Monthly Archives: January 2016


Admittedly, it was frustrating.

I almost put them on unaware.

Then I looked more closely and held them under the light. It was pretty hard to tell at first.

Yep. My suspicions were confirmed.

These socks did not match. One was dark blue, the other was black. And, while subtle enough, upon closer inspection I also observed that the patterns were slightly different.

I realized that nobody was likely to notice but I just couldn’t wear them mismatched. They didn’t belong together. They weren’t made to go together. The manufacturer didn’t intend it and I wouldn’t go along with it.

It would be tantamount to sartorial sacrilege.

No one else would know – but I would. If I met a horrible misfortune, the first thing the doctor or the undertaker would notice was my mismatched socks. “What a loser” they’d think.

I proceeded to search for the true partners but alas was unsuccessful. So I grabbed another matching pair. Off to my meeting I went, confident that while I might not slay dragons on this day, deliver the State of the Union address or even raise any money for my ministry, at least my socks would match.

But when it happened again, about two months later, I knew I had to solve this.

I was walking through a clothing store one day and noticed some men’s socks. They sported dazzling colors and bold, distinctive patterns. They were cheerful.

Here was my answer!

Who could ever mismatch these colorful socks? They were named Happy Socks. They looked happy. And since I’ve always loved color, these socks made me happy. So I bought some.

It took a bit of courage but I wore them to church.

“I like your socks” one lady said with a smile. “I noticed them right away”. I gradually got used to wearing these different stockings. Sure they stood out, but what’s wrong with that?

And there have been no mismatched socks since. How could there be?

I’ve added to my collection of these cheerful, colorful socks. I like them because they’re different and because I can easily tell them apart from the others. I know which ones go together immediately. And which ones don’t.

Distinctiveness is like that. It makes a difference because it is different.

Our lives as followers of Jesus Christ should be distinctive. In a gray cold world filled with despair and hopelessness; torn apart by hatred, violence and immorality; pressured by drab conformity and shallow popular opinion, you and I ought to stand out from the crowd.

There’s a positive way to stand out – and a negative way. The Bible mentions both.

Amos the prophet puts it plainly: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3, KJV).

“Don’t team up with up with those who are unbelievers,” Paul tells the Corinthians. “How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?” (II Corinthians 6:14-15, NLT).

Good questions and we know the answer.

The chasm is yawning and getting wider.

In a culture grown increasingly hostile toward Christian values, the believer faces the reality of being hopelessly mismatched with a world that is not our home. Loyalty to Christ means a separation from – and at times a confrontation with – this world and its values.

It means standing out. It means being different.

We cannot love God as we should if we fall in love with the world as it is.

The scriptures also offer a positive alternative to simply condemning the world and retreating from it. Self-righteous withdrawal has never been God’s plan. That wasn’t the prayer of Jesus for his church.

Jesus says we must let the light of our love and faith shine before others in such a way that the watching world will take note of our distinctiveness. And that distinctiveness in the way we live will bring glory to God.

Paul speaks of the personal virtues of Christianity in his letter to the Galatians. He describes these virtues as “the fruits of the spirit”. They bring color and difference to our lives.

They make us stand out in such a winsome and compelling way that we could never be mismatched with the world.

You and I have the exciting opportunity – and Christ-honoring duty – to let God’s Holy Spirit color our lives with the deep reds of love, the bright yellows of joy and the serene blues of peace. We add to this positive pattern the royal purples of goodness and faithfulness, the effervescent greens of patience and kindness and the soft lavenders of gentleness and self-control.

Our lives in Christ are to be distinctive. In this fallen world we can never be perfect but we should always desire to be different and to make a difference. To think and act as the world does is, for the Christian, to be forever mismatched.

By God’s grace working in us, you and I can display the unique colors and patterns that mark us as his, match us with him and help us to stand out from the crowd.

And this, in the end, is what makes us truly happy.

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The Big Picture

Do you see him?

He’s sitting at the table in the corner, hunched over, and writing on a scroll.

He’s a small man with a prominent nose, intense dark eyes and a craggy face furrowed by the deep lines of persecution and hardship he has suffered since he gave his life to Christ.

The room is cold and damp because this is a prison. The man who writes is chained to a Roman guard.

Paul the Apostle is writing a letter to his fellow Christians living in a small Roman colony called Philippi in the province of Macedonia. They have, like him, suffered persecution for their faith in Jesus.

Paul wants to encourage them.

So he writes this letter.

In time Paul’s letter of encouragement to the Philippians would make its way into the New Testament and remain a source of comfort and strength to the Christian Church through the centuries. The great apostle writes about many subjects in this letter, but always from the perspective of joy and gratitude.

