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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Our Nation and Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

(Matthew 10:29)

Monday, June 14, 2021

There;s Nothing LIke Being a Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Why Go To Church

 Last week we made our first road trip in more than a year, a thousand-mile round trip to Santa Fe at the foot of the Sangre de Christo mountains.  People were everywhere. The roads were packed, as were the usual stops at McDonalds and Love’s.  Restaurants were busy with waits of an hour or more.  The year of isolation appears to be over, and everyone wants to go somewhere.

 But will we return to church?  Michelle Boorstein, writing for the Washington Post, pondered the question: “All year clergy have been waiting to see if slews of people will decide to become virtual-only members, flit between multiple virtual services, or just quit congregational life altogether.” 

 As I have thought about it, I have asked myself the question, “Why should I go to church?”

 I should go to church because, down deep, I believe in Jesus Christ.  I think it is what He would want me to do.  Even though the Jewish authorities turned against Him, it was always Jesus’ custom, or “habit” to attend the synagogue each Sabbath.  (Luke 4:16).  And even though churches are seldom what they ought to be, I need to follow Jesus’ example.

 I go because I need to be encouraged in my faith and I want to encourage others.  While I have been disappointed by some pastors and church leaders over the years, I have found many more that inspire me.  I find that going to church lifts my spirits.  Other believers take an interest in me and pray for me.  And I seek to do the same for them. (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).

 I go to church because churches make the world a better place. All churches, as we know, are flawed. Someone once asked me if I knew of any churches that did not have any problems.  I asked if he knew of churches that didn’t have any people.  Where there are people, there will be problems. But most churches seek ways to feed the hungry, help the poor, comfort the grieving and care for the aging.  Churches pull us outside ourselves and call us to a higher and better world.

 I go because I want my children to go.  Even though my children are grown and gone, I still want to be an example to them, as I sought to be when I was raising them.  Going to church is a discipline. Sometimes I don’t feel like it. But I have learned over the years that the best things in life require effort.  Worship, Christian fellowship, and service are disciplines that I believe are worth passing on to the next generation.  

 I am sure there are many other reasons why people attend church.  There are other reasons why I do as well, but these are the three that stand out in my mind.

 Soon, I hope, churches will be filled with welcoming smiles, warm embraces and joyful singing.    As the Scripture says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” (Hebrews 10:24-25).