What Others Say

My husband and I want to thank you for your Saturday columns in the Trib. We can’t wait each weekend to see what you have written about and how you can “bring it home” to each of us, no matter what our life experiences might be.
- Ann R. Waco, Texas

Monday, May 25, 2015

Witness of the Word

I don’t go to garage sales very often, but once in a while my wife and I will get up early and search for treasures that have gathered dust in attics and closets.  We have even hosted a few garage sales ourselves, trying to pare down our collection of "stuff." 

I like to breeze in and breeze out.  A quick survey usually does it and I am ready to hop back in the car.  She likes to "finger the merchandise" and visit with the people.  On one of those recent excursions, I spied the usual stack of books.  A few of them frayed from use, some of them crisp as new, never opened.  I picked out a fifty cent paperback, found two quarters in my pocket, and I was done for the day.  

I felt compelled to read the book to get my money’s worth.  I guess I am too cheap to waste two quarters.  The book was more used than I realized.  For some reason it had been stabbed with a knife and had a hole punched through the first two chapters. But I ignored the paperback wound and started reading Daniel Defoe's classic, Robinson Crusoe.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, I came across this quote: “How infinite and inexpressible a blessing it is that the knowledge of God and of the doctrine of salvation by Christ Jesus is so plainly laid down in the Word of God, so easy to be received and understood … As to all disputes, wranglings, strife and contention which has happened in the world about religion, whether niceties in doctrines, or schemes of church government, they were all perfectly useless to us, as, for aught I can see, they have been to all the rest of the world.”

It sounded like a critique of contemporary Christianity.  But the book was first published in 1719, almost three hundred years ago. I had always dismissed it as juvenile literature without having read it.

Daniel Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe is considered by many to be the first novel written in the English language.  I was surprised by its powerful Christian content. Writing more than a decade before the Great Awakening, Defoe captured the essence of a journey to faith in Christ with no other aid than the Bible.

Unlike the modern “Castaway,” played by Tom Hanks, who spends years of isolation on an island talking to a volley ball, Defoe’s character finds a Bible in the ship’s wreckage and begins a conversation with God. Through Scripture alone, Robinson Crusoe is led to profound repentance and faith.


In Isaiah, God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

God Has No Grandchildren

Last week the Associated Press carried an article entitled, “Fewer in US identify with a religion.”  The article referenced a Pew Research Center study that noted the Christian faith had declined between 2007 and 2014 while those claiming no faith had grown.  Christians declined from 78% of the US population to less than 71%.  Those claiming no faith or “nones” increased 16% to 23%. 

On the same day, USA Today carried an article entitled, “Christianity isn’t dying.”  The USA Today article quoted the same Pew Research Center findings and stated that “Evangelical Christianity is growing in America. From 2007 to 2014 the number of Evangelicals in America rose from 59.8 million to 62.2 million according to Pew.”  The article concluded that “nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming “nones” — people who check "none of the above" box on a survey.” “The number of people who are practicing a vibrant faith is not fading away, quite the contrary. Christianity and the church are not dying, but they are being more clearly defined.” 

The Associated Press article and the USA Today article both reference the Pew Research Center data and come to different conclusions.  So which is it?

More than likely it is some of both.  But however we interpret the data, we should be reminded that the Christian faith is always only one generation away from extinction.  As someone once said, “God has no grandchildren.”  We do not inherit faith like we inherit eye color or ethnicity.  Faith comes through a personal decision, one-person-at-a time. 

This is abundantly clear in the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  For hundreds of years the Jewish people vacillated between obedient faith in God and disobedient rejection.  We are no different.  Every generation, and every person, must decide for themselves whether they will place their trust in God.

When crowds of Jews sought out John the baptizer, he said to them, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. Indeed the axe is already laid to the root of the trees, so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9).


Years ago I went to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to hear Billy Graham preach.  The stadium was packed.  At the end of his message, he said to the crowd, “Many of you were baptized as infants by your mothers and fathers.  They did that for you because they loved you.  But you must come to faith in Jesus Christ yourself.” Hundreds of people filled the aisles and made their way to the stadium floor to make a faith commitment to Christ.   The faith of our mothers and fathers will not save us.  Each one of us must find our own faith in God through Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Graduation

Young men and women will line up this month robed in caps and gowns grinning at their friends. Their eyes will scan the audience, peering past dangling tassels in search of family members who search for them.   Cameras and cell phones will light up stadiums and auditoriums with bursts of light as proud parents try to capture the magic of the moment. 

Presidents, principals, guest speakers and valedictorians will speak of new horizons, a future yet to be written, a world to be changed. They will urge those who have reached this achievement to believe in themselves and to never stop learning. 


