What Others Say


“Bill Tinsley's Reflections column has been a welcome addition to the Times Record News Religion pages, offering thought-provoking and timely insights on religious topics that span denominational lines. His submissions are reliable, succinct and largely conform to accepted AP style, making them a godsend for this busy editor.” - Bridget Knight, Religion Editor, Wichita Falls Times Record, Wichita Falls, Texas




Monday, October 20, 2014

Trees

Last week I was in Minnesota. As winter draws near, the maple and oak set the distant hills ablaze with yellow, orange, red and rust.  I walked beneath a gold and crimson canopy of color and was struck with the majesty and the beauty of the trees that surround us.  

Trees are majestic, mysterious and essential to our existence on earth.  They sprout from tiny seeds that can be held in the hand.  They send their roots deep beneath the earth and extend their limbs to the sky as if in prayer, transforming soil and light into substance.

They bear the snow of winter and explode with blossoms in the spring. They whisper in a gentle breeze and howl when the wind whips their branches.  Their life-giving leaves filter the air to produce the oxygen that we breathe. 

They give shelter to the birds that build their nests, perch among their leaves and sing their songs.  Their forests form the homes and habitat for wildlife. For thousands of years the trees have provided the wood with which we build our homes, fashion our furniture and produce the paper to preserve our written records.  They feed both man and beast with their nuts and fruit.

Trees remind us of those who have gone before, those who planted them and those who lived among them. We sit in their shade in summer as our mothers and fathers sat in an earlier day. And we walk among them as I did today, struck by their beauty.

The oldest trees date back more than two millennia. The “Arbol del Tul,” a Montezuma Cypress in Mexico has the widest trunk on earth and may be 3,000 years old.  The “Cotton Tree” in Sierre Leone marks the place where freed slaves gathered beneath its branches to give thanks for their freedom in 1792.  “General Sherman,” the Giant Sequoia, one of the largest trees on earth is believed to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. The 500 year old “Treaty Oak” in Austin, Texas was once the sacred meeting place for Comanche and Tonkawa Indians. Stephen F. Austin met with them beneath its branches to form the first peace treaty for his colony.

The redemptive story of the Bible begins and ends with trees.  It starts with the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” in Genesis and ends with the “Tree of Life” in Revelation.  Psalm 96 proclaims, “Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming!”

In the fullness of time God chose a tree in the form of the Cross to accomplish our redemption. The Bible says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” (Galatians 3:13-14).

Trees remind us of God’s goodness and grace by which he created the beauty of the earth and redeemed us for his glory.

Monday, October 13, 2014

When God Seems Far Away

When we experience God’s nearness we feel his forgiveness, acceptance, comfort and peace.  Our hearts are filled with joy and songs of praise for His goodness and beauty. But what about the times when God seems far away?

King David sometimes felt this way.  Repeatedly he asked, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps 42:5, 11; 42:5).  “O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Ps 88:14).  After confronting the prophets of Baal, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life … he went a day’s journey into the wilderness … and prayed that he might die.  ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:3).

Going through times when we feel God is far away is a normal human experience. The prophets felt it.  God even allowed his own Son to experience it. At the moment He paid the penalty for our sins,  He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). So, when those times come, what are we to do?

We are to remember that the feeling of God being distant is temporary. This is what sustained King David in his dark times. In every case, he declared, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him.”   When we feel God is far away, we are often filled with worry, uncertainty, doubt and despair.  But this will not last.  We will yet feel His presence again and praise Him.

We must rely on God’s promises and not on our feelings. Even when we don’t feel His presence, He is near. Repeatedly God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).  Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).  David wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.”  (Ps. 139:7-12).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding God's Vision


For several years I led an organization that asked two questions:  “What is God’s vision for your life?” and “How can we help you fulfill God’s vision?”   Some churches are beginning to ask these questions regarding those who attend.  They are, I believe, the right questions.  Unlike the institutional and program oriented question, “How can you help our church?” these questions help people discover the transforming dynamic of God that changes their lives and the world.  Most people have an innate sense that God has a vision and purpose for their life.  At the same time, most people have difficulty finding God’s vision and living it.

