Monthly Archives: September 2015


 I recognized the look on my wife’s face.

That reluctant, “I’d rather not have to say this” look.

My sister-in-law had called. Allen’s breathing was starting to become more labored.

The end was near.

I remembered the day last March when I got a call from my younger brother. In a routine exam to check the possible cause of a persistent cough, the doctor discovered a mass the size of a golf ball between Allen’s esophagus and his stomach. It had been there ‘’for months”.

I was stunned, told him I wish I could take his place and prayed with him. I didn’t make it to the Amen.

“I’ll fight this,” Allen told me.

The CAT-scan later confirmed it: stage-four esophageal cancer. It had spread to Allen’s liver.

When Beth and I visited him at his home in Ohio the first time after his diagnosis, he seemed brave and determined. I hadn’t seen Allen in quite a while. Whenever we were together we were like alter egos – understanding and loving each other in a way that only we knew.

We went fishing on Silver Lake in Allen’s small aluminum boat. It was a beautiful spring day. We spent several hours in the warm sunshine remembering colorful folks from our childhood – family friends and relatives. We took turns imitating them, including visiting preachers and evangelists from our youth.

Some we had nearly forgotten – but they came back with self-knowing laughs.

Mimicking speakers was an entertainment we had long enjoyed.

We swapped stories. We talked life.

We caught two bass and threw them back. This wasn’t about the catch.

Watching Allen launch and take in the boat on the trailer of his pickup reminded me of our dad. The same motions, the same routine.

Allen cooked several great meals during our stay – along with hunting and fishing it was one of his passions. When his wife Marianne’s large family gathered that evening, he regaled us with one of his many Maine stories set to poetry. Then Allen and I sang an old Burl Ives tune, Kentucky Turkey Buzzard. We had learned it as kids from the old family stereo.

The day we flew back to Dallas was Allen’s second round of radiation. Chemo would follow. I hugged him hard and told him I loved him.

I returned to celebrate Allen’s 59th birthday in June.

I gave him a blue-ray collector’s edition of Ken Burn’s Baseball. He loved it. But what Allen really liked was something else I gave him. Beth had found four photos of Allen and me. One was taken at my wedding. Allen was my best man. Another was of Allen and me standing in front of my red ‘65 Sport Fury just before heading for a church youth event. I was 21, Allen was 18. There was a more recent shot of Allen and me sharing a hearty laugh at our parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.

The fourth picture was of two little boys, 7 and 4, side by side, drooping pajamas, dressed as cowboys, complete with hats and holsters, aiming their 45s at the camera.

Beth had placed all four pictures in a black wooden frame. In the center I would put a quote about brothers. I couldn’t find one I liked, so I wrote my own:

“A brother is that one guy you can go back in time with – and together be young again.”

 Allen studied the framed collection. Then in typical decisive fashion he took it into the kitchen and nailed it to the wall.

The first round of chemo landed Allen in the hospital for a month. Marianne asked me to fly back to encourage him to eat. When she picked me up at the airport, we went to the hospital to get Allen.

“So he’s better?”

“No, he just wants to go home. He’s done with chemo. He wants hospice care.”

I wept. So did Marianne.

Allen got his wish.

Ten days ago, he sounded weak on the phone. Allen told me he was “about the same”, which I knew was a lie. We chatted for a few minutes and then Allen told me he had been a Christian since he was a child. “Jack, I wish I had lived my faith better than I have. I just feel that God might not accept me now – that he’ll say I’m just doing it because I’m near the end.”

There was a pause.

“I’m looking for reassurance.”

I didn’t try and persuade Allen of his eternal security. Instead, I offered to pray the Sinner’s Prayer with him. As I prayed, Allen whispered, “Yes, Lord, I believe that, I know that, I accept you as my Savior. Thank you.”

He was comforted and reassured. Allen was prepared to meet his Lord.

He thanked me.

That was our last visit. I tried calling later but there was no answer.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NIV). It was the desperate plea of a man at the end of his life.

Jesus didn’t equivocate or pontificate or denigrate.

He promised.

“Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (vs. 43, NIV).

I’m glad Allen and I had that last talk. I’m glad we had that last prayer.

I’ll love him and miss him always. But I know that today he’s walking in Paradise.

May God bless you and your family.

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The Little Atheist

Tommy’s a cute kid.

He didn’t seem threatening.

But today you just can’t be too cautious.

True defenders of the faith can brook no quarter to disbelief.  After all, who knows what evil lurks there?

So when little Tommy, a second-grader at an Indiana elementary school, told his classmates that he didn’t believe in God, his teacher ordered him to sit alone during lunch – for three days.  He was further instructed not to speak to any other students.

This imposed isolation was because, the teacher insisted, Tommy’s views on religion “offended them.”

Tommy’s parents filed a lawsuit.

One wonders what seven-year-old Tommy may have thought of all this. Before he was banished to solitary as an infidel by his Christian school teacher, she interrogated him on his views, his parents’ beliefs and why he didn’t go to church.

Tommy asked what he had done wrong. When he got home he cried.

