What Others Say

Just a quick note to tell you how much I enjoy reading your weekly articles in the Waco Tribune Herald. I always appreciate your Christian perspective. In the midst of daunting daily news, I always find your articles very refreshing. - A. Williams

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Good Morning!

Guten morgen. buenos dias, bon dia, buongiorno. selamat pagi. dobroe utro. In various languages and cultures all over the world, we greet each other every morning with a simple but profound greeting. It is best spoken with eye contact and a smile. A way of acknowledging our common existence and bestowing upon others our best wishes for their welfare. We share the greeting on the beach, in the park, on busy city streets, in the workplace and the home. I have exchanged this familiar greeting with others in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil.

One morning I strolled along the seawall in Galveston at sunrise and was greeted by others who were walking, jogging or simply watching the sun rise. They were old and young, men and women, white, brown and black. Their simple “good morning” seemed to say, “I recognize your humanity, that you exist and you are here. Although I do not know you and will likely never see you again, we occupy together this passing moment in time when the sun is rising over the sea.”


We shared the sun’s red glow among the gray clouds and the rippled red reflection on the waves that lapped against the sand where sea gulls waddled on spindly stick legs. We filled our lungs with the cool morning air, awake and alive to a new day and greeted one another, “Good morning.”

All creation celebrates the dawning of a new day. The birds, it seems, do it best. I have often watched their mystic ritual at the dawn of day. They seem to be surprised each and every morning, as if they wondered if the sun would ever rise again. When it does, they are delirious with joy. In the forests, a single bird chirps the first signal of the graying dawn, awakening another, and another, until by the time the flaming ball of fire rises in the east they have joined their songs in a chorus of celebration.

It is much the same way with God who greets us at sunrise, a moment when God seems to make eye contact with us and smile, affirming His pleasure in having created us and having given us life. That is why David says, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Ps 5:3). “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.(Ps. 90:14). And again, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Ps 143:8).

Good Morning!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Viral Gospel

“Going viral” was once limited to communicable diseases, the kinds that are so easily transmitted that they can rapidly escalate into an epidemic.  But, in our day, it means something quite different.  With the aid of the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and You Tube, what was obscure can “go viral” and become suddenly famous.

Facebook went viral when Mark Zuckerberg launched it from his dorm room at Harvard.  Today, more than one billion people use Facebook every day and its market value exceeds $300 billion.  It has become one of the most powerful tools on the Internet to catapult others into the “viral” stratosphere.

When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage at Britain’s Got Talent April 11, 2009, she was unknown and unemployed, living alone with her cat in a small apartment where her mother raised her. Her frumpy attire drew snickers from the judges and the audience. But when she began to sing I Have A Dream everything changed. The video of her performance “went viral” on the internet. Within nine days it was viewed 100 million times. She is now an established star.

“Going viral” appears to be a twenty-first century phenomenon. But is it? 

History documents that the Gospel went viral following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  There was no media campaign.  There were no reporters, no cameras, no photo ops, no internet, no Facebook.  But somehow, Jesus impacted and changed the world.  Growing up in the obscure and infamous village of Nazareth, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years.  He walked wherever he went and never traveled more than one hundred miles from his birth place. When He was crucified, there were no papers to report it, no news teams to film it. But the news spread around the world and is continuing to spread today.  It did so by “going viral.” 

Paul spoke of.”the gospel which has come to you, just as  in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.”  (Colossians1:6). And again, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” 2 Cor 4:15, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.: (Romans 1:8).


When the Gospel goes viral, it requires more than posting a few sentences or a video clip on the Internet, more than “clicking” and forwarding information.  The Kingdom of God goes viral when lives are transformed by faith in Jesus Christ so that society is saturated with honesty, integrity, justice and generosity.  Changed lives change the lives of those around them. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Faith and Democracy

One of the themes in the current Presidential race is the need to “make America great again.”  The focus seems to be on military might, economic policies and immigration reform.  But one historic element appears to be missing in the midst of the rhetoric.  In our rush to separate church and state at every level of life, we have dismissed the importance of faith and moral values for the success of democracy and free enterprise.

