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

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.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Beginnings


New beginnings are always exciting: weddings with candles and flowers, beautiful bridesmaids, handsome groomsmen, laughter, toasts and dancing; the birth of a baby wrapped in blankets, showered with gifts; graduations with speeches about dreams and possibilities followed by posed photos that will hang on living room walls; a new job; a new home.  Starting anew stirs our imagination. 

New beginnings are filled with excitement, optimism, and hope as well as fear, doubt and worry.  Weddings are fun, but making a marriage can be hard work.  Babies are cute, but raising a child can be difficult. Graduation marks a significant achievement, but finding a job and advancing in a chosen career can be daunting.

We cannot predict our future.  Not all newlyweds who leave the marriage altar showered with rice, petals and birdseed will experience a life-long relationship of love and fulfillment.  Not all babies will grow to maturity.  Not all graduates will find career positions for which they prepared.  But, we are all called to something new, something significant.

God always calls us forward into new beginnings.  He beckons us to leave the old and familiar to follow Him on a journey of discovery into places we have never been.  He encourages us to calm our fears and exchange our doubts for faith.  He challenges us to trust in Him for a better future and a better day.

When God called Abraham, He called him from his familiar home to follow Him into a strange land.  God said, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you; and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2).   Abraham’s step of faith to follow God into a new beginning changed history.

To Isaiah, God said, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:18-19).   Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone. The new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17).

We have officially celebrated the beginning of a new year. Thousands made the trek to New York to watch the ball drop in Times Square.  Others went to Pasadena for the Rose Parade and the first NCAA play-off game.  Most of us gathered with family and friends to welcome 2015 with hugs and kisses. If our minds are open to new things, and our hearts are open to God, 2015 can be the start of something special, a new beginning!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Unbroken - The Rest of the Story


My wife and I like going to the movies. There is something about spending two hours in a cocooned space removed from daily distractions.  We settle down in our seats in a dark room, midway up in the center and wait to be whisked into another dimension. The magic of surround sound and cinema stimulates our imagination and emotions allowing us to enter into other lives in another time and place.

Sometimes we scan the marquees to see if we can find a movie that interests us.  Once in a while a movie is released that we anxiously await, ready to join the crowds who anticipate its arrival.  Unbroken is one of those movies, the remarkable true story of Louis Zamperini.

I was introduced to Louis Zamperini in 2012 when I stumbled across Laura Hillenbrand’s book.  I was unfamiliar with his life or his story, but had a hard time putting the book down once I started reading.  I wrote about Zamperini in July of this year when he died. He was 97.
Zamperini’s story is remarkable for what he survived: his youthful beginnings as a thief on the streets of LA, his achievements as an Olympic athlete singled out by Hitler for his performance in the Berlin games, multiple bombing missions as a bombardier during WW II, the crash in the Pacific, 46 days at sea in an abandoned raft, years of torture and imprisonment by the Japanese. 
 
The movie ends with Zamperini’s victorious return from the war.  It stops short of telling his descent into bitter hatred, beset by nightmares from his tortured past. He turned to alcohol, trying to drown his painful memories in liquor.  His life was unraveling and his marriage was on the rocks.  Hillenbrand’s book describes in detail how his life was later turned around when he trusted Christ in the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles.  
 
The real story of Louis Zamperini is the remarkable transformation God brought into the life of a man tortured by nightmares and rage.  When Louis Zamperini invited Christ into his life he quit drinking. The nightmares ceased.  He later returned to Japan to seek out the captor who tortured him in prison so that he could personally forgive him.  He established Victory Boys Camp and gave the rest of his life to rescuing juvenile delinquents from the back alleys of Los Angeles.
 
In his book, Devil at My Heels, Zamperini says, “True to His promise, He came into my heart and my life. It was the most realistic experience I’d ever had. … I felt no tremendous sensation, just a weightlessness and an enveloping calm that let me know that Christ had come into my heart.”
 
The movie pays tribute to Louis Zamperini’s remarkable ability to survive the war. The full story is beautifully portrayed in Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken,  and in Louis Zamperini’s autobiography, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, Lessons from an Extraordinary Life.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thank You for Coming - Tsunami Special Edition

Ten years ago, children in South Texas woke up on Christmas morning to a thirteen inch snow fall. The next day, while impromptu snowmen melted in the Texas sun, an earthquake equal to 23,000 Hiroshima Atomic bombs struck the Indian Ocean. The resulting Tsunami obliterated the city of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. More than two hundred thousand people died as a result of the killer wave.

