What Others Say

"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Forever Friends

 Last week we went on an “almost post-Covid” cruise to Alaska. There were still testings and protocols to pass, but the cruise business is back.  What made the week truly spectacular was going with our best friends from college. We had a great time exploring new places and reflecting.  We were young when we first met.  My wife and our friends were fresh from high school graduations in Texas and Kentucky.  I was older and wiser by a year or two. 

 After we married, we gathered in each other’s apartments as penniless newly-weds and played games, affordable and unforgettable entertainment. Our paths parted when we started our families. Identical twin girls for them, three children stretched over 13 years for us.  We stayed in touch at a distance.

 Fifty years later, our children are grown.  They are advancing in their careers and raising our grandchildren.  We have completed most of our journey, in good health and full of memories, hoping to remain useful and finish well.

 We are thrilled to make new friends for whom we are grateful, but we shared our youth with these friends when we were trying to figure out our own identity and had little idea of the direction our paths would take. We have other friends from our childhoods and our careers whom we love.  Some drifted away.  Some died. But this couple stuck.  Nothing can reproduce the treasure we have found. 

.And now that we have re-converged in the late years of our journey we are overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s goodness and grace.  We are more content than we were in our youth. We are still ambitious to do good and to bless others, but we know we are blessed beyond measure in ways we could have never imagined. Only God could do such a thing.

 Friendship gives us a glimpse of the relationship God desires for each of us.  As Proverbs says, “There is a friend that stays closer than a brother.”  (Proverbs 18:24).

 After three years walking the hills of Galilee and Judea, Jesus explained his relationship with the twelve in these terms:   Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15).

 No matter who we are or where we came from; no matter our race, gender or age, God desires to be our friend. He desires to lead us on our journey, from beginning to end.  An old hymn perhaps expresses it best, “I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend!   He loved me ere I knew Him; He drew me with the cords of love,   and thus He bound me to Him. And round my heart still closely twine, those ties which naught can sever. For I am His, and He is mine, forever and forever.”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Fourth

 Next Monday we will celebrate the Fourth of July, a uniquely American experience.  When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, John Adams envisioned celebrations in every city with parades, fireworks and political speeches “from one end of this continent to the other.”  More than two centuries later, Adams’s dream is a reality.  Next Monday skyrockets and exploding bombs  will illuminate the night skies over cities, parks, and lakes.  Bands will march in the streets followed by decorated floats and mounted horses.  Politicians will address crowds from platforms decorated with red, white, and blue bunting.

 The Declaration of Independence adopted on the fourth of July in 1776 provides the focus for our American ideals: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  When the Declaration was signed our nation was far from the ideals it embraced. Slavery was widespread. Most states limited voting rights to white men who owned land.  Two and a half centuries later we have made progress, but the struggle continues to implement the ideals of equality.

 Robert Kaplan’s Empire Wilderness sought a re-examination of America in 1998.  Visiting a Mexican church in Tucson, Kaplan wrote, “The church conjured up tradition, sensuality, nostalgia.  If only this church were more relevant to the social forces roiling the southern half of Tucson.”  In The Next One Hundred Million, Joel Kotkin painted an optimistic future for America in 2050 based largely on our unique faith. He wrote, “a ‘spiritual’ tradition that extends beyond regular church attendance … persists as a vital force.” 

 We strive toward equality because that is the way God made us.  We are each made in His image and “endowed” every person with infinite worth. We best achieve equality when we seek to defend and achieve the rights of others.  We are taught, through faith, to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” that we are greatest when we are servant to others and that service to God is measured by our actions toward the “least of these.” 

 The pursuit of happiness can degenerate into the self-absorbed and destructive pursuit of pleasure.  Without faith in Christ we are prone to become captive to addictions and sins that easily beset us.  Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin … if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36).  For every individual and nation, real freedom comes when God sets us free from greed, corruption, lust and addiction.  Real freedom is won when we seek the welfare and opportunity for others, especially for those who are "not like us."

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A Place To Turn In Time Of Need

 Like many Americans I have long been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln.  He stands out among all the men who have occupied the White House for his genius, his eloquence, his honesty, strength of character, and his determination to hold the nation together in its most perilous time. Books about Lincoln often occupy an entire section at the library.

 Recently I stumbled across a volume I had overlooked, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and  Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley.  Written in 1868, the book contains the memoirs of the woman who served as Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal seamstress.  She personally designed, sewed and fitted the many dresses Mary required as First Lady and became Mrs. Lincoln’s closest friend and confidant. Elizabeth was born a slave, but at age 30, having become an accomplished seamstress, was able to purchase her freedom. She relocated to Washington, D.C.  When the Lincolns arrived, she went to work for Mrs. Lincoln. Her memoirs offer a unique glimpse into unguarded moments in the Lincoln home. I was especially struck by this candid description of Lincoln during one of the low moments of the War. 

 “One day he came into the room where I was fitting a dress on Mrs. Lincoln. His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad.  Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands.  He was a complete picture of dejection. … He reached forth one of his long arms, and took a small Bible from a stand near the head of the sofa, opened the pages of the holy book, and soon was absorbed in reading them. A quarter of an hour passed, and on glancing at the sofa the face of the President seemed more cheerful.  The dejected look was gone, and the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope. The change was so marked that I could not but wonder at it. … He read with Christian eagerness, and the courage and hope that he derived from the inspired pages made him a new man.  … What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation’s calamity.” 

