Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I observed two milestones last week. I celebrated yet another birthday. Birthdays are still occasions of celebration for me. Their approach does not ignite flames of fear in my heart. Life is an adventure and I still yearn to see what lies around the next turn in the trail. The odometer in my car reached 140,000 miles last week. It was the first automobile that I had purchased new (or that had been registered in my name, for that matter) to survive that many miles. It has endured three major repairs, one provoked by another driver backing his vehicle into the side of mine. During the last repair decision, I seriously considered purchasing a new car. Perhaps because I have been the only owner, this car doesn't seem as old as other vehicles I have owned that had fewer miles. Although it is what rental companies generously call a "full-size" vehicle, it still gets twenty-eight miles a gallon on long highway trips. I enjoy driving it and, although occasionally I covet some of the technological advances of the last eight years, enjoy driving it. I feel safe. Those are a few of the reasons I hold on to this car. Both I and my car are growing older. But we still can move down the road together in relative comfort. It gets me where I'm going. Comfort does not require the most recent technological gadgets or the latest fashions. It can even survive appearing "dated," which seems to be the ultimate insult on some HGTV house hunting programs. Comfort does require some degree of familiarity and the ability to use with knowledge of what will happen next. Human relationships share many of the characteristics of my relationship to my car. We are comfortable with our friends and our spouses despite their eccentricities and their ages. We feel comfortable where we worship when we know what to expect and sense that leaders act responsibly. In both cases we make adjustments or repairs when radical change requires it. In both cases, loyalty and love require giving the opportunity to make the repair work. We continue to move down the road (or the prayer trail) together. We celebrate our milestones; they remind us that we (and our relationships) still survive.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Way back in 1976, I travelled to England with a choral group from what is now Freed-Hardeman University. We spent a week in Aylesbury providing support to a local church for an evangelistic campaign. Our troupe of singers went out two by two to knock on doors each day to invite local citizens to the religious service that night, where they would hear Elvis Huffard, one of our own professors preach, and to a concert by us after the service. Another singer, like myself a Bible major, and I stayed with the local preacher and his wife. The wife treated us to tea each afternoon, a major treat for me. One night, we also had a time where people in the audience could ask us questions about the United States. I answered a question about our secondary education system. At a farewell supper, the local church members treated us by serving us an "American" dinner, boiled hamburgers on buns. We hated to break it to them that those were not American hamburgers. One of the local teenage girls would enroll at our college later. Besides the friendships we forged with the English people we met, we also deepened our friendship with Elvis Huffard. His daughter was in our singing group, but I had been unaware that he had sung with a quartet at Freed-Hardeman when he was a student. He preached messages that encouraged, but also introduced Jesus as one who deserved, required a response. Today would have been Elvis Huffard's birthday. So I pause to honor a man who comforted God's people and encouraged me in my faith.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
In light of recent events, I found these statements and questions thought-provoking, 'Each day you and I make decisions that contribute to constructing one kind of world or another. Are we caught up in faddish worldviews? Or are we helping to build a new world characterized by the truths of the Bible and the message of Christ?"-Ralph Hawkins in his book "While I Was Praying," p. 12. I also saw an article describing the growth of Islam in America and noted that while there have been conversions, most growth is due to immigration. The challenge for us as Christians is to study the Bible and live our lives in faithful discipleship to Jesus in such a way that we will persuade others to follow him. I'm more concerned about the rise of secularism and agnosticism, which actually is a threat to both Islam and Christianity. As Christians, we can be more effective by speaking as informed followers of Jesus, knowing the Bible but also knowing the facts about the political situation and those who oppose the teaching of Christ. Some people share slanderous comments on social media sites without verifying them on a fact check site first. Other people make comments against the contents of the Quran when they have not read it. When it's discovered that either group's comments were based on a lie, they lose credibility. Because we all are emotional beings, we must also conduct a "fact check" on our own beliefs and feelings. Do we hold an opinion because we believe in Jesus as the Christ, or because we belong to a certain political party or espouse a particular ideology? Are we uncomfortable in a setting because something is morally or religiously wrong, or because the setting is unfamiliar and we do not understand its cultural background? We can defend our faith most constructively by addressing issues rather than attacking personalities. We can persuade others to follow Jesus more effectively by living like we believe his teachings. That requires us to study the Bible and to associate regularly with other believers (Translation: Go to church.). We can conduct business matters ethically and promptly. People should be able to say of us, "He (or she) speaks the truth and treats all fairly." Helping others and forgiving those who slight us will also mark us as followers of one who said of those who were executing him, "Forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Certainly, worldview, or how we think things work, affects the decisions we make. We have to realize as we share our faith that others may not share our worldview. However, some truths remain true whatever the context. I have lived most of my life in a middle-class American context. However I have lived at least six months in two other countries, one of which had a markedly different economic, cultural, and religious foundation. I met people who saw some issues much differently than I did because of those different foundations. But I discovered that some of those same people shared convictions with me on several topics. These Muslims believed in one God. They believed in the power of prayer and practiced it regularly. They practiced hospitality and treated me with respect because they saw me as a religious leader. They believed that eating a meal with someone and listening would build relationships. Writers of the New Testament also lived in a nation (the Roman Empire) that did not share their worldview. Missionaries adapted some practices as they traveled into different locations and spoke to different audiences. Paul ate with Gentiles in Antioch. He preached, quoting Greek philosophers in the public arena to Greeks and Hebrew scripture to Jews in synagogues. He preached, however, the same message to both: "Christ and him crucified." He maintained his own identity as a Jewish Christian as well. We live in a society which respects individuals freedom to practice their religious beliefs. We must practice ours faithfully if we are to build a better world and convert others to what we believe is true.