Next week I will lead a Peer Learning Group for pastors in Wisconsin. One of the pastors in the group is a young man I met twenty years ago when he was 23.  When he graduated from Bethel Seminary in St Paul, he sensed God’s vision to start a church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Today that church averages more than 2,000 in attendance.

When I visited that church a few years ago, I met a woman who was obviously very involved and comfortable at the church.  I asked if she was a staff member.  She laughed and said, “No, I am a volunteer.”  I later learned that two years before she had been addicted to drugs and battling depression. When we follow God’s vision for us, we enable others to find God’s vision for their lives.

Ten years ago I answered my cell phone and listened as a young woman with a speech impediment introduced herself.  “I’m Heather.  I have cerebral palsy.  God has called me to India.  How can you help me?”  That brief conversation started a long friendship.  I drove to Waco to visit Heather and found her confined to a wheel chair with limited use of one arm. In spite of her disabilities, she radiated the presence of Christ. She said God whispered in her ear, “India.”   Since that time, she has been to Bangalore three times to help people who have similar handicaps to her own.  Later, she wrote a popular children’s book entitled “My Friends and I.”  Heather recently became a volunteer at “FaithAbility” in San Antonio, a non-profit that seeks to “make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships.”

God has a vision for every life.  It is just a matter of finding God’s vision and living it out.  Here are some clues I have discovered that help people get started on that journey: 1. Trust Jesus Christ and welcome Him into your life, 2. Study the Bible, 3. Pray, not just for yourself but for others, and 4. Listen to other believers who seek to encourage you.  Get involved in a healthy church and a small group of authentic followers of Jesus Christ.

When Paul neared the end of his life, he said, “I have not been disobedient to the vision.” (Acts 26:19).  He followed the principles in the previous paragraph.  When he got stumped, he looked for God’s vision for the next step on his journey. (Acts 16:6-10).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Disciples in Disguise

A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Harley Davidson factory in Kansas City.  A group of pastors and church leaders gathered at the factory to spend a few days touring the facilities and visiting with the administrators.  Some of us were there because we had a lifelong love of motorcycles.  Most of us were there because we wanted to learn how the Harley Davidson leaders had transformed a nearly extinct motorcycle company into a model of success at the turn of the century.

The thing I remember most about the conference was a statement made by a young executive who spoke to the group.  He had just returned from Europe where he helped introduce the Buell sport bike.  He stepped to the microphone and introduced himself.  He said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a Harley Davidson Executive.” 

Since that time I have discovered disciples disguised in many walks of life:  teachers, doctors, mechanics, students, professors, engineers, nurses, administrators, athletes, grocery clerks, farmers, businessmen, soldiers, homemakers, … the list is almost endless. 

Many people consider themselves to be Christians.  Far fewer think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.  To be a Christian usually means we give assent to the Christian religion, that we are comfortable with occasionally attending church, and we know we are not Muslim, Buddhist or some other religion.  To be a disciple, however, raises the expectations to a whole new level.

Interestingly, Jesus never used the term Christian.  In fact the term is only found three times in the Bible, and twice it is used by non-believers.  Jesus chose to speak about disciples. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). “If you continue in my word then you are truly disciples of mine. (John 8:31). “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).

So, what does a twenty-first century disciple look like?  They look a lot like those we find in the first century.  Those who followed Jesus then were fishermen, tax collectors, business men and business women, mothers and fathers. Today, they look like you and me.  They come from every nation and every race.  They can be found among the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the famous and obscure. Wherever you find fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who have received God’s grace and love others as God has love them, you will find disciples in disguise.

 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Parenting and Discipline

Adrian Peterson’s whipping of his four-year-old son has catapulted the issues of parenting and discipline to the front pages of the news.  Peterson’s actions are universally deplored.  According to Peterson, he sought to discipline his son for pushing other children on the playground.  He took a limb from a nearby hedge, stripped it of its leaves and used it as a switch.  Many of us have memories of our mothers doing the same.

