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, July 21, 2014

The Temptation

Last week I stood on a mountain peak in the Alps, an area referred to as Obersalzberg.  Stretching out before me, in the valley below, was the historic city of Salzburg.  Nearby, nestled in another valley, lay Berchtesgaden and Koinegsee.  I stood over a small square stone.  One side marked the boundary of Germany. The other side marked the boundary of Austria. 

As I scanned the landscape that fell away beneath my feet in the shrouded distance, I felt as if I could see forever, that I might be standing on the top of the world.   It was an impressive sight.

As I stood on this awe inspiring spot, I was reminded of the Scripture that tells of Jesus’ temptation. He was taken to a similar high point where the nations of the world seemed to stretch out at his feet.  It was there that the devil made his offer, “All these things will I give you if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus answered him, “Be gone Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God , and serve Him only.” (Matthew 4:9-10).

On the mountain cliffs, not far away, I could see the outline of a building. The Kelsteinhaus, more commonly known as the Eagles Nest, a home built as a gift for Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday. It is reported that Hitler seldom came to the Kelsteinhaus.  But it was in this region, in the mountains above Berchstergaden and Salsburg, that Hitler completed his writing of Mein Kampf, the massive document that outlined his beliefs and his plans.  His quest for world domination varied very little from what he included in that early manuscript. 

In 1942 Hitler said, “There are so many links between Obersalzburg and me.  So many things were born there … I spent there the finest hours of my life … It was there that all my great projects were conceived and ripened.”  The outcome is well documented in history. He would follow an agenda of manipulation, force, war, terror, brutality and racism.  His agenda left in its wake more than 6 million murdered Jews and at least another 50 million dead worldwide.

Almost a century ago, in 1925, Adolph Hitler looked off into the awe inspiring distance from this same mountain vista and experienced a similar temptation to the temptation Jesus faced.  Unlike Jesus, he accepted the devil’s offer. 

In a way, every man and woman must make a similar choice. We face the temptation in our work, our schools, our government and our homes.  We are tempted to enforce our own will upon those around us by duplicity and deceit, by force, anger and violence. We are tempted to arrogance, self-will and prejudice.  We all must choose whether we will bow down to the power of darkness (Col. 1:13), the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), or whether we will choose, as Jesus did, to worship the Lord our God and serve Him only.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Germany Present and Past

Last Sunday evening my wife and I stood on the balcony of our apartment in Nuremberg and watched as fireworks lit up the sky.  Horns, whistles and screams of ecstasy echoed off the buildings.  Moments before, nearing midnight, in the second overtime, Mario Goetze struck the winning score for Germany’s victory in the World Cup championship.  On Tuesday we were in Berlin where 400,000 gathered at the Brandenburg gate, many wrapped in red, black and gold, to celebrate the team's return.

We are staying in Nuremberg this month to visit people we came to love when we served and English speaking church in 2012 to serve an English speaking church.  Most of them are young adults just starting their careers. They came from such places as Cameroon, India, China, England, Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, U.S. and, of course, Germany. Nuremberg has become a cosmopolitan crossroads. It is, as we remembered it, a beautiful city with beautiful people and a welcoming country.

Of course, Nuremberg hasn’t always been that way.  It is difficult to be here and not reflect on that dark period when Hitler led this nation and the world to the brink of the abyss.  During those days, Nuremberg became the site where the 1935 laws were passed that launched the deadly persecution of the Jews.  It was also the site of the annual Nazi rallies where up to a million people assembled to cheer Hitler and his programs. And it was here that the Nuremberg trials were conducted in 1945 to hold the Nazi leaders accountable to International law. So chilling was the Hitler regime that the world seemed to forget that Germany gave us Luther, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms and Bonhoeffer.

The Nazi rally grounds have been turned into parks where couples stroll beneath shade trees and families play with their children beside a tranquil lake. Near by, the Document Center (Doku Zentrum) “documents” what happened in the Second World War, an attempt to understand how a nation could be led to commit the atrocities unleashed by Hitler’s regime.  It is a sobering place that looms over the peaceful park that surrounds it.  Today the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra performs open air concerts in the same place where thousands once hailed Hitler and cheered his speeches. 

Nuremberg, the largest city in Franconia and gateway to Bavaria, is impressive as an idyllic and tranquil place. But always, underneath the surface, there lurks the memory of the Second World War and the questions it raises.

Nuremberg is a constant reminder of our potential for good and evil, our infinite capacity for the divine and the demonic. The evil that raised its head in Nuremberg more than half a century ago, continues to raise its head among us today. We witness that evil in Nigeria where 200 girls were recently kidnapped by a radical Islamic group, in Iraq where tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions threaten to rip apart its fragile government. In Syria where civil war has raged for the past three years and threatens to spread into Lebanon.  We witness it in almost every city where domestic quarrels often end in violence.  We see it in the continued global fear of terrorism. Nuremberg is a reminder that each of us, every people and nation of every generation, need to be delivered from our worst passions.  It is the reason God sent His Son who died for us so that we might learn to love as He loved, to forgive as He forgave and to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Unbroken

Last week, while Americans prepared their fireworks for the fourth of July, Louis Zamparini quietly slipped the bonds of this earth at the age of 97.  After a 40 day struggle with pneumonia, his body finally surrendered. He was surrounded by his family.

