing that night comes from the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables. It is the song sung by Fantine, an unwed mother ostracized in nineteenth century France for her “moral failure” and forced into prostitution in order to support her child.

In 1862, commenting on Fantine, the character in his novel, Victor Hugo wrote, “What is this history of Fantine? It is society purchasing a slave. From whom? From misery. From hunger, cold, isolation, destitution. A dolorous bargain. A soul for a morsel of bread. Misery offers; society accepts. The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it does not yet permeate it.”

As we emerge from the Covid crisis, many are beginning, once again, to dream their dreams: school hallways that fell silent during Covid are beginning to ring with the laughter and energy of students who, for a year, had to settle for zoom; high school graduates can again dream of moving away from home and pursuing their education on college campuses; restaurants are again opening for service; businesses are hiring; churches that had to settle for online streaming are starting to gather with hugs and handshakes and hymns of praise.

 Whatever difficulty we have suffered, whatever our loss, God wants every person to have a dream.  He has said, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope,’” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 The most important thing we can do in 2021 is to discover God’s dream for our life and to help one another dream again. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

What About The Animals That Helped Us Survive Covid?

 My aunt once asked me if there will be animals in Heaven.  Perhaps it is a good question to ask during this season when pets have played such an important role in helping us survive Covid.  When many of us have had to distance from family, friends, co-workers and classmates our pets have stepped up.  The CDC says that pets, especially dogs, help our social, emotional and mental development. Of course most of us don’t need the CDC to tell us this.  Our pets become part of the family. If they are that important on earth,  will there be animals in heaven?

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the twentieth century theologian and martyr, once counseled a ten-year-old boy whose German Shepherd died.  The boy was distraught. He asked Bonhoeffer if his dog would be in Heaven.  Bonhoeffer said, “I quickly made up my mind and said to him: ‘Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I’m sure he also loves animals.  And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth – genuinely loved each other – will remain together with God …”

 Man, of course, was made in God’s image. God breathed into us the breath of life and we became a living soul. But God’s love for all creatures in his creation is abundantly clear.  When God made the world and all that is in it, he included the animal kingdom.  After He had divided the light from darkness, brought form out of chaos and fashioned the continents and oceans, He filled the earth with living things: fish, birds and beasts (in that order).  Before man ever walked the earth, when the world was as God planned it to be, “God saw that it was good.”

After sin entered the world, mankind sank deeper into selfishness, deceit, violence, murder and rebellion. When God’s judgment could be postponed no longer, He sent a catastrophic flood. But God showed his love for man and beast by providing a means of escape through Noah’s ark. God instructed Noah, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21). God’s love for all living things was further reflected in Jesus’ statement that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside the Father’s care.

Looking forward to the day when the Messiah’s Kingdom would replace our world, Isaiah wrote: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).

If God so loved us that he blessed us with the companionship and service of animals on earth and chose them to surround the birth of His Son, would He withhold His love from us in heaven by depriving us of these creatures who shared our mortal joys and sorrows? Is it possible that having demonstrated his glory in the beauty and balance of nature in this world that the new heaven and the new earth would be limited to men and angels?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Mothers Day


Countries around the world set aside a special day for mothers. It is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in the U.S. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India, Brazil, Germany, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mothers Day an official holiday starting on May 8, 1914. Still other nations honor mothers on different dates.

 This week husbands, sons and daughters will don their masks and struggle to keep their distance while searching for the perfect Mothers Day card.  Florists will put on extra staff to handle the demand. Many families will test pandemic restrictions to take their mothers out to eat.

 Regardless of our nationality, ethnicity or gender, we were each carried in our mother’s womb, given birth through her labor and, in almost all cases, nursed and nourished to life by her care.  

 No office and no position wields greater power and influence over the future of humanity than the influence of a mother.  The memories and lessons given in infancy at a mother’s hand surpass every other classroom and instruction.  The faith of a mother inspires and instructs more effectively than any pulpit or pen.

 We see it in history, and we see it in the Bible.

 In a log cabin in Kentucky, Nancy Hanks Lincoln recognized the early gifts in her child.  She not only taught him to read, but instructed him in the principles that would shape his life.  Without Nancy, and Sarah, who became Lincoln’s step mother after Nancy died, it is unlikely that Abraham Lincoln would have ever surfaced to lead our nation in its greatest hour of crisis.

 If it were not for Moses’ mother, the world would have never known the great law-giver who led Israel from captivity and gave us the Ten Commandments.  It was she who hid him in the reeds at the river to save his infant life and it was she who cared for him in Pharaoh’s court. 

 How many mothers have petitioned God for the birth of a child, as Hannah prayed in the presence of Eli, the prophet?  Without her prayer, Samuel would not have been born, and would not have been present to anoint David, the king of Israel.

 In the fullness of time, in an obscure Galilean village, another young woman  lifted up her eyes to heaven and sang, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His handmaiden; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For He that is mighty has done to me great things, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49).  Without Mary we would never have known Jesus, and the world would remain lost in its sins without a Savior.

 Paul referred to the importance of a mother’s faith when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”  (2 Timothy 1:5). 

This Mother’s Day we honor all our mothers who have shaped us and made a better world.  It also stands as a challenge to all those young women who give birth to the next generation and shape the future of the world to come.