What Others Say

What a wonderful story of how Buddy came to you and is currently doing! I'm so glad he was blessed with such a caring family. The story you wrote for children is just terrific and I will try to go to Amazon to check it out tomorrow. Very thoughtful on your part - thank you! Jill K. Santa Fe, Texas

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jerusalem Prayer

This week I gathered with a group of pastors on the Mount of Olives.  We stood gazing across the Kidron Valley to the eastern wall of old Jerusalem, staring at the sealed up gate where Jesus entered as the Messiah.  While we scanned the horizon overlooking the historic hill where Jesus was crucified, one of our number read John 17, the prayer Jesus prayed on this spot hours before His death:

"“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.   “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17).

I left the olive groves desiring that His prayer would be answered.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What We Don't Know

The total of human knowledge is increasing at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that it took 300 years for knowledge to double after 1450, but only 150 years for it to double again. From 1900 to 1950 it doubled once more. It is now believed to double every 900 days and, after 2020 is expected to double every 72.

Only 200 years ago physicians thought that illness was caused by bad blood. George Washington was virtually bled to death in 1799 as the favored treatment for an obvious infection. One hundred years ago Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and the Model T. Fifty years ago personal computers were unknown. Twenty-five years ago the Internet was introduced to the public. Our access to knowledge and the world has dramatically changed. What is there that we do not know today that will be common knowledge tomorrow? What is it that we think we know that will be proved wrong?

Each of us is able to comprehend only a small segment of the vast ocean of human knowledge. And, when all our knowledge is compiled and computed it only scratches the surface of the limitless universe. We are still confined to this tiny spec of a planet. We have not been able to travel any further than the moon. The vastness of the universe remains far beyond our reach. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.33 light years away. Traveling at the fastest speed imaginable with current technology, scientists estimate it would take 19,000 years to reach it. At our very best we can only observe the vast reaches of the universe through our telescopes as though looking through a glass darkly.

Regarding God, we debate our axioms and truths as if we have complete and comprehensive knowledge about God. We must always be reminded by the words of the prophet when God says, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts.”

This is one of the reasons God sent his Son, simply because God is incomprehensible. Knowledge of his universe is too vast. Knowledge of his nature and character is too far beyond our mortal minds. As with his creation, we can only observe and stand in awe.

We are like newborn babes first opening their eyes to a new world they have never seen. We are like children giggling over new found discoveries on the play ground: a stick, a flower, a worm, a caterpillar. I think God takes joy in this. He takes pleasure in our discoveries of his intricate, complex and mysterious creation. At the same time, he is grieved by our blindness. The violence, cruelty, abuse and conflict that exists in the earth bears witness that for all our advance in scientific and technological knowledge, we are still unable to focus on the truths that matter most. Jesus, as God in human flesh, was the only one who has ever known and seen all things clearly. For all of our advances we have yet to learn the Sermon on the Mount and put it into practice.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ebola and Answered Prayer

In a surprising turn of events, President Obama is recalling the troops who were deployed to Liberia four months ago to fight Ebola.  According to USA Today, “President Obama is all but ending the U.S. military mission to Liberia to fight Ebola next month, as infection rates there fell to near zero.”  Time Magazine published an article this week entitled: “After Ebola: See Life Returning to Normal in Liberia.”

Just six months ago the world was virtually paralyzed with fear that the Ebola virus would become a global epidemic infecting and killing victims by the hundreds of thousands. Headlines dominated the news media warning of the deadly implications of Ebola. Many were near panic when a Liberian man died of the disease in Dallas and a nurse attending him was diagnosed with Ebola after flying to Chicago.

When Dr. Kent Brantly and his nurse were flown to the U. S. for treatment after contracting Ebola in their efforts to treat victims in Liberia, many cringed.  Some questioned the wisdom of transporting known carriers of the disease to American hospitals. But Dr. Brantly and Nurse Nancy Writebol survived.

When asked about his treatment and recovery, Dr. Brantly was clearly convinced that the real secret to his recovery was prayer.  Brantly said, “The people in the room taking care of me, they began praying over me. What I didn’t know at the time is that there were also people outside my house praying for me.” He thoughtfully added, “There were thousands of people, including my teammates there in Liberia who were begging the Lord to save my life.”

Many more hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, prayed.  Web sites like praytoendebola.org were set up.  People were urged to pray for the people of West Africa that they would be receptive to preventive practices, to pray for the medical teams fighting the disease, for the medical research and for the victims.  Thousands risked their lives and traveled to West Africa to fight the disease, including doctors, nurses, medical staff and U.S. troops.

We should continue our prayers.  There is still no proven treatments for Ebola or immunizations to prevent its spread.

But now that the Ebola outbreak has been reduced to near zero, and our troops are being called home, it is time to give thanks.  We should thank the men and women who risked their lives to fight the disease. And we should give thanks to God who has abundantly answered our prayers. 

For some reason, when we are desperate, we are anxious and ready to pray.  But when we are rescued, we are slow to give thanks.  Jesus once healed ten lepers and sent them to show themselves to the priest according to the Jewish custom for healing.  Afterward, of the ten, only one returned to thank Him.  “Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:11-17).