Zamparini started his remarkable journey as a wild youth in Torrance, California.  He was constantly on the edge of juvenile detention or jail, a failing student and a troublemaker.  Determined to alter his destructive course, he channeled his untamed energy into athletic competition.  In 1936, at 19, he set a national interscholastic mile record that stood for 15 years, and became the youngest runner on the U.S. Olympic team in Berlin.  His performance was so outstanding in the 5000 meter that Adolf Hitler asked to meet him.

During World War II he became a bombardier in the Pacific.  Assigned to a B-24, popularly known as the “flying brick” he crashed at sea and survived for 47 days on a raft with only rainwater for survival and no protection from the scorching sun.  When he and his buddy were washed ashore, they were captured by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war under torturous conditions in POW camps.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent condolences to the Zamparini family in 1946 when Louie was presumed dead.  After the war he returned to his family alive.  But he was bitter, angry at God and dreaming of revenge on his captors.  He began to drink heavily and again his life was on a destructive course for disaster.

In 1949 his wife compelled him to go with her to a tent in Los Angeles where a young unknown evangelist named Billy Graham was preaching.  On the second night, he gave his life to Christ.  The transformation was remarkable.  When they returned home he immediately poured all the bottles of liquor down the drain.  He gathered up his secret stash of girlie magazines and cigarettes and threw them in the trash.

He later forgave his Japanese captors, traveling back to that nation to find his tormentors and personally tell them of his forgiveness. He established Victory Boys Camp for troubled youth and spent the rest of his life helping young men find a way out of their addictions and broken homes.

In 1998, Louis Zamperini returned to Japan to carry the torch in the Nagano Winter Games.

Laura Hillenbrand, the author who wrote Seabiscuit, documented Zamperini’s remarkable life in the biography, Unbroken, published in 2010. It remains a best seller. A movie about his life is scheduled for release this year on Christmas Day.

Hillenbrand commented on Zamperini’s death, "Farewell to the grandest, most buoyant, most generous soul I ever knew. Thank you, Louie, for all you gave to me, to our country, and to the world. I will never forget our last, laughing talk, your singsong 'I love you! I love you!' and the words you whispered to me when you last hugged me goodbye, words that left me in happy tears, words that I will remember forever. I will love you and miss you to the end of my days. Godspeed, sweet Louie."

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Fourth

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, John Adams envisioned celebrations in every city with parades, fireworks and political speeches “from one end of this continent to the other.”  More than two centuries later, Adam’s dream has become reality.  This weekend bursting sky-rockets and exploding bombs will illuminate the night skies over cities, parks and lakes.  Parading bands will march in the streets followed by decorated floats and mounted horses.  Politicians will address crowds from platforms hung with red, white and blue bunting.

The Fourth provides the focus for our American ideals in the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Those words provide the theological and philosophical foundation that inspires and guides our nation. 

Throughout our history, sociologists have sought the secret of America’s success.  After touring the United States in 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville concluded that democracy and freedom worked in America because of America’s faith.  He wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith … despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.” Robert Kaplan’s Empire Wilderness sought a similar re-examination of America in 1998.  He reached more pessimistic conclusions than de Tocqueville but expressed the same longing for faith.  Visiting a Mexican church in Tucson, Kaplan wrote, “The church conjured up tradition, sensuality, nostalgia.  If only this church were more relevant to the social forces roiling the southern half of Tucson.”  In The Next One Hundred Million, Joel Kotkin paints an optimistic future for America in 2050 based largely on our unique faith. He writes, “a ‘spiritual’ tradition that extends beyond regular church attendance … persists as a vital force.” 

We strive toward equality because that is the way God made us.  We are each made in His image and every person is born with infinite worth.  We are taught, through faith, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, that we are greatest when we are servant to others and that service to God is measured by our actions toward the “least of these.” 

But the pursuit of happiness can degenerate into the self-absorbed and destructive pursuit of pleasure.  Without faith in Christ we are prone to become captive to addictions and sins that easily beset us.  Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin … if the Son makes you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36). 

For every individual and nation, real freedom comes when we are set free from greed, corruption, lust and addiction. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Digital Faith

I am a digital immigrant. I was born into a world of rotary dial telephones and slide rules, cash registers that resembled slot machines, schools without air conditioning, encyclopedias that occupied an entire shelf in the book case and paper maps that unfolded to fill the entire front seat of the car.  

I started my immigration to the digital world about thirty years ago when I walked into Toys R Us with sweaty palms and bought my first computer, a Commodore 64.  It had 64k of memory and a floppy disk.  You can still find Commodore 64s in abandoned attics, basements and museums.

My oldest son is also a digital immigrant, though he was only eight years old when he started his digital journey.  After he grew up he started his own computer company and now works in Information Technology for an energy company. 