 It is well known that President Lincoln never joined a church.  But it is abundantly clear from what he said and what he wrote that he was a man of deep faith. This surprisingly candid witness from Mary Lincoln’s seamstress is revealing.  In the privacy of his home we find this remarkable insight into the faith that sustained him. 

 The opening lines of Proverbs capture the essence of the Bible’s impact:  “To know wisdom and instruction. To perceive the words of understanding. To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgement and equity. To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion,” (Proverbs 1:1-4).  If we would find our way forward as individuals, families and as a nation, we can turn to that source to which Lincoln turned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Trusting God in Challenging Times

 

We have entered a financial intersection of inflation and, perhaps, stagflation. Even my 9-year-old granddaughter has opinions about why the price of gasoline has soared. We all must go through challenges that raise the level of risk, and anxiety.

 Some of us have been through similar crises to the one we face now.  A few of us were around when the oil embargo hit in the early 1970s.  Richard Nixon was President.  Overnight the price of gasoline doubled, followed by the price of everything else. Speed limits on Interstate highways were lowered to 55 mph to conserve gas. Gasoline was rationed and cars lined up down the street and around the block to buy a few gallons.  Inflation and high interest continued through the 1980s. Some of us bought houses with 14% mortgage rates.  The Fed raised interest rates to 12% to curb rampant inflation, and then came the Savings and Loan crisis, followed by the2000-2002 dot-com bust. and, in 2008, the housing crash.  For the last fourteen years, at least until Covid in 2020, the economy has been cruising along on something of an open freeway.  The trillions of dollars pumped into the economy to offset Covid bought us a couple of years, perhaps, but eventually, we have entered another economic intersection littered with casualties.

 We encounter other challenging intersections when we choose a career, find a partner for life and give birth to our children.  We encounter them when our preschoolers start first grade, when they reach puberty and struggle to grow up.  Promotions, layoffs, career changes, moves to a new house in a new city, aging and old age.  Life is filled with intersections.

 We do best at these moments when we trust in God.  He knows the “traffic patterns.”  He has been there.  He knows the outcome.  He is willing to take us by the hand or “take the wheel” and guide us through to the other side.

 He led Abraham to a foreign land he had never seen and multiplied his descendants like the sands of the sea.  He guided Isaac in search of a wife and blessed Jacob in a similar quest. He led Moses through the wilderness. He guided Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back after the birth of Jesus.  In every generation, God has been a comfort and a guide to those who trust Him.

 “In your loving kindness you have led the people whom you have redeemed; in your strength you have guided them to your Holy habitation.” (Exodus 15:13).  “For you are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3).  “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11). 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

While You Were Sleeping

 I typically don’t think much about sleep. But when you fly through seven or more time zones in a single day, as I have done on more than one occasion, you think about it.  When everyone else is getting up, your body is begging to go to bed. When everyone else is settling down for a good night’s sleep, your body is wide awake and looking for something to do. It takes a few days, at least, to “reset the body clock.”

Sleep is an amazing thing.  We all require it, including the animals.  Even my dog sleeps.  I know, I have spent the night camping in a tent with him.  He snores. Sleep appears to be a requirement for all animal life, though it may vary in intensity and method.

 Something mysterious and magical happens when we sleep.

 Kenneth Cooper, the world-famous physician who set us on the path for aerobic health more than forty years ago, maintains that adequate sleep, like adequate exercise and diet, are essential to balanced health.  He states, “Most studies indicate that the average person needs somewhere between the traditional 7 and 8 hours a night. If you get much more sleep than that … you feel sluggish and fuzzy-headed during the day.  … if you get too little sleep .. you tend to feel like death warmed over.”

 Sleep deprivation has been used as a means of interrogation and even torture.  In some cases, the inability to sleep has had catastrophic consequences.  Many think the popular actor, Heath Ledger’s  tragic death from a prescription drug overdose may have been caused by his ongoing battle with chronic insomnia.

 Scientists have a pretty good idea of what goes on during sleep, but no one seems to know exactly how it happens. According to the Sleep Foundation, the body and the brain are repaired and nourished during the phases of non-rapid eye movement (NREM)  and rapid-eye-movement (REM). Somehow the body repairs its muscles, consolidates memory and releases hormones that regulate growth and appetite.

 Even Jesus slept.  His twelve disciples found it incredible that he could sleep in the bow of the boat during a raging storm. Frantic with fear, they woke him.   Awakened from his sleep, Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”  He then rebuked the winds and the waves, and the place where they were became perfectly calm. His disciples were astonished and looking at one another asked, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27).

 The need to sleep recognizes our mortality.  For seven to eight hours of every day, between a fourth and a third of every twenty-four hours, the world continues without us.  During that time, we are totally and completely dependent upon others and upon God for our existence and our well-being.  We are not the masters of our fate.

 The Scripture states, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Uvalde: Violence and Suffering

 We are reeling, again, stunned once more from the senseless murders of 19 fourth grade children and their two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. We have seen their faces and recalled their names. We have watched the videos of their family and friends embraced in grief, weeping.  And, as a nation, this week we mourn with them as they bury their dead. 

