Monday, December 2, 2013
Every year I write at least one column about my dog, Buddy, a tri-color Pembroke Corgi that found his way into our home four years ago. Animal Control picked him up off the streets of Fort Worth, skinny and sick. They called Corgi Rescue and they called us. When we met him it was love at first sight. We adopted him, kennel cough and all. He was more of a puppy then, less than two years old, I think. Now he is approaching middle age in dog years. He is not as fast as he once was, though our daughter’s poodle could always run rings around him, and he carries a little more weight in his mid-section.
Buddy has a way of teaching me things about God if I take the time to listen and watch and reflect on our relationship. Shortly after we adopted him, he told me his story: how he got lost on the streets of Fort Worth, was befriended by Barney the Bloodhound and ended up in “dog jail” when the “dog police” caught up with them. I wrote it down for my grandchildren and published it as an e-book on Amazon, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi. Our next door neighbor read it to his ten-year-old daughter who took it to school where the teacher read it to her class. “One boy cried,” she said. In his story, Buddy encourages animal rescue and teaches us to accept ourselves and others just the way God made us.
Recently Buddy and I went fishing in my flat bottom fishing boat. The front of the boat is his. He stands in the front and sniffs the wind to locate the fish. He is good at it. Bored with my inability to catch the fish that he knew were there, he decided to jump to a nearby log and fell in. Corgis aren’t built for water. Their stubby legs don’t give much traction for swimming. He coughed, sputtered, went under and splashed for all he was worth until I grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back into the boat, soaked and shivering.
It reminded me of Peter’s experience when he leapt from the fishing boat to meet Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. I expect Peter was a better swimmer than Buddy, but there he was splashing and floundering around in the sea, helpless, until Jesus reached out, lifted him up and hauled him back into the boat.
God is always doing that for me, many times and many ways. Across the years I have fallen out of the boat financially, unable to sleep at night worrying about how to make ends meet. I have fallen over my head in work, overwhelmed by responsibilities and challenges I felt I could not meet. I have found myself drowning in grief with the loss of someone I love. It is comforting to know that whenever I fall out of the boat, God is there.
Every time I have fallen into waters over my head, He has pulled me up and hauled me back into the boat. He is strong enough to save me and He will not let me drown in the circumstances that threaten to overwhelm me.
Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” Jesus’ followers said, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Monday, November 25, 2013
I like Thanksgiving. I like the sounds of family and friends laughing around the table. I like to see children splashing through multi-colored leaves. I like the crisp mornings and the smell of turkey baking in the oven. And I like what goes with it: cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and pie (any kind of pie). But, most of all, I like dressing. Turkeys come and turkeys go, but my wife’s corn bread dressing is to die for. She learned the recipe from her mother: corn bread, celery, onions, chopped boiled eggs, broth, butter and other ingredients I will never know. With giblet gravy, it is a meal in itself.
After missing the third quarter of the Thanksgiving ball game we regain consciousness enough to stumble into the kitchen for leftovers. We load up again, and sleep the sound sleep of a thankful soul. By Friday the tryptophan and carbohydrates have worn off, and we are ready to get on with the real business of the American holiday season: shopping!
Our pilgrim fathers knew nothing of this. They hunted and harvested and cleaned and cooked, but they never stood in lines in front of glass doors waiting for the opening bell. They never rushed through aisles searching for treasures. They never stood in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store. They had it easy.
Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line. It seems to represent the commercialization of Christmas and threatens to turn Thanksgiving into a season of “thanks getting.” Don’t get me wrong. I like a good deal and deep discounts. I want the American economy to thrive. But, along the way, I hope we cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit that is not measured by the sum of what we can get at the cheapest price.
Of course the real substance of Thanksgiving isn’t the turkey and gravy, or even the pie. Nor is it the best discount or our economic prosperity. We are prone to relate gratitude to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But favorable and unfavorable circumstances come to us all. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. When Jesus met ten lepers he cleansed them all, but only one returned with a thankful heart.
Over the years I have seen, time and again, that the most thankful people are often found among those who have the least and have suffered the most. Somehow prosperity seems to beget arrogance and the fear of losing what we know we cannot keep, whether it is fortune, fame or health. The best gifts come to us from the Father of Lights wrapped in love and thoughtfulness, in the faces of family and friends who belong to one another. I hope this Thanksgiving season is, for you, deep and meaningful and lasting.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).
Monday, November 18, 2013
If the Devil looked about and saw a nation setting aside an entire day in which family and friends gathered to celebrated love for one another, to feed the poor and to give thanks to God, what would he think? I assume he would be filled with fury. He would probably call together his minions for counsel and develop a plan to destroy such a day.
