Do You Know Jack?

C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian thinkers and authors of the twentieth century, and he is, by far, my favorite author. His writings, both fiction and non-fiction, have shaped my thinking and helped me become who I am today.

Christian author and thinker, C.S. “Jack” Lewis:
November 29, 1898 – November 22, 1963.

Clive Staples Lewis was born November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland. As a small boy, he took the nickname “Jack” after a family pet, and so he was “Jack” to his friends for the rest of his life. His mother died while he was still young, and her death was a factor in him renouncing his Christian faith. He later wrote that he considered himself an atheist, although he also said that he was angry at God for NOT existing. He served with British troops in World War I and was wounded in a friendly fire accident that killed two friends. Eventually, he returned to faith, in part with the help of his friend and fellow author, J.R.R. Tolkien, and he would go on to hold prestigious academic positions at both Oxford and Cambridge. He passed away on November 22, 1963 – yes, the same day that President Kennedy was assassinated. (British author Aldous Huxley [Brave New World] also died that same day.)

If you haven’t read much of Lewis and are looking for a good place to start, I would recommend A Year with C.S. Lewis. It’s a collection of 366 brief readings of his material, gleaned from some of his best works, and arranged in a convenient, daily schedule. Spend a few minutes every morning for a year with Jack, and you will be amazed at how much better your clarity of thought will become.

Since this month is the anniversary of both his birth and death, I thought I would present five of his quotations that have really resonated with me over the years. Do you have a favorite Lewis quote? Please email me at haskellstarnews@gmail.com.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is openedThe Great Divorce

…Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Mere Christianity

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. The Problem of Pain

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. The Weight of Glory

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. Mere Christianity

Battling Against Fear

It seems that everywhere we look these days, every television program, every elected official, every news broadcast, even every sermon we hear, is all about being afraid. We are told to fear other people, fear other ideas, fear what is different, fear the known and fear the unknown, fear the future.

Be afraid of crime. Be afraid of immigrants. Be afraid of inflation. Be afraid.

We are a nation drowning in a sea of fear.

This is not the first time we have had to face this. In his 1933 Inaugural Address, incoming President Franklin Roosevelt – at the height of the Great Depression – said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” During the 1950s – a time of extreme fear and suspicion – newsman Edward R. Murrow (a personal hero of mine) said,

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular…. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.

As a lover of God and a follower of Jesus, I am especially moved by how many times the Bible tells us, “Do not fear.” By some counts, the phrase appears 365 times in the scriptures; that’s enough for one a day for an entire year! It’s clear from these verses that while fear may be common and understandable, it doesn’t have to rule our lives. Consider –

  • God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)
  • He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)

It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or unfamiliar circumstances, but we cannot let that fear paralyze us into inaction, nor should we just retreat into the past and lash out against “the other.” When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends, and pray – but we must not let fear make the choice for us.

Meanwhile, there are things we can do to overcome fear –

Turn off the TV news. That may seem like a strange thing for a news guy to say, but so much of the national media is just mental poison, designed to hype up fear and hatred, and along the way, sell you whatever junk they’re peddling. Choose not to participate.

Focus on the positive. Computer programmers used to have a saying: Garbage in, garbage out. That applies to our heads and our hearts, as well. If all we’re feeding on is more and more fear, then it will dominate our thoughts and our feelings. Let’s do something different and fill our minds with things that are positive, encouraging, and uplifting. Read a book, listen to some good music, take a walk, reach out to an old friend.

Vote your values. We all know there is an election coming up, so here’s an idea: Don’t vote for a party. Listen to the candidates, and if all they’re offering is more fear and suspicion, then tell them “NO.” Instead, vote for whoever is offering the best ideas for how to move forward.

Let us not be dominated by fear, doubt, or suspicion. Let us overcome with faith, hope, and love.

An Anchor for the Soul

It’s always been interesting to me how we can read and be familiar with a given scripture verse, but then, an event will come along in our lives that gives us a whole new appreciation for that passage. For me, Hebrews 6:19 is just such a text.