 Like everyone else, I am disturbed.  I am reminded of the killings at Sutherland Springs 5 years ago. The pastor’s 14 year old daughter dying on the floor, the Associate Pastor, Brian Holcombe, struck down as he stood up to preach, a 1 year old baby, 14 children, a 77 year old and others, massacred in a matter of minutes.  It is not like we have not been here before. We have witnessed this scene too many times,

 I have been disturbed and grieved over a lifetime of senseless violence. The first I remember was a sniper atop the University of Texas tower in 1966, killing 13.  Others stand out: the gunman that opened fire at First Baptist Daingerfield, Texas in 1980 and left 5 dead, including a 7 year old girl; The Oklahoma City bombing; West Paducah KY High School; Columbine High School; the Amish school in Pennsylvania; the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut;   the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando. These are just the horrific events that I remember. There are others alongside senseless killings every day reported in local news across the country.

 Like everyone else, it leaves me reeling with questions.  Why does God allow innocent people to die?  Why does evil and violence strike at such random and senseless moments?  How can people be so deranged and cruel?  I wish there were no guns, no violence, no killing, and no war. I wish there were no deranged people.

 The best insight I find is in the symbol that dominates the landscape at Uvalde: crosses erected at Robb Elementary; crosses in the churches and the cemeteries. To remove all violence from our world, God would have to remove our human capacity for good and evil.  Instead, God chooses the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate expression of innocent suffering and torture. When Jesus endured the Cross, He took the sins of our violent world upon Himself.

 The Cross is not an afterthought.  It is not a footnote.  The Cross on which Jesus died is the focal point of history. It is the place where God’s love meets our agony, our grief and confusion in a violent world.  He took our violence upon Himself and conquered it in the resurrection. 

 According to the theologian N.T Wright, the day Jesus was crucified is “the day the revolution began.”  This is the reason crosses are raised above the rooftops, erected on hillsides, planted as grave markers and worn around our necks.  Violence will not prevail. Evil will be conquered. The revolution has begun. Another Kingdom is coming. (Romans 8:31-39).


Monday, May 23, 2022

Memorial Day

Next Monday we will fly our flag outside our house to honor Memorial Day. It is a tradition my wife brought into our marriage from her father who served in the Pacific during World War II. All across our country the stars and stripes will unfurl in the breeze, lifting and dropping, whipping and snapping above the roof tops of schools, factories and government buildings. It will fly over parks, parades and cemeteries. Millions will stand to their feet in stadiums across America and sing of the broad stripes and bright stars reflected by bombs bursting in the night.

Forty-seven years after Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our national anthem, the star-spangled banner hung in ominous stillness above Fort Sumter. For the next four years, bearing the stars of the states that rose against it, surrounded by the sound of screaming men and thundering horses, it led the way into man-made storms of grapeshot and cannon fire. Almost a century later it was planted on the black sands of Iwo Jima where young Marines gave their lives to lift its blood-stained cloth above their heads. The flag still marks Tranquility Base where the Eagle landed, and Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind. Most of us have stood at the graveside of flag draped coffins and many mothers have held the crisply folded flag to their breast, solemnly handed to them by white gloved soldiers.

This Memorial Day the flag reminds us that America is still an experiment. Two and a half centuries is a very short time and our nation is still relatively young. Lincoln’s prophetic words at Gettysburg still ring true. We are a new nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Our generation, like every other generation must rise to the test to prove whether “that nation, or any other nation so dedicated and so conceived can long endure.” Every Memorial Day we are called to a new resolve that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Memorial Day helps us remember the men and women who gave their lives on the battlefield. But the most important battles to be fought for the future of our nation will not be with missiles and guns. The most important battles will be fought in the hearts of men and women. The preservation of our nation, its hopes, dreams and ideals, depends on the character of its people and their leaders. Honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity, goodness and faith are the elements that will determine the future freedom of our nation.  

In Proverbs, the Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Prov. 14:34) Isaiah says, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa. 42:1).


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Battling Cancer

 Cancer is not new to our family.  My wife is a breast cancer survivor, as is her sister, who has been battling stage four cancer for the past eight years. Her cancer is spreading and she is about to start chemo again.  My father died of multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, when he was 53.  He bestowed on me a life-long memory of courage, faith and grace.  I took him to visit his friends the week before he died.  He was too week to remain standing.  He greeted each with a cheerful smile and his natural good humor.  But I could see the sadness written in their faces when they witnessed the seriousness of his condition.

 My daughter-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago while our grandchildren were still at home.  Life becomes precious when we are faced with our mortality and the mortality of those we love. Knowing that thousands are traveling a similar journey, I wanted to share a couple of her journal entries.

 She wrote, “Today was a great day.  I woke up with no pain and I was able to spend the day with my kids.  My husband was able to go to work.  I ate more food with no sickness than I’ve had in over a week.  I had enough energy to attend a hilarious community play with the beautiful high school drama/English students and laughed until my chest hurt.  I stayed up late talking with my best friend about how blessed we are and how God answers prayers in ways we don’t even realize.  My children laughed and teased each other in ways that made us feel normal.  And I still have my hair.  Today was a great day!” 

