Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Little Means a Lot

January 18, 2018

It doesn’t take much to make a big difference. The other day when I was practicing my bass, I noticed that the E and G (lowest and highest) strings were buzzing, indicating that the strings were too close to the fingerboard and needed to be raised. Last summer when I had my bass checked out by the repair shop, they replaced the old, possibly original bridge with a new adjustable one. It’s a simple principle; instead of being made as a single piece of wood, the feet of the bridge are cut and drilled to receive a threaded rod that raises or lowers the height of the bridge. For anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, the bridge is in the middle of the instrument body; the strings run from the head of the instrument, down the neck, pass over the bridge and down to the tailpiece. There is roughly 150-250 pounds of pressure on the bridge of a string bass, meaning those little threads have to withstand some pretty intense pressure for everything to work well.

To rid myself of that pesky buzzing, I loosened the strings and rotated the adjusters. Nothing happened. They kept turning, but the bridge didn’t rise. So today I took the instrument in to my bass professor. As we turned the adjusters, they would grab, then release, which indicated that the threads were stripped. We removed the bridge, turned the adjusters, and everything raised up just fine...until we replaced the bridge and started tuning the bass. Suddenly there was a loud pop. The adjusters had indeed stripped their threads and were unable to bear the pressure of the strings.

When you think about it, compared to the pressure they must withstand, there’s not much surface area on a threaded rod, or in the wooden hole into which they are threaded. Usually, it’s enough, but not always. The difference between success and failure is surprisingly small. Life itself can be like that, too. Races are won or lost by thousandths of a second, a fraction of a degree can spell the difference between a billiard ball landing in the pocket or bouncing off the rail. A single element of an equation determines a right or wrong answer. A single additional sin can be the final straw in a marriage that is on the ropes.

By the same token, a single step taken in the right direction, a simple act of repentance, a small kindness, a single word of forgiveness can be just enough to turn a life around, to bring hope where there has been despair. I had saved the old unadjustable bridge, and we installed it this afternoon. I can once more make music, or at least make an attempt at it. It’s not quite right; after all, it’s more than eighty years old, but it works, and I’ve been reminded of an important lesson: A little means a lot. Maybe tomorrow, whatever little I can do for someone else will mean a lot, and enable that person to make beautiful life music once more.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Business Meetings and Love

January 17, 2018

I HATE business meetings! There; I’ve said it. Especially when I have to leave a nice warm fire, go out in single digit weather, and drive in the dark. I’d much rather stay home, stay warm, and just relax. I could justify leaving home to attend one of the grandkids’ games or concerts, but a meeting? Nope. Nope. Nope.

I forgot to mention...I LOVE these people! Once there, even a business meeting gives me joy. Don’t ask me how that is possible; I don’t know, except for the people who make the cold, dark drive worthwhile. We talked about businessy kinds of stuff, just like anyone would expect at a business meeting. But there was more. Through all the agenda there was a constant attitude of genuine caring for one another, and for the community in which God has placed us. 

And for me, there’s something else. I’m retired. I’m only pulpit supply. I don’t have to show up to anything other than Sunday morning. So for the first time in my life, I am actually volunteering. When I go to the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, help out with a dinner, or attend a meeting, it’s not because it’s a part of my job for which I’m being paid. It is my gift to them, and to the Lord. Jesus taught us that it’s better to give than to receive, and I’ve found that to be true in so many ways. I like to receive gifts and love as much as anyone else, but the real joy is in the giving, especially when there is no possibility of reciprocity. Giving to this church and these people has been fun, particularly so because there’s no requirement to do any of it. When one HAS to do something, it’s a job; when it’s done for the joy of giving, it is a blessing that returns, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


January 16, 2018

The heat was sweltering up in the balcony that summer morning. I don’t think air conditioning had yet been invented; if it had, it hadn’t arrived at the Westside Baptist Church where I was attending the Vacation Bible School. But it’s not the heat I remember most; it was the lesson. Visuals always help nail things down in our minds, and this was no exception. It was a simpler time; kids today wouldn’t be impressed with the wooden clocks we punched out of the pre-stamped luan plywood. All painted up, they were quite impressive crafts, at least to us kids. Each one bore an inscription which we dutifully painted in bright colors: “My times are in Thy hand.” It’s a quote from Psalm 31:15. The rest of the verse is a prayer for deliverance from enemies, which probably wasn’t too applicable back then. I’m not sure this eleven year old kid from the suburbs had too many enemies to worry about.