Thomas Jefferson’s comment on the subject is inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC:  “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

In 1831, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States trying to find out the secret of its success.  After traveling throughout the young nation, de Tocqueville made the following observation: “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

A few years ago a noted Chinese economist, Zhao Xiao, conducted a similar study of the United States in search of applications for China.  Here are his conclusions: “The key to America’s commercial success is not its natural resources, its financial system or its technology but its churches.  ... The market economy is efficient because it discourages idleness, but it can also encourage people to lie and injure others.  It thus needs a moral underpinning. ... without awe, China will not succeed.  ‘Only through awe can we be saved. Only through faith can the market economy have a soul.”


When we look for America’s greatness, we are tempted to look where other nations have looked in the past, and failed.  Perhaps we are best served when we look within ourselves.  The real factor that will determine our future is moral and spiritual. And the battleground for victory is found in each individual heart.  The Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34). “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Risk Tolerance and Faith

Investors talk about “risk” and “risk tolerance.”  A few years ago, even the most conservative of investors could expect to receive a return of 5% percent, or more, by simply placing their money in CDs or savings accounts.  But times have changed.  Those kinds of risk free investments have disappeared. Savings Accounts usually earn 1 percent or less.  Certificates of Deposit do little better. 

     
 Those who want to invest for the future, including retirement funds, are left with higher risk options.  But for many of us, risk leaves our stomachs queasy.  Our introduction to 2016 has been gut wrenching.  The Dow Jones industrial average recorded its worst ever open to a new year. Losses overall totaled more than $3 trillion in the first two weeks of January.

Stocks, investments and economics have always confused me. I have never been able to figure it out.  I guess that is why I find Jesus’ story in Luke 19 confusing.  He told of a wealthy owner who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone.  To each he gave the same amount.  Let’s say he gave each $1,000.  When he returned one servant had invested and multiplied the $1,000 into $10,000.  Another had invested and multiplied it into $5,000.  But the third was afraid of losing the $1,000.  Maybe he wrapped it in some newspaper and hid it under his mattress. 

The wealthy owner commended the first two, but he was furious with the third.  “You should have at least put it in the bank so it could earn interest,” he said.  He then took the $1,000 from the last one and gave it to the one who had $10,000.  He said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-27).

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there are many applications to be made and much to learn. Of course, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about money. After all, when he died all he had were the clothes on his back. But he clearly understood how the world works. And he clearly understood how life works.

So, what was his point?  It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to learn to take risk for the Kingdom's sake. Whenever we grow fearful and withdraw into ourselves, we shrivel up. What little we have is taken away from us. I have watched people do this.  I have even seen churches do this, pinching pennies and worried that they will not make budget. 

But when we lay it all on the line, when we give our lives away for others, we experience pleasure and joy unspeakable.  This is why he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, shaken together and running over.”  And, again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, but he who will lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it.” 

Jesus’ early followers clearly understood this.  There is no evidence that any of them became wealthy. But there is abundant evidence that they were willing to risk everything to serve God and help others. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

When We Are Wounded

We have a rocking horse in our attic that we bought for our son on his first birthday, 36 years ago.  It is simple and sturdy, made of unfinished wood.  Although it still raises its head proudly, the tail droops between its legs.  I am sure we intended to paint it someday, but that day never came.  Instead our son decorated it with crayons, pens and markers.  We passed it down to his little sister, born eight years later, and then to our grandchildren.  It is covered with scratches and scribbles, dents and dings.

The little rocking horse sits silently in our attic, ready to give rides to a generation yet to be born. It has little value.  But it is priceless to us because of the scratches, dents, dings and scribbled drawings left behind by our children and grandchildren.  We treasure it because of its scars.

Life is much like that.  We start out youthful and unblemished, unmarred by the world. But, over time, we become scarred with age.   Cuts, abrasions and burns leave their marks on our bodies. And, at a deeper level, the setbacks and disappointments, the sorrows of separation and loss add up.  We find ourselves scarred and wounded. 

