“21”

Why does your memory not fade when you want it to? When I need to remember something my mind freezes up, and the names or facts escape me, but when I want to forget an incident or an image my mind works like a steel trap and the memory haunts me like a bad dream.

To be frank, in many ways I wish I could go back in time to a day when news—especially bad news—did not arrive on my doorstep with such sudden urgency. I realize the good old days in reality had the dark tinge of evil just as our day, but at least the horrors of this world did not confront you in such vivid colors burning their way into your psyche.

Can you imagine a day when the pony express rider brought the news from afar on the back of a breathless horse that scampered across the desert? Today news arrives practically instantaneously on flat screens big and small that hold court in the family room or in the palm of your hand. Sadly, much of the news these days especially out of the Middle East and Europe chills the soul.

A few days ago an image of a long line of men dressed in orange walking along the seashore at sunset caught my attention. The grandeur of the stunning scene turned dark when I recognized another line of masked and hooded men dressed all in black carrying long knives escorted these men. A black flag with Arabic symbols waved in the background and instinctively, which had to have been the intent, I realized I had inadvertently stumbled into another tragic drama staged by ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Quickly averting my eyes to the text of the news release, I read in horror how the men clad in orange in reality were family to me—these twenty-one men being lead to their slaughter claimed my Lord Jesus as their own which by the power of the His Spirit living within our hearts makes us brothers.
Yes, in an act of cruel barbarism, these ISIS assassins murdered “21” Coptic Christians from Egypt not for crimes they had committed, nor for plots orchestrated in dark rooms, but for bearing the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior. ISIS targets Christians, even going as far as crucifying many of them—another image I wish I had never seen—and if left unstopped many more Christians will fall at the edges of bloody swords.

So what does one do in response to such unspeakable evil? How does heaven response when its sons and daughters die at the hands of cruel evil men? Sadly, much like the Jews, Christians have often been targets of persecution dating all the way back to the crucifixion of Jesus himself.

Jesus openly warned His devoted followers of the dangers and the backlash of an evil world. He knew His followers too would suffer atrocities and brutal acts of hatred. In the Revelation written by the Apostle John in exile on the isle of Patmos, he watched the Lamb of God opening the seals which would unleash His fury upon the evil on the earth he wrote:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10 ESV)

As so vividly noted, without doubt God hears the cries of His people, and He will settle the score once and for all time, but until that final victory our LORD Jesus commands us to follow His revolutionary path of love and grace. He urges us to “love our enemies” knowing hatred only evokes more hatred. The edge of the sword will not advance His kingdom but rather unconquerable charity. I too cry out for God to stop the senseless violence, while pleading for my heart to be filled with His unspeakable love.

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Seize the Day!

What truly makes up a day? Is a day simply twenty-four hours, one-thousand four hundred and forty minutes, or eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds? How does one truly measure time? Do you ever waste time? Have you ever used the phrase, “I have an hour to kill”?

To kill and hour means to squander an opportunity to be truly alive. American theologian A.W. Tozer rightly pointed out:

“When you kill time, remember it has no resurrection.”

As I grow older, life takes on a new luster and value. Time begins to matter more and more. For instance, if you find yourself in a financial bind and ask me for $60 to pay a bill or buy a bag of groceries, I can give you my money, and in a matter of time I can earn $60 more dollars and be back to zero, but if you ask me to spend an hour with you in conversation, in a task, or simply wasting time I can never get that hour back. It has been spent. It has been invested. It will never return.

In reality most of us really have more money, or access to money than we have time. Time may actually be the most valuable treasure you hold in your hands, so don’t let it slip through your fingers in idle mindless tasks or habits.

The old American sage and patriot Benjamin Franklin penned the following insight about time:

“Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

A few decades before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known to some of us who did not fall asleep in Literature class as Horace wrote in Latin:

Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

The literal translation of this text reads: “While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing: pluck the day, put no trust in the future”

Sandwiched in the middle of this verse you find the phrase “Carpe Diem”, which we often translate “Seize the Day.” I remember I first heard this phrase not in a lecture, but watching a movie when Robin Williams playing the role of John Keating, a literature teacher in a back East private boarding school in Dead Poets Society, challenged a room full of spoiled, rich boys to stop going through the motions and to truly live—to “seize the day.”

Through the ages, the philosophy of life has inspired many a wanderer to choose a path and to step out on a quest for life as it was meant to be.

Jesus, in his classic and timeless Sermon on the Mount, inspired a sea of common ordinary people to live extraordinary lives. In the heart of his plea he cried:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34 ESV)

In other words, a life fully lived focuses on seeking the rule and reign of our Creator over our hearts and souls in such a way that one drinks deeply of every moment and invests his or her very being into things that really matter. Or simply put, “Don’t waste time…invest your life in eternity by loving, laughing and living with every breath you take.” So what are you going to do today?

