Written by Bill Tinsley - Reflections appears in multiple newspapers each week. The column reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective
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"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."
Bridget Knight, Religion Editor, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas
week the small town of West, Texas marked one year since the devastating
chemical explosion leveled a large section of the town killing fifteen and injuring
more than 200.Those who were there, and
those who witnessed the mushroom cloud rising on the horizon, will never
35,755 runners participated in the first Boston Marathon since the horrendous
bombing one year ago that killed and maimed spectators and participants near the
event was the result of a tragic accident, the other a hideous crime. But in both
cases, the year past was remembered by remarkable stories of courage, faith and
West, a choir sang Amazing Grace while surrounded with ferns and flickering
candles on which students wrote, “Rise Up West!”CNN reported, “Residents
say their faith has been instrumental in understanding and dealing with last
April's tragedy. Montgomery Irwin says the anniversary falling so close to
Easter -- with its message of resurrection and renewal -- is especially
appropriate for the people of West.”
In Boston survivors and responders from last year's bombing participated in a one mile tribute-run on Saturday. Mayor, Martin
J. Walsh spoke to the crowd, “As I look out on the crowd, there is a lot of
inspiration. I want to thank you for your courage and your resilience.”At Old South Church, near the finish line,
tribute runners were given blue and yellow scarves knitted by volunteers across
John had this kind of human resilience in mind when he wrote, “That was the
light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” (John1:9).Every human being is born with a reflection
of that light that is at the source of creation.In some way we are like the clouds that reflect
the rising sun, streaked with crimson, purple and gold prior to the sun’s
entrance. Often in our moments of greatest heartache and difficulty we reflect
the greater glory.But when the sun
rises, its brilliance supersedes everything that has gone before.
may be what Zecharias meant when he said, “The sunrise from on high has visited
us!” (Luke 1:78). Or John, when he wrote,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory
as the only begotten Son of God.” (John
1:14). All of our expressions of
courage, faith and determination, mixed as they are with our shortcomings and
our sins, are but dim reflections of the perfect light that is found in God.
seems fitting that between remembering these two tragic events, the world
paused to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Seeking
comfort, consolation and inspiration, we turned our eyes toward that signal event
in human history when God entered into our suffering through His Son and
overcame death and the grave.
human resilience reflects not on our own glory, but on the glory of Him who
made us in His image, Who sent His Son to forgive us our sins and transform us
into children of light. He is the source of all comfort and all strength.
I was twenty-nine years old when my father died of multiple
myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow.He
was fifty-three.Only hours before his
death, I spoke with him.Our eyes met during
that final visit, the same eye contact we had shared from my birth. I held his
hand as he drew his last breath, and then, he was gone.His body lay lifeless and unresponsive.
The morticians took his body from the hospital room where
our family had waited through the night.We visited the funeral home and chose a casket.Shortly afterward other family and friends
joined us to view his body lying still and quiet, dressed in his familiar suit,
his hair combed.I stood by the casket
and stared at his face.It was obvious
another hand had combed his hair and another hand had tied his tie.He seemed to be sleeping.I almost imagined him drawing breath. Almost
imagined him opening his eyes so that they sparkled once again with life, his
lips parting in the familiar grin, the dimples reappearing in his cheeks.But he didn’t move. We buried his body in the
cemetery thirty-eight years ago surrounded by friends who came to comfort us,
many of whom are now buried nearby.
I asked myself the question Job asked centuries ago, the
question every man and woman must ultimately ask when they stand where I stood
on that day, “If a man die, shall he live again?”(Job 14:14).
Job’s struggle with the question was not about theology or
philosophy.His struggle was like
mine.It was personal.It is the struggle we all must face sooner or
later when those whom we love die.“At
least there is hope for a tree,” Job said, “If it is cut down it will sprout
again. … Its’ roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a
man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (Job 14:7-10)
After having pondered the question, Job foresaw the Easter
event we celebrate this weekend.He
wrote, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the
earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I
myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns
within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
The world will ponder Job’s question this weekend when we
gather in Christian churches around the world. If Jesus was raised from the
dead, the answer to life’s most important question is clear.Luke wrote, “After his suffering, he
presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He
appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of
God.” (Acts 1:3). Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of
those who are asleep.For since by a man came
death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will
be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
We pursue our educations, work at our careers, raise our families, worry
about retirement and prepare for the inevitable: death and taxes. In the meantime,
the lives of believers and non-believers show little marked difference other
than church attendance. Beyond confessions of faith, hymns and sermons, the
Second Coming of Christ appears to be irrelevant to daily life.
But what if He comes today? What if He comes tomorrow? What if He came
yesterday? No, I am not suggesting you missed the “rapture.” But, He did, in
fact, come yesterday and He will, in fact, come today. Jesus comes to us
everyday if we are looking for Him. He comes in small, imperceptible and
unexpected ways. He comes in the interruptions that beg for our attention and
threaten to derail our pre-planned agendas.
