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."

Bridget Knight, Religion Editor, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas




Monday, April 14, 2014

If A Man Die, Shall He Live Again?


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).


Monday, April 7, 2014

When He Comes

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.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Nightfall

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 creation.

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.” (Psalm 148).

When the night falls, we sense that God is near.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Intelligent Design

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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Believe It Or Not

“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 lives. 

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 save us.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Consider the Birds

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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

2014 Hollywood's Year of the Bible

Once in a while Hollywood surprises us.  While producers will continue to churn out the usual supply of violence, murder and sex, 2014 has been called the “Year of the Bible” for cinema.  Last weekend “The Son of God” premiered in theaters across the nation.  Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, who produced the popular PBS series, The Bible, bring to life the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus with dramatic portrayal of His miracles.  Unlike the Passion of the Christ that focused on Jesus’ brutal torture and death, The Son of God promises to portray Jesus’ beauty, goodness and compassion.

The epic story of Jesus will be quickly followed by another blockbuster starring Russell Crowe as Noah and Anthony Hopkins as his grandfather, Methuselah. At a cost exceeding $130 million, the producers have spared little expense to recreate the dramatic events of Noah’s day. The film’s producer Scott Franklin told Entertainment Weekly, “I think we stayed very true to the story and didn’t deviate from the Bible.” 

After pondering our survival of near extinction through the flood, audiences will have to wait until December for the next Biblical epic when Christian Bale portrays Moses in a re-make of The Exodus. Sigourney Weaver will play Pharaoh’s wife who raised Moses in Pharaoh’s court.  20th Century Fox promises a new take on the classic story. How accurate it may be to the Biblical account remains to be seen.

At the end of the year Hollywood will release, “Mary, Mother of Christ.”  A movie that has been described as a prequel to Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.”  The movie will focus on Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s struggle between his love for Mary and social pressure to abandon her, the birth at Bethlehem, Herod’s vicious efforts to kill the child, their visit to Jerusalem, flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth.

Ben Kingsley will play Herod and Peter O’Toole, will play Simeon, the Jerusalem prophet who recognized the Christ child and predicted his future. O’Toole came out of retirement to make the cameo appearance shortly before he died.  In an interview with the New York Times, O’Toole, who left organized religion years ago, said, “No one can take Jesus away from me.” 

We would be na├»ve to conclude that Hollywood has experienced a deep religious conversion.  As always, Hollywood is motivated by profit at the box office.  Apparently Hollywood recognizes, sometimes more than churches, that people have an insatiable hunger for historic stories that help us understand human nature and God’s character. Like the Apostle Paul, those of us who believe can say, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this, I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18).