Saturday, January 29, 2011


All kinds of “interesting” things are happening these days in North Africa. It all began with Tunisia.

For over two decades, President Ben Ali’s regime has been known to be oppressive and authoritarian.

As one writer said: “None of the decent, principled, conscientious, but behind the scenes efforts the State Department made in recent years to persuade the Tunisian government to relax its authoritarian grip—mostly through diplomatic démarches and meetings with top Tunisian officials—had any significant impact on the Ben Ali regime's behavior or increased the likelihood of democratic change. Nor did the many quiet U.S. programs of outreach to Tunisian society, cultural exchanges and the like, even if Tunisians appreciated them and they will bear fruit as the country democratizes.”

So then what happened recently?

Wikileaks! Yup, Wikileaks, that notorious pipleline of information drainage on the web, masterminded by the rather odd character, Julian Assange, who may be facing a grand jury indictment, in Alexandria, VA, for the revelation of state secrets.

Some of those secrets involved Tunisia—or rather, its corrupt ruler. The government’s rottenness was put on display to the world, as well as the juicy details of the excesses of First Lady Leila Trabelsi and her clan. (Including a pet tiger Pasha!)

The rest is history: Ben Ali and the rest of the gang fled the country two weeks ago following widespread protests—the “Jasmine Revolution” (after the national flower).

Thus in one fell swoop, Wikileaks did more for democracy than decades of backstage diplomacy.

And then the rumblings in Yemen. And the conflagration in Egypt.

The smallest things can cause the biggest changes. Unexpected, inadvertent, fortuitous.

God works that way. One shrewd mother, Jochebed, was the means of raising a redeemer for the enslaved Hebrews (Exodus 2). One perspicacious harlot, Rahab, helped overthrow a city (Joshua 2). One enigmatic gentile (?), Shamgar, slaughtered 600 Philistines with an ox-goad, of all things (Judges 3), and another gentile, Jael, killed an enemy king with a tent peg (Judges 4). One impoverished Moabite widow, Ruth, became the ancestor of Jesus Christ (Ruth 4). One faithful woman, Hannah, consecrated the most famous judge of Israel (1 Samuel 2). And so on ….

Not to forget a faithful teenage virgin in the early part of the New Testament ….

Listen, if God can use them, He can use you and me.

For consider your calling, brethren,
that there were not many wise
according to the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble;
but God has chosen
the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise,
and God has chosen
the weak things of the world
to shame the things which are strong,
and the base things of the world
and the despised God has chosen,
the things that are not,
so that He may nullify
the things that are ….
1 Corinthians 1:26–29

Paul cited himself as an example.

For I am the least of the apostles,
and not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and His grace toward me did not prove vain;
but I labored even more than all …,
yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
1 Corinthians 15:9–10

Indeed! And that grace is enough for us.

“My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

God uses us, the powerless, the weak, the humble. You and me. To demonstrate his power, might, and glory … through us! Amazing! What a gracious God!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


That’s St. Peter’s Basilica (a.k.a. Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano) from the top of the adjoining Vatican Museum. My nephew, Jacob, my brother, and I had a great time in that venerable institution.

Interestingly, St. Peter’s is not technically a cathedral, since it is not the seat of any Roman Catholic bishop. Instead, this is a papal basilica, reflected in the name Basilica Papale ….

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI made his annual speech to the “Roman Rota,” the Vatican tribunal that decides on marriage annulments of Catholics (they auditors/judges sit at round tables; hence “rota,” meaning “wheel). As he has done in the past the pope used his speech to endorse the indissolubility of marriage and the importance of not granting annulments to all and sundry, on any whim or caprice. (This was apparently directed at the United States, which in the past few years has had more annulment cases arbitrated than the rest of the world combined!)

Pope Benedict stressed his desire to break “the vicious circle between quasi-automatic admission to marriage, without adequate preparation and serious examination ... and equally easy judicial declarations” which annul marriages simply because of some problem between the two marrieds. And, taking aim at the culture of quick divorces, he also declared that nobody has the automatic right to be married in a Catholic church.

Interesting. A “right” to marriage. Sure, the papal opinion dealt with a right to marriage in a Catholic church. But that sparked an interesting thought in my mind: the “right” to marriage.

Of course, we have a right to marry or not to marry. That’s part of the freedom human beings enjoy. No one is to be coerced into either state. A right!

According to Paul, both marriage and celibacy are gifts.