 A few days later she wrote, “As I mourn the loss of my hair, an outward symbol of my health and femininity, I am reminded of my true identity in Christ.”  Psalm 139:13-15 “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book[BT1] , you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”

 I am proud of my daughter-in-law and grateful that her cancer is in remission. I am grateful to be surrounded by men and women who inspire me.  Every day in thousands of homes mothers and fathers, sons and daughters fight quiet and little-known battles of life and love. 

 Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[?  …  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.“ (Matthew 6:25-34)


 [BT1]

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Graduation

 For the first time in three years family and friends can once again pack stadiums,  arenas and auditoriums to celebrate high school and college graduations.  Masks are off and the smiles are back, youthful faces grinning at each other, searching for family and friends in the crowd. Mothers and fathers anxiously searching for sons and daughters.

 Every graduate represents a unique story.  Most are young. Some represent the first graduates in their family. Some are focused, with jobs lined up and a clear career path before them. Some are still finding their way, not quite sure what they are going to do with the degree they earned. All, in one way or another, have managed to complete their degree during the difficult days of Covid.

 A few are like our son.  In 1992 he entered college as a freshman.  But, like many others, either he wasn’t ready for college or college wasn’t ready for him.  He lasted a few semesters, bouncing around to different universities before joining the Marine Corps.  Over the years, besides serving our nation as a US Marine, he developed a successful career in Information Technology.  He married and raised our three older grandchildren in a Christian home. He proved to be a wonderful husband and father and a Christian example in his community.  Today, he is 48 and this weekend, May 14 he will walk across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming where his daughter is a senior and his youngest is a freshman. He says he crammed his college degree into 30 years!  All our family will be there to watch him “walk” and to celebrate,  including his sister from Colorado and his brother from Minnesota.

Graduations inspire us because they not only celebrate a significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities.  Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams.

 God loves to lead us into new dreams and new discoveries.  In Isaiah He says, “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you,” (Isaiah 48:6).   Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

 God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life by trusting His Son, Jesus. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Providence or Luck

 One church called a new pastor who was nor familiar with the traditions of the community. After the first “pot luck” dinner where the members pooled together their favorite casseroles, puddings and pies, he took his stand staunchly opposed all forms of gambling.  He began to rail from the pulpit against the very idea of a pot “luck” anything.  The deacons and the women of the church got together and came up with an idea. “How about pot providence dinners?”  This seemed to calm the theological storm so that everyone could once again enjoy the cooking.

 I know it sounds a little odd. But strange things happen in churches and it does raise a question.  How much of life is providence and how much is just plain good and back luck?  For some, of course, there is no such thing as chance.  Everything, down to the smallest detail of every day is providential.  And for others, there is no such thing as providence.  Life is just the luck of the draw. But is it?

Forrest Gump, in the classic movie, contemplated the question that faces us all. Is life the result of random chance, like a feather balanced on the breeze, or does destiny direct our path?

 Mathematics contains an entire field of probability. Any single flip of a coin cannot be predicted. But if that coin is flipped enough times, it will eventually sustain the laws of probability. It will turn up tails just as often as it lands on heads.  This is called the “law of large numbers.”  

At the same time, some of the greatest men in American history have recognized the power of a providential presence. Benjamin Franklin opened his famous autobiography by saying, “I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence.”  George Washington repeatedly referred to “providence” as a guiding force throughout his life.

In 1862, during the Civil War, Lincoln stated, “If after endeavoring to do my best in the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. … and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”

 Reflecting on his life, King David wrote, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.Psalm 139:16).

Isaiah declares, “And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”  (Isaiah 58:11)

 While God has established laws of probability in the universe as real as the physical law of gravity, He has also established His providence.  He has a plan and purpose for our life.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Going Home

 Now that Russia has withdrawn its troops from Kyiv to concentrate its invasion in the East, Ukrainians are returning to their homes in the capital city.  In spite of continued air strikes on the city and the mayor’s warnings not to return, thousands are making the dangerous journey every day.  According to a report by Hannah Allam in the Washington Post, one of the returnees said, “I can’t wait to take a shower, see my bedroom, hug my husband.  I’m going home.”  Another said, “People say it is still not a good time to be there, but its our home.  Our walls will heal us.”

 We all understand the emotions that compel these displaced citizens to make the dangerous journey back to Kyiv.  There is something about “home” that draws all of us: the familiar place where we grew up, that special tree we climbed as a child, the sound of birds outside the window in the early morning, the familiar rooms and furniture, and, most importantly, the voices of those we love, the smell of dinner cooking, holding hands around the table and saying “grace.”

 But the definitions of home change over the years.  I still have those compelling memories of childhood in central Texas.  But, equally as meaningful  are the places where we raised our children: the places where they were born, where they first learned to walk and ride a bike, where they went to school, where they played soccer, baseball and football.  “Home” contains memories of Minnesota snow forts, snow men, and snow covered hills that melted and gave way to lilacs and crab apple blooms.

 Today “home” is in northern Colorado, the front range with majestic snow-capped peaks in the distance.  It is the place where we are helping our children raise our grandchildren, the place where our family gathers to celebrate holidays and special events.

 When we speak of home, and think of home, we cannot do so without remembering or anticipating the presence of those whom we love, those who loved us the most throughout our journey, wherever it has taken us.

