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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

living in a Lonely World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Olympics - Running the Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, July 12, 2021

Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Blessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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