This is exactly what Jesus taught His disciples before His ascension into
Heaven. Jesus said when He returns, “the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come,
you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared
for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me
something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a
stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick
and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the
righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or
thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and
invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or
in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the
least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-46)
He came to me in the person of a young Hispanic employee at Wal-Mart who needed
words of encouragement. He came in the form of a Chinese woman named Chiu who
was fishing on a pier with her mentally handicapped daughter. Once He came in
the form of a teenage unwed mother who had given birth to a son who died a few
days later. How many times have I missed Him and failed to recognize Him? I
don't know. He comes every day in many ways and forms that we are likely to
miss if we are too focused on our own agendas. We might even miss Him by being
too focused on our opinions about eschatology.
If we live our lives alert and ready to receive Him each and every day in the
small encounters with the “least of these” we will become salt and light, as
Jesus described it. In the process, we will be ready to receive Him in that
day, when He appears like lightning from east to west. We might even hear Him
say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Under the glaring light of day we may fool ourselves into
thinking that we are center stage, that everything revolves around us. But the
night gently reminds us that we are, in fact, a small speck in the galaxies of
The wind, whipped into a hot fury during the day, loses its
strength, grows silent and lies down for the night.Darkness dissipates the day’s heat. Tires
that whined on pavement during the day grow silent along with the roar of the
engines that drove them.Crickets tune
their instruments and fireflies flit about in the dark. As the sun fades in the
west, the lesser lights gradually take their place in the night sky.The world sleeps.
Perhaps previous generations were more in tune with the God’s
creation because they spent more time under the night sky.Too often, we crawl into our houses and fill
the evening hours with noise from our televisions without witnessing the
nighttime reminders that were designed to renew the spirit and place each day’s
work in perspective.
Genesis says: “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the
expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for
signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the
expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the
two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to
govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse
of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night,
and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
There was evening and there was morning.”
A shepherd who grew up under the stars guarding his father’s
flocks, David wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are
mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?Yet you have made him a little lower than God
and you crown him with glory and majesty. … How majestic is your name in all
the earth.”… “Give thanks to Him … who
made the moon and stars to rule by night, for his loving kindness is
everlasting.” (Psalm 36:9)
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise
Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters
that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created.”
Perhaps you have been following the story at Ball State
University where the teaching of intelligent design has been prohibited. Eric Hedin, an Assistant Professor of Physics,
promoted the idea to his students that the complex and intricate balance in
nature reflects an intelligent design as opposed to a random series of
accidental events.The president of the
University ruled that such teaching was not a scientific discipline and had no
place in academia, an opinion widely shared in the academic community.
Baylor was embroiled in the controversy when Robert Marks, Distinguished
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering set up a website and lab on
the Baylor server to investigate intelligent design in 2007. Marks used the
term “Evolutionary Informatics Lab.” Both the website and the lab were shut
down within months. When Ken Starr arrived as president at Baylor University,
he honored Robert Marks for his efforts.
Regardless of academic positions on the subject, reflections
on creation, purpose and intelligence beyond our own are important to all of
us. We must ask the questions, “Are we alone?”“Is there anyone else out there?” “Is the human race simply the result
of eons of random chance on this third planet from the sun?”“Have millions of years of random chance and
survival of the fittest resulted in, well, ‘us?’” Or are we created in the divine
image of the Creator?
We consider ourselves intelligent.We can solve problems. We can manipulate the
natural laws of physics to make them work for us resulting in mechanical and
electronic machines that magnify our strength and accelerate our speed. We can ponder ourselves and our own existence.
We can imagine things as they could be.
We are quickly making strides in our own creation of
artificial intelligence, the design of robotic machinery that perform complex
tasks. We already have cars that can drive themselves.Information technology is taking us into realms
reserved for the writers of science fiction. “Data,” the popular android on
Star Trek, may not be so far-fetched after all.
So, whenever we finally create “Data” and others like him,
what will the androids think?Will
they sit around and discuss whether they were all the result of random
coincidence, concluding that they have no accountability or connection to the
humans that created them?(Seeds for
another science fiction epic).
The Bible is quite clear regarding our own origin.The Psalmist says, “For You formed
my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and
my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was
made in secret.” (Psalm 139:13-15).
Something beyond science resonates within
us when we stand in awe on the rim of the Grand Canyon; when we behold the
beauty of a sunset splashing the sky with crimson, purple and gold; when we walk
by the sea listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Only worship will
satisfy the emptiness within, the realization that we are part of a grand
design in the mind of God. Our faith in the One who made us fills us with
meaning, purpose and peace.