… each person has
his own gift from God
one in this manner
[to be single],
and another in that
[to be married].
1 Corinthians 7:7

Gifts, not rights. Gifts to be employed, not rights to be enjoyed. Gifts— endowment, not rights—empowerment. A gift of God, “one in this manner, and another in that,” that enables the gifted one to function effectively and fruitfully in the economy of God.

That’s a different way of looking at the state of marriage/singleness. A gift, not a right. And if one is gifted to enter one state than the other, then it is only by the exercise of one’s gift, that gifted one will be fulfilled and find shalom. For a gift indicates that God has wired us in one way or another.

Regarding celibacy, Jesus said:

“Not all can accept this statement,
but those to whom it has been given.”
Matthew 19:11

There is a “givenness” about it—it’s a gift.

All this to say that one need not necessarily accept the “default” pathways the world forces us to walk on. And one need not necessarily claim the “right” to go one way or the other. Instead, it might be a better idea to discover what one is gifted for—marriage or singleness.

All things considered, it will probably be better for the marriage-gifted one to get married, and for the singleness-gifted one to remain single. Nothing really to do with one’s right, but rather to do with one’s gift.

For those still wondering whether to get married or not, I ask: What’s your gift? What does your “head” tell you about who you are, your personality, your life-story? What does your “heart” say about your passion, your continence? What does your “hand” affirm about your effectiveness for the Lord?

What’s your gift?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Last Saturday, in what appears to have been the handiwork of a man quite deranged, a shooting incident took the lives of six and wounded fourteen at a political rally in Tucson, AZ. Among those killed was a federal judge, and one of the wounded was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). She is still listed as critical, though making great strides forward in recovery.

A horrific tragedy by any count, but also one of the many shooting incidents in US history involving authorities of the nation—members of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government. A long history of political violence though, thankfully, shorter than that of many other nations, past and present.

In the rather odd case of Alexander Hamilton (US Treasury Secretary), this worthy was shot to death by Aaron Burr, US Vice President (1804)! In a duel! In 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina walloped Senator Charles Sumner into a state of unconsciousness in the Senate chamber. President Jackson was shot at, without injury (1835; though he successfully won many duels, killing his opponents); President Lincoln, shot lethally (1865; as part of the same plot, William Seward, Secretary of State, stabbed); President Garfield assassinated in 1881, and President McKinley in 1901. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1912), Franklin Roosevelt (1933), Truman (1950) shot at, but without harm to themselves. President Kennedy was killed in 1963. President Ford shot at in 1975 (twice!), President Reagan in 1981, and President Clinton in 1994—all these attempts unsuccessful. A number of members of Congress, including Huey Long (D-LA), Robert Kennedy (D-NY), and Leo Ryan (D-CA—in Jonestown, Guyana), were killed, while five others attacked in the House of Representatives by Puerto Rican nationalists survived (1954). Add to this list a number of federal judges, including John Roll, last week. And governors.

Ruling is a dangerous business!

No wonder, believers are commanded to intercede for those in power.

First of all, then, I urge that
entreaties and prayers,
petitions and thanksgivings,
be made on behalf of all men,
for kings and all who are in authority,
so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life
in all godliness and dignity.
1 Timothy 2:1–2

Darius, the Persian king, recognized the power of prayer offered by the people of God. In his decree in the 6th century BCE, that permitted the returning Jewish exiles to rebuilt the Temple, he declared:

“Whatever is needed … it is to be given
to them daily without fail,
that they may offer acceptable sacrifices
to the God of heaven and
pray for the life of the king and his sons.”
Ezra 6:9–10

And so we pray for these our authorities, rulers, governors, leaders, sovereignly appointed by God. That is an integral part of being good citizens and an essential part of being good Christians.

“Seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you into exile,
and pray to the LORD on its behalf;
for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
Jeremiah 29:7

I like Daniel’s heart—concerned, humble, and gutsy, as he confronts the Babylonian despot, Nebuchadnezzar.

“Therefore, O king, may my advice
be pleasing to you:
break away now from your sins
by doing righteousness and
from your iniquities
by showing mercy to the poor,
in case there may be
a prolonging of your prosperity.”
Daniel 4:27

It appears the king did repent (Dan 5 details this in his own words). It appears he acknowledged Yahweh. It might just be that we’ll meet King Neb in heaven! Perhaps all because of Daniel.

Pray for those in power!

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I flew to Houston and back to Dallas yesterday to do the honors for a wedding.

Well, “do the honors” makes it sounds like I was the groom or something. No fears. Sony and Ann did the honors. I helped them along. I was the preacher.

