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Monday, August 3, 2015

The Pathway Forward

It has been three weeks, and I cannot get Sandra Bland out of my mind.  The video of her arrest after changing lanes without giving a signal is haunting.  Sandra was understandably upset.  How many times have we all changed lanes without giving a signal? She was simply moving over to let the policeman by.  It seemed like such a trivial stop.

She showed her irritation.  The officer was insulted and grew angry, demanding she put out her cigarette. She refused.  He threatened to “light her up” with his Taser, forced her from her car, manhandled her off to the side of the road, wrestled her to the ground, handcuffed her and carted her off to jail. Three days later, unable to post bond. Sandra Bland took her own life.

The video is disturbing because of the injustice of it all.  It is even more disturbing because it represents our cultural drift from the values that make life work.  Our politicians hurl insults at one another, calling names, seldom restrained by the truth.  People scream at one another in movies and dramas, releasing unrestrained anger.  We laugh at the snide remarks of comedians. The principles of courtesy, respect, patience, honesty and forgiveness seem to be slipping away.

Have we slipped our Christian moorings?  Are we adrift in a sea of uncertainty that has no true North, no compass? Is the contemporary GPS leading us off a cliff?

We turned to science and technology believing they would pave the way to a brighter future.  And, while science and technology have given us a healthier and higher standard of living with conveniences our forefathers never dreamed, they cannot provide the values necessary for living with each other.

The stones that pave the path for our future are the same stones that paved the pathway for our forefathers.  They are found in the Commandments: “Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:19) 

They are found in the words of Jesus:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Be merciful as your father is merciful.”  “Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down and running over.”  They are found in the Lord’s Prayer.

The stones for our pathway forward are found in the fruits of the Spirit that overcome the flesh: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, ...  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23).

Faith that fosters forgiveness and respect is essential to our survival. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Big Is God

Two weeks ago, the New Horizons space probe sped past Pluto, sending back images of the distant dwarf planet.  New Horizons was launched on January 19, 2006 at Cape Canaveral setting a new launch speed for any space craft at approximately 36,000 mph.   It flew past Jupiter in 2007 receiving a gravity assist that accelerated its speed to more than 45,000 mph.  Even at this mind-boggling speed, almost 100 times faster than the cruising speed of a jet liner, it took nine and one-half years to reach Pluto. Scientists are continuing to exult as they examine the images sent back from the edge of our solar system.

Last week the Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, uncovered our closest “Earth-like” planet. Orbiting a sun similar to our own, the planet known as “Kepler-452b” is 1,400 light years away.  That means that a craft traveling at the speed of New Horizons could reach our closest “cousin” in a little more than 20 million years.  Quite a leap, considering that the earliest civilizations on earth appeared a mere 6,000 years ago.

This gives us a small sense of how infinitely big our universe is.  We have difficulty getting our minds around it, especially when we consider that our sun is only one of billions of stars in our galaxy and there are billions of galaxies.  When I stood under the night sky in Wyoming I was struck by the almost infinite number of stars that filled the night sky. But, according to astronomers, these stars represent a tiny fragment of the total stars in the universe.

God is creator of all this.  To use an anthropomorphic metaphor, He holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand.

In the Psalms, the Bible says, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Psalm 147:4-5).  And again, O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! ... When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:1,3). 

Indeed, when we consider the vast expanses of space and time, we are overwhelmed, not only with how immense the universe is, but how insignificant we seem to be. We live on a tiny planet in a remote corner of the vast cosmos, and the appearance of humans is relatively recent in the economy of time. Just yesterday, it seems.  Or, perhaps more accurately, just a moment ago.

God is infinite and eternal.  We are finite and mortal.

Here is the greater mystery and miracle.  The Master Designer of the universe is intimately aware of each human being.  He knows you!  He knows me! We are important to God.  Jesus taught that God notes the fall of the tiniest sparrow in the most remote forest and He counts the very hairs of your head. (Matthew 10:29-31).

He who created the vast universe in all its complexity created us and has declared His love for us.  How can this be?  Jesus said, “With man it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Master Potter

A few miles north of Waco on the east banks of the Brazos River sits the Homestead Heritage, an agrarian community committed to preserving nineteenth century craftsmanship.  The community offers shops where visitors can observe “artistry-in-action” complete with a pottery barn, blacksmith forge, grist mill and a carpentry shop.  George and Laura Bush commissioned the Homestead to construct and furnish their house at the Crawford Ranch.

