Category Archives: Reflections

God’s Grace Is Sufficient

Life does not always give us the chance to learn “the rest of the story.” People come and go through our daily encounters, friendships fade, people move on, we move on. Sometimes I catch myself wondering, whatever happened to some of them. Right now I am reflecting on a life that briefly intersected with mine. I learned this weekend of the passing of one of my family’s pastors at age 97. He was by all measures, a man of grace. He was the minister of the Philadelphia Baptist Church while I was in college in Birmingham, Alabama. He is most famously remembered because of his name, Charles Merry Christmas, Sr. His kind ways encouraged me as a young minister while in college. I attended as often as I could. I preached once as part of a Youth Sunday service. While my parents and sisters attended regularly, across my college years I served on the staff of two churches, supply preached in rural churches, and frequently traveled with a full-time evangelist leading the music in revivals. One of my last occasions at the Philadelphia Baptist Church was the honor of officiating at my sister Denise’s wedding. 

When we first met the Christmas family, their daughter, Joy Carol Christmas, and son, Charles Merry Christmas, Jr., were in high school.  Charles Christmas, Sr. and his wife Louise were married 65 years when she passed away. 

Dr. Christmas was called to preach during World War II at age 18. He graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) and earned his doctorate at New Orleans Theological Seminary. He was widely respected as a Bible teacher who practiced what he preached.  I learned that he pastored several churches through the years and “retired” in 1997 after seven years as a Baptist Associational Director. He served as an interim pastor and guest preacher through his mid-nineties. He wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper called Simple Truth.  Always eager to share a good word with others, he had the idea of giving away baseball caps as a witness. He had caps printed with sayings such as Jesus Christ is Lord, and my favorite, God’s Grace is Sufficient. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Live gracefully. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Wonder of It All

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,

The wonder of sunrise I see;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is the wonder that God loves me.

The words from George Beverly Shea’s song came to mind as I gazed at the solar eclipse yesterday. Those of us very near the full path saw, once again, the awe-inspiring handiwork of creation. The precision of the heavenly bodies that surround us. The incredible power of sunlight to warm us, burn us, or permanently scar our vision, blocked by the darkness of the whole moon because the moon is not a source of light on its own. All of us were wearing or sharing the funny little paper and foil glasses that were invented to save the eyes of millions of people looking toward the sun in the middle of the day. O the wonder of it all!

Just as the eclipse was beginning, I stopped in a fast-food place near the church to pick up my to-go lunch and headed to the church. It was time for a picnic. I collected a folding chair, put my lunch on a cart and rolled it out to our new pavilion. I sat in the shade, moving into the light to see the first “bite” of the moon. For the thirty minutes around the peak of the eclipse, I sat facing the sun and meditating on the majesty of God. (Psalm 8 and Hebrews 1-2.) Apparently having a “solar eclipse tan” today earned bragging rights for some. My face just burned lightly. I heard the noisy birds go quiet and noticed the odd coloring of the buildings and trees around me. As the sun grew bright again, I slowly gathered my things and went back inside. What a beautiful day to know that millions of others were sharing this glorious moment together.

There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest,

The sky, the stars, the sun;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul

Is a wonder that’s only begun.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Keep looking up. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Pokèmon Go

There is an endless, unseen battle taking place in our church parking lot. I see the evidence of it at random times during the week. Cars quietly make their way over to our air-conditioning cooling tower, park for a little while, then drive away. An unseen artificial intelligence program has designed that area as a Pokèmon Go Gym. Pokèmon Go is a worldwide game played on hand-held devices such as phones and computer tablets. With your device in the right spot a player can see the other pokèmons—picture a cartooned short-eared rabbit crossed with say a cat, horse or dragon. At a gym, players can battle for control over other pokèmon players, winning power enhancements and points. The longer the winning pokèmon can stay in the gym before being defeated by someone else, the more points and rewards can be achieved. This is not just a children’s game. Adults are driving all over town to win more battles over opposing forces. Pokèmon Go takes a great deal of time and energy. 