All this to say, I flew to Houston and back. Which means I did two long stints in Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby—anything longer than two minutes in an airport is a loooooong stint for me! And two long plane rides, each of about 65 minutes, one up and one down. I know, you’re saying, “Abe, it’s only 65 minutes.”

Yeah? Put yourself in an aluminum box attached to a couple of powerful machines that produce thousands of explosions per minute and drive huge metal pistons that assault the aluminum box at the same rate. Then put this box a mile high in the sky. Moving at 500 mph—i.e., like a tornado coming at you. Don’t forget to strap yourself to your seat! Add a crying baby or two. All in all, about 100dB.

Listen, more than 120 seconds of that is too much. Just too much.

For several years, I wandered aimlessly in airports and sat listlessly in airplanes wearing orange earplugs. (And, yes, I’ve been known to do that for loud wedding receptions as well, yesterday’s excepted.) They worked well. Close to utter silence.

But I’m getting better. In-ear headset/earphones + iPhone + Bach. Bliss!

That’s my personal anti-noise device to keep ye olde tympanum and cochlea happy, pulse calm, and blood pressure peaceful. I made it through. Successfully.

Judging from wires innumerable dangling from ears uncountable, I’m not the only one to undertake such preventive measures.

Actually, anti-noise is much more intricate. Headphones with anti-noise generators have microphones that sample ambient noise. Then by means of intricate circuitry, mirror images of those sound waves, but 180° out of phase with the noise, are produced so that pressure waves of the noise are canceled out by the “anti-noise”—the phenomenon of destructive interference. The result is silence.

The noise in the world is loud, too loud. Antagonism. Opposition. Tumult. Trauma. Faithlessness. Fearfulness. Discord. Discontent. Incapacitating us, undermining our resolve, sapping our strength. Loud noises all around. And we are just about ready to give up.

Job situation tenuous, finances a mess, health falling apart, kids going astray.
Loud noises and getting louder still.

But we do have anti-noise. The voice of God. His promises.

The voice that promises us the constancy of His presence ….

“I will never desert you,
nor will I ever forsake you.”
Hebrews 13:5

No, we are never alone. Never.

The voice that promises us the sufficiency of His grace ….

“My grace is sufficient for you.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Yes, we have all we need. All.

The voice that promises the inseparability of His love ….

For I am convinced that neither death,
nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39

No, nothing can remove us from God’s love. Nothing.

And so, with God’s people of old, let us hear …

“Hear, O Israel!
The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
You shall love the LORD your God
with all your heart and
with all your soul and
with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4–6

Hear. Listen. Drown out the world’s cacophony with God’s anti-noise.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


The “heart” of Venice, they say. The Ponte di Rialto (the Rialto Bridge) built in the late 1500s, and until the 1850s the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot. It was built, appropriately enough, by Antonio da Ponte (Anthony of the Bridge), who beat Michelangelo and Palladio and others to win the contract. On this venerable structure are St. Mark, St. Theodore, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Ghost, a whole lot of shops, and a ton of tourists. One of the quaintest sights in Venice. And to go under it on water is always a thrill.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 535–475 BCE) is supposed to have said: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” In other words, the river you step into at any instant is not the same river the next instant. Water flows. Rivers change. Time moves on. Our man, Heraclitus, declared that change was central to the universe, for everything changed. Well, almost! He also asserted: “Nothing endures, but change.” Yup, that’s the only unchangeable constant Heraclitus believed in—change!

Even the Grand Canal is no longer the same. Much water has flown beneath the Rialto. Things do change. Everything changes. The year has just changed. A new decade has begun, the second one of this millennium. And we’ve gotten older!

There is only One with whom there is no change. He said so Himself.

“For I, the LORD, do not change.”
Malachi 3:6

What a relief! Through all the vicissitudes and vagaries of life, through all the consuming trials and overwhelming tumults, through the twists and turns of the paths we tread, God remains the same.

Of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
Even they will perish, but You endure; …
You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.
Psalm 102:25–27

Whims and fancies and caprices don’t touch Him …

… with whom there is no variation
or shifting shadow.
James 1:17

Our God is always the same. The Father of all grace, the Son of all love, the Holy Spirit of all comfort.

It’s a good thing God remains the same. He is not going to change His mind about my sin. Washed away once for all by the blood of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who died and rose for me.

Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

And now I’m secure. Secured by his love, from which nothing can separate me.

For I am convinced that neither death,
nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39

And so all we ask as we set foot into another year, O God, is that you abide with us.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Henry F. Lyte, 1847

Abide with us!