The entire week’s lessons centered around time. Later on, we memorized Ephesians 5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” All this was from the old Authorized Version, the only Bible we knew existed back then, apart from the Revised Standard Version, which we were taught was not the “real” Word of God. Elizabethan English can be a bit daunting for people, but I grew up on the rich, sonorous phrases of the revered King James Version, and that is what we memorized. I like many of the modern translations, but when I’m trying to remember a verse, I think in King James. But I digress.

Today’s been busy from start to finish, filled with people and activity. There’s been no downtime whatsoever, but it’s all good. When we know our times are in God’s hand, the pressure of the calendar or clock recedes to its proper place—IF we make sure we are redeeming the time, i.e. exchanging it for that which is worthwhile. When I was a kid, my mother used to save S&H Green Stamps. She would get them every time she went grocery shopping. Spend a certain amount of money, and get a corresponding number of stamps which then got pasted in books. Save enough of them, and they could be redeemed for all sorts of items, from pots and pans to entire dinner sets. The stamps were redeemed—exchanged for something of value. 

The hours, minutes, and seconds of this day I exchanged for conversations with people I value. I think the exchange was worth it, and I leave it with gratitude in God‘s capable hands.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday and Sunday

January 15, 2018

Today was somewhat of an odd day for me. It’s MLK day, and I suppose I should say something fitting about it, but instead, I spent the morning and early afternoon with my granddaughter working at our Dunkirk church food pantry and clothing shop, talking with clients and with the developmentally disabled people from the Resource Center who work sorting clothes for the latter. Dr. King was keen on preserving the dignity of every human being, so we did our best to do this with those whose lot in life has been more challenging than mine. I think that’s as good a tribute as attending a ceremony would be.

Mondays are often a bit challenging for me. One of the benefits of retirement was not having to always have my brain in gear (although there are those who could legitimately question whether it ever is). After preaching on Sunday, it would be nice to simply back off and relax, not having to begin thinking about next week’s service, but as a part-timer, I don’t have that luxury. I’m supposed to merely be pulpit supply, but Mondays and Wednesdays in the office, a monthly board meeting Wednesday evening, an extra ride to pick up some furniture for the Willow mission, visiting a few people facing some special life circumstances, added to a few non-church commitments, and before I know it, Sunday is here again.

I suppose I could complain about it, but then I remember; I chose this life. Again. And when it’s all said and done, I am loving it. My only concern is whether we can turn things around in the time I have left to offer these good people. Ultimately, that’s in God’s hands, as is the outcome of whatever we do. I am hopeful; there have been some good signs, but there is much to be done. And today is Monday. I’ve already begun thinking about Sunday’s service, and trust that as I let the Word of God simmer in my soul, the Holy Spirit will from that simmering produce a meal nourishing and appetizing. Like a good meal, a good sermon isn’t fast food, so it takes time. Fortunately, God isn’t in a hurry, and slow growth doesn’t bother him. It is winter, and the dormancy is a necessary part of it all, perhaps even in church life.

So Monday, I read and pray, think a little, and begin to put it all in God’s hands. And I give thanks even as a part of me feels anxious about Sunday, trusting that the Holy Spirit will reveal exactly how he wants to bring glory to Jesus Christ just six days from now.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Salt and Light

January 14, 2018

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples that they are salt and light, following it up by saying that if as salt, they lose their savor, there is no remedy, and that light hidden under a basket is of no use at all; it must be raised on a lampstand for all to see. Of interest to me is how often people misunderstand what Jesus plainly says here. I’ve often heard people say, “I don’t talk much about Jesus; I just let my light shine,” implying that somehow living a good life will move others to faith in Christ. The problem is, that isn’t what Jesus says here. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” It is clearly evident that our light is not our good works; it is what illumines them.

If I go around doing good, people will naturally say, “Look at all the good Jim is doing. He is a good man.” Just doing good brings attention to myself. But if I illumine those good works by telling people it is because of what Jesus Christ has done for me, seeing my good works, instead of giving me glory, they give glory to God. My words have illumined my works. The light about which Jesus speaks is our words.