When I asked our resident family experts to explain Pokèmon Go to me, they suggested this might not be a very interesting topic for everyone. However, I was also thinking about other unseen forces battling it out in the church parking lot, in neighborhoods and in homes across the land. Forces that cannot be seen with hand-held devices, but only with eyes of discernment and hearts of compassion. Evidence of evil activity is relatively easy to discover. Spiritual battles with victories won may be harder to see. One day an angry king’s army surrounded a town by night, intent on killing the Lord’s prophet. Rising early, a servant saw the strong army preparing for the attack. After praying for God to open his eyes, the prophet told his servant to look again, this time the man could see the angelic army, equipped and ready for action against the foes. (2 Kings 6:8-23)

Pokèmon Go is a fun game with an endless array of characters and teams. It challenges people to enter the quest and win personal rewards. The game stimulates our need to see and feel everyday victories over the forces lined up against us. For more details on Pokèmon Go, feel free to consult with the gaming experts you may know. For spiritual victories, look again through the lens of God’s Word into the world around you.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today, with open eyes. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Easter Walk

After all the excitement of the early morning, apparently Jesus went for a walk. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary began to hurry from the Garden Tomb to tell the disciples they had seen an angel, they ran into Jesus and He said, “Hello.” According to one account they fell to the ground, grabbed His ankles and worshipped Him. He told them not to be afraid, and sent them on to the disciples with the same message as the angel—“Go to Galilee and meet Him there.” The disciples did not believe this story. Peter and John ran and found the tomb empty; still, they did not pack their things and head for Galilee. They were processing the events and were somewhat afraid to venture too far from the security of the upper room. 

In the Gospel descriptions, all slightly different because these are eye-witness accounts, Jesus was known for His early morning and late evening walks. It was His quiet time for prayer and reflection, away from the demands of the crowds, and the mentoring of the disciples. 

Two previously unnamed followers of Jesus were present that amazing morning when the women told of seeing angels and meeting Jesus on the path. One of the followers was named Cleopas. His mother, maybe the other Mary, had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus died. In his own grief and discouragement, Cleopas and his friend headed home to Emmaus. At some point on their slow journey that first Easter afternoon, Jesus walked with them. “What are you talking about?” “Have you not heard,” they said with eyes fogged by tears, “about Jesus of Nazareth? He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed. We had so hoped he was the One.” Thus the conversation began. Walking and talking about expectations, disappointments, and God’s word. Then there was the whole matter of Peter and John reporting that the tomb was empty, but they did not see Jesus. It was getting dark and they were now in the village. “Would you join us for supper?”  At the table Jesus assumed the role of the host, took the bread, broke it and gave thanks. Then they knew Jesus was truly alive. They did not wait for another minute to tell the others the good news. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Take an Easter walk with Jesus. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Polio Paul

Paul Alexander was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with polio. That was in 1952, in the old Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. I remember when one of our elementary school class projects was to see how many little cardboard folders we could fill with the dimes we put in the round cut-out slots for other children like Paul, who had to live in an iron lung. We learned about the polio epidemic in America, the March of Dimes, and the story of President Franklin Roosevelt who had gotten polio because he went swimming one day in his vacation home pond when he was 39 years old.  We lined up at school for our polio shots, and we were all so very thankful for an oral vaccine that prevented us from having more shots, as well as ever getting polio. One of my teachers in junior high told how he got polio wading in the run-off water by the railroad tracks. Polio caused him to walk with a limp. Paul Alexander lost the ability to breathe automatically. He was known as “Polio Paul” for his remarkable life and the 73 years he spent depending on that iron lung machine. Paul Alexander died Sunday, March 15, at 78, of a recent bout of Covid-19 and other factors. Incidentally, March 15 was the 4th anniversary of when everything closed because of  Covid.

According to CNN:  “Paul’s ambitions were not limited by his condition. He learned breathing techniques that allowed him to leave the iron lung for a few hours at a time. He graduated college, earned a law degree, and went on to practice as a courtroom attorney for 30 years. He also self-published his autobiography, Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung, titled after the accomplishment of learning how to breathe independently for at least three minutes – a feat that took him a year to master and was rewarded with a dog, according to the book.”  According to his brother Phillip, Paul’s last words were, “We are perfect.”

