Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

Do you wish you could have a “do-over,” or what golfers call a “mulligan”? Often I hear people say, “If I could do things over, I would….” I’ve thought the same thing myself from time to time. But the harsh reality is what’s done is done – and can’t be undone.

That does not resign us to hopelessness, however. Recently one of my daughters sent me the following thought:

“Nobody can start a new beginning, but you can start today and make a new ending.”

That says although we don’t get a “do-over,” we can have a “do better” or “do differently” in the future. Approaching the start of a new year, that’s sound advice.

Annually I review the year just past as well as write goals for the new year in several areas, including work, family, mental and physical fitness, finances, hobbies, and spiritual growth. They are goals – something to strive for over the course of the year – rather than resolutions that might amount to nothing more than promises to myself that I cannot or choose not to keep.

In some respects, Jan. 1 is not much different from Dec. 31, except the numerical designation for the year changes. But it does serve as a convenient time to reassess where you’ve been, reevaluate where you want to go, and determine how best to get there.

The apostle Paul knew about starting today to make a new ending. In Philippians 3:13 he declared, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize….”

In other letters he acknowledged errors in his past, but refused to dwell on them. He could not undo what had been done, but he could determine to make better decisions in the future. And so should we.

Monday, December 21, 2009


What does the heading above say? Nonbelievers and skeptics might see, GOD IS NOWHERE. But those who believe in God, especially followers of Jesus Christ, will probably find, GOD IS NOW HERE.

God is there if you look for Him. Many claiming they can’t find God really aren’t looking for Him – we usually can’t locate what we’re not actively seeking. As Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…he who seeks finds…” (Luke 11:9-10).

This week we affirm anew, God is now here. Amid the cacophony of carols, shopping mall madness, and politically correct “happy holidays,” the timeless truth remains: “‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us’” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

One of the Christmas verities is that God is neither distant nor inscrutable nor unknowable, as some religions assert. He deigned to live among His creation, becoming one of us for a time. As John 1:14 declares, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

But the Christmas story does not stop at a tiny stable in an obscure village called Bethlehem. It continues to the very crossroads of salvation. Philippians 2:6-8 describes Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and become obedient to death – even death on a cross.”

And because of that cross, many centuries later we look back with joy and wonder at the unique family: A virgin mother, Mary; her husband Joseph, and a baby named Jesus – in Hebrew, “Y’shua,” – Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heart of the Matter

Sunday will be a momentous anniversary for me, marking three years since undergoing open heart surgery. It’s both humbling and sobering to have your chest splayed open to repair arterial blockages and, in my case, replace an enlarged ascending aorta.

I was blessed to have a foremost cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Morrison, assisted by a top-notch surgical team. But for about 30 minutes during my six-hour surgery, my heart was literally stopped and my body cooled to about 82 degrees while a heart-lung machine kept blood coursing to my brain. I virtually stood at death’s door, but thankfully did not remain there. Each new day represents a gift from God. (My heart pillow, shown at right, which aided my recovery, serves as a reminder.)

There’s a curious thing about the heart: Scientists and physicians typically regard it solely as an organ pumping blood throughout the body. However, even an intellect like Albert Einstein recognized more than physiological value in the heart. He observed, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

Philosophers, poets and spiritually minded people have long considered the heart as the seat of emotions, even the source of love. For instance, Mark Twain said, “One learns people through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect.” And Charles Dickens wrote, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

The Bible advises, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Elsewhere in the book God exhorts His followers, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you…write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3), and “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2), affirming that faith requires more than cerebral pursuit.

How the heart performs its physical, emotional – and spiritual – functions in tandem exceeds my understanding. But approaching this huge milestone in my life probably stronger and healthier than I’ve been in decades, to those who cared for me, as well as all who prayed and offered encouragement, I simply say:
Thank you, with all my heart!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Buying Happiness

Whoever first said, “Money can’t buy happiness,” probably didn’t have any. Sounds like sour grapes.

