Friday, February 23, 2018

Deep Love

September 23, 2018

Romance just ain’t what it used to be. Time was, when it meant flowers and chocolate, dinner at a fancy restaurant, and candlelit evenings. Linda’s birthday today started out with me exercising and a quick breakfast before heading off to writer’s group. Drum roll for the big event of the day: I bought four snow tires for next year; hey—a good deal is a good deal! We did have lunch together before I gathered things up for band rehearsal. 

We weren’t really hungry for dinner, so it was off to the funeral home before taking in one of the grandkids’ soccer games. Now it’s 10:30, and we’re finally home for the night; not exactly fodder for the next great romance novel. Except that it is. If you want to grow a squash, you only need three months. An oak takes a century. When Linda and I were first married, we thought we knew love. Looking back, we had no clue. It stands to reason; in spite of what Hollywood tells us, love does not blossom overnight. It takes years to grow into something strong and tall, able to withstand the storms of life because its roots have grown deep over time. We’ve had the time, the roots are deep, and God has made us strong. Life is good because our love is good.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Practice in Private

February 22, 2018

Today, something just clicked. I’ve been more diligent lately about practicing my bass, even when I don’t feel like doing so. Without a regular schedule, days can get pretty crazy around here; somehow, it never works for me to exercise unless I do it first thing in the morning. Of course, it is always alluring to sleep in just for a few minutes more, but if I do, those turn out to be just the minutes I needed to fit in a workout. Midday isn’t good for planning anything, and evenings are usually filled with everything from grandkids’ sports to musicals, concerts, and a variety of other people stuff. So I squeeze practice whenever and wherever it fits on a given day. Often, I would rather read or even watch a movie on Netflix, but I’m trying to be faithful to a practice regimen.

I’m terrible with my bowing; my arco (the musician’s term for it, I’ve learned) sounds like someone torturing a cow and a cat all at the same time. It’s better than it used to be, if you can imagine that. Poor Linda! I’ve been working on my major scales, one half step at a time, through two octaves, and have been working on the music for band. I have a long way to go, but noticed this afternoon that some of the patterns that had eluded me were starting to come together. It’s not exactly music yet, but at least it doesn’t sound like I need to be put out of my misery.

Billy Graham died yesterday. By his own admission, when he looked back on his life, there were things he wished he had done differently, but for most of my life, he was the one public figure whose integrity was never really questioned. People didn’t always like him; he had his detractors, but he was also squeaky clean. I remember attending his School of Evangelism back in 1983. Most people only ever saw the big crusades; they had no idea the amount of pre- and post- crusade effort that accompanied every one of those meetings. And they never saw his daily regimen of faithfully immersing himself in the Bible, a regimen that was the foundation for all he accomplished.

The master musician seems to play effortlessly, much as words flow from the lips of the master preacher, but that public ease belies an immense amount of behind the scenes work. The same can be said for Christian life and character in general. Many want holiness, but aren’t willing to pay the price in solitude that is required to live a holy life in public. For me, one of the best parts is when after weeks or perhaps months of time in the Scriptures and prayer, suddenly the light breaks through, and it begins to click. It will be awhile before I’m ready to take my place in God’s divine orchestra and play to a heavenly audience, but I’m practicing, and every so often, it actually begins to sound like real music.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sunday’s Coming

February 21, 2018

Sometimes the best part of a day is that it’s over. It hasn’t been a bad one; my life is filled with good people, a wife who loves me, and resources enough to make life comfortable. But when it came to putting Sunday’s sermon together, it was like my brain was made of mush. I had plenty of notes to work from, but just couldn’t get my mind to work right. Four hours at the desk produced the makings of a sermon, but nothing that makes me really happy. The family I had intended to visit weren’t home. When I got home tonight, Linda kept asking me if everything was OK. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t her. It was that miserable excuse for a sermon.

I’ve been at it long enough to not panic like I used to when I started out. Sunday is still four days away, and God is faithful. Tomorrow is a new day, and with it come new mercies, for which I am thankful tonight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


February 20, 2018

There’s something about the smell of Hoppe’s that says, “This was a good day.” It’s certainly not politically correct, especially in the aftermath of school shootings that seem to escalate every time the media descends on the latest scene of tragedy, giving unstable people a platform that draws the attention of the entire country. But Hoppe’s still has that aroma like nothing else in the world. 

For anyone unfamiliar with such matters, Hoppe’s is the solvent and oil I grew up with. It may have other uses, but it has been a staple of shooters for generations. My father used it to clean his shotguns and .22s. Not having been present at the time, I can’t say for sure that my grandfather used it, but the fact that the 12 gauge LeFevre Nitro Special side by side that was once his is still in pristine condition is testimony to the care he lavished upon such a prized possession. I can still almost feel the jolt that sat me down the time I managed to discharge both barrels at the same time. I didn’t make that mistake a second time. The gun now belongs to my son, having passed now through four generations. I expect someday it will be little Nathan’s. If so, it will in part be due to Hoppe’s.

Last Christmas, on behalf of all our kids who chipped in to make it possible, Matt presented me with the gift everyone was waiting for. I had no idea. As everyone looked on, I unwrapped a lever action .38/357 carbine, a beauty I had admired since the previous summer when Matt let me shoot his. It too, is a beauty, and is more accurate than I am. Last week, Matt suggested that with the weather forecast of warmth, and he having the week off work, this might be a good time to sight it in, so this morning, we did just that. The air was springlike as we walked through the woods and set up targets. An hour later, we had exploded a bag full of potatoes, along with assorted milk cartons, pop bottles, and a handful of boards I had salvaged from the take away bin at the pallet factory down the road.