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In less than a minute, hundreds of runners and many more family members or friends had the reaching of a lifetime goal transformed into a memory of horror in Boston. Having run in a marathon, having trained two weeks in a trauma center, and having counseled and helped identify the dead in the aftermath of two helicopter crashes, I have some sense of the physical, emotional, and spiritual turmoil many must be experiencing now. I also pray for them and for members of the Massachusetts National Guard, some of who were on the scene. I served alongside Massachusetts Guardsmen in Afghanistan; they will do well, as they did yesterday, running to rescue and assist those injured by the explosions. We don't know yet who executed this horrific act, but many have rushed to assert their speculations. Some, I think rather strangely, have expressed their opinion that the government is considering them as suspects. In time, evidence will emerge and hopefully perpetrator(s) identified. However, even then, regardless of how concrete the evidence, some will cling to their pet theory, their favorite specter of evil. Why do some people seem to relish conflict, to enjoy speaking evil of others, to deny truth when it does not match their imaginations? Why do others (and there may be some overlap in the two subsets) love to harm others, rejoice in the death of innocent bystanders, and clamor for recognition as murderers even when they did not perform the act? One truth I know: this is not a new phenomenon. When a tower fell and killed others in the time of Jesus, some assert that the dead surely had sinned against God. Jesus rebutted their claim (see Luke 13:1-3). Most people who experienced the explosions in Boston or were affected directly by them will bear emotional and perhaps also physical scars for a long time. Some of them, like a father whose eight year old son died¸ whose wife and daughter were severely injured will grieve and second-guess themselves about their presence there that day. Sights, smells, and sounds will linger and haunt. Many will recover as they help one another, as they search for meaning in life, as they learn to love again and to forgive. Still, some people will gloat. They will celebrate horror, death, and amputations of people they never met. Others, much like them, will grieve if the actual murderer is not from the group they suspected. How may we help? Pray. Love. Forgive (It will help us heal.). Serve. Search for true answers. Be patient with others while doing our best. Whether the explosions were set by a foreign or domestic terrorist, a deranged individual who didn't understand what they were doing, or a prankster (Let us pray it was not the last.), horrible evil has happened. We must not allow the evil to envelop our own souls. As we seek justice, we ourselves must avoid hurting the innocent and slandering the investigator. We do not have to become terrorists to overcome terrorism. We must however act, not cower, as we go forward. Comfort the suffering. Honor the dead. Live with courage and integrity. Be agents of good in a context clouded by evil.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Several years ago, one of my children had surgery. I spent two weeks sleeping at night in a chair beside his bed. He didn't want to be alone at night. However, he let me leave each day for a couple of hours to go to the McDonald House next to the hospital, where I would take a nap, shower, and eat delicious food that volunteers had brought to the house. These and other resources at the McDonald's house eased the stress for me. During my time in military service, I became aware of a similar facility near large military installations: Fisher House. Though I never had to use them, I met families who benefited greatly from the houses' availability during a difficult time in their lives. I thought about the Fisher Houses today when I read an article about the U.S. president's tax return. The Obamas had donated more than one hundred thousand dollars to the Fischer House Foundation last year. My reaction: "Thank you, Mr. President." No political statement here, just gratitude from a parent who was blessed by a similar facility once. McDonald House and Fisher House comfort many, many families. If you're looking for an opportunity to help in a great way and live near one, donate your time if you can't afford to donate money. If you do, know now that I also thank you.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
A book entitled Praying for Strangers recently caught my eye. Its author, River Jordan, discovered that when she prayed more for others, even strangers, than for herself, she felt much happier. Now she searches for people for whom she may pray. Her discovery comforted her. It also made her a blessing to others. Most people experience a small burst of joy when told someone is praying that something good will happen to them. To be sure, some might regard it as spiritual intrusion. Pray for them anyway. Praying for others elevates our prayers beyond focus on ourselves. The world around us gains clarity as we discover more people for whom to pray. Prayer for strangers reminds that we do not live alone; we truly are God's ambassadors when we pray for those who believe that no one cares.
Saturday, April 06, 2013
Few things compare with the joy of seeing a family member excel. I've cheered on brothers and sons at athletic events and thrilled when they hit a game-winning basket, broke loose for a long touchdown run, scored a soccer goal, or made a score-saving tackle. So tonight when B.J. Upton tied the game for the Atlanta Braves baseball game with a long home run, then pumped his fist in joy when his brother Jason, also a Braves player, hit a game winning home run two batters later, I understood the joy and love they demonstrated towards each other. Families have enormous potential for encouraging their members. Not all families function well in this regard. However, enough families do that we understand why the church is called the family (or household) of God and why New Testament disciples of Jesus call one another "brother." Family member know too well their relatives' faults, yet find a way to love and encourage. Sometimes love is acted out through discipline, which though painful, produces personal growth and stronger relationships. Your family (physical or spiritual) may not perform in the public arena like the Upton brothers, but your encouragement will create similar success in your own family.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Much has happened since my last post - several months in a combat zone, the death of an expected grandchild, the beginnings of a new ministry opportunity, a move to a different part of the country. Some things have not changed - I still run and actually run farther, I still worship with other Christians regularly, I still read voraciously, and I still love my family. I learned to pray more often last year. I've always listened to God regularly, but I realize now that it is important to talk to him if I am to have the healthiest relationship with my Creator. I realize my own mortality more. Part of that comes from seeing others' lives end prematurely, and part from some experiences that could have caused mine to end. So, as I re-enter this blog, I ask you to join me in deciding to pray more, to worship with others regularly, and to study the Bible daily. And if you are estranged, reconnect with your family if it is safe to do so. Realize the comfort that comes from loving God and loving the people He has put in our lives.