Today millions of people are devoting much time and energy “buying happiness.” And they’ll succeed. Christmas morning will elicit squeals of delight at the sight of shiny new bicycles, happy hoots when the latest electronic gizmos are unwrapped, and bright smiles when coveted sweaters, jewelry and other treasures emerge from gaily colored boxes.

The only problem? The happiness money buys won’t last. Novelty fades and fascination gives way to familiarity. Today’s technological wonder becomes tomorrow’s ho-hum as something faster and flashier succeeds it. Even new cars get dirty and dented. Wreck your sedan – where’s “happiness” then?

Years ago I heard a radio speaker put it into perspective: Happiness is not to be confused with joy. Happiness is dependent on happenings – externals – while joy comes from within and can remain untarnished by things that occur outside our control.

For instance, a new picture may make me happy, but if I pound my thumb with a hammer while preparing a place to hang it, I’m no longer happy. However, if that picture contains images of people I love, my joy in beholding it remains even while my thumb throbs.

Joy transcends isolated events. It involves contentment, fulfillment, meaning, even a sense of belonging. This is why James 1:2 can tell us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” We may not be happy about losing a job, not being able to buy things we want, or having to deal with some dreaded disease, but we can still retain joy in knowing God loves us, has our best interests at heart, and is not surprised by any adversities we may encounter.

Money can buy fleeting happiness, but it can’t buy joy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cautionary Tale of Tiger

Eldrick “Tiger” Woods might well have crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a dam, given the deluge of reports and rumors flooding the electronic, broadcast and print media since his Nov. 27 accident. We’ll be hearing much more about his alleged extramarital trysts, which he terms “transgressions” and “personal sins,” in the coming days. But most interesting is the frenzy this has generated.

Maybe it’s human nature to take perverse delight in the failings of those seemingly living idyllic, utopian lifestyles. Woods has had that: Looks, intelligence, athleticism, homage as one of history’s greatest golfers (perhaps the greatest), fame, fortune, a lovely trophy wife, picture-perfect kids. And yet, if allegations are true, those apparently were not enough. His wife might be Swedish, but something was rotten in Denmark.

Experts may attempt to explain the motivations of high-profile philanders, but only the Woods family truly knows what has gone on behind their closed doors. The golfer par excellence now has consequences to face. As my mother often repeated during my adolescence – to my annoyance – “You make your bed, you sleep in it.”

But situations like this are far from new. Thousands of years ago, Israel’s King David had power, vast wealth, multiple wives (permissible in that culture) and many children, yet when he spotted Bathsheba on a rooftop, he determined to have her (2 Samuel 11). Years later their son, Solomon, who succeeded David as king and gained repute as being wiser than any of his contemporaries, stated, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

After a long lifetime of searching, Solomon concluded: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Tiger would be wise to heed that lesson.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About the Tooth . . . and the Truth

My granddaughter Avery recently lost a front tooth. What great timing! She might have problems saying, “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle,” but during this holiday season she can now legitimately sing, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”

Having grandkids, I have learned, helps to remind us of things we thought we had forgotten – such as the wonder of discovery, the thrill of trying new things, the joy of having “Aha!” experiences every day. Like the familiar Christmas ornaments we pull out every year – they’re old hat to us, but fascinating to our 2 1/2-year old grandson. And the carols we have heard year after year? They’re new stuff to the little ones, and they never tire of singing them.

Then there’s the matter of baby teeth. Isn’t it amazing that losing a tooth is actually a sign of growing, of moving forward in life?

That’s true for all aspects of living, not just for childhood. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). As we journey through life, change is unavoidable – we lose teeth, grow bigger, and adjust our behavior.

For the follower of Christ, growth also involves loss – giving up cherished things to gain things that are even more important. After his encounter with Jesus, John the Baptist said, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). In a similar way, to experience life with Jesus to the fullest, we – our fleshly, self-centered desires and goals – must become less while His power and influence become greater in our lives.

Sounds difficult, but it can be as easy as losing a front tooth.