Paul writes his warmest encouragement as he sits surrounded by the harshest of conditions.

It’s one of several beautiful ironies we discover in the Bible.

A brilliant and ambitious man is suddenly confronted by the mighty power of Christ while on his way to arrest Christians. That same power transforms Paul’s brilliance into wisdom and his ambition into humility. He is imprisoned for preaching the same faith he once opposed with a fury. Having suffered so much for Jesus Christ and now finding himself chained to a soldier in a cell, Paul bursts forth on the written page with an irrepressible joy.

Most of us wouldn’t have found this an occasion for praise and thanksgiving. Paul did and he explains why.

One of the most moving passages of his letter to these Philippian believers is when he writes about his imprisonment. Paul takes the long view. He has this unusual capacity to take a step back from his immediate situation – no matter how difficult – and see the big picture of God’s providential purpose for his life. Paul knows that the key issue is not what has happened to him. It’s not his imprisonment. It’s not his deprivation or his suffering. It’s the cause of Christ and his gospel that truly matters.

Paul writes:

“I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” [Philippians 1: 12-14, NLT].

Amazing – a prison ministry from the inside out!

“Everything that has happened to me” has happened in order that God may accomplish a much larger, more glorious and more lasting achievement. Paul never forgets this larger context. He never lets this thing be about him. He never permits himself to wallow in despair and self pity. Paul chooses to think and to believe differently about his circumstance.

Paul joyfully embraces another perspective.

Romans know the truth. Christians find their courage. And because of this Paul rejoices – even in prison.

Paul also celebrates despite the fact that some area preachers are insincere, jealous and selfish in their motives for proclaiming the gospel. Imagine ministers being like that!

“But that doesn’t matter,” Paul says. “Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.” [Philippians 1: 18, NLT, emphasis added].

Suppose you and I decided to more fully embrace Paul’s positive perspective – every day, in every situation of our lives?

Suppose we decided to see life from a longer and larger view – God’s view?

What if we took our pride and our hurts, and our easily wounded egos; and we gathered up our self-centered “needs” and our fears and our paranoia – and we surrendered them all to the greater good and glory of Jesus Christ and his kingdom?

Suppose we resolved to do this no matter what happens to us?

God wants to make this sizable difference in our hearts, in our minds – and in our lives.

God doesn’t want to reform our thinking – he wants to radically transform it.

God want us to have a clearer view of ourselves and our place and purpose in this world he made. He wants us to have a better understanding of his grace in our lives. He wants us to see him, high and lifted up, as Isaiah did on that day when he saw the Lord.

And when God makes this change in us, you and I will discover real joy – and in that joy rise above the circumstances of our lives.

Just like Paul, God wants you and me to get the big picture – and to joyfully embrace it.

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If We Can Keep It

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”.

It is the hour of decision. The time for this noble purpose is upon us.

You and I must choose.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The stakes have seldom been higher.

Our families. Our faith. Our freedom. Our future.

Our country and today as never before, yes, the world.

We enter upon our quadrennial season of presidential politics blessed as no people on earth have ever been blessed – with the individual right and collective duty to determine the destiny of our American Republic.

Men gave their lives to defend our freedom of self-determination. They fought and died so you and I could quietly mark a secret ballot and have a voice in deciding who one of the most powerful people on earth will be.

Only three men have occupied the Oval Office for the past quarter century. The American voters have elected each of them twice.

Their longevity in the White House makes this election even more important – perhaps the most significant of our lifetime.

Americans enter this political season angry, fearful, disillusioned and deeply divided.

The Christian voter looks to God, places ultimate trust in Jesus Christ and embraces hope over despair.

How then, shall we vote?

1. We must think for ourselves and never let anyone else take the place of our own judgment, aided by prayer and reliance upon the God of the nations. There are those who would earnestly and with sound conviction seek to influence our vote. Some are less sincere. They seek power and boast of their “numbers”. But while our vote may be informed by others it must never be manipulated or taken for granted.

If you value your citizenship, then pray, read, study and mediate – for yourself. No one should speak for you – not your husband, not your wife and not your minister. Beware of endorsements. God’s not endorsing anyone. It may take more work, but thinking independently is worth it.

If you do that when you buy a car, why not when you vote for the leader of the free world?

2. Where a candidate stands on the issues matters more than where he attends church. A candidate’s religious beliefs, likes yours and mine, is a question best left to himself and God. The founders were wise to prohibit a religious test for public office and even wiser to insert that prohibition in our Constitution. They rightfully feared both prejudice and pandering.

Let faith be weighed among other considerations but never alone. Martin Luther said he’d rather be governed by a competent Hun that an incompetent Christian. Luther was right.