The anchor, rather than the cross, was the most commonly-used symbol for Christianity up through about the fourth century. That symbolism is based on Hebrews 6:19.

Let me tell you a story.

Almost exactly five years ago – August 2017 – I was living with my elderly dad in Southeast Texas, as his caregiver and chief cook, driver, prescription sorter, and pretty much anything else he needed. Now, you have to realize that dad couldn’t walk – neuropathy had left him confined to a wheelchair, without the use of his legs and only limited use of his hands. Also, you need to understand that our little corner of the upper Texas Gulf Coast is prone to hurricanes, and sure enough, late that August, Hurricane Harvey hit, and it started raining. Over a four-day period beginning August 25, we received about 30 inches of rain. And then it got bad, averaging over an inch of rain per hour. For over two days. Dad had a rain gauge that could hold ten inches, and I was having to empty it twice a day. For real. We woke up at 3:30 am on August 31 with water in the house, ankle-deep and rising. It would get much higher.

It was a two-day process getting evacuated out of the area, first to a neighbor’s house, then a dry patch along a canal levee, then to a temporary shelter in a school cafetorium. The Nevada Air National Guard finally flew us out (God bless the High Rollers!), and we spent the next 13 months getting dad’s house cleaned out and rebuilt while he lived in a nursing home. The story ends well, but there’s one moment in particular that I remember and that’s where this scripture comes into focus.

There was one point where dad, his German Shepherd, and I were all in an airboat operated by a wonderful guy from Louisiana, part of the (unofficial) Cajun Navy. He carried us a couple of miles away to a farm to market road, where we were met by a giant big wheel pickup truck. The highway was flooded, too, but that truck was tall enough to go through anyway.

So I’m standing there, in water over my waist, carrying the dog and putting her in the back of the truck, then several of us lifted dad in his wheelchair, and loaded him in the truck. Just for comparison, a nearby four-strand barbed wire fence had only the tops of the fenceposts still showing. I climbed in, and we took off (slowly) to the shelter.

Anyway, during that whole operation, at times standing in water up to my chest or deeper, with so much of my life under the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, in my mind I was thinking about several scripture verses that seemed to apply. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” God says in Isaiah 43:2. And Psalm 29:3 – “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.” In Matthew 7, Jesus said that everyone who hears His teaching and puts it into practice is like a builder who constructed his house on a solid foundation, so that when “the rains came, and the floods rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, the house stood firm.” But it was Hebrews 6:19 that really spoke to me: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…

Right then, I needed to be reminded of our hope. I had a garbage bag with a change of socks, some prescription meds, my wallet and cell phone – that and the clothes on my back was about all I had that I could count on. And to tell you the truth, right about then I was running pretty low on hope.

But you see, in Christ, we do indeed have this hope that cannot be shaken. Hope in the One who doesn’t change with the times. Hope in the One who is greater than ourselves. Hope in His unshakeable power and limitless grace. Hope that never fails. Hope in His constant presence and abiding love. Hope, because we know that God truly is above the thunderstorm, and hope because we know that we have built our lives on Christ, so that when the winds rage and the floodwaters rise, we are on the Solid Rock, and we can stand because of Him.

The writer of Hebrews was right: this hope is indeed an anchor for our souls, firm and secure. And the anchor holds.

Diamonds & Dirt & Heading for Home

In honor of this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and with your kind permission, I’d like to repeat a column I wrote some time ago about why I enjoy the game. Because, as many others have said before, there is wisdom we can learn from baseball that translates directly into a well-lived life.

For one thing, I love the more-realistic expectations of baseball, especially compared to other sports. The best hitter who ever lived (Ted Williams), in the best season he ever had (1941), had a batting average of .406. That means that six times out of ten when he came up to bat, he FAILED to hit the ball. Can you imagine a successful wide receiver who dropped six passes out of every ten thrown to him, or a basketball player who missed six out of every ten shots he took? Not likely. The truth is, many of us fail more often than we succeed. Success in life is measured, though, not by how many times we fail, but by how many times we get back up and keep trying. Or, as my youngest daughter has been known to say, fall down six times, get up seven.