 “Home” is also in the future.  A place we have not yet been. A “better” place, as they say.  Billy Graham, the great 20th century evangelist, lived to be 99.  In his last years he wrote, “Someday our life’s journey will be over. In a sense we all are nearing home.”   As we age, the old song becomes more meaningful, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.  If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?”

 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled.  Your believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And, if I prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself so that where I am, you may be also." (John 14:1-3). 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

What's In A Name?

 When my phone rings and someone asks for “William,” I know they don’t know me.  William my birth  name. It appears on my passport and drivers license.  Usually those who ask for “William” turn out to be telemarketers. But when the caller asks for “Billy,” I know they are from my past.  I was known as “Billy” in my childhood, youth and early adult years. My wife still calls me Billy.  If they ask for “Bill,” they probably met me during my mid-life and later career when I opted for the shorter version.

 I guess I would have been the same person regardless of my name.  Since my middle name is Charles, I could have been called “Charlie” or “Chuck.” My father called me “Butch.”  He was the only one.

 Names are important.  When someone calls us by our name it opens doors of relationship. But even more important than our name is the voice of the one who calls us.  The effect of hearing our name spoken by those who love us is different than when it is spoken by others. 

 God knows us by our name and calls us by name.  It is a measure of the intimacy by which we are known and loved.  When Moses wandered off the beaten path with shattered dreams and settled for shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep, God called his name:  “ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4).

 When the boy Samuel was growing up in the Temple, God called his name:  “Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10).  In the fullness of time, the angel Gabriel called to a young woman in Nazareth: ““Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Those moments changed history.

 Sometimes God changed a name in order to reflect His plan and purpose for a person’s life.  Jacob’s name, which means “deceiver” or “supplanter,” was changed to Israel, meaning “you have struggled with God” or “prince of God.”  When Jesus met the fisherman, Simon,  “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” John 1:42).

 Jesus said, “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:2-4).

 To God, no one is a number or a statistic. He knows you better than you know yourself.  God knows you and calls you by name.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Easter Joy

 This week, we will watch squealing children sprint through the grass, baskets swinging, in search of brightly colored eggs among the daffodils, crocus and tulips (or, if you are in Texas, bluebonnets, buttercups and Indian paintbrushes.). For the first time in three years churches will gather to celebrate Easter without Covid fears or restrictions.  Just as the scenic grounds at the Masters were packed with patrons, we look forward to churches filled with worshipers singing songs of joy!.

 But, that first Easter was much different. The followers of Jesus approached Sunday morning under a dark cloud of gloom.  Darkness had covered the earth on Friday, shadowing the three crosses that had been raised on a hill outside Jerusalem. Only two weeks before, Jesus’s disciples had tried to dissuade him from returning to Jerusalem. Unable to change his mind, Thomas spoke for them all when he said, “Let us go with him so we may die with him,” (John 11:16).

 They came trudging into the city keenly aware of the dangers they faced.  And now, as they feared, Jesus was dead. They had watched him die.  His body had been buried. Their hopes were smashed.  They huddled behind locked doors confused and discouraged. 

 At the first light of day, they heard a knock at the door.  Mary of Magdala continued knocking until the door was opened. She stumbled over her words trying to tell them what she had seen at the tomb.  But they would not believe her.

 Peter and John decided to investigate and raced to the garden where he had been buried.  John was faster, reaching the tomb before the older disciple who entered the tomb alone, still trying to catch his breath. When Peter exited, he looked puzzled and bewildered, John entered and found the tomb empty with the burial cloth folded and lying by itself.

 Later that day Cleopas and another disciple, not numbered among the 12, arrived panting for breath after having run 7 miles from the village of Emmaus. Like Mary, they too reported they had seen Jesus in the flesh. He had walked with them, discussing the events that had transpired and stopped to share a meal before they recognized who he was.

 That evening he appeared to 10 of his 12 disciples.  Judas, who betrayed him and committed suicide. Thomas was absent.  And a week later, he appeared to them again, offering his hands and his side for Thomas to investigate. He was no ghost.  He was no phantom. He ate with them. And then he vanished.

 These men whose hopes had been shattered, who trembled in hiding behind locked doors on Saturday, were transformed.  For forty days, with many convincing proofs, Jesus continued to show himself to them. After his final appearance, Luke says these men who had entered the city six weeks earlier under a cloud of gloom “returned to Jerusalem with great joy!” (Luke 24:52).

 This Sunday we celebrate the most significant event in human history, the day God raised Jesus from the dead. God has chosen that the final word for the human race will not be sorrow or sadness, confusion or despair. The final word for each of us who believe and surrender our lives to him is joy!  This is why on this Sunday, churches around the world will gather and will sing songs of celebration in every language know to man. He is risen!


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

When God Comes Near

 Celtic Christianity has a term to refer to those moments when the separation between this world and heaven becomes so minimal that we sense the presence of God. They call these moments “thin places.” They are the places where love and compassion reign. Where forgiveness overcomes resentment. Where selfishness is swallowed up in sacrifice. Where prejudice surrenders to acceptance. Where the violent flame is quenched, and people live in peace. They are the times when our soul is overwhelmed with awe, and we worship God.