3. On abortion and gay marriage the next president will be able to do little, if anything. While they matter deeply to Christians as issues of biblical morality, these divisive questions must not determine the Christian’s vote at the expense of other public policy concerns.

What a president believes about the definition of marriage won’t matter much if he makes a mistake with North Korea, Iran or Russia.

4. Where a candidate stands on non-economic issues, however, still matters deeply. A president’s views on family, social responsibility, crime, gun control and religious liberty will help to shape the direction of our nation in many ways that transcend mere economics. His or her views on the judiciary, for example, could determine the makeup of the Supreme Court for decades.

5. Nothing matters more than a person’s character. And when that person is the President of the United States, his or her character can be paramount in charting the nation’s course. Our country’s greatest leaders have been men of courage, compassion, vision and integrity. If there is one moral issue that should loom large for the voter of faith, this is it.

The next president will face staggering domestic and foreign policy challenges. Among these are creating opportunities for economic growth, rebuilding a dangerously weakened and obsolete military, forging a just immigration policy, reducing the deficit, restraining an arrogant and bloated federal bureaucracy, reforming entitlement programs, and restoring the trust of America’s allies.

Any two or three of these would test the ability of the most gifted executive.

So our next president would do well to remember the humility of a new leader’s ancient prayer for “an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9, KJV).

Following the vote in Philadelphia approving the new Constitution, an anxious observer standing on the steps of Independence Hall asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of a government had been created, a monarchy or a republic. Dr. Franklin, who had wisely guided his younger colleagues in designing the greatest document of self government in the history of the world, smiled and told the lady, “A republic, if you can keep it”.

If we can keep it.

Preserving our Republic is what this next election is all about.

Nothing less is at stake.

This summons the thoughtful, well-informed, active and sober engagement of every Christian citizen.

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Our Little Fin

Monday evening, December 28, will live in my heart and mind forever.

Finley Cooper Morgan, two years old and the youngest of our daughter Suzanne’s and husband Casey, had been looking a bit pale. He had an ear infection and had recently gotten over a cold.

Kids get colds and ear infections, that’s normal, and Finley’s appetite, I noticed, was in fine shape. But Beth mentioned his lack of color to Suzanne and she decided to have it checked out.

“Probably an iron deficiency or something like that,” they agreed.

Like most grandfathers, this came to me by reports and I didn’t think much of it.

“Yep, probably should have it checked out just to be sure”.

Kids – there’s always something and you’ve got to be diligent.

Suzanne told her mother that the doctor said the initial tests showed a precipitous drop in Finley’s blood count, from 11 to 4 since last year. Better see another doctor. After taking more blood, the second doctor explained that if there is just one number that’s dropped, it could be an iron deficiency or some other issue. If all the numbers came back low, it could be more serious.

But that’s highly unlikely.

“We’re going to Suzanne’s to be there when the doctor calls”, Beth told me. Casey was out of town.

I wondered at this urgency but remained optimistic and expected good news. We prayed for that. We sat in Suzanne’s living room waiting for the doctor to call. We played with Ava and Jackson – Finley seemed fine to me.

The phone rang. Suzanne went into the other room to take the call. It seemed longer than it was and we couldn’t hear the conversation.

Then Suzanne said, “Mom, come in here”.

In that instant I knew.

I heard Suzanne sobbing. We hugged her. The numbers were all very low and she must bring Finley to the emergency room of Dallas Children’s Hospital immediately. We gathered around Fin and prayed while his tearful mom held him. Beth went with Suzanne; I stayed and tried to concentrate on babysitting.

After the kids were in bed I sat on the couch and wondered about what had happened. The unthinkable was at our door and it was turning the knob. This couldn’t be. I prayed hard.

At 11:30 PM Beth called me from the hospital.

“Finley’s got leukemia”.

He was one of fewer than 3,000 children who were diagnosed with this cancer last year – in a country of more than 340 million people.

I lay in bed that night wondering why God would do this to a young couple who had tried hard to honor him; a beautiful mom who adored her kids and was so conscientious in teaching them about him; a dad who was faithful and working hard to provide and to provide an example.

I suppose, in those dark moments of fear and sadness, I was like the older brother in Jesus’ story – “all these years I’ve served you …” It wasn’t a very flattering reaction but it was an honest one.

As you may have said or thought on more than one occasion, “This just isn’t right”.

I thought of losing Fin. I didn’t sleep much.

We learned the next day that Finley has the less aggressive of the two types of leukemia and his cure rate is 90%. I never thought I could be so ecstatic over such news.

Finley’s prognosis is good, praise God!

The three years of chemotherapy will be a long and difficult journey but God will go with us every step of the way. This we know.

