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, 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 had told her, “A sword shall pierce your 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 both the joys and the sorrows that come.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finding Christmas

Christmas is the time to communicate and gather with friends.  In spite of Facebook, email and e-cards, Americans will purchase and send approximately 1.6 billion Christmas cards this year.  Christmas cards lift our spirits, keep us connected and represent a tangible expression of thoughtfulness in an increasingly cybernetic world.

The gathering part can be a challenge. Office parties, church groups, close friends and family quickly fill the calendar.  Some of us will travel great distances and juggle schedules to spend this special time with family members we have not seen in a year. 

All of this communicating and gathering challenges us for control of our time and our lives.  With continuing duties for work, school and family overlaid with Christmas commitments, we sometimes find ourselves weary and exhausted, feeling as if our lives are spinning out of control.

Part of the tension comes from our effort to create the perfect Christmas. We have made Christmas a spectacular event: spectacular performance, spectacular lights, the spectacular gift. But, we know down deep, that our lives are not spectacular. Most of our days and most of our lives seem rather common and ordinary.  

It might help to remember that the first Christmas had little resemblance to our contemporary traditions and expectations. The birth of Christ occurred in the chaos of the common and the ordinary: a common stable surrounded by common animals in a common village.  Few took notice.

There was no extravaganza staged in the cities. The angels’ announcement occurred in a remote region with only a few simple shepherds present.  The Magi, who observed the star in the east, came and went almost unnoticed.  

 It was for the common and the ordinary that Christ came.  He grew up in a carpenter’s shop in the remote village of Nazareth.  He owned no house and had no possessions.  He had no place to lay his head.  And, after a brief public ministry in which he healed and taught thousands, he died upon a common cross outside Jerusalem and was buried in a borrowed tomb.  In birth, life and death, Jesus redeemed the common and the ordinary and elevated each of us to an extraordinary relationship with God. 

The first Christmas was an “out of control” event for Mary and Joseph.  The tax summons that took them to Bethlehem could not have come at a worse time.  The baby was due.  She was in no condition for such a long and arduous journey. When they arrived, the town was a bedlam of people.  No one wanted to be there.  They had come because they were obligated under Roman law. Of course, what appeared to be an onerous obligation and an inconvenient time was actually a fulfillment of prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. 

Perhaps God planned it this way to teach us that His intervention must be experienced in the common and the ordinary chaos of life. When we look for Christmas in the spectacular, we can only experience it once a year. But when we discover Christmas in the common and the chaotic, it can change our life every day.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Buddy's Christmas Gift

Buddy came into our lives five years ago, a sick and skinny rescue dog picked up off the streets of Fort Worth.  When we went to meet him at Corgi Rescue, we could feel the bones in his hips and he was suffering from “kennel cough.”  But fifteen minutes with Buddy won us over.  We left committed to adopt him.

It took six weeks for him to get over his kennel cough, put on weight and get all his shots from the vet. I drove back to Corgi Rescue to pick him up and, in a matter of minutes, we were Buddy’s proud, and nervous owners.  It took a couple of weeks to adjust.  He was nervous too. 

It was a mystery to me how a tri-color corgi as intelligent, well-mannered and affectionate as Buddy could become a stray on the streets. Then, one day, on one of our neighborhood walks, Buddy told me his story.  I wrote it down, “just as Buddy told it to me.”  It became a children’s book published on Amazon Kindle, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.

I printed out a copy for our next door neighbor whose daughter was in the third grade.  He read it to his daughter and she took it to school.  The teacher read it to the entire third grade class. “One boy cried,” she said. 

Apparently Buddy had this problem when he was young, a floppy ear that proved to be an embarrassment.  All the other respectable corgis had ears that stood up straight and alert, except for Buddy. So, he ran away and became lost on the streets where Barney the Bloodhound befriended him and taught him how to survive. That is, until they were picked up by the dog police.

Along the way, Buddy learned to love himself and others just the way God made them.  It is a good lesson for all of us to learn.  He also learned the importance of being rescued.  Sometimes we all need to be rescued by someone.  Sometimes we all need to rescue someone else.

This year, Buddy wants to make his book available for free as a Christmas gift to all of our readers.  Just click on Buddy's photo on the right side of the blog and download  Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi  for free on December 8 or December 11-14. 