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Joe Poe: He Made His Dwelling Place Among Us

In 1982, I packed up my new bride and moved our meager belongings into a small white framed two-bedroom parsonage in the sleepy little town of Roanoke, Texas just north of Fort Worth. Robyn and I had both been raised in the “big city” so I must confess small town life quickly opened our eyes.

Suddenly we became small time celebrities and everyone in town knew about the “new preacher boy” and his bride. We could not go to the market, the post office, the school, or the gas station without bumping into someone we knew or who knew us. No longer could we hide in the anonymous lifestyle of city slickers who swim freely among a sea of strangers.

We found ourselves surrounded by church members and nosy neighbors who knew when I left for work and returned, and even when we crawled in and out of bed. Not only did they know us, we got to know them. The intimacy of the relationships at times felt confining, overwhelming and yet empowering all at the same time. We soon discovered what real love and acceptance really look like as our small town friends embraced us as family.

Last Tuesday night, I witnessed the coming together of a family—a big and incredibly diverse clan—around their patriarch Dr. Joe Poe who crossed over to glory just a few days ago. His funeral drew together an amazing tapestry of people whose lives had been touched and changed by Dr. Poe’s life force.

During the moving service, we worshipped the Lord and celebrated a life well lived. Among the standing room only crowd were PHD scholars and adults whose highest attainment was a GED. There were multi-millionaires and people living hand to mouth. Pastors and ministers mingled with the people of the street, while doctors and nurses sat next to their patients from the Baptist Clinic. The fabric of the family gather in the room stirred my heart and inspired me to follow Dr. Poe’s example.

Joe made El Paso his home in 1975 answering the call to work in the Baptist Publishing House. However, Joe and his wife Eleanor had no intentions of hiding out from the world in the bookcase lined office of an editor or in the print shop. They believed in following Jesus’ example of “incarnational ministry” and “made their dwelling place among us.” They shared life with us, both the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, and the sacred and the secular.

John Perkins, the African-American pastor who helped to found the transforming movement called Christian Community Development, practiced what the called the “Three R’s” as a means of changing a community. He practiced and believed in “Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution.” Dr. Poe and Eleanor also lived out these three “R’s”, and our city has been enriched because they “relocated” to our neighborhood and moved into our hearts.

You see, Dr. Poe knew instinctively that writing a check, or writing an article or even a book cannot change the world. No, embodying love and living it out day in and day out in relationships on the streets and in the living rooms changes hearts and when hearts change everything changes.

As I scanned the faces of the people gathered to pay tribute to a life well lived, I could see the fingerprints of a great man who loved deeply and lived fully. He left it all on the field as they say in football circles. He gave his all, so we could all experience all the grace and love Jesus has for us.

If we want to change our world, it will start when we learn the first names of our friends and neighbors and more importantly learn their stories so we can love them in a way that helps and does not hurt their quest for wholeness. Joe Poe followed Jesus example and “made his dwelling place among us.” So who lives next door to you?

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All Nations?

Do you remember taking geography in middle school? If you are like me you would struggle to find on a map or a round globe in the corner of your classroom nations like Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Can you imagine trying to spell these names on a fill in the blank test without the aid of spell check? As of last year there are one-hundred ninety-six (196) nations laying claims to parts of planet earth. Of course that number could have changed overnight. To be honest, I would be lucky to name fifty of these countries much less the whole exhaustive list.

One of my family’s favorite vacation destinations has been Disney World in Florida, and my personal favorite of the theme parks has to be Epicot Center. One of the reasons I love Epicot has to be the ability to stroll on a beautiful afternoon around the lake winding through eleven villages representing countries from around the world like Mexico, France, Germany, Morocco, Italy, China, Norway, Japan, U.S.A., England, and Canada. These exhibits not only capture the sights and sounds of these diverse countries but also the smells—the aroma of fresh hot dishes from around the world! Yum, Yum! Now you figured me out!

Speaking of diversity on display, my wife Robyn has flowing through her veins bloodlines of at least five nationalities including French, Irish, Welsh, English, American Indian, and possibly a touch of German. My family tree has its primary roots in Scotland and England. Our union has practically created the European Union flowing through the veins of our children and you throw in the bloodline of Philip Scott of England and you get “King George”—my grandson!

You see in a real sense we are all world citizens to one extent or another. I have found this to be especially true in El Paso—one of the largest border cities in the world and the “center of the universe” as our own Steve Jones calls the “Border Plex.”

One amazing afternoon, Jesus gathered his disciples around him for His final briefing before He ascended back to headquarters. With the clear distinct words of a commanding officer readying his charges for D-Day He declared: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me…” Translation,” I am in command, and this will be our mission.”