And so will many others. Their support, their encouragement, their love and their prayers will sustain us on the road ahead and will make lighter the burden.

Our friends Tom and Chris have a daughter who is a vibrant, healthy and beautiful young woman expecting her second child. When she was Finley’s age, she had leukemia. They know and they will be there for us.

Over lunch on New Year’s Eve, my friend Andrew told me, “Jack, everybody’s got something. Nobody goes through life untouched by hardship or pain”. For Andrew and Kayla I learned it was a son who had a rare and serious heart condition that took five years to cure.

On this journey we call life, the Lord our Good Shepherd sometimes lets us lay down in green pastures. Sometimes he leads us by the still waters. Life is good. But there are other times, quite unexpected, when we find ourselves walking through the dark valleys. In those times he is close by our side, protecting us, comforting us and being our God.

And we will see too the tender hearts of others as never before.

Yes, “everybody’s got something”.

Remembering this binds us together as mere mortals and makes bearing one another’s burdens not only possible but a thing of joy and beauty.

“He comforts us in all our troubles,” Paul writes, “so that we can comfort others” (II Corinthians 1: 4, NLT).

Is this not central to our understanding of all human suffering? It is part of the meaning – and the glory God will receive – in Finley’s illness and long recovery.

For the Christian it is the triumph of many a tragedy.

In this we rejoice and thank God.

Thank you for praying for our little Fin.

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Finding His Hand

The tall, slender and dignified man dressed in the Admiral’s uniform sat at the table staring at the two microphones in front of him. He nervously reached out and adjusted one of them, moving it slightly closer.

Then he stared some more.

They represented an intimidation, these two microphones. They symbolized the great obstacle he had, with persevering struggle, learned to overcome: a life-long impediment of speech – stuttering.

And now, on this momentous occasion, King George VI prepared to address the English people. All the ears of the Commonwealth were attentive to this live radio broadcast.

It was Christmas Day, 1939.

Three months earlier, Adolph Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia and World War II had begun. Fear and uncertainty gripped the civilized world – and especially England, which stood alone, directly in the path of powerful Nazi aggression. To this once stuttering king fell the duty to both comfort and rally one of the great nations of history in its hour of maximum danger.

King George spoke in a clear and measured tone. There was deliberation but no hesitation in the strength of his voice. He praised England’s “gallant and faithful allies” for their determination to defend the “cause of Christian civilization. On no other basis can a true civilization be built. Let us remember this through the dark times ahead of us.”

Then the King, with a simple and direct eloquence, beckoned his people to look toward the darkness of a grim and unknown future – and in fact to see beyond it:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we all shall be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Then the King closed his flawlessly-delivered broadcast by quoting the words of a poem, written by a retired lecturer at the London School of Economics, Miss Minnie Louise Haskins, in 1908:

“And I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied:

‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

Once again, “a new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring.”

Apocalyptical events – natural disasters, increasing violence, extreme weather – have led some folks to talk about the end of the world like there’s no tomorrow. It’s coming but Jesus warned us plainly against the temptation of date-setting.

Yes, it’s a safe bet that the coming year will bring more trials and difficulties for our world.

There will be no spiritual revival in America in 2016 – our cultural slide, marked by banal entertainments and moral nihilism, will continue. Our economic challenges will mount. The Middle East will remain a tinderbox of violence and upheaval.

Terrorism and racial tensions are not going away.

All these things must first come to pass.

So, for the follower of Jesus Christ, is there any good news? Is there any hope?

Yes, the most important news of all is great!

The wise counsel of a fearless king is steeped in scripture:

“Put your hand into the hand of God.”

No matter what happens to us – politically, economically, internationally, or personally – God is still on his throne. He has a perfect plan that he is working in his perfect way, time and circumstance. Nothing that happens in this coming year will catch God off guard nor will he ever be out of control.

He’s had this coming year mapped out in every detail from before he created the heavens and the earth.

No matter what happens in 2016, this fact alone should give us hope to face the unknown future.

Nor shall God ever stop caring for you, guiding you or loving you.

Not ever.

That should make every year happy for the Christian.

“I have cared for you since you were born,” God tells Israel. “Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46: 3-4, NLT).

“For that is what God is like,” the psalmist reminds us. “He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die.” (Psalm 48:14, NLT).

God alone has been our help in ages past. He alone is our hope for all the years to come.

“When the country goes temporarily to the dogs,” wrote Garrison Keillor, “cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word.”

If this coming year “brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Forget what is behind, Paul says. Instead, let us face the future with confidence and, looking unto Jesus, let us “press on!” (Philippians 3: 13-14).

Our God reigns! And trusting him is “safer than a known way”.

“So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

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