Back home, it was time for the Hoppe’s. The cloth was just a bit cleaner with each pass through the barrel, till it was ready for the protective coating of oil, and I breathed in once more that sweet Hoppe’s aroma. It was a good day, and I am thankful tonight.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Surprised by God

February 19, 2018

It was a small gesture, but means a lot. Tonight at our men’s Bible study, we started out as usual, with prayer requests. I mentioned a family in Dunkirk that I’ve been working with. For various legitimate reasons, they hadn’t been in church since Christmas, and I finally was able to visit them today. When I talked with them last week, he told me that they weren’t in church because he couldn’t get his car started. He bought a new battery, but it sounds to me like either the starter or the alternator. 

I merely asked for prayers for this family, not just regarding their transportation, but because I believe God brought them to us last fall as first fruits of what he intends to do in Dunkirk. If the church is going to grow, like a tree, it will be at the edges with new people. They are eager, ready to even go door to door handing out flyers and inviting neighbors and friends. 

After Bible study tonight, one of the men caught me washing the coffee pots and wiping down the kitchen counter. He slipped $15 into my hand. “I didn’t have more on me tonight, but this is for the alternator.” I hadn’t asked for any money, but this man felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to help out. If anyone asks why I came out of retirement to be a pastor once more, it’s because of moments like this when God catches me by surprise like he did tonight. I am grateful for my friend, his heart for Christ and Christ’s people, and for the opportunity it will give me to be a tangible witness to the love of God through his people.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

February 18, 2018

Like so many things in my life, she just keeps getting better all the time. I write to the accompaniment of a minuet, a lullaby, and a Broadway tune, courtesy of Linda’s practicing. It was right after Christmas a few years ago that she thought she might like to take piano lessons again, having taken them as a girl, and playing occasionally for her own pleasure. Not having a piano nor room to put one, we talked with my good friend Rick Napoli, an amazing musician in his own right. He owns a small music store in Fredonia, and is THE man in Chautauqua County you want to see if you want a keyboard. 

Linda practices diligently, and I can hear her improvement. Radio or cd is nice, but live music is always best, and now at the close of what has been a wonderful day, hearing her melodies from the other room is a delight to my ears. 

It all started this morning. Sunday mornings are not usually my best times. The prospect of preaching always fills me with apprehension; my stomach is usually in knots, and I repeatedly review what I’ve written, asking myself, “Is this what I should be saying this morning? Is it what the people need right now? Is it engaging? Is it Good News, or merely good advice? Does it point to Jesus as Savior of the world?” I am fortunate in that before I lead worship in Dunkirk, I have the opportunity to participate in the congregational worship in Sinclairville. As we sing, I join in, intermittently stopping to pray for the congregations and the Word of God. This morning’s worship began with a joyful rendering of “You’re the Lion of Judah” by Robin Mark, followed by Phil Wickham’s “At Your Name,” which recounts the splendor and power of the Name of Jesus Christ. Who wouldn’t be ready to worship after that?

I was amazed how the paltry words I had prepared came forth with ease and (I hope) power as I did my best to point the congregation to Jesus Christ who alone can transform us in the image of God. The afternoon was spent with our son Matt, his wife Jeanine, and grandson Nathan, having a wonderful dinner, followed by visiting dear friends as they grieved the loss of their father and grandfather. Time for Linda and me to talk added to the wonder of the day. 

Sometimes God’s blessings are what Ann Voskamp calls “hard eucharistos,” blessings that are difficult even as they shape us in the image of Christ. Over the years, we’ve had a few of them, but today, they were anything but hard, and I am grateful for each one, especially as the piano fades with the evening light.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Comforting the Comforter

February 17, 2018

Sometimes it’s the comforters who get comforted. Before I say more, take a good look at that word “comfort.” We tend to think of it in rather maudlin ways, dabbing tears from the eye, giving a hug, or an arm around the shoulder. It can be all these things, but the word literally means, “with strength.” Genuine comfort is an impartation of strength to the recipient. It may involve hugs and tears, but it can also include correction, reality checks, and a strong talking-to. 

That being said, I was called upon today to offer comfort to a Christian friend who has experienced more than her share of disappointment in life. Health issues have mandated a major trajectory change in her life, not an easy path for anyone. In spite of all she’s been through, she still feels the call of God upon her life, which is how I got called into the middle of it. The goal she senses may be quite out of reach, which would be another disappointment. So we talked. About mission work, how we recognize God’s call in our lives, and about how we prepare ourselves for mission service. Tears were shed, questions raised, fears confronted. 

I don’t know where her missionary desire will take her, but I know this: I wish I had a church full of people who are as compassionate and as ready to serve Christ in whatever way they can as she is. What an expansive heart she has! I reminded her that God has given her everything she needs to serve him right now, just as he did before her illness. It’s just that the service is a bit different. We talked about some possibilities, prayed together, and I left. I don’t know if I helped her, but she certainly ministered to me! This comforter was comforted—strengthened by this servant of Christ who opened her heart and poured out love.