The news usually focuses on “thick places” where our world is farthest from God. For some strange reason we gravitate to the sick stories of murder, corruption, abuse, crime and war. But God gives us moments when He comes near, moments when we sense the fragrance of His presence, and we hear the whisper of His voice.

Sometimes we sense a thin place when we stand before God’s creation and marvel at its majesty, beauty, complexity and balance. My wife and I felt we were in one of those “thin places” when we sat on a beach and watched the full moon slowly rise over the ocean. 

 Sometimes we feel it in cathedrals and churches or informal and intimate gatherings with other believers. Sometimes the thin places appear in everyday life. Often, when they do, they are unexpected.

We see the “thin places” when we witness acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness and sacrifice, like the brave men and women who have chosen to remain in Ukraine to care for those who cannot flee, delivering food, water and comfort to the elderly and to families trapped in basements.  

When Jesus came, the reign of God broke through upon the earth so that we were able to see, in a brilliant flash, what God’s Kingdom really looks like. This is what John meant when he said, “That was the true light, which, coming into the world enlightens every man … we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Wherever Jesus went he created a thin place. This is why Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

When He sent his followers out, Jesus taught them to live and speak in such a way that people would know that they had come into a “thin place.” “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:8).

As followers of Jesus our task is to help create the thin places. We do so by living in such a way that the reign of God rules in our hearts, controlling our speech, our actions and our decisions. We are to create “thin places” wherever we work or study, among our co-workers, fellow students, family, friends and even our enemies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” He was teaching us to pray that we might become instruments for the thin places. This is why Jesus said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your father who is in Heaven.” God desires that His reign and rule should be displayed and celebrated.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Spring 2022

 The grass finally has a tinge of green. The birds are migrating.  Geese are flying overhead; a robin perched on the fence with his proud red breast; sparrows are scoping out the bird house, preparing to build their nest; red wing blackbirds have returned to the marsh.  It is time for my spring column.

 Two years ago I wrote about Fred and Ethel, the robins who built their nest in the tree outside our front window. Maybe that was Fred on the back fence this morning.  We still have the nest.  Last year I wrote about two sparrows who surveyed the scene and built their nest in our birdhouse out back,  Maybe they are the same ones planning to move back in.

 The Aspen is heavy with buds, anticipating warmer days. Winter is gone, leaving behind its final shrouds of snow.  People are out: walking their dogs, riding their bikes, hiking the hills. Like bears from their hibernation, we are emerging from winter to greet the day.

 All who have lived in similar latitudes have experienced what we feel, from before recorded history, dating back to the earliest civilizations who left behind fragments of their existence.  We, too, are part of nature, filling our lungs with fresh and fragrant air; sensing the sun that warms our skin. We feel the energy.  Our spirits rise to meet the season and the day.

 There are those who live in tropical climates, and those who live at the polar extremes, where the seasons never change. But, for most of us, our lives are tuned to the seasons. Each season has its purpose and its beauty, but none has the magic of Spring, when the dead and dormant landscape clothes itself with green, when flower burst from their bulbs, when bees and humming birds return to seek their nectar.

 It is, I think, God’s reminder to us to never give up. Dark and cold winter days can seem like an eternity, but they always give way to another Spring and another Summer.  Babies will be born, playgrounds will be filled with children’s laughter.  Again we will hear the crack of the bat on the ball! 

 This is the reason Jesus used an image of Spring to foretell his return.  Jesus said, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree.  As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so when you see all these things you will know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell  you this generation shall not pass away until all these things have happened.  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Word shall not pass away,”  (Matthew 24:32-35).

 A better day, a brighter day, a new day is coming, a day that transcends the evil and oppression and injustice of these days, beyond war and pestilence, disease and death. Winter cannot keep its icy grip. Spring will come, life and resurrection will prevail when He returns.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Beyond the Noise

 Our world is filled with noise: the whine of tires on the interstate, the roar of eighteen-wheelers;  the constant chatter of televisions in the background, talk show hosts over-talking each other, voices escalating in pitch and volume; politicians screaming insults and accusations.   

 Even the quiet interior of my car has been invaded by a GPS that seems to be constantly recalculating and instructing me to make a U turn.   Once, when my grandkids were riding with me, I switched her language settings from English to German, Russian, Spanish and Arabic just so we could hear what it is like to be corrected in different languages. The grandkids loved it.

 Libraries are still pretty quiet. No one wants to mess with a stern librarian. Beaches and parks are quiet, unless someone pulls up nearby with a boom box.  

Silence can make us nervous.  We like to surround ourselves with sound.  It somehow comforts us, relieves us from thinking our own thoughts or, worst of all, being alone. But maybe we are missing something.  Maybe there is something in the silence of solitude that we have lost in our streaming, screaming and crowded world.

 Before Jesus launched his public ministry he spent 40 days in the wilderness.  There were no radios, televisions, iPods or iPhones.  He was completely alone in the silence.  I have been there, stood on the edge of the wilderness where he wandered alone for 40 days. It is a stark and silent place.  It prepared Him for the days when He must deal with the crush of the crowd with little time to eat or sleep.

 When John preached near the Jordan River, thousands came to hear him.  The hillsides were covered with people listening to his messages.  People lined up to be baptized for repentance.  But before his remarkable public preaching, John also spent years in the wilderness listening to God. 