Perhaps he would look into his arsenal and pull out his glittering weapon, greed, knowing that all men are susceptible to its poison and power. But the weapon must not appear sinister and evil. It must be disguised as something that seemed good. Perhaps the weapon could be camouflaged within the traditions of Christmas shopping.
It would not be necessary to implement the plan in one fell swoop. It could be introduced gradually, by degrees, until the odious day of giving thanks was erased from the calendar.
The commercial launch of shopping for Christmas could be moved ever closer to the day of giving thanks. Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, corporations could offer deeper discounts to lure the masses into their stores before sunrise. It would be a brilliant stroke of genius. The minds of the people would be lured away from giving thanks and enjoying fellowship to planning strategies for the big day of shopping!
The Devil could sit back and let human nature take its course. In time, the day after would not be enough, and the honored day would begin to yield. Stores would open late on the day of giving thanks, and, once this was done the rest of the day would quickly fall.
After a few years the Evil One could look across the nation's landscape and gloat. The day of giving thanks would have been obliterated by the commercial and corporate god of greed. Families would no longer assemble happily around tables for a feast of giving thanks. The mothers whose hands once prepared Thanksgiving meals would be working at Walmart. The fathers who once sat at the head of the table to lead in prayer would be on the job at Kroger. Teenagers and the marginally employed would be busy stocking the aisles at Kmart or checking out customers at the Gap. Others would wolf down a hurried meal and leave the dirty dishes behind so that they could elbow their way down department store aisles in search of the best buy.
When the weekend was over, the populace would no longer be refreshed by the peaceful gathering with loved ones, nor would they be renewed by the giving of thanks to God. Instead they would stumble off to their jobs on Monday exhausted and weary. And, of course, even better yet, the thrill of shopping would be replaced with financial worries, bloated credit cards and family arguments over money.
It was a superb plan. The Devil sat back and grinned.
Monday, November 11, 2013
November 22, 1963 is one of those watershed moments when the world changed. In less than two weeks we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
For those who are younger than fifty, it is a date memorized from history books. For those who are older, it is a moment frozen in time. Each one who experienced it remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the announcement that President Kennedy had been killed.
But something else happened on that date that the world little noticed. On the same day, November 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis collapsed at 5:30 PM in the bedroom of his Oxford home and died one week before his sixty-fifth birthday. Fifty years later, C. S. Lewis’ death is little noted. But his writings may be more popular and more widely read than ever. Both events marked by November 22 continue to shape our world: the traumatic assassination of our President and the writings of C.S. Lewis.
An avowed atheist in his youth, C.S. Lewis came to faith in Christ in 1931, partially influenced by his friend and colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien. By some estimates he became the most widely read Christian writer in history. He is perhaps best known today for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, a Christian allegory written for children in 1950.
I expect both Lewis and Tolkien would be shocked to discover their fantasies, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings have become blockbuster movies in the twenty-first century. And, I expect C.S. Lewis would be even more surprised to learn that he is one of the most quoted authors on Twitter and Pinterest. Here are a few of his most famous quotes:
“A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.”
"Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done."
"God has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. You are as much alone with him as if you were the only being he had ever created."
"When Christ died, he died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only person in the world."
Millions who have struggled with doubt and disbelief have found a path to faith through his best known book, Mere Christianity. I first read Mere Christianity when I was a college student at Baylor University 45 years ago, along with The Screwtape Letters and The Four Loves. Later I added his science fiction books, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Like many others my faith and my thinking have been shaped by Lewis’ writings.
As the world pauses to reflect on that fateful day in Dallas fifty years ago, we are afforded opportunity to reflect on faith in Christ, as described so beautifully by C. S. Lewis. A faith that can carry us through any crisis, global or personal and conform us into the image of God’s Son.
Monday, November 4, 2013
I like watching children play. I remember taking my daughter to school in Minnesota, watching her run across the playground in her pink jacket and snow boots, her pig tails swinging as she ran. Now I look forward each week to watching her daughter, our two-year-old, Grace, playing in her sandbox and on the swing I hung in a tree behind our Texas home.
Jesus loved children too. When he sought an image to help us understand what it meant to be truly “religious,” he took a little child, stood her in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When we think of people who are religious, many imagine old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders. Some think of ascetic monks living in desert regions, emaciated and starving, bleary eyed and anti-social. Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries. But when Jesus wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers, he chose a child. Why would he do this?
We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child. Jesus left the answer to that question up to us. Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people.
Children live in the moment. They are not worried about the future. They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground. They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.
Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy. They greet one another as if they have already met. “Want to play?” And the game is on.
Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter. It is their nature to laugh.
Children do not know prejudice. I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson. They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing. If they notice a difference between them, they do not hesitate to ask about it. And, once the difference is recognized and addressed, they move on.
Children trust. With their father’s extended arms and a little encouragement they will fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught.
Children are awed by God’s creation. They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, lizards, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground. They notice the spots on a lady bug.
Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they will construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand. They were digging a hole. When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious. They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.
This list isn’t complete. You can add others, I am sure. Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were. Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.
Monday, October 28, 2013
I grew up in a small town in north-central Texas. Our family never traveled far. I sometimes tell people that my first visit to a foreign country was across the Red River into Oklahoma. But when I was eighteen, I started a journey that has taken me to places I never imagined: the Opera House at Sydney Harbor, the coast of New Zealand, fishing for piranha on the Amazon, volcanoes in Guatemala, the lighthouse at Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the pyramids of Egypt, Mozart’s home in Salzburg, the Docu Zentrum in Nuremberg, the Pantheon in Rome, Lennin’s Tomb and the Kremlin in Moscow, to name a few.
Something about the human spirit is always drawn to the journey. Maybe that is why On the Road Again remains one of Willie Nelson’s most popular songs. We are mesmerized by the expeditions of Marco Polo, Columbus, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. We are drawn to the imaginary journeys of Hobbits seeking Mount Doom and Star Trek’s quest to go where no man has gone before. Journeys, both real and imagined, change the world and they change us.
God chooses to reveal himself through our journeys. Redemption starts with God’s call to Abraham to leave the country of his fathers and launch out on a journey to places he had never seen. Moses’ famous journey out of Egypt resulted in the Ten Commandments which provide the basis for all moral understanding. No journey was ever more life changing for human history than the journey Jesus set out upon when he left Nazareth and gathered his band of twelve men to follow him. Their travels on foot through the regions of Galilee, Judea and Samaria changed the world. The stories of their encounters with the lame, the blind, the rich, the poor, prostitutes and priests provide us the framework for understanding God and ourselves.
We are all on a journey. The journeys we choose, where we go, how we get there and who goes with us will shape us and change us for the better or the worse. Sometimes our journeys lead us to distant places, sometimes close to home. The most important decisions about any journey is how we trust in God and how we treat others along the way.
We like to think we are all going to the same place, that we will all arrive at the same destination no matter what we believe, what we do or how we live. But the fact of the matter is that different roads lead to different places. Jesus said “broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) He alone knows the way that leads to life and He continually invites us to join the journey that leads us there saying, “Come, follow me.”
Monday, October 21, 2013
We all experience moments when it seems like nothing good can come of the misfortune that has befallen us. Bad things happen to all of us: the death of someone close to us, whether family or friend. We get sick, sometimes fighting life-threatening diseases. We are mortal and life sometimes seems fragile. But God has a way of taking the worst that can befall us and giving us opportunity to use it for good.
On July 30, 1967 Joni Eareckson dove into the waters of Chesapeake Bay. She was eighteen years old. It was the last time she would be able to use her arms or legs. Striking her head in the shallow waters, she suffered a broken neck that left her a permanent quadriplegic. According to her story in Joni, she sank deeper into anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and spiritual doubt. But, over time, she emerged with a faith that inspired others and created change for the handicapped world-wide.
Controlling a brush with her teeth, she became an accomplished artist, wrote forty books, and recorded several music albums. In 1979 she founded Joni and Friends, a Christian ministry to the disabled throughout the world. Her organization, Wheels for the World, collects wheel chairs that are refurbished by prison inmates and distributed to disabled children and adults in developing countries.
Rachel Scott was seventeen when she was gunned down as the first murder victim at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Rachel’s Christian witness and her vision for acts of kindness that can make a difference inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a movement in her memory. Rachel’s Challenge has reportedly touched more than twenty million students worldwide in an effort to reduce violence and teen suicide.
According to the Bible, Joseph was thrown into the well by his brothers and sold by them as a slave into Egypt. Years later he become Prime Minister in Egypt and was able to rescue his family during a widespread famine. Confronted by his brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph said, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20)
Peter recognized that all of us experience difficulty and pain. In his letter he wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
The Apostle Paul wrote, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).
We each must work through our own suffering and pain, trusting God to give us strength to discover the good that He wants to bring into our lives. Sometimes it takes many years for this to come into focus. Sometimes, we never see it. At those times we can only live by faith. When something terrible and confusing happens to us we always have a choice, to turn inward in disappointment and disillusionment, or to turn outward and look upward in faith and hope.