“Believe.”It is an
interesting word.Sometimes we use it to
indicate doubt. If we are not entirely certain of something, we will say, “I
believe so.”For instance, if someone
asks, “Are your friends joining us for dinner?”We will say, “I believe so.” Meaning, I think they are but I am not
quite sure.If we were certain they were
coming to dinner, we would simply say, “Yes.”
Sometimes we use “believe” to indicate our agreement with
someone else’s statement.When I say, “I
believe you,” I am indicating that I “believe” something is true. If you point
to an airplane and ask, “Do you believe this is an airplane?” I might say,
“Yes, I believe that is an airplane.”
At other times we use the word “believe” to indicate our
confidence in someone. We may use the term for a political candidate or a
doctor indicating confidence in that person.In this case they would get our vote or our business.We could also use this term with respect to
the pilot of the airplane. We could believe in him, meaning we have confidence
he can fly the airplane.
The word translated “believe” in the Bible is “pisteuo.”“Faith” is closer to the meaning of “pisteuo.”
But, we don’t have a verb form of “faith” in our language. We cannot say, “I
faith you.”We are left with our word
“believe.”In this case, if we believe
in the airplane and the pilot, we must climb aboard the airplane, take our seat
and actually fly in it. We follow instructions and trust both the airplane and
the pilot to take us aloft thousands of feet in the air.
The “faith” meaning of the word changes how we understand
key passages in the Bible.For instance,
when Jesus says,“I am the resurrection and the life.He who believes in me shall never die,” he is
actually saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who puts his trust and
absolute faith in me shall never die.”
Here is the difference in religion and relationship.There are many who occasionally attend church
who “believe” in Christ and “believe” they are Christians.They use the term like the first
example.They are not quite sure, but
they think it might be true, or hope it is.
Then there are others who attend church who “believe”
according to the second definition. They give mental assent believing that
Jesus is the Son of God, but it doesn’t make much difference in their
Still others fall into the third category.They believe in Jesus in the sense that they
have confidence in who he claims to be. They think he is a good person, that he
spoke the truth, that he would get their vote among the other religious leaders
in the history.
But moving into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ
requires the New Testament kind of “believing.”We must trust Him with our lives.In this case we don’t have to understand or know everything, just like
we don’t have to understand or know everything about flight and airplanes in
order to fly. When the Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you
shall be saved,” it means more than wishful thinking, mental assent or even
having confidence in Christ.It means we
must place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ.Like flying, we must follow His instructions
and trust Him.If we do this, He will
The birds are the first to wake each morning. I have
listened in the predawn dark for the first twitter from the trees.Like sentinels they watch for the first faint
glow in the east, and, long before the sun rises, they start their sunrise
celebration.Sometimes I think they are
surprised each morning when a new day dawns.Their excitement seems to echo Zecharias’ emotions when he announced the
birth of Jesus saying, “The sunrise from on high will visit us!” (Luke 1:78).
I especially like the cardinal.I have watched these brilliant red birds
perched high on bare limbs in the Minnesota winter, their ricochet notes shattering
the snow covered stillness on a subzero morning.I have listened to the same unmistakable
notes and spotted their bright red coat amid thick green oaks in the sweltering
heat of a Texas summer.
The mockingbird is always dressed in his gray tuxedo for
some special occasion, white tipped wings flashing when he flies like formal
cuffs in full dress.Unlike the
cardinal, the mockingbird never ventures into northern winters.He much prefers Texas summers where he can
perch on his stage in the live oaks and sing his stolen songs.
I remember waking, when I was a boy, to the rasp of blue
jays at play in the pecan trees outside my window.They rasp now as they did then, and every
time I hear them I am carried back across the decades to my youth.
When we lived in Minnesota, I watched chickadees on winter
afternoons fluttering in the snow on our windowsill searching for seed.And I often sat on our deck in Rochester,
Minnesota and listening to squadrons of Canadian geese flying low overhead, so
low that I could hear the wind in their wings.
Jesus apparently watched the birds and took pleasure in
them.He referred to them to help us
understand God’s love and care for us.He said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store
away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more
valuable than they?”Again, He said,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the
ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head
are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Sometimes we find ourselves thrown into difficult
circumstances.Like the scorching Texas
heat or the frigid Minnesota winter, every element seems to be set against us
and we have difficulty seeing our way forward.At such times we are prone to wonder if God has forgotten us.We are prone to discouragement, doubt and
worry about our future.Failing health,
unemployment, broken promises and broken relationships conspire to steal away
our confidence, our hope and our faith.At such times we need to consider the birds. We are not forgotten.He who cares for the birds of the air will
doubtless care for us.We are of great
worth to God.Listen to the birds and
take heed to their song.
Bill Tinsley has served as pastor, church planter and missions executive. In 2009 he launched the Tinsley Center, LLC to promote authentic faith that changes lives. He lives in Waco, Texas with his wife, Jackie. Email email@example.com.
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