 Our lack of silence and solitude threatens to make us shallow, only able to repeat the slogans and jingles of the latest commercials.  Our minds repeat the lyrics of the latest pop songs.  If we would have depth of character, if we would think new thoughts, if we would hear the voice of God, we need time alone, time away from all the noise.  Time to think new thoughts and time to pray.

 C.S. Lewis wrote, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” 

 The Bible says,  “’Come now, and let us reason together.’ Says the Lord,” (Isaiah 1:18). “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). 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 40:30-31).

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ukraine: War and Suffering

 We have to admire the courage of the Ukrainians who continue to thwart the advances of the Russian invasion. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, civilians and soldiers alike rally to defend their homes and their country. But their struggle is not without devastating personal loss. 

 Our hearts are heavy for Ukraine as we witness the pain suffered by the innocent who are crushed beneath the iron wheels of war.  One of the most painful and heart-rending scenes in the Ukraine was the image of a pregnant woman who had been admitted to the maternity ward in Mariupol for the birth of her baby.  When the hospital was hit by Russian artillery her pelvis was crushed and her hip detached. Medics rushed her to another hospital where doctors worked frantically to save her life and that of her baby.  They both died.

 In his frenzied attempts to save the woman and her baby, the doctor never had a chance to ask her name. Her grieving father and husband were able to claim her body before it was consigned to one of the mass graves for the many who have died during the attacks. Though the doctor did not know her name, she is known to our Heavenly Father, as is her baby.  God has said, “Before I formed  you in the womb, I knew you,” (Jeremiah 1:5).

 God is not absent in these moments. He is very present and will make His presence known.  For this reason, He sent His Son to embrace the injustice, pain and suffering that is all too present in this world. This is why He shed His blood and this is why he died on the Cross.  And, this is why God raised Him from the grave. In this world suffering, pain, agony and death often seem to have the last word. But He has overcome the world and has replaced these words with righteousness, resurrection, life and peace.

 The Psalmist wrote, “O satisfy us in the morning with Thy lovingkindness that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Make us glad according to the days Thou hast afflicted us, and the years we have seen evil.  Let thy work appear to Thy servants, and Thy majesty to their children.” 

 We must continue to pray that this war will end, that the Russian army will withdraw, that life will be preserved and communities restored.  We must pray, as Jesus taught us to pray, that His kingdom will come and His will might be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

At the Start of Day

 A friend recently asked me what discipline I found most helpful to live a productive life.  It caused me to think.  My schedule is not rigidly regimented and never has been.  I have always had to make choices about how I would spend my time.  But, as I reflected, it seemed clear to me that there is one discipline that has made more difference than any other: rising early for meditation, prayer ands devotion.

 How we start the day has a lot to do with how we live it and how we end it. In fact, the way we start each day may change the entire trajectory of our life

 This was not always true for me. In my youth I tended to jump out of bed and rush off to some pressing business or activity without taking time to be quiet, to find a focus on God, to memorize and ponder Scripture and to pray.  But at some point, thirty or more years ago, I made a decision to get up early, often before sunrise, to spend time alone with God.

 Of course, there have been days I could not do this: illness, an early morning flight, children and grandchildren up before dawn requiring care. But most days, I have protected this time. I don’t always feel God’s presence in these moments. There are days when I feel I am all alone, reading Scripture, meditating and praying, as if God isn’t around. There are other times He seems to whisper in my ear. During the dry times I find it necessary to persevere, not to give up.  He will make His presence known in due time, and it is not all about how I feel at the moment. Sometimes I might be like Nathanael who had no idea Jesus was watching when he sat beneath the fig tree, (John 1:48).

 Jesus was well known for this habit.  “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and prayed, (Mark 1:35). At first, his disciples could not understand it. They went in search of Him. (Mark 1:36).

 The Psalms emphasize the importance of this early morning hour: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days,” (Psalm 90:14). “I will awaken the dawn! I will give thanks to You, Lord, among the peoples, and I will sing praises to You among the nations. For Your mercy is great above the heavens, and Your truth reaches to the skies,” (Psalm 108:2-4).

 C.S. Lewis wrote, “The real problem of the Christian life comes where people usually do not look for it.  It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first 's each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

Bill's book, Upon This Rock is free March 8-12 as an eBook on Amazon.  click the imate to the right, or go to tinsleycenter.com. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Ukraine Connections

 Last week our world was rocked by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a sovereign Democratic nation that has resisted Russia’s attempts to pull it into its orbit. When I was pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremburg, Germany, we often had visitors from the Ukraine. Since I started writing this column, I have received more than 2,000 online views in the Ukraine.  

 Though the Ukraine is haf a world away, our connections are strong.  Over 1 million Americans have Ukrainian descent. According to The Ukrainians in America, the first Ukrainian immigrant arrived in Jamestown in 1607 along with Captain John Smith.  

 I was moved this week by a post by one of my young friends, Ryan Russell, Associate Pastor for College & Missions at First Baptist Waco, Texas.  He and his wife, Raechel married in 2015 and adopted a new-born son last year whose mother is Ukrainian. With Ryan and Rachael’s permission, here is what he wrote:

“Our adopted son Griffin is half-Ukranian.  His biological grandparents likely still live there today. It’s unlikely I’ll ever know them, and yet I care for them deeply. They’ve made our world possible. They may be strangers, but it hurts to think they could be in danger. We’ll never know.