Another thing about baseball – you have to focus on the situation at hand. You can only play one game at a time. Learn to stay in the moment, and don’t worry too much about the past or the future. When you make an error, shake it off, and be ready for the next ball hit to you.

I love the teamwork of a well-disciplined ball club. I mean, certainly I understand that teamwork is a part of football, basketball, etc. They are, after all, called TEAM sports. And of course I realize that no running back is going to do very well without a good line blocking for him. But to me, there is unmatched beauty and elegance in watching an infield execute a beautiful – even graceful – 5-4-3 double play (the ball is hit to the third baseman, who throws it to second for one out, who then relays it to first for another out). These guys have practiced so long and so effectively together, they make it look easy and effortless. And I assure you, it is not.

Even something seemingly simple like a fielder hitting the cutoff man, who fires to the catcher, to cut down a runner trying to score – such things take mind-numbing hours of work and skill to accomplish.

You have to trust your teammates. A pitcher has to trust the fielders behind him, to provide good defense. Fielders have to trust that pitchers will make quality pitches. So also in life. Surround yourself with Godly companions and support each other.

Baseball is the only sport where the DEFENSE has the ball. It’s up to the offense – the team that is batting – to make something good happen.

Some other principles from baseball that apply to life:

  • Realize that sometimes, the ball just takes a bad hop on you.
  • There’s a time for preparation, and a time for performance.
  • Speaking of time – Baseball has no clock. You play until you’re done. Sometimes, you play extra innings.
  • Even the best players will sometimes have an off day. And even the most average player will sometimes have the game of his life.
  • In a regular season, every team is going to win 54 games; every team is going to lose 54 games. It’s what you do with the other 54 games that counts.
  • Blown calls and bad trades are part of baseball. Deal with it.
  • Sometimes you have to take one for the team.
  • Play with passion. Don’t be afraid to dive for the ball. It’s okay to get dirt on your uniform.
  • There’s a time to bunt, and a time to swing for the fences. Each is valuable in its place.
  • Make the most of the opportunities that you have. Don’t waste good chances; you don’t know how many you’ll get.
  • The bigger the situation, the more you need to relax. Too much tension is never good.
  • You can’t steal first.
  • You win some; you lose some; some get rained out.
  • Above all else – the main thing is always to get safely home.

Now – Play Ball!

“Jefferson Survives”

As we approach the Fourth of July, I want to tell you a true story of American history – one that is so remarkable, if some Hollywood scriptwriter came up with it, he or she would be laughed out of the room, for inventing such nonsense. Except that in this case, it’s really true. It’s a story that revolves around two of our nation’s Founding Fathers.

Over their lifetimes, Thomas Jefferson (left) and John Adams were co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, the best of friends, and the worst of enemies. They would eventually rebuild their relationship through a series of personal letters, before dying on the same day – July 4, 1826.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were about as different as two people could be in the 1700s. Jefferson was tall and lanky; Adams was short and stocky. Jefferson was a slave-holding Virginian and a farmer; Adams was a Massachusetts abolitionist and successful lawyer and author. Jefferson believed in the supremacy of state’s rights and feared a strong central government; Adams thought that a strong central national government was essential, especially regarding the economy, trade, and foreign relations.

Yet despite these differences, the two men became fast friends and each of them held a deep and mutual respect for the other. They were co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1776. In fact, some historians believe it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson be the primary author of the final draft of the Declaration. Adams served as George Washington’s Vice President, while Jefferson became the young nation’s first Secretary of State. That was when the relationship began to fracture.

Divided over opposing views of the French Revolution and the future of American government, the two became bitter political enemies. Their feud was so bitter, so angry, that when Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800 – involving what some said was a corrupt vote in the House of Representatives. Adams left town and would not attend Jefferson’s inauguration. They would not speak for twelve years.

Finally, another of the nation’s founders, Benjamin Rush (also a signer of the Declaration), came up with a scheme to reunite the old friends. He wrote to each of them, claiming that he had been in touch with the other, and saying that the other man was wanting to rekindle the friendship. On January 1, 1812, Adams wrote a short note to Jefferson at Monticello. Over the next 14 years, the two would exchange 158 letters.

