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."

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 Now that Russia has withdrawn its troops from Kyiv to concentrate its invasion in the East, Ukrainians are returning to their homes in the capital city.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.