 “Lately, Griffin has been getting lonely on car rides across town. A rear facing car seat means staring into the unknown. Talking helps, but I’ve found the best thing I can do is to stretch back and offer a finger for him to hold. “Hey bud, I got you. I’m here.

 “Silly as it may sound, I’ve begun to imagine these lonely cries as the vicarious cries of his people. Also staring into the darkness, they sorely need a finger to grasp onto. Yet halfway across the globe, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of evil, easy to give into despair.

 “Writing in the early third century, Origen, an early church father, once said: ‘One saint who prays is much more powerful than countless sinners who wage war.’

 “I find this to be an outrageously audacious claim: that there is a power in the world stronger than violence, and it will have the last word. Further, this power is made available here and now when we pray. Prayer seems passive and soft, and yet for those with eyes to see, is the true power that runs the world.

 “So every night for the foreseeable future, I’ll get on my knees in the dark near his crib, and do what I can to unleash more of this power into the world. I’d invite you to do the same. As we pray, we know God has not forgotten Ukraine. The darker the night grows, the louder his voice resounds: “I got you. I’m here.”

  David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.

The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.  He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them.” (Psalm 145:17-19).

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Alexa, Siri, Echo, etc.

Over the past few years, we have welcomed some new names into our home: Cortana, Alexa, Siri, and Echo. My grandchildren tell me I can change their name, if I want to, to something like Ziggy. Regardless, the computers want to talk to me.  They want to recognize my voice. They want to know where I am at all times, to track my browsing and shopping history on the web, maybe elsewhere. The computers even want my finger print, and they are asking for my mug shot. Sometimes they start talking to me when their name is mentioned on TV.

 It reminds me of Hal in “2001 A Space Odyssey.”  What are they up to? I remember when George Orwell’s 1984 was science fiction.  Now it is ancient history.  Big brother is here, and has been here for a while. I am not sure I want to be known that well. Where does all this information go? 

 Jesus to told us that the very hairs of my head are numbered.  This once seemed hard to believe. How could God possibly know such intimate information about every individual on the face of the earth? How many people are there?  Eight billion?

 Eight billion once seemed like an astronomical number.  But then, our understanding of numbers changed.  The first time I heard of a “giga” anything was in Back To The Future, the 1985 movie in which Doc and Marty leaped through time with a few gigawatts supplied to their DeLorean. But, we blew right by gigabytes into terabytes and petabytes.  We aren’t familiar with exa, zetta and yotta yet.  But they are out there.

 A few billion is nothing in our information age. If such information capacity is possible for men with the aid of PCs and laptops, how much more is it possible with God?

 The Bible says I have always been known.  God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” (Jeremiah 1:5).   God knew me before I was conceived. God knew you before you came into existence.

 God always knows where I am, what I am doing, what I am thinking.  “You know [when I sit down and [when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down,and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:2-3). 

 Here is a great mystery.  God doesn’t just know about me, like some cosmic computer, He knows me. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

 And here is an even greater mystery:  not only does God know me better than I know myself.  He loves me.  This is a cosmic leap.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3).   “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

 Technology, economics and politics cannot deliver us.  God alone is our deliverance and our hope.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Right Stuff

 Sixty years ago on February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. I was in 9th grade. Our science teacher slipped us out a side door and led us to his house a few blocks away where we crowded around his black and white television to watch the launch. The tiny speakers strained to recreate the thunder of the Mercury Atlas 6 rocket when it ignited on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. A shaky camera traced the flame that streaked through the sky hurtling John Glenn toward space. The rocket was little more than a beefed up Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, its warhead replaced by a space capsule. Within four hours, Glenn made three orbits of the earth, and then prepared for re-entry. An entire nation held its breath as Walter Cronkite described the potentially loose heat shield and the likelihood that Friendship 7 would burn up like a meteor.

 Years later I visited the Smithsonian and viewed the space capsule in which Glenn made his historic flight. The capsule is about the size of a 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle. It was far less sophisticated than a Prius or a Ford Focus. Personal computers would not become available for another twenty years. Because of their discipline and courage, John Glenn and the other astronauts who blazed the first trails into space came to be known as men with “the right stuff.”

 Few of us will ever experience a heroic moment like John Glenn experienced February 20, 1962. But each of us can be men and women with “the right stuff.”  Every day we are called upon to live with courage, discipline, and faith.  Some face huge challenges.

 Today, when I think of people with the “right stuff,” I think of Patrick Kalenzi, the veterinarian who recently helped us care for our dog, Buddy, in his final days. Patrick was born into abject poverty in Uganda, the sone of a Tutsi family that had escaped genocide in Rwanda. With an indefatigable faith he overcame insurmountable obstacles and obtained an education. He immigrated to the US and rescued his family in Uganda from poverty. He captured his extraordinary story in his book, Tears Run Dry.

 James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3).  Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

 Perhaps the sixtieth anniversary of John Glenn’s courageous journey into space will remind us that we all can face life with courage and faith. Each of us can live with the “right stuff.”