“Go and make disciples of all nations….” The Kingdom of God set its sights on touching and changing every nation in the world from its first salvo. The Kingdom of God never intended on being some kind of Middle Eastern “Mom and Pop” operation. No, Jesus gave his followers, what Jim Collins so affectionately calls a “BHAG”—a big hairy audacious goal!

Guess what the order still stands!

As you know by now First “International” Baptist Church enjoys “practicing heaven on earth.” Every Sunday when we gather together for worship we witness a glimpse of what John saw as he wrote: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”(Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)

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Known and Loved

“Be My Valentine”—do you remember receiving your first valentine card? Back in the dark ages when we celebrated “Valentine’s Day” in elementary school our teacher required that we bring a valentine card for each and every student in our class. Nothing defines awkward like getting a valentine card from your best friends Ralph and Ricky!

I must confess growing up as a boy in a man’s world with three younger brothers– love always stood out as a mystery to me. I could totally identify with Greg, an eight year old boy, asked to define love that reflected deeply and said:

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too!”

By the way, the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team opens its season against the Tacoma Rainiers on April 9 at 7:05 p.m. at Southwest University Park, just in case Valentine’s Day does not work out for you. Play ball!

When the hot topic of love comes up in conversation if you listen closely you may hear someone speak of “falling in love.” As a boy, my first reaction was “did it hurt?” Author Steve Maraboli aptly said: “Falling in love is a wonderfully terrifying sensation.”

While Tammy Blackwell in her book Fate Succumbs observed: “Falling in love is bizarre and creepy.”

I must confess I too have been there and done that and got the t-shirt as they say. In fact, my wife Robyn revealed recently to a room full of young couples that I told her “I love you”…during our first week together. Of course, what she failed to tell them was that I was afraid it was going to be our last week! By the way I still love her.

Mark Twain knew instinctively what happened in my heart and mind when I met Robyn when he wrote in Eve’s Diary: “Love is not a product of reasonings and statistics. It just comes—none knows whence—and cannot explain itself.”

My soul beats with the words of William Shakespeare who penned:

“I love thee, I love but thee
With a love that shall not die
‘Till the sun grows cold
And the stars grow old.”

Of course if Shakespeare lived today, he doubtless would write lyrics for country crooners like George Strait who sang in his classic love song “Carrying Your Love with Me”:

“On a lonely highway, stuck out in the rain. Darlin’ all I have to do is speak your name. The clouds roll back and the waters part. The sun starts shining in my heart for you!”

Let’s face it; we reveal the glory of God in its truest form when we love one another with an undying love. Tim Keller in his book “The Meaning of Marriage” made the following observation about the depth and nature of the love God stirs deep in our hearts and souls when he wrote:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

When someone knows you fully and loves you wholly, there can be no greater gift or grace in life. To be fully known and fully loved captures the wonder and glory of the divine among us. The Apostle John exclaimed “God is love.” (1 John 4:8). He first experienced this love in the face of Jesus, and made it his life’s mission to share this love with others in Jesus’ name. Love those you know best and change the world just like Jesus does!

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My Parisian Journey: I Have Seen…. Musée du Louvre

Originally posted on My French Quest:

Winged Victory of Samothrace, 2014 Winged Victory of Samothrace, 2014

Musée du Louvre

 I have seen galleries filled with matted and marbled beauty created by the best of men and the divine;

the attempt to express reality in ways words can never communicate.

Subtle hues evoke emotions and feelings of joy, mystery, sorrow, horror, frailty;

not unlike the images of the Greatest Creator speaking His masterpiece into existence.

Clouet's Francois I Louvre Clouet’s Francois I
Louvre

La Joconde (Mona Lisa) by Leonardo da Vinci

I have seen the masses feast their eyes on a simple, smiling young maiden as she represents the goal of a pilgrimage through marble corridors and staircases;

surrounded by the masters of the ages, neglected, ignored in the mad rush to Da Vinci’s maiden.

What is it about her smile that draws the young, the old, the educated and the naïve to her side?

Da Vinci's La Jaconde Da Vinci’s La Jaconde

[In September, David and…

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My Parisian Journey: I have seen…Shakespeare and Company

Originally posted on My French Quest:

In September, David and I returned to Paris for a week of vacation. For this particular trip, we agreed to see Paris in a new way.  As the English novelist, Lawrence Durrell said, one must “travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, sit quietly and observe and smell and listen for the spirit of the place which is the most important determinant in culture…one should tune in, idly, but with real inward attention”. Therefore, in the style of Hemingway’s vignettes  (1922 Paris), we have shared our reflections and “quiet, inward” observations of this enigmatic city.

Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company Shakespeare and Company

I have seen a gathering place

where English is the common language;

A haven for pedantic readers and aspiring writers

Encased among literary classics, hard bound, yellowed,

marked by fingerprints and coffee stains of the great writers of the past

and the patrons, passing through.

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