Monday, February 2, 2015

Secrets

You would think that we would have learned our lesson about secrets.  President Nixon and “all the President’s men” thought that they could get away with it.  But every word uttered in the oval office found its way into print and into the public.  The Watergate tapes ripped the mask off the public image of politics and left an entire generation disillusioned.

Twenty years later, Bill Clinton assumed that what he did in private would remain secret. But what happened with Monica Lewinsky behind closed doors became public record resulting in the second Presidential impeachment in history.  In his autobiography Clinton confessed, “The question of secrets is one I have thought a lot about over the years.  … Secrets can be an awful burden to bear, especially if some sense of shame is attached to them … Of course, I didn’t begin to understand all this back when I became a secret-keeper.  …I was always reluctant to discuss with anyone the most difficult parts of my personal life.”

The Wikileaks secrets were first released in 2010. Most of the documents appeared to be trivial and petty.  Some of them serious.  All of it stemmed from words written and spoken in secret places that the participants never dreamed would be read or heard by anyone else.  But what was said in private is now public.

Edward Snowden released classified National Security Documents to the mainstream media in 2013. Facing possible prosecution in the United States, he continues to hide somewhere in Russia.

Jesus warned us that our secrets would become public.  He said, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” And again, He said, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.”

Our conduct in secret is the most important part of our life.  What we do and say when we are alone, when we think no one else is looking, that is the part of our life that will ultimately determine our success or failure.  Jesus constantly encouraged his followers to focus on what they did in secret.  “When you pray,” He said, “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” And, “when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Jesus taught that those who say and do things privately that they do not want others to know about are like cups that are only washed on the outside.  A slimy green scum continues to grow on the inside.  He compared people who keep up a public image that is not consistent with their secret conduct to marble tombs in graveyards. They appear whitewashed and clean on the outside, but inside they are filled with rotting flesh and decayed bones.

When we do what is right in private, what is seen in public will take care of itself. The most important part of our lives is the secret part.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What's In A Name?

When my phone rings and someone asks for “William,” I know they don’t know me.  William is my legal name, and 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.  “Bill” seemed more professional than “Billy” and I thought it sounded better with my last name.

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 a future 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.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

What Are You Waiting For?

When I married my wife we repeated the customary wedding vows promising to cherish one another “in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth.” Perhaps we should have added an additional line. Something like. “I promise to wait for you.” Since we married we have waited for each other. We have waited at airports, train stations and bus stops. I have waited on her to put on last minute make-up and she has waited on me to put down my book or close my computer. When she gave birth to our children, I waited. When I had a motorcycle accident, she waited. In too many ways to enumerate or remember, we have waited on each other. If we added it all up it would be a huge chunk of our lives. And now, it makes me happy. She is worth waiting for.

When we had children, we waited. We waited for their birth. We waited for them when they got out of school. We waited late at night in dark parking lots for their buses to return. We waited for them in the car, the motor running, the clock ticking, knowing we were late to church. We stayed up waiting for them to come home from their first dates. And we waited for them to come home from college.

Waiting is a part of life. We choose to wait for those we love.

That is why God waits for us, because He loves us. Isaiah says, “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you for the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isa 34:18). In Jeremiah, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5). God has waited an eternity for you.

We often miss God because we haven’t learned to wait on Him. We blast through busy schedules making quick decisions without taking time to connect with God’s better plan for us. The Psalmist said, “My soul waits in silence for God only. From Him is my salvation.” (Ps. 62:1) “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1) The prophet Micah said, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation.” (Micah 7:7)

Waiting on God involves prayer and finding time to be quiet before Him. Sometimes it includes fasting. But waiting isn’t always about sitting still with our arms folded.

Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened.” The secret is to remain open to God’s direction and to listen to His voice while we constantly seek and knock. David wrote, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How Is Your Soul?

References to the soul seem strangely absent in our churches. But if the churches have stopped talking about the soul, the technological gurus who design apps for our iPhones have not. 

A couple of years ago the Huffington Post launched an app called “GPS for the soul.”  The app is based on two truths they say, “that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer from that place again and again. “ Arianna Huffington stated, “There’s a snake lurking in this cyber-Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.”

The Bible speaks a great deal about the soul.  The soul can be deeply troubled.  David cried out, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3) and again, “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Ps. 31:7). 

Our soul can rejoice. “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.” (Ps. 35:9).  Our soul can be refreshed, “He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23:3) and our soul can be at peace. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Ps. 62:1).

Jesus taught that there is nothing in this world more important than the condition of your soul.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt. 16:26). And again, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29).

John Ortberg, in his book, Soul Keeping, writes, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls. … What if I don’t get a promotion, or my boss doesn’t like me, or I have financial problems, or I have a bad hair day? Yes, these may cause disappointment, but do they have any power over my soul?  Can they nudge my soul from its center, which is the very heart of God?  When you think about it that way, you realize that external circumstances cannot keep you from being with God.”

What is truly important is not our possessions. Neither is it our physical strength or beauty. Nor is it positions of influence, power or fame.  What is truly important is the person we are becoming. Although our bodies may wither with old age and disease, our souls can continue to grow in grace as we love God and others.

This is why Jesus said that the first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” If we receive His gift of grace and do this, we will find food and rest for our souls.