What an inspiring story of courage, perseverance, and a life well-lived. I think I complain about my aches and pains too much. Life is already hard. Adversity, pain, and sickness make it more difficult. Adding our own selfishness and sinfulness to the day compounds our troubles. There is a Savior who promises to be there with us through each day and provides the strength to overcome. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be an overcomer. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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The Trap of Revenge

In the late 1950’s the price of a gallon of gasoline jumped from about 19 to 26 cents. That was a big increase—about 37%. There was a crisis in the Middle East. Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal; the safe shipment of oil was threatened and then Israel and Egypt went to war. The U.S. and some of our European allies got involved. Eventually that Mid-east Crisis was resolved, but the price of gas never went back to 19 cents. Nearly every time there is a crisis in the world, the price of gas goes up. Sometimes it makes us more cautious about how much we drive. Sometimes we just get angry. 

Around 1959 a man in our Florida church discovered someone was stealing gas from his car. His indignation, his pride and his anger led him astray. Ordinarily he was like a next-door buddy in my parents’ Sunday School class. He and his wife loved to host backyard cookouts and were the first to arrive with food when the need arose. They had two or three children a little younger than we were. He was the joke-teller and the life of every party. Then someone started siphoning gas from his car late at night. His house had an open carport so he could not put his car in the garage. He finally settled on a way to deter his robber. This was revenge.

One evening after dinner he set his trap. He stripped apart the end of a long extension cord and attached the bare wires to the bumper of his car. (In those days cars were made of metal.) He was going to teach that thief a shocking lesson. He thought of one more touch—water. He brought out the garden hose and wet down the car and driveway. He plugged in the extension cord and walked around the car to survey his work. As he neared the front of the car he slipped or tripped, falling with both hands on the hood. His wife ran to unplug the cord, but it was too late. A family lost a husband and father. My parents lost a good friend. I learned a tragic lesson about anger and the high price of revenge. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.  Vengeance is a trap you set for yourself. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Vengeance belongs to God. So let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Solving Mysteries

In 2015 Eva Jensen discovered a mystery deep in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada. She is an archeologist for the park who was surveying a section of the mountain wilderness looking for Native American artifacts when she saw a very rusted old rifle leaning against a juniper tree. The 1873 model Winchester rifle, according to the still visible serial number, was manufactured in 1882. What happened to the owner of this gun? “One thing we all assumed was that someone had a very bad day,” said Jensen. Archeologists are detectives. Conservationists discovered the rifle had been repaired a few times. Hidden in its stock was a .44 caliber cartridge made between 1887-1911. Findings indicated that the rifle was not loaded. Had the owner gone after something he had shot, then forgot where he left his gun? Was he camped there and attacked by a wild animal? A good detective story may one day come from this.

I love a good mystery. I enjoy the challenge of finding the threads and pieces, trying to discover the patterns, and finally solving the puzzle of the mystery. There is a sense of satisfaction when the mystery is resolved. In a book or TV show it helps to have realistic and somewhat likable characters playing detective. In everyday life our mysteries are not always solved in an hour or to our satisfaction. I once misplaced a set of car keys while on a fishing trip by myself at the lake. I had to call Dorothy to come rescue me with another set of keys. We will not go into that conversation. Years later, when preparing to sell the car, I found those keys wedged under a corner of the trunk. Mystery solved and still feeling foolish.  

The mystery of God and His ways has been sought after since the days of Genesis. It is the greatest story ever told and it is all revealed in Scripture. The apostle Paul often speaks of the revealed “mystery of God” when seeking to encourage believers. The mystery of the gospel is revealed in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. Read Paul’s benediction of his letter to the church at Rome for a glorious word for today. (Romans 16:25-26)

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Help someone solve the mystery.  And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Repair and Renew

It was the day before Christmas Eve and all through the church the pastor and the organist were printing bulletins and practicing the music for the two services the next day. At some point during the preparations we realized it might be handy to dust off the organ light for the candlelight service. No problem, it was where we remembered storing it. The problem was, it would not work. This light clips on to the music stand and shines three LED lights on the music. Solution, change the AAA batteries. We had some in the office. Still, it did not work and would not even flicker. We tried other solutions involving other lights, but they were too big or too bright, and cast shadows on the music. It was too late to buy a new one, so we pressed on, and the evening service was beautiful.