When he’s a 25-year-old atheist and is asked why, Tommy will tell this story about his first impression of practical Christianity.  He’ll remember the hurt, his “offended” classmates and a cruel teacher who thought she was doing Jesus a favor.

Sadly ironic but often true, Christians help to explain a lot of atheism. We defend ourselves with the excuse that we’re “only human”. This is an unpersuasive way of saying that our faith has no real impact on how we live or treat others. We hold forth on theology, prophecy and politics but struggle with the simple Golden Rule. We practice a selective ethic that invites hypocrisy. We prioritize sin in others, ignore it in ourselves and thank God we’re not like other losers and miscreants.

Not all Christians are like this of course. Hopefully, you’re not. But I am sometimes.

Like Paul the apostle I make it my chief ambition to know Christ and realize to my shame how little I do. And like the man once named Saul, I too struggle, doing things I wish I hadn’t and failing to do those things I know I should.

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18, NLT). With him, I cry in frustration, “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24, KJV).

“…from this life that is dominated by sin … “(NLT).

God’s grace has saved us all. In his infinite mercy he puts up with even the best of us. Our finest moments, if and when they come, are all because of him – and nothing in ourselves. We’ve no cause to glory in the filthy rags of our self-righteousness but only in the unfathomable riches of the abounding grace that chose us when we were lost; helpless and hopeless.

We were wretched, undesirable and unworthy sinners.

You and I haven’t gotten what we deserved. We’ve received what we couldn’t earn, had no right to expect and didn’t deserve.

If we would only remember that more than we do, it would make a difference in how we see ourselves and how we look at others, especially those who are not like us.  It seems that if we would correct our theology we’d improve our attitude.

What an opportunity to show the love of Christ that teacher missed. What a lesson could have been taught to the other students. What an impact could have been made on the life of a confused and uncertain child.

Children are impressionable and sometimes those impressions – for good or for bad – are written with indelible ink. They remain in the heart and mind and on the soul. Teachers, of all people, leave lasting impressions. I still remember those who showed kindness and patience to me when I was Tommy’s age.

Don’t you?

Kindness is so powerful. One cannot read the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians or his listing of the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians without noticing the pulsating theme of kindness. Those qualities of character that Paul says define us as Christians are all variants of human kindness.  They find their root and their blossom in this simple but too often elusive virtue.

You’ll search in vain for a self-assertive trait.

Only a kind person can know love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and faithfulness. Only someone who is genuinely kind will also be gentle and self-controlled.

It is kindness that conquerors more often than courage and conviction. Paul says you and I may exhibit all manner of heroic deeds; we may sacrifice everything and know everything but without love we are nothing.

The hymn writer and clergyman Frederick William Faber was right when he observed that “kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning.”

How many have found the door of faith bolted by cruelty but opened wide by charity?

Kindness can make all the difference in the world.

Especially, perhaps, in the heart of a little atheist.

May God bless you and your family.

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Conflict and Conscience

She took her stand. She paid a price.

To many she’s both hero and symbol.

To others she’s a bigot and law-breaker.

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused, “under God’s authority”, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, remained quietly defiant in the face of judicial threats. When she didn’t back down, a judge had her remanded to jail indefinitely. Though she could have posted it, bail was denied.

Davis, a Christian who said she could not in good conscience violate her faith and God’s law by signing the marriage licenses, sat in jail for nearly a week. It could have been longer, but the judge relented and released her. He warned her not to interfere with the issuing of marriage licenses to homosexuals.

Kim Davis is an elected official. She serves the public and is employed by the government. In the absence of federal statute and much of anything else except growing public support, the U.S. Supreme Court in June decided that gay marriage was a sacred constitutional right. After that, Davis’ job description changed. She must now put her official imprimatur on an intimate – and suddenly legal – union she considers a sin.

Although signing marriage licenses is only a small fraction of her duties as a county clerk, to her this was a matter of conscience.  It was also still part of her job as a government employee.

It was a conflict not easy to avoid or resolve.

For Kim Davis however, it wasn’t so hard.

She refused to bow to the latest golden image of government-sanctioned political correctness and expanded perceived “rights”.  She wasn’t thrown into a fiery furnace or a lion’s den, just jail. But, like those ancient Hebrews, she stood her ground as an act of faithful obedience to God.

Not alone certainly, but still in a clear minority today.

Kenneth Upton, senior legal counsel to the gay lobby, was concerned that Kim would become a martyr to the cause of bigotry. Pointing to a photo of Davis in handcuffs, Upton said, “This is what the other side wants. This is a biblical story, to go to jail for your faith. We don’t want to make her a martyr to the people who are like her [intolerant bigots?], who want to paint themselves as victims.”

Kim Davis is an unlikely hero – or victim. She’s a Democrat who has been married four times. When opponents railed at her hypocrisy, her answer was simply to say she’s been changed by the power of God’s grace. Not so hard for a Christian to grasp.

Ever since Peter and the apostles declared to an enraged authority, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, KJV), conscience and civil disobedience have been an important part of the “biblical story” and the history of Christianity. In the Old Testament, the Jews in exile offer an inspiring example of courageous and unswerving allegiance to divine law – and a willingness to pay the price for loyalty to a higher power.