Recently we took our grandchildren from Wyoming to the Homestead. When we visited the pottery shop, I marveled at the talent of those who worked there. The artists applied water and shaped the clay spinning on the potter’s wheel in front of them. With nimble fingers and just the right amount of pressure, they brought the clay to life and shaped it into the form they desired.

Pottery is an ancient art.  For thousands of years the trade was passed down from generation to generation in cultures around the world.  Communities developed around clay deposits in India, China and the Middle East.  Archeologists continue to excavate pottery from the earliest sites of civilization.

Jeremiah must have marveled, as I did, when he visited a potter’s house in ancient Jerusalem.  When he watched the clay spin upon the wheel, he saw the potter’s ability to change the shape of the clay in an instant.  He sensed God speaking to him, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6). 

Isaiah made a similar observation. “Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay? That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?” (Isaiah 29:16).

God has made each of us unique.  We are, each and every one of us, special in His sight.  He never abandons us or gives up on us.  Like the clay, we continue to be molded in His hands.   With every pressure, whether success or failure, joy or sorrow,  God is fashioning us so that we can reflect His glory, bless others and be filled with joy. He wants us to love ourselves and one another just the way He made us.

This is what Paul meant when he said, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  All things work together for good when we realize the Master Potter is shaping us for His purposes on the earth.

He says, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Monday, July 13, 2015


 We have ants.  We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter.  A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use. 

How do they do this?  Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones?  When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops.  We have food!”  Who organizes the operation?  Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the shortest and least obstructed route to the treasure? 

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants.   They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve.  And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions.  “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures?  Every year a billion people on the earth die of starvation.  Every day 25,000 children, world wide, whose stomachs are bloated and empty, draw their last breath. They die in remote villages far from public view.  Over half the world’s population, three billion people, live on less than $2.50 per day. 

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me.  I need to be more like the little critters that invade my patio.  I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, marshal others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it.  But how do we do this?  How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed?  There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy. 

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities.  When a beggar approached me on a parking lot in downtown Dallas, I took him across the street to Subway and bought him a sandwich.  Unfortunately, as I listened to him, his story seemed to unravel and I am not sure it was the best thing to do.  But it was something.  When one of our church members returned from Kenya and made an appeal for people she knows who are starving, I sent a check.  When I visited Tillie Bergin at Mission Arlington and saw the difference she was making among the poor in the inner city, I sent a gift.  It’s not much.  But, for me it is a start.  If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8).  John the forerunner, describing true repentance and faith, said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Monday, July 6, 2015


Marriage has been in the news lately, hotly debated, argued, and re-defined by the United States Supreme Court. 

While all the arguments were being made, Alexander and Jeanette Toczko held hands in California.  They met when they were eight years old in 1927 and fell in love.  Thirteen years later they married each other.  I don’t know that they paid any attention to the marriage arguments taking place at the highest level.  I don’t even know if they cared. But they knew they were dying 75 years after they said their vows.

Alexander played golf into his nineties and remained active until recently when he broke his hip.  Their children knew how much they wanted to be together and had their beds placed side-by-side in their home.  On June 17, Alexander died in his wife’s arms.  His wife hugged him and said, “See this is what you wanted.  You died in my arms, and I love you. I love you. Wait for me. I’ll be there soon.”

In less than 24 hours Jeanette joined her husband in death. They were buried on June 29 in San Diego, California.

I understand a little of how Alexander and Jeanette felt about each other.  This year my wife and I will celebrate our 47th anniversary.  I married her when she was 19 and I was an older and wiser 22.  In a little church in Freeport, Texas we promised to love and cherish each other until death.

Marriage is God’s wonderful gift to the human race.  He bestowed it in the garden when He saw that Adam was lonely.  God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, took from his side a rib, and fashioned the first bride.  When he saw her, Adam said, ““This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24).

God gave us marriage as a mysterious bond and endowed us with the awesome power to pro-create.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” God said. (Genesis 1:28).  And so we did.  It is the one command we have been pretty good at.