What do you do with an electronic gadget that does not work anymore? It’s too nice to throw away and no one wants a broken one. So after the holidays and the snow days, I consulted our family fixer-of-things, Deacon Enos, to see if he could discover the problem. He is a tinkerer and problem solver. I told him it would be okay if he broke it beyond repair because it was easily replaceable. Deacon built his own computer from scratch when he was 13.  Now almost 17, he is on an academic path in high school and at Tulsa Tech to earn an engineering degree one day. The next Sunday morning he brought the now-working organ light to us, smiling all the way. He said he found one of the battery holders had a loose wire, which wasn’t connecting properly. He fixed it like new. 

We are in this disposable culture where it is easier to buy a new one, than to fix it. If we are not careful, we can end up treating people as disposable also. I read about a church that started a Repair and Renew Ministry for their neighborhood. They call it The Repair Café because it has coffee and goodies to share. People bring their broken appliances, electronics, and furniture to the church basement where volunteers help them figure out what is wrong. If something needs a new part, the owner purchases the part and brings it back another time. While working on these projects, friendships are forged, and spiritual conversations are initiated. It seems everyone is a little broken somewhere and could use some renewal from time to time. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Repair and renew.  And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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I received an unanticipated letter from the Social Security Administration enclosing my new Medicare Card and not really providing an explanation. I  was not expecting a new card, but I do know why I was issued a new one. Last fall I called to report suspected Medicare fraud. Monthly medical supplies that no one had ordered appeared on one of my “This Is Not a Bill” summary statements. I called the Fraud Hotline and was told they would investigate it. I was not the only one noticing these false billings to Medicare and insurance companies. The fraudsters count on people of a certain age to have multiple health issues so they can slip in an extra item or two. They also count on thousands of people not looking at their medical statements at all. I heard on the news that a possible two-billion-dollar billing fraud had been uncovered involving seven high-volume suppliers of medical catheters. These catheter billings targeted 450,000 people in 2023, up a bit from the 50,000 in 2022. Becoming the victim of any crime is never a good experience. Look at those statements.

Over the weekend we received a letter from our former mortgage holder confessing that we may have been the victims of a scam in their company where false accident and disability insurance was bought in our name and paid for by us through hidden fees. Not nice at all. We checked, and sure enough, we were defrauded $45.60 in 2010! Does not sound like much, but when multiplied by thousands of customers, someone made off with a sizable sum. Greed in all its forms is roundly condemned throughout the Scriptures. Fraud is lying, dishonesty, bearing false witness, thievery, covetousness, and worship of the false god mammon. Fraud deprives the widow of her dignity, the orphan of his future, and the neighbor of their livelihood. Corporate greed increases the cost of everything we use and need. Political greed costs self-respect, decency, and the courage of true convictions. Religious greed is another way of taking God’s name in vain. It manipulates people’s good hearts for personal gain by misusing the sacred and the holy. The threat of artificial intelligence (AI) is in its potential use for fraud and deceit, times a million.

What can we do about fraud? I suggest three on-going steps everyone should be taking:

Stay vigilant in the small and the large matters. Call out and expose fraud. Live in honesty through the power of Christ each day. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be honest. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Real Success

Decades ago, we had a leader in our church who would on occasion recite from memory a poem from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) called Success:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people, and affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;

To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

This is a beautiful understanding of a satisfying life.How do you measure success? Emerson began his public life as a Harvard-taught minister two hundred years ago. Then his young wife died of tuberculosis. A crisis of faith naturally followed. He questioned his place in the great scheme of life. He struggled with issues of faith and science, eventually settling on what I characterize as “the transcendence of creation” as the touchstone of his life. Sadly, he had abandoned the Christ of Christianity. His writings became foundations for what was called “Transcendentalism,” which still has great appeal today.

The Bible speaks very little about success as we define it today. My understanding of Biblical success is not found in popularity, prestige, possessions, or power. Biblical success does not equal great leadership or numbers of followers or ministries or even mission endeavors. To me the Biblical definition of success is faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus. When things come down to the very end, the question from on High will not be if you were successful, but rather, “Were you faithful?” Were you faithful to God’s word, faithful in your relationships, faithful in your daily actions? Faith is fully trusting God. Faithfulness is living in gratitude for God’s great love and salvation.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Succeed through faithfulness. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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