Perhaps Kim Davis should resign as county clerk. Perhaps there can be no accommodation to her religious conscience. After all, she’s a public employee and the law says gays can get married. So if signing their marriage licenses violates her conscience, then resigning is the only right thing to do.

After all, government and the law march inexorably forward. Society calls this progress. And individual conscience must submit to the inevitable. It must submit to power.

That’s a popular point of view.

We get agitated and impatient with conscientious objectors.

The Supreme Court decides what the Constitution means. Of course, the Supreme Court isn’t always right. History reveals its tortuous and contradictory legal path, especially on the matter of slavery.

Who knows what Jefferson and Madison might think of Kim Davis – or homosexual marriage as a constitutional right. It was Jefferson, after all, who suggested to his close friend that he draw up a carefully-worded list of specific rights that would safeguard the individual conscience against the encroaching power of the State. These first ten amendments to the Constitution became our Bill of Rights. Among these unalienable rights was the free exercise of religion.

Natural law, bequeathed by “Nature’s God”, was the foundation of our Constitution. Today, that foundation continues to crumble amidst a mocked obsolescence.

One thing is certain: our founders were wary of the government’s power to deny any person’s beliefs.

“No provision in our Constitution,” wrote Jefferson in 1809, “ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” These “rights of conscience”, Jefferson argued, must never be submitted to civil rulers. “We are answerable for them to God.”

Of individual conscience, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote:

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Kim Davis gave her answer.

Hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees fleeing Syria and other troubled lands for their very lives face that question daily.

And living in a time of escalating conflict between conscience and culture you and I must ask – and answer – that same question.

May God bless you and your family.

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Case Closed

Richard Eggers was a law-abiding man. He always had been.

So one can only imagine his shock.

Mr. Eggers was 68 years old. He had been employed as a customer service representative with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Des Moines, Iowa. He did his job well and everyone liked him.

Then Eggers was summarily fired. His offense?

Back in 1963, when he was nineteen, Eggers inserted a fake dime into laundry machine. The local sheriff, who apparently had witnessed the crime, arrested him and he was charged with “operating a coin-changing machine by false means.” Sentenced to fifteen days in jail, Eggers served two and was released to return to college. He also paid a fifty dollar fine and the case was closed.

Until nearly a half century later.

You see, Richard Eggers wasn’t a law-abiding citizen after all – not technically. When his criminal wrong-doing finally caught up with him, his decades-old teenage prank cost him more than a dime.  It cost him his job.

Wells Fargo, following an understandable outcry that went suddenly viral, stuck to its guns – and the letter of the law:

“We understand the outpouring of concern for Mr. Eggers and we want people to know that we take this matter very seriously,” the company said in a statement.

“Wells Fargo is an insured depository institution, a global bank, bound by U.S. Federal law to protect our customers and their personal financial information from someone who we know has committed an act of dishonesty or breach of trust – regardless of when the incidents occurred. It is uncomfortable, but it is a law that we have to follow. We have the responsibility to avoid hiring or continuing to employ someone who we know has a criminal record.”

This is the law – no exceptions – not even for a man reformed from his youthful “act of dishonesty”.  Richard Eggers’ past may have been distant and his infraction minor but Wells Fargo’s high standards would never be breached by “someone who we know has a criminal record.”

God’s standards exceed even those of Wells Fargo Bank. He cannot tolerate sin; his eyes cannot even look upon it. His righteousness and holiness can brook no transgression – not even a kid stealing ten cents from a laundry mat fifty years ago.

The Bible is explicit: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, KJV).  Paul tells us that we all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s unapproachable glory (Romans 3:23). He also says that God’s law – perfect and uncompromising – serves to place us and our sinful past – no matter what and when it was – under a withering indictment from which there is neither escape nor excuse. “No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (Romans 3:20, NLT).

The scriptures are clear: the law cannot save, it can only condemn.

Yet our past need not come back to haunt us. We’ll never lose heaven because of something God will discover about the record of our lives. There is hope. When we place our faith in his Son Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross and we trust in him to forgive the sins of our past, God does more than forgive – he forgets.

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins … will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12, KJV).

Some people neither forgive nor forget. We can struggle also to forgive ourselves and our memories harass us. Satan is always dredging up our past and whispering condemnation, trying to rob us of peace and joy. He’ll throw up every last fake dime in our face.

In his grace, God does the opposite.

The prophets write of a God who “delights to show mercy” and who “will again have compassion on us” and “tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19, NIV).

Before his throne you are declared innocent.

God will never conduct an excavation or a background check. He knows. He forgives. He forgets. Our records are not just sealed, they’re expunged.

David wrote with confidence out of his own tragic experience with sin when he declared that God’s love is as great as heaven is high and that “as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 11-12, KJV).

Dramatically delivered from his own abundant and blotted past, Paul asks:

“Who dares accuse us who God himself has chosen for his own? No one – for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” (Romans 8:33-34, NLT).

Our Advocate pleads our case.

Nothing – not even a fifty year- old fake dime – can ever condemn us before the presence of a just God who remembers our sins no more.

When we come to him, confess our sin and seek his forgiveness, God clears the record.

Case closed

May God bless you and your family.

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