A few years ago I wrote a poem in which I tried to capture my feelings:

Where did she come from?
This woman who walked into my life
When I was young,
Who joined her life to mine,
And all the time
My life was joined to hers.
Who bore my children,
Who raised them and taught them
By her example, how to love
By loving me.

How did this happen
That she became more than my lover
And my friend;
That she became my very soul.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Fourth

Next Saturday we celebrate the Fourth, a uniquely American holiday.  No other nation on earth has aspired to a higher and simpler ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Two of the most prominent men who created the Declaration of Independence died fifty years to the day after the signing. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, died in his home at Monticello on July 4, 1826. A few hours later on the same day, John Adams, who edited the early drafts and won approval for the Declaration before the Continental Congress, died in his home.

Thirty-seven years afterward, on July 4, 1863, Lee’s Confederate army withdrew in defeat from Gettysburg. On that same day, Vicksburg fell to Grant, two pivotal battles that decided the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

In many ways the history of our nation has been written by our efforts to live up to the Declaration of freedom and equality for all. We have struggled among ourselves, often falling short. We have sought to defend and extend freedom among foreign nations by sending our young men and women to lay down their lives.

We have learned that ultimate freedom can never be achieved though legislation and government alone, as important as those are. Ultimate freedom must be achieved in each human heart. Every one of us must fight a personal war with our own sin nature that seeks to make us captive and steal our freedom. We see everyday in the lives of our politicians, sports heroes and celebrities the consequences of losing that battle in the secret places of the heart. Greed and corruption remain the greatest obstacles to freedom and equality among the nations of the earth.

The pervasiveness of sin is perhaps the best documented reality in our world. The media is filled with daily accounts of its presence and the horrendous consequences it can create.

Two thousand years ago another document was drafted. It was not voted upon by representatives and did not found any government. But those words spoken long ago hold the secret to the ideals that we have embraced. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

God sent His Son into the world not merely to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter Heaven, He sent Him in order that He might overcome sin’s grip on our lives and set us free. The Apostle Paul had once been enslaved to ambition, anger and resentment. He started his early career persecuting the Christian faith. But he found a better way. He confessed, “The good that I would do, I don’t. And that that I don’t want to do is exactly what I end up doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24).

This Fourth, as we celebrate the freedom envisioned by our nation’s founders, may we experience true freedom that is found through faith in Christ.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Violence - Overcoming Evil

The cold blooded killing of nine church members at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.  is the latest reminder of the violent world in which we live.  One month ago violence erupted in Waco between warring biker gangs who chose a local restaurant as their battlefield.  Two years ago the Tsarnaev brothers set off  pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon killing three people and injuring 264. Three years ago James Eagan Holmes walked into an Aurora, Colorado theater and opened fire, killing twelve and wounding seventy.  Four years ago Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was shot in the head while delivering a speech in a Safeway parking lot in Arizona. These are but a few. The list goes on.

Some respond with fear, staying close to home, hoping to somehow hide from a violent and unpredictable world.  Others are enraged, arming themselves for protection, retaliation and revenge. Some wish we could go back to a simpler time when the world was safe. Most of us try to ignore the violence and put it out of our minds.  But the news reports will not leave us alone.

The world has always been violent.  It is part of the human DNA and has plagued every generation since Cain killed Abel. Jesus’ crucifixion is evidence of the violence and brutality present two thousand years ago.  History is filled with atrocities. 

Surviving victims of the AME shooting last week demonstrated a better way when they confronted their attacker.  They wept and grieved the loss of their pastor, their relatives and friends, and they expressed forgiveness.  To the man who days before gunned down their loved ones they said, “I forgive you, my family forgives you.  We would like you to take this opportunity to repent.”  Four days after the shooting, their doors were open on Sunday welcoming strangers once again.

We saw a similar response several years ago when a gunman entered an Amish school in Pennsylvania and shot ten girls ages 6-13.  The Amish responded with forgiveness and comfort to the murderer’s family saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” The gunman’s widow later wrote an open letter to the Amish. “"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. ... Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

In every violent attack the number of people who respond with sacrificial courage and compassion outnumber the perpetrators many times over.  Violence and evil will not prevail upon the earth.
The Bible says, “As the garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11). 

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21).  Jesus said, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45).