Adams tended to write longer letters and used a LOT more words (perhaps true to his background as an attorney and a writer). Those who have studied the correspondence note that Adams was more confrontational and aggressive, while Jefferson maintained the cool composure for which he was so well known.

They talked about their views on religion and philosophy, and they discussed the long-term effects of the French Revolution, which had been one of the main causes of their initial dispute. Jefferson acknowledged the unfairness of the name-calling done against Adams by some of Jefferson’s followers. Eventually, each had regained the trust of the other. In July 1813, Adams wrote, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

Their later letters continued to cover a wide range of topics and subjects – even anticipating the growing sectional differences that would eventually lead to the American Civil War. But what really comes through their notes to one other is the tender affection and abiding respect each had for the other. Even as the two elderly statesmen grew older and more infirm, they continued to correspond. In 1823, Jefferson wrote, “Crippled wrists and fingers make writing slow and laborious. But while writing to you, I lose the sense of these things, in the recollection of ancient times, when youth and health made happiness out of every thing.”

Jefferson, 83, was suffering from an intestinal disorder on July 3, 1826. He lapsed into a coma that afternoon and lingered in a semi-conscious state before dying just after noon the next day. Five hundred miles away, John Adams, now 90, was dying from typhoid – the same disease that had claimed his beloved wife Abigail, in 1818. Historians note that his final words were, “Jefferson survives”– not knowing that his beloved friend, foe, correspondent, and fellow patriot, had in fact, died only hours earlier.

It was July 4, 1826 – exactly fifty years to the day since the Declaration of Independence.

Reflections on the Fruit of the Spirit

One of my favorite things about summer is the amazing variety of sweet and delicious fruit that becomes readily available during these long hot days. Cantaloupes and watermelons, peaches, plums – even cherries and fresh summer apples – they’re so refreshing and delectable, and such a wonderful treat. A very special memory from when I was a child was stopping at a roadside fruit stand on a family vacation and eating a peach as big as a softball, with the wonderful, sweet, sticky juice running down my arm. What a delight!

With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising to learn that one of my favorite Bible passages is Galatians 5:22-23, where the Apostle Paul lists the nine qualities that he describes as the “Fruit of the Spirit.” Now, there is no shortage of devotional material on this text, but in my opinion, much of it misses the main point.

Throughout Galatians, Paul has been listing the large number of contrasts believers must face: works vs. faith; law vs. grace; children of Hagar vs. children of Sarah; human divisiveness vs. the oneness of God; slavery vs. freedom. The contrast he makes most frequently – and most eloquently – is flesh vs. Spirit. By the time he gets to chapter five, he is talking about the acts of the flesh – uncleanness of all sorts – versus the Fruit of the Spirit.

Specifically, he says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Please read that list again. “Hatred – discord – jealousy – fits of rage – selfish ambition.” Sounds like it was taken from today’s national news.

But then please notice the organic nature of growing fruit contrasted against the ceaseless striving of works; the produce of God’s Spirit, vs. the products of our own efforts; the life-giving and life-affirming qualities that bless others, compared to the selfish and destructive practices of a me-centered existence.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) The apostle makes it clear that if we are Jesus-followers, if God’s Holy Spirit is living and working within us, then these nine qualities will be evident in our lives. These must be the things that others see in us.

Note that it’s the WORKS – plural – of the flesh versus the FRUIT – singular – of the Spirit. There is only one fruit. We should not speak of the “fruits” of the Spirit. There is one fruit, and it manifests itself in various ways, depending on the specific needs and situation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit reveals Himself through patience, sometimes though kindness, always through love.

Another thing: This is not a buffet! We mustn’t think we can say, “Well, I’ll have some love and joy, but I don’t want any gentleness or self-control.” If the Spirit is present in our lives – if God is moving within us – then HE will be growing ALL these things within us at the same time. Certainly, our spirits can and should cooperate with His Spirit, and we must be intentional about looking for ways to demonstrate these characteristics, but we don’t become more loving, or more patient, or whatever, simply by trying to counterfeit that quality.