Every graduate that walks across the stage to shake hands with administrators and receive their diploma represents a unique story.  Few are as unique as Helen Small. Helen dropped out of college as a freshman in 1938 to marry her sweetheart, help fight a war and raise a family.  Seventy years later, at eighty-eight she earned her Bachelor’s degree. In 2010 when she was ninety years old, she graduated with a Masters of Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.


In 2011 she published a book, Why not? My Seventy Year Plan for a College Degree.  One of her teachers, Dr. John Santrock, a professor of psychology said, “What especially stands out about Helen as a student is how appreciative she is of the opportunity to learn.”  Commenting on her college experience as a ninety-year-old, Helen said, “It’s helped me start a whole new phase of life.”  At last report, she was lecturing on the topic of life-long learning.

Graduation commencements inspire us because they not only recognize significant achievement, they celebrate new beginnings, new possibilities and opportunities, or, as Helen said, the start of a new phase of life.   Education offers to the young the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that equip them for the future.  For those who are older, it offers the opportunity to re-tool, to start over, to pursue new dreams. 


Nothing is as important for a new start on life as a spiritual transformation that connects us with God and places in our hearts the values that make life meaningful.  Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7).  In Ezekiel God said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).


God is always about new beginnings.  He offers to the young the opportunity to launch their lives on the path that leads to life and, to those who are older, the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over. Whether or not you hold a formal degree from an institution, whether you are nineteen or ninety, you can make a new start on life.  Paul wrote in Corinthians “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Princess Is Born

Kensington Palace made the announcement last Saturday: “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a daughter at 8:34 am.  The baby weighs 8 lbs 3 oz.” It was a typical British announcement with little more flair than the weigh-in of jockeys at the Kentucky Derby.  But Prince William and Kate beamed with joy when, seven hours later, they presented their newborn daughter to the world. 


When Prince William married Kate Middleton four years ago it was a storybook wedding.  Two billion people watched. Since that time, the Royal couple has charmed the nations with their world-wide tours.  Now they have enchanted us with their children, Prince George and his little sister, the Princess, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.  Keeping with British tradition, William and Kate did not announce her name until Monday afternoon.


Part of our attraction to William, Kate and their children is our fascination with celebrities. But, in this case, even celebrities stand in awe, overshadowed by the traditions of royalty.  We are moved by something deeper than celebrity worship.  The core attraction of the royal family is just that: family.


In our scientific and antiseptic world we are sometimes in danger of reducing human life to the mundane, the clinically predictable.  But the birth of a Princess somehow draws us back to celebrate the majesty and the mystery of birth and life: the natural result of a man and a woman committed to one another in matrimony.

We are each born of a mother and a father, which does not mean that we all know our fathers and mothers.  Parents are not always married, and in some cases, such as artificial insemination, they never even know one another.  But, the fact of the matter is, we are all conceived, fashioned and formed by the mystical union of male and female. 

It has been so since the beginning.  Genesis states, “ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” (Genesis 1:27,28)

Sooner or later most of us want to know our lineage.  Where did we come from?  Who were our parents, and who were their parents? What mysterious mix of ethnicities and nationalities went together to produce … well … us?   

None of us is elected or engineered to be who we are.  Britain’s new Princess is who she is by birth and by choice. She is born a Princess because Prince William chose Kate Middleton to be his bride. And she is born a Princess because she is the daughter of their union.

In a similar way, we are all born because God chose us and gave us birth.  In Isaiah, God says, “You who have been borne by Me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I will be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you!  I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.”  (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9).  Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  (1 John 15:9).   

On this coming Sunday, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, perhaps a newborn Princess will remind us who we are.  
 

Monday, April 27, 2015

When The Storm Comes

We were at our beach house on Galveston Island a couple weeks ago when a tornado passed over Jamaica Beach.  Our house shook; the windows rattled; hail battered the walls like bullets.  We kept reminding ourselves that the house survived Ike.  It would surely survive this.

Galveston is familiar with storms.  The historic hurricane of 1900 virtually destroyed the city and killed 6,000 people.   Hurricane Ike raked the island in 2008.  The F-1 tornado that passed over Jamaica Beach on April 17 won’t even appear as a blip on the screen.

Beach houses on the Island are built for storms.  We know that years may pass, maybe decades, perhaps a century, but the wind, rain, hail and floods will come.  We must build for it and we must expect it. In Jamaica Beach every house is at least ten feet off the ground built on pilings driven as many feet, or more, beneath the surface to anchor the house on solid soil.

In the same way, we must prepare ourselves for the storms that can devastate our personal lives.  Loved ones will die.  We will grow old, battle illness, suffer a tragic accident or fall victim to violence.  We are all mortal.

Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount with a parable about houses built upon sand and rock.  When the winds blew and the storm raged, He said, the house built upon sand fell. The house built upon rock stood.  (He didn’t include anything about houses built upon pilings.  But I guess poles sunk ten to twenty feet into the ground are as strong as foundations built on rock. Our house is still standing and we are still dry.)
 
Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27).

 Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. … Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (1 Peter, 1:6-7, 4:12). 

We cannot prepare for the storms after they hit.  It is too late.  Preparations must be made months and years ahead.  The storm only reveals the foundation that has already been built.  In the same way, the faith that will carry us throughout life and beyond death is a faith that must be nurtured and established before the trial comes.  This is why Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship are so important day-by-day and week-by-week.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Repentance

Perhaps the one word most needed in our age of addictions is the word that seems to be missing from our vocabularies. 

In his classic devotional book, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable 'goodness.' Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance.”

Whenever we do things wrong we most often try to justify our actions. We might agree that what we did was wrong, but we search for excuses.  We feel sorrow, regret or remorse.  But we seldom, if ever repent.  Perhaps the idea doesn’t even cross our minds.

When John the forerunner introduced Jesus to the world, he did so by calling people to repent.  “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 3:1-2) Thousands sought him out, confessed their sins and were baptized as a sign of repentance.

When Jesus launched his public ministry He also preached repentance.  “From then on, Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 4:17).  On one occasion, Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you also will perish.” (Luke 13:3).

Most of us understand repentance as a decision to stop doing bad things.  To turn from our sin and to turn to God.  John the forerunner defined repentance by our actions.  He urged the crowds to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  To some he said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”  To the tax collectors he said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”  To the Roman soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:7-14).

Repentance enables us to move beyond remorse and hating ourselves for what we have done.  Judas felt remorse after he betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself.  Peter also felt remorse for denying Jesus and wept bitterly. But, unlike Judas, he repented, was forgiven and served Christ the remainder of his life.

Repentance is a gift of God’s grace.  We cannot simply repent on our own.  It must come from God. After Cornelius was converted, the disciples concluded, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”  (Acts 11:18).  Paul wrote, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Repentance is more than an act of the will, it is a transformation of the mind. The word translated “repent” is the word metanoia, which means literally “transformation of the mind.”  This is why Paul encouraged believers not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12:2). When we repent and place our faith in Christ we see God, the world and ourselves in an entirely new light.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Faith of Leap

The Australian missiologists, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch wrote a book in 2011 with the title, The Faith of Leap. The “faith of leap” is about experiencing the kind of faith that enables us to go where we have never gone before and do what we have never done before.  It is a faith defined by action.

It is the kind of faith Abraham demonstrated when he left his family and his home to follow God.  It is the kind of faith Moses experienced when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh for Israel’s deliverance. Peter, James and John demonstrated this faith when they left their fishing boats to follow Jesus. The man born blind exhibited this kind of faith when he stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem in search of the Pool of Siloam. 
 

When I think of the “faith of leap” I think of my friend, Heather Herschap. If you have been reading this column for long, you will probably remember Heather.  She is a young woman born with cerebral palsy. Since birth she has had limited use of one arm and speaks with an impediment.  But when she smiles, her face lights up the room.
 
Heather is intelligent and determined.  She earned a bachelor’s degree at Baylor University despite her disabilities.  For four years, she was one of the most recognized students on campus, racing between buildings in her electric wheel chair, her hair blowing in the wind.
 
Heather’s life changed dramatically during her freshman year at Baylor.  One night, alone in her dorm room, she fell between her bed and the wall and was unable to wriggle free.  Trapped, frustrated and frightened, she says God spoke to her.  As a result she began reading the Bible and attending church.  She soon came to faith in Christ.
 
Her “faith of leap” has continued to grow. She went on to earn a Master’s degree from Truett Seminary and has made multiple trips to India to minister to those with handicaps similar to her own.  She currently serves in a center for the handicapped in San Antonio, Texas.
 
Last week, Heather published her second children’s book, The Story of Lucy, an Amazon e-book.  Lucy is the charming and inspiring story of a girl who overcomes disabilities to bring love and faith to others. Her story is all the more poignant because Lucy's experience parallels that of the author. Through Lucy, Heather invites her readers to rise above their own difficulties to discover a wonderful world of God’s love and grace.
 
Most of us will never face the obstacles and difficulties Heather has had to overcome. But we can all exercise our own “faith of leap” to make the world a better place.  Faith that follows Jesus is this kind of faith, faith that requires us to take the leap.  Like a child leaping into the father’s hands, we can leap into the unknown because we know who will catch us.

Click the image to the right to view Heather's book on Amazon.