Buddy is now five years older and on a diet to keep from getting too fat.  We still go for walks during the day. He loves strolls on Jamaica Beach near our beach house on Galveston Island. He constantly introduces me to other dogs and other people.  He never meets a stranger.  It’s something I think he learned from Barney.  His ear doesn’t flop anymore, but he still has a small scar on his nose, a reminder of his “lost days” on the streets in the city. 

Buddy and I both hope you have a very Merry Christmas with people you love.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reflecting On The Ferguson Protests

Every so often our nation’s fa├žade of calm and quiet is peeled back to reveal racial unrest that simmers beneath the surface.  In 1992, smoke rose above the skyline of Los Angeles where businesses and abandoned cars burned following the acquittal of white police officers in the beating of Rodney King.  Last year thousands protested across the nation when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  And last week, once again, protests boiled to the surface when the grand jury declined to indict a local police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.   

Prejudice is a universal problem of the human condition.  It exists in every generation and every nation. Wherever there are racial, tribal and cultural differences, prejudice will take root, fueled by pride, ignorance, fear, bitterness, resentment and anger. 

So what can we do?  We must affirm the rule of law in our land. We must live up to our pledge to provide “liberty and justice for all.”  And we must recognize the problem is ultimately one of the heart that requires a transformation of soul and spirit.

We can do what Bennie Newton did during the Los Angeles riots.  Risking his life to save a truck driver who was being beaten to death, Newton rushed to the victim’s side, lifted a Bible above his head and cried out, “Kill him and you have to kill me too!”   We can do what the churches in Ferguson did last week. Worshipers from the mostly white St. Stephen’s and the Vine Church joined the predominantly African-American Wellspring Church for Thanksgiving dinner.  We can embrace one another across racial divides, like the white officer who embraced the black youth in Portland during one of the protests. We can take actions, little and large, to reach out as Jesus did, across the chasm of prejudice to embrace those of different ethnicities and cultures.

Jesus gave us the example when he found it necessary to go through Samaria, a forbidden territory where no respectable Jew ventured.  It was there that he sat down by a well, alone,  entered in to conversation with a Samaritan woman, and extended to her the water of life.  He crossed cultural, racial and traditional barriers to demonstrate God’s love for every person.  As the children’s song says, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”

When Paul was a young man he was filled with self-righteousness and contempt.  He considered himself a Jew of the Jews, born of the tribe of Benjamin, superior to others by race, class and intellect.  He once set out in an angry rage to arrest innocent men and women who disagreed with him.  But after he met Christ, his heart was changed. He later wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourself.” (Philippians 2:3).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever


I took the title of this column from a Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you get the wrong idea, I have to explain that I don’t read or watch Martha Stewart, but my wife does. We have these magazines lying around the house and it is difficult to ignore what is on the cover.

So there she was, Martha Stewart, offering a perfect piece of pie while smiling a perfect smile with perfect teeth, wearing a perfect dress with perfect hair, surrounded by a perfect kitchen with an open window that looked out on a perfect garden. Like Oprah and Paula, every wrinkle and excess pound had been photo-shopped away so that she looked decades younger than her actual age. And, over her head hung the words, “Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever.”

Unlike Martha, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner we will show up with wrinkles, warts and all. We look our age. The kitchen is a mess with spilled flour on the cabinet and sinks full of dirty dishes. The food, of course, is great because my wife is a great cook: baked turkey, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, her famous dressing passed down from her mother, green beans, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pie.

But, it occurred to me, when I saw that magazine cover of Martha Stewart, that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food or the perfect picture. Real Thanksgiving is about the heart. It is difficult for a heart that is not thankful every day to be truly thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

Which brings up a concern about this Thanksgiving. A few years ago the retail stores invented black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when one-day discounts lure mobs of hysterical shoppers into their stores before dawn. At first, I didn’t understand black Friday and, except for one occasion for which I repented, I avoided it. But black Friday began to creep. Last year many of the major stores opened on Thanksgiving Day.  This year, it seems that Black Friday has already started and will continue with no letup.

I am nostalgic for the traditional American Thanksgiving we knew a few years ago. There was nothing commercial about it. All the stores were closed. Workers could spend the day with their families. No one had to shop for presents or send cards. All we had to do was enjoy getting together with those we love and be thankful. This year our tradition of gathering around bountiful tables with family and friends seems more like a brief interruption to the more important business of 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 that were sure to disappear or stood in check-out lines that stretched to the back of the store. Black Friday seems to symbolize our rush through life, our efforts to get the best deal, to be first in line. 