One last thing to notice is that every aspect of this fruit is seen in terms of our relationships with God and one another. It’s how we treat other people – our relationships with one another – that reveal the true nature of our relationship with God. Our faith is not lived out in a vacuum.

May the Spirit produce in us that which is pleasing in His sight.

Skull Rock and the Garden Tomb

When I was a kid, a name like “Skull Rock” sounded spooky, a little creepy, very adventurous. It was the sort of place where Peter Pan and the boys from Never, Never Land would hang out. It was a fun place to visit at Six Flags over Texas when I was younger, with its slightly scary green lighting and its fun, twisty slide to play on.

This foreboding cliff looks like a skull when the sunlight hits it just right.
It is part of the area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” near the Garden Tomb.

It never occurred to me that there might have been a real Skull Rock. And that it would be anything but fun to visit. At least, it never occurred to me, until I actually went there.

I have written before about my 2009 visit to Israel. During that trip, I learned that there are actually two different sites identified as the possible location where Jesus was crucified. Although they are both within the main environs of Jerusalem now, both would have been outside the city walls back in Jesus’ day. Both have elements to recommend them as the “real” location, and both have shallow caves nearby, where Jesus could have been buried, in keeping with the story as told in the Gospels.

One, of course, is the site contained within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the historically accepted spot, with visitors going back at least to the 300s. It’s there we find the oldest traditions about the rocky hill on which Jesus was crucified and the nearby, borrowed, tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where He was buried. The final few stations along the famous “Via Dolorosa” – the Way of Suffering – are located there.

But over the years, the old location has been gilded over and gold plated. It’s had shrines erected over and beside it, so much so that only with the greatest stretch of imagination can you picture in your mind what it must have been like 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was actually there. Metal shields have actually been installed in some parts, to prevent souvenir hunters from chipping off a chunk of rock to take home with them. The candles, the incense, the fabric draperies – it all seems more fake, more “Hollywood,” and less like a location where public executions took place.

At least, that’s the reaction that a lot of American visitors, especially Protestants, have. And so, while that location definitely has the better historical claim to being the actual site of the crucifixion, there is another spot that is more preferred by a lot of Christians who want to see the spot where Jesus died, was buried, and three days later, rose again.

Gordon’s Calvary is about a third of mile away. Charles Gordon was a British General and amateur archeologist who helped popularized the location, and so his name is associated with it. One of the things that is so special about it is a limestone cliff, jutting up from the ground. Two deep depressions in the side of the cliff remind visitors of a skull’s empty eye sockets – and so the cliff is known, unofficially, as “Skull Rock.” (Both “Golgotha” and “Calvary” refer to a skull in their original languages.) If this was the execution spot, it would have been an appropriate name – both for its appearance, and for the painful events that took place there.

So imagine, if you will, that you are a visitor to Jerusalem in those days, coming in from Jericho. As you enter the city, near the main gates, you see a large cliff, and there, in front of that cliff (and not on top of it), you see a number of crosses there, with the prisoners being executed. And a few dozen yards away, a number of shallow caves in the side of the cliff have been hollowed out to serve as graves.

This is the Garden Tomb. And those caves are empty.

Was this where Jesus was crucified? Honestly, we don’t know. As I said, both the traditional Golgotha and Gordon’s Calvary have their advocates. But wherever it was, I invite you to join with me this weekend as we remember those events. Let us give thanks that wherever the tomb of Jesus was, it is empty!

Worth the Read

In previous columns, I have written about different books that I like and recommend. With your kind permission, I would like to suggest a book that is turning 25 years old, and still very much worth the time to read, or to re-read. It’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.

What’s So Amazing About Grace is my favorite book by Philip Yancey. It has been in print now for 25 years.

By his own admission, Philip Yancey has had a difficult road of faith. Born in Atlanta in 1949, he grew up in a very rigid, fundamentalist church. When he was still a child, Yancey’s father contracted polio and had to be placed in an iron lung so he could breathe. Then he died from complications of the disease after church members told him he needed to “turn off the machines” so that God could heal him.

Yancey’s journey of faith was a long road back from that.