A few years later, I stood on the beach at Banda Aceh, Indonesia and listened to the gentle waves wash upon the shore while the Indonesian people strolled along the jetties. It was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon. Behind me stood a lighthouse. It had been erected as a beacon to passing ships, but it now stood as a monument to the tragic moment that struck this place on December 26, 2004. The top of the lighthouse towering above me had been blown apart by the tsunami.

Aceh is perhaps the most rigid Muslim state in the world, governed by strict Sharia law. It is ruled by the Koran and the Muslim Imams. It prides itself as the “gateway to Mecca.” Prior to the tsunami Christians were not allowed entrance into the region. But the day the tsunami struck, everything changed. The city of Aceh was virtually wiped out by the force of the wave.

I was visiting with a group of Christians, surveying Non-Governmental-Organizations that had been allowed into the country to help the citizens rebuild. Separated from the rest of the world and taught that Christianity was evil, many of the people were beginning to ask why the Christians were the ones who responded the most to their disaster. President Bush immediately pledged $350 million to help with the recovery. Like many Muslim countries, the people of Aceh equate America with Christianity.

I noticed a woman watching us. She was sitting on her motorcycle. Almost all Indonesians ride motorcycles. The streets are filled with them. For days I had watched them leaving for work in the early morning, weaving their way along the streets, whole families balanced on two wheels, the father driving, one or two children in his lap, the mother behind him with another child. I watched young women, their blue and green hijabs flying in the wind. Through an interpreter I struck up a conversation with the woman.

She asked if we were Americans. We said yes. She told us that she was at this very spot when the tsunami hit. She said it carried her and her two children more than two miles inland. One child was separated and drowned. Her husband and the rest of her family were killed. Only she and her son survived, but he was badly injured. His wounds were infected and he was dying. She said an American doctor came and treated her son and he lived. In spite of her deep sorrow and loss, she smiled, not just her face, but with her eyes, and said, “I want to thank you for coming.”

This Christmas season we are all like that Indonesian woman. Christmas is our way of smiling as we look into the face of God and say, “Thank you for coming.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Day After Christmas

It will soon be “the day after Christmas.”  The house will be littered with empty boxes, scraps of wrapping paper and strands of ribbon, evidence left from the gathering of family and the giving of gifts.  With kisses and hugs, children and grandchildren will start their long journeys home not to be seen for many months or another year.  Life will return to the challenges of work and school. But the memories of laughter and loved ones will remain.

For some, of course, Christmas can be a painful season. A few years ago I preached the funeral for my wife’s favorite aunt during the holidays. On another occasion, many years ago, I officiated a funeral on Christmas Eve for one of our best friends who was barely twenty-nine. The Holidays are not always joyous.  But the meaning of the day when God sent His Son to save us from our sins is all the more meaningful.

We all know the stories that led up to the birth: Joseph and Mary on their long journey to Bethlehem, turned away from every inn until they found a stall where the child was born;  the hovering star that led the Magi from the east bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shepherds shocked from their sleep on the hillside by the angels of heaven proclaiming a Saviour.  But we pay little attention to what happened “the day after.”

Like most of us, Mary and Joseph had little time to enjoy the Christmas events that surrounded them.  They were immediately faced with Herod’s efforts to hunt down their son.  The soldiers fell upon Bethlehem with a vengeance, slaughtering every male child two years old and younger. (Matthew 2:16).  Warned in a dream, Joseph fled with his little family to Egypt where they spent eight years hiding as refugees from Herod’s wrath. 

Thousands today are living in exile, refugees from war.  In some places believers are spending these days in prison for their faith. Some are facing death because they have embraced Jesus as Son of God and Saviour.  Many others have heavy hearts from the loss of loved ones. 

The full story of Jesus’ birth embraces both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.  Whether we are filled with celebration and happiness or thrown into heartache and despair, God is sufficient.  He has been there. He knows our joy and our sorrow, and He has given His Son that we might know Him.  Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the prophet Simeon told Mary, “A sword shall pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:35).  Many years later, after Jesus had finished all that He was sent to do, Mary watched Him die for our sins on the cross. Luke says she “pondered all these things in her heart.”  May we ponder these things, too, on this Christmas Day, on “the day after” and throughout the year that we might know Him and embrace His love in every circumstance.