My grandchildren are digital natives.  They were born into the digital world and have never known anything else.  My three year old granddaughter was scanning photos on an iPhone when she was two and has already mastered video games. She reads and watches children stories on her iPad.  

I like the digital world.  I would not want to go back.  I live with my iPhone and PC. I can browse the web and check email anywhere in the world, conduct my business and manage my bank account on the go. I can text friends and family to stay connected and can go anywhere with my GPS.  I felt a little sacrilegious when I started reading my Bible on my iPhone and my Kindle.  It seemed like it wasn’t really a Bible if I couldn’t flip the pages and smell the ink. I had to remind myself that the first Scriptures were hand written on scrolls and that books came centuries later. 

But there are dangers in the digital world that did not exist before.

The world of virtual reality can undermine relationships in the real world robbing us of time, energy and emotional maturity. The new world of social networking can foster affairs with remote “lovers” who carry none of the day-to-day difficulties that come with marriage. More than one career has been destroyed by inappropriate posts on Facebook and Twitter. Pornography is at your fingertips.
 
The book, Digital Invasion quotes one youth pastor: “I see young people losing the interpersonal skills it takes to function in relationships, in a family and in the church.”

Craig Detweiler writes in his book, iGods, “The iMac begat the IPhone and the iPad, and each one starts with me – or rather “i.” They enhance our ability to connect and to serve, but they can also create an inflated sense of self, believing the entire world revolves around “me.” … In an age of status updates, personalized shopping, and lists of followers, we are experiencing the rush of becoming iGods of our own making.”  All this sounds strangely like the first temptation, “When you eat of it you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).

The digital world brings digital pitfalls and temptations as well as opportunities.  Our challenge is to incorporate the timeless and eternal truths that never change into our digital world, a digital faith that connects us with God and with one another.  The greatest commandment remains:  “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Monday, June 16, 2014

When We Die


When Steve Jobs died at the age of 56, we all paused to reflect. He had resigned just six weeks earlier as CEO of Apple.. His user-friendly computing innovations including the iPod, iPhone and iPad transformed the way we live. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer eight years earlier, he addressed his own mortality in a commencement speech at Stanford:

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Death is inevitable. But what happens after we die? The book of Job asked the question we all ask sooner or later: “If a man die, shall he live again?” After years of suffering and serious arguments with his friends and with God, Job emerged with a powerful conclusion. “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 issue of life after death is central to the Christian faith. While most people believe that some kind of life exists after we die, Jesus provides the only verifiable evidence of life beyond the grave. Each of the Gospels gives an eyewitness account of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Luke says, “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).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 The Message).

Jesus promised something far better for us when we are “cleared away” by death’s inevitability. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fathers

This Sunday the scent of sizzling steak will drift across the back yards of America.  I guess it is a guy thing, and I guess that is why we celebrate Father’s Day around the grill. There is something about standing around a fire, even if it is propane, and cooking meat.

My own father died 38 years ago. But I still remember the steaks he cooked on picnics at the lake.  I remember his hand upon my shoulder encouraging me when times seemed tough.  And I will never forget the grin on his face when I hit a home run.

I became a father 40 years ago and it seems like yesterday that I stood with my face pressed against the nursery window watching the newborn that wriggled in a bassinet on the other side.  I wore a tie, hoping those who saw me would think he had a respectable dad.

Father’s Day started in the United States in 1910 in Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd got the idea while sitting in church observing Mothers Day. Her father raised her after her mother’s early death, and she wanted some way to honor him. The city and its churches adopted the proposal with enthusiasm. Since that time our nation has paused on the third Sunday of June to celebrate the role of fathers in our families.

The role of fathers is unmistakable in the Bible starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Honoring our fathers and mothers is the “first commandment with a promise” among the Ten Commandments. (Ephesians 6:3; Exodus 20:12).

The U.S, Department of Health and Human Services recognizes the importance of fathers.  Their web site quotes Dr. David Popenoe who makes the observation that "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home.  Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring."

If fathers want to have the healthiest influence on their children, it starts with marriage.  The DHHS manual for CPS workers states, “A father who has a good relationship with the mother of their children is more likely to be involved and to spend time with their children and to have children who are psychologically and emotionally healthier. Similarly, a mother who feels affirmed by her children's father and who enjoys the benefits of a happy relationship is more likely to be a better mother.”

It isn’t rocket science.  Good fathers create healthy homes and healthy children.  Statistics overwhelmingly indicate that children who grow up in homes without fathers face significantly greater obstacles and have a higher rate of suicide, drug abuse and socio-psychological problems.

According to US Census data, currently one in three children live in a home without their father.  This is especially significant when we consider that in 1960 only 11 percent of children lived in a fatherless home. 

The Bible indicates that the father-child relationship was important to the coming of Christ.  The book of Malachi predicted a prophet that God would send to introduce the Messiah: “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  (Malachi 4:6).  When the angel told Zecharias that he would have a son in his old age who would be the forerunner to Jesus, the angel said, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.”

This Father’s Day reminds us that few things are as important to our nation and its future as the role of fathers in the lives of their children.