He went on to become the editor of Christianity Today magazine (now retired) and has authored a number of outstanding books. The first thing of his I ever read was Disappointment with God – I love the honesty of that title. I’ve also read The Bible Jesus Read, Where is God When It Hurts?, and The Jesus I Never Knew, but I think his best work is the one I’m suggesting for you, this book on grace.

Early on in the book, he acknowledges the difficulty in writing about the subject of grace.

As I look back on my pilgrimage, marked by wanderings, detours, and dead ends, I see now that what pulled me along was my search of grace. I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.

I have barely tasted of grace myself, have rendered less than I have received, and am in no wise an “expert” on grace. These are, in fact, the very reasons that impelled me to write. I want to know more, to understand more, to experience more grace.

In this book, Yancey describes examples of grace and forgiveness that are so lovely they will make your heart ache and your spirit soar. He points to soul-crushing examples of what he calls “ungrace” – attitudes of pettiness and meanness that we see all around us, and too often, still within ourselves. He tells stories of grace extended that will absolutely make you weep until you cry out with joy – my favorite is chapter four, “Lovesick Father.” And I will not spoil it by saying more than that.

In a later chapter, Yancey writes –

Jesus’ images portray the kingdom as a kind of secret force. Sheep among wolves, treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into bread dough, a sprinkling of salt on meat – all these hint at a movement that works within society, changing it from the inside out. You do not need a shovelful of salt to preserve a slab of ham: a dusting will suffice.

Jesus did not leave an organized host of followers, for he knew that a handful of salt would gradually work its way through the mightiest empire in the world. Against all odds, the great institutions of Rome – the law code, libraries, the Senate, Roman legions, roads, aqueducts, public monuments – gradually crumbled, but the little band to whom Jesus gave these images prevailed and continues on today.

Søren Kierkegaard described himself as a spy, and indeed Christians behave like spies, living in one world while our deepest allegiance belongs to another. We are resident aliens, or sojourners, to use a biblical phrase.

He goes on to say,

The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. Christ came down from heaven, and whenever his disciples entertained dreams of prestige and power he reminded them that the greatest is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up; the ladder of grace reaches down.

Amazing.

A Good Habit for Life

There are some habits that nearly all of us agree are good things to do on a daily, or at least a regular, basis. We may not always DO them, but we agree that they’re good ideas. Making your bed every morning, for example. Flossing your teeth. Eating a healthy diet.

And I would add, donating blood.

I started donating blood when I was 19 and in college. (More about that in a bit.) In the years following, I made a total of 80 donations – that’s five gallons of blood. But after achieving that milestone, I decided I had done enough, and somebody else could take over. I’m not sure why I came to that conclusion. I guess I felt like I had done my part, and it could now be someone’s turn. Or maybe I was busy that day, or that five gallons was a nice accomplishment – got my name on a plaque! – so now, let that be someone else’s problem.

Except that’s not how life works. I believe we all have a lifelong responsibility to be good citizens, to be good neighbors, and to do all we can to help others. And as far as I am concerned, that means being a blood donor, so I have resumed my old habit.

Giving blood usually takes about 45 minutes. It is absolutely safe. You will be asked a few basic questions about your overall health and how you are feeling. They’ll check your temperature, your blood pressure, your weight. You’ll be asked about any prescriptions you take, your travel history, and a few questions of a personal nature – but they ask only to make sure your blood is safe to give to anyone (even a little child), and ALL of your answers are kept strictly confidential.

The American Red Cross says that about 6.8 million people give blood every year, totaling up to 13.6 million units. The fact is, someone – men, women, boys, girls, infants and the elderly, cancer patients and trauma victims – someone in this country needs blood every two seconds. A typical transfusion of red blood cells requires three units of blood, and a single car accident victim can require as much as a hundred units. Burn patients often need a lot of blood, as do victims of Sickle Cell Disease and other chronic illnesses. It has been estimated that one donation of blood can save as many as three lives.