So what about the salt? Salt has many uses; it is a preservative, it flavors our food, can kill snails, and it lowers the melting point of ice. It is this latter characteristic that is pertinent here. Most of us know people who are quite vocal about their faith, but whose lives are anything but exemplary. Their words fall on deaf ears because what they do is speaking louder than what they say. But if my words are backed up by my works, it is a winning combination. 

I think what Jesus is saying here is that if we are careful to do good, we melt people’s icy hearts to hear the words of the Gospel. Or if you will, like a salt lick attracts wild animals, the salt of our good works attracts people, readying them for the witness of our lips. Either one by itself is inadequate; together, our works and our words can be effective in bringing people to our Heavenly Father.

More than fifty years ago, an elderly man gave an object lesson using a light bulb, a dish of water, and some salt. He had wired a light bulb to an electric cord, one strand of which he had cut. He placed the cut ends of an electric cord in a bowl of water and plugged the other end in before slowly pouring salt into the bowl. The bulb began to glow. Salt and light together did their job. I understood, and that night at his invitation, I prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That elderly man was a lonely widower who later would marry my widowed grandmother, making my spiritual father my adopted grandfather. Tonight I am thankful for this Scripture which opened my eyes and my heart to Christ, and for the life lesson it continues to offer to me and to anyone willing to listen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


January 13, 2018

More often than not, when I sit down to write my “Thankful Blog,” as someone called it, my mind is a blank, not because there is nothing for which to give thanks, but because most of it is so ordinary and personal that I can’t imagine anyone else being interested in it. Facebook is filled with pictures of people enamored with their cats and their children, which I’m sure are as important to them as my children and grandchildren are to me. But I would be fooling myself to imagine that my kids and grandkids matter as much to anyone else as they do to me. So while I am grateful for them, and for many other people, events, and things in my life, most of it is ho-hum to anyone else. So I sit and stare at a blank page.

But there is something of value in sitting and staring, and refusing to simply give up. We are often faced with situations for which there seems no solution, no way out. If we walk by every closed door without even bothering to knock, we’ll never know which ones might yield and open to unimagined delights. If we simply bow before every obstacle, we’ll never learn what strength we actually have. If we sit and stare long enough, often a dim form will start to take shape in the mists before our eyes, and we begin to discern patterns to which we had been blind before. 

So I sit and stare, and eventually begin to write. Only a small portion of it has any value, perhaps even less than I imagine, but the discipline is worth it. The blank page has not defeated me. I have ink and paper to prove it. And even if what I write turns out to be trivial, the effort is not, because as I shape words and sentences, they also shape me. And when all is done for the glory of God, it is good, and I give thanks.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Morning Comes

January 12, 2018

The nights have been getting shorter for a couple weeks now. It still gets dark around suppertime, and isn’t light in the morning till nearly 7:00, but bit by bit, the sun is gaining. It’s dark now, and soon the kids will all be in bed, oblivious to the ticking of the clock that counts down the hours and minutes till morning. 

Night has always come with a certain amount of foreboding. Nefarious deeds are committed in the dark; as the Scriptures say, “men loved darkness because their deeds were evil.” Rioting, looting, burglary, assault, and rape all occur more in hours of darkness than in the light. We lock our doors and turn on security lights to discourage those who would do us harm. 

In today’s reading, there is a longing for morning when the dangers that lurk in the darkness recede once more as the dawn breaks. This longing looks beyond day and night to the dawning of righteousness and peace that will bring an end to the dark forces of evil that haunt this old world. I can almost hear the plaintive call...

“Watchman, what of the night?”

And then, that faint glimmer of hope as the watchman said, “The morning comes.” (Isaiah 21:11-12) Finally, the night is almost over, and the dangers of the darkness fade in the joy of the new day. This foreshadows the hope that we have in Christ who will one day come and shine like the sun. The Revelation says that in that day, there will be no need for the sun, because God himself is the Light. And so in this present darkness, we look forward to that day.

“Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not delay. — He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds.” 
“Let all your enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might. — You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

“There shall be no night there.” 
(Hebrews 10:37, 2 Samuel 23:4, Judges 5:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Revelation 21:25)

It is dark now; the storm is raging. But the morning will come, and with it, another reminder that the Day is coming when night shall be no more. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!