But Peterson’s discipline of his son bordered on the brutal. According to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, Peterson’s son suffered cuts on his thighs and hands and bruises on his lower back and buttocks.  Peterson was indicted by a grand jury charging him with causing injury to a child.  As a result the Minnesota Vikings have placed their star running back on an exempt list preventing him for any participation in team activities for an indefinite period of time.

Parents have often quoted “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as Biblical support for spanking their children.  The only problem is that this statement does not occur in the Bible.  There are other references to the “rod” in Proverbs, but not this one.   “Spare the rod and spoil the child” first appeared in a poem by Samuel Butler in 1664.

The Proverbs verses about correction could be interpreted symbolically as well as literally.  It could be a dramatic and poetic way of underscoring the point that good parenting includes wise discipline and correction. Nowhere does the Bible condone injury to a child. 

In fact, Jesus had some of his harshest words for those who would harm a child.  Jesus said, “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”  (Matthew 18:5-6).

Paul gave these instructions to parents: “And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).  

Children need correction.  They need it for their own safety so that they don’t put their fingers in electric sockets or run across the parking lot into the path of oncoming cars.  They need correction regarding interaction with other children, to learn the manners and respect that will make them successful and benefit society. They need discipline to do the right things and avoid the wrong. 

But that discipline needs to always be wise, without injury, whether mental or physical, supported with love and affirmation.  They need the discipline that comes from observing the examples set by their parents in the way husbands and wives treat each other and how they conduct themselves in difficult situations. They need nurture, instruction and explanation.

Hopefully we will all learn lessons along with Adrian Peterson that will make us better parents and a better people.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When God Comes Close

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 the “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 people 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 the “thin places” make their way into the media. We witnessed a thin place when the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania provided food and comfort to the family of the killer who murdered their daughters in the Amish school a few years ago.

Sometimes we sense the 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 observing one of those “thin places” when we watched the full moon slowly rise over the ocean last week at Galveston. 


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..

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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Ebola Crisis

Ebola continues in the news.  Last week another doctor returned to the United States who was infected with the disease while treating patients in Liberia.  Dr. Rick Sacra, a family physician from Massachusetts is the latest US victim diagnosed with the disease.  He arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center on Friday, September 5, where he was declared “sick but stable” by medical staff.

That same evening  Matt Lauer’s interview with Dr. Kent Brantly was aired on NBC.  Dr. Brantly and his colleague, Nancy Writebol, were the first US medical personnel diagnosed with the disease.  Their diagnosis and return to the United States for treatment ignited global fears of a worldwide epidemic.  Writebol and Brantly were treated in Atlanta.  

In Liberia where Brantly, Writebol and Sacra served as medical missionaries, the ebola virus has killed more than 1,000 people since its arrival six months ago.  There is no known cure for the disease.  Up to 90% of ebola victims die suffering from acute diarrhea, vomiting, uncontrolled shaking and, in many cases both internal and external bleeding.

Both Writebol and Brantly recovered and were declared free of the ebola virus last week.  Their story raises several questions.  The first question many ask is:  What saved them?  Did we find a cure? 

The medical community is guarded in their response.  Perhaps they found some clues that will help discover a cure.  But others have received similar treatment given to Brantly and Writebol and died, including two doctors, one from Spain and another from Liberia. 

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.” 

A second question is: Why were these saved and not others?

Nancy Writebol responded, “We don’t understand the way the Lord works. Why did God allow us to receive treatment? Why were we saved and not others? I don’t know that we can ever answer that question.”

But there is a third question.  Why did these individuals leave their successful medical practice and the safety of their homes to put their lives at risk treating impoverished patients in Liberia? 

Dr. Kent Brantly released this statement in response to that question: My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital.
“One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients. … I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.

“When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later. When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding. God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him.”
The ebola crisis is expected to escalate in the next few weeks.  Hopefully Dr. Brantly’s illness, along with Mrs. Writebol and Dr. Sacra will signal a global call for prayer, courage and sacrifice to stamp out the disease and rescue the victims in west Africa.