Who can give? Just about everyone. You have to be at least 16 years of age in good overall health and weigh at least 110 pounds. As for myself, I’m 65 and a Type 2 Diabetic, but even with the meds I take to keep my blood sugar in control, it didn’t disqualify me. And I got a nice T-shirt as a bonus!

There are some common-sense precautions. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re anemic, if you have a cold or other illness, don’t try to donate – wait until you’re better. Be sure to eat a good meal before, and maybe even have a little light snack just after. Drink plenty of fluids and keep the bandage on tightly for several hours. Don’t try to get up too quickly after the donation – take it easy for a few minutes and let your system adjust before you try to move too quickly. Take it from a five-gallon donor: you’ll be fine.

So my first time giving blood? It was the summer of 1976, and I was working as a ministry intern for a church in Jackson, Mississippi. One of the dear old saints in that congregation was in the final stages of her battle against leukemia, and so the senior pastor and I went down to the local hospital, to each give a unit of blood as a “credit” on her account. He was an experienced donor, but I was a “newbie.” When we were finished, he immediately jumped up and began heading for the exit. I (of course) felt that I just had to keep up with him and be as tough as he was, but with every step, I noticed my legs getting more and more wobbly, and an increasingly unpleasant sensation of dizziness. When we got to the front door, the heat and humidity of that Mississippi summer morning hit me in the face and I collapsed. The next the thing I knew, I was in the front seat of Earl’s VW Beetle, and he was asking, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

From that inauspicious beginning, I have now given many more times, and I’m asking you to join me and over six million others and become a blood donor.

Just don’t get up too fast.

Overcoming Fear

What is the most negative, most destructive, most harmful emotion? There certainly is no shortage of possibilities – anger, hatred, pride – but in my opinion, the worst of all has to be fear.

Have you noticed how many television commercials make their appeal by trying to make you afraid? A majority of money management and investment ads fall into this category. They’re trying to stoke your fears of outliving your money, or not being able to “keep up your lifestyle,” or some other vague concept to threaten you and make you afraid.

Our elected officials give lengthy speeches that pump up our fears and appeal to our lowest natures. A recent study by a major university found that an overwhelming majority of gun owners point to “being afraid” as their number one reason for buying weapons – and especially buying multiple weapons. And, I’m sorry to say, most national news networks seem to exist, not to keep us informed, but for the purpose of stoking our fears and inflating our anxieties, to keep us watching so they can sell more product.

We live in a society that seems to be drowning in fear – fear of running out of money, fear of burglars, fear of disasters, fear of “others.” We are afraid of dying, and afraid of living too long. We are afraid of the government and afraid of each other. Fear is destroying the very fabric of our society.

We need to realize this type of paralyzing, crippling fear is not new. In fact, one of the most frequently quoted phrases in the Bible is, “Do not fear” – by some counts, that phrase appears 365 times in the scripture. Consider –

  • God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim. 1:7)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)
  • He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … (Psa. 91:1-5)
  • The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psa. 27:1)

God wants us to walk in peace, not fear. So how can we do that? It’s natural and normal – even healthy – to have a certain level of fear about the unknown, about new situations, or other unfamiliar circumstances, but we can’t let that fear paralyze us into inaction. When we are making a decision about something, we need to evaluate that choice, consider the pros and cons, seek the counsel of wise friends – then decide! We must not let the fear make the choice for us.

One of the most important techniques for battling fear is to pray and to fill our minds with positive and encouraging thoughts. I am not suggesting any strategy that ignores reality, but as believers we should fill our minds with scripture, not Facebook, so that we are not so vulnerable to fear and despair. Remember that the first time God appears to Joshua after the death of Moses, three times in that conversation, God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:6-9).

I am certainly NOT against planning or preparation. By all means, we should be as ready as humanly possible. But at the same time, we must remember that we are not in charge, that sometimes situations and circumstances come that no one could have expected or prepared for. In those situations when our planning fails, let us not fall into fear, but let us know that our God is still bigger than our circumstances, that it has not taken HIM by surprise, and that He is with us, through everything.

Let us, then, have full confidence that we do not need to be anxious, that we can face each day and every situation knowing that He is with us, and that we need not fear. Strength and courage!