I hope this week we will cultivate a thankful heart and grateful spirit and take time to truly “be” with family and friends so that this is “the best Thanksgiving ever.” Let us "praise God's name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving." (Psalm 69:30).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Go To Church

Given the secular focus of our culture with football dominating Sundays and Black Friday overshadowing Thanksgiving, it is easy to conclude that very few people still attend church. But, according to the best research, that is just not the case.  More people attend church than we might think. 

Estimates of church attendance on a given Sunday vary.  If you ask Americans, as Gallup has done for the past 70 years, 4 out of 10 will tell you they attend church each week, roughly the same percentage that said they did so in 1939.  Attendance rose to 49% in the 1950s, but otherwise has remained fairly constant through the decades.   If you ask The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, it will tell you less than 20% actually attend church on a given Sunday.  The Pew research estimates attendance at 37% of the U.S. population with only one-third who seldom or never attend.

This, it seems to me, is remarkable.  What other voluntary activity could attract this many people on a regular basis?  According to the most extreme estimates, between 50 million and 125 million people attend church every week.  By comparison, the average attendance per week to all NFL football games combined totals a little over two million. Although the percentage of those attending church has declined over the years, church attendance is still a huge part of our lives. 

As I have thought about it, I have asked myself the question, “Why do I go to church?”

I go to church because, down deep, I believe in Jesus Christ.  I think it is what He would want me to do.  Even though the Jewish authorities turned against Him, it was always Jesus’ custom, or “habit” to attend the synagogue each Sabbath.  (Luke 4:16).  And even though churches are seldom what they ought to be, I need to follow Jesus’ example.

I go because I need to be encouraged in my faith and I want to encourage others.  While I have been disappointed by some pastors and church leaders over the years, I find that going to church lifts my spirits.  Other believers take an interest in me and pray for me.  And I seek to do the same for them. (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).

I go to church because churches make the world a better place. All churches, as we know are flawed. Someone once asked me if I knew of any churches that did not have any problems.  I asked if he knew of churches that didn’t have any people.  Where there are people, there will be problems. But most churches seek ways to feed the hungry, help the poor, comfort the grieving and care for the aging.  Churches pull us outside ourselves and call us to a higher and better world.

I go because I want my children to go.  Even though my children are grown and gone, I still want to be an example to them, as I sought to be when I was raising them.  Going to church is a discipline. Sometimes I don’t feel like it. But I have learned over the years that the best things in life require effort.  Worship, Christian fellowship and service are disciplines that I believe are worth passing on to the next generation.  

I am sure there are many other reasons why people attend church.  There are other reasons why I do as well, but these are the three that stand out the most in my mind.

If you haven’t been attending church.  I hope you will do so this week. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Heaven

I recently assisted in the funeral for a close friend.  He was older by almost twenty years, and became my mentor more than thirty years ago.  He was a take-charge kind of guy and I always imagined him going out like John Wayne in The Shootist.  Consistent with his personality, he left specific instructions for his funeral, including the passage he wanted the pastor to preach and the three points he wanted him to make.  To his friends he wrote, “I want there to be more laughter than tears.  After all, I will be in Heaven.”

I watched him age like I have watched others, the same process I am beginning to see in myself.  As he entered his eighties his strength and vigor began to slip.  The last time we went out to eat he needed a walker to make his way to the table.  Aging is an inescapable experience for all of us who live long enough.  But in the end, in the “twinkling of an eye … we shall all be changed.”  (1 Corinthians 15:52).

When my mother was young she was a beauty and a fast runner who won several ribbons in track meets.  But in her last years she was feeble and almost blind.  When she was 89 years old and dying, we talked about what it would be like when she woke up in Heaven, able once again to run through the meadow as she did in her youth.  Her body once again characterized by energy, strength, beauty and grace. 

I have often thought about Heaven and what it might be like.  Someone once said that we might think of everything that is beautiful and good on this earth and multiply it by two.  That of course is a small number, but anything more defies imagination.  I like to think about the sun rising in the east, its light filtering through the leaves warming my shoulders on a cool morning; the birds calling to one another as the day dawns; the scent of freshly cut grass and new turned earth; the fragrance of lilacs in spring and roses in summer; the laughter of children on the playground; the crack of a baseball bat and the smack of a ball in the glove; the weight of a sleeping baby in my arms.  On this earth and in this world, they are enough.  But multiplied by two, or a thousand?  Incomprehensible!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:3). “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). “If we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Romans 6:5).