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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.