But, like our little wooden horse, those scars make us all the more precious in our Father’s eyes.   

Imagine how precious the scars that Jesus endured appear to the Father.  The nail prints in His hands, the sword riven side and the lashings upon His back are the marks of his sacrifice and love.  Isaiah says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5). And, again Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24).

Few have suffered as many hardships as the Apostle Paul.  Of these he wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, ... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. ... But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 11:24-27, 12:9-10).

In like manner, we also suffer, just as Peter tells us: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Healthy Heart

This week we start our New Year’s resolutions, and many of us are focused on a “healthy heart.”  It apparently is making a difference.  According to the American Heart Association, “The epidemic increase in heart disease mortality ended in the 1960s or 1970s.” Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically over the last 50 years. Heart-healthy alternatives are produced in almost every food category. Restaurants include heart-healthy menus. Smoking has been banned in most public places. Physicians and non-profits promote diet-and-exercise.

I first read Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book, Aerobics, in 1982. It was a groundbreaking book that opened the eyes of millions to the benefits of aerobic exercise and healthy diet for a healthy heart. When I visited Brazil I was fascinated to find hundreds of Brazilians walking and jogging every morning to get in their “Cooper.” The doctor’s name had found its way into Portuguese as a synonym for heart-healthy aerobic exercise.

When I followed Cooper’s regimen, I experienced the benefits: lost weight, increased strength and stamina. Unfortunately, I have not always followed those disciplines, and it shows. Developing a healthy heart requires more than knowledge.

As important as it is to maintain a healthy heart physically, it is even more important for us to develop a healthy heart spiritually. The Bible clearly sets forth the disciplines and characteristics of a healthy spiritual heart. They include gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. If we discipline ourselves to be grateful every day for what God has done, if we hope when things look hopeless, if we forgive those who injure us, if we love our enemies instead of just loving those who love us, we will have a healthy heart.

But, like our physical heart, having a spiritually healthy heart requires more than knowledge. We may know that we need to be grateful, hopeful, forgiving and loving. But how do you create heartfelt gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love?

In the spiritual realm, this requires a spiritual heart transplant. God has to create a new heart within us, something that He is more than willing to do. We are all born with spiritual heart disease. Jeremiah says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). But later he writes, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God.” (Jer. 24:7). And in Ezekiel He says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).

God sent His son Jesus so that He might create in us a healthy heart that is full of gratitude, hope, forgiveness and love. He changes the heart that has grown callous, bitter and resentful into one that overflows in gratitude. Someday our physical heart will beat its last beat and our bodies will die. But the spiritually healthy heart that God creates will live forever.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Closing the book on the Past - Looking to the Future

For many years I have spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on the year past and New Year’s Day anticipating the year to come.  I have learned the importance of closing the book on the past and opening a new one for the future.

First, we need to close the book on the insults and injuries we may have suffered. Failure to close the book on these can cripple us in our efforts to embrace the future.  We can only overcome past insults and injuries by practicing forgiveness.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And, after teaching us to pray, He drew the application: “For, if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” 

Second, we need to close the book on our own sins and transgressions.  We all regret things we did and things we left undone, words spoken and words we failed to speak. The guilt and regret of the past can become a heavy burden that weighs us down and prevents us from achieving our best.  God wants to take this weight from our shoulders.

In Psalms the Bible says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps 103:11-13).  And in Hebrews, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

We also need to open a new book on a future with endless possibilities. Americans have always been optimistic. Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to document American optimism nourished by widespread Christian faith in the 1830s. That faith and optimism carried us through two World Wars, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Kent State, Watergate, Vietnam and the Cold War.   But today, our optimism and our faith are being tested. 

It is always God’s desire that we look to the future with optimism and hope.  We can look forward to the future based on God’s promises.  “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Both Paul and Peter agreed that Jesus is the source of this confidence. “Just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” (Ro. 9:33; 1 Pe. 2:6; Ps 118:22; Isa. 28:16).


May this be a year of forgiveness, optimism and faith! May it be your best year ever!