Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ushers to God

June 1, 2015

Yesterday I wrote about the strenuous difficulty of entering into God's promised rest. This morning, I woke later than usual, making me hurry to get ready for church. Just as I was heading out the door, Harry called me, wondering when I would arrive and enter the songs into the presentation program. Somehow, I missed the email with the month's schedule. Linda had taken the truck to Matt's for breakfast, her car was getting some bodywork done, so rain or no rain, I hopped on the bike and was at the church in five minutes, only slightly wet. Fortunately, Bob was already there and on the job, covering for me. Did I mention what a great team we have at Park church? If that weren't enough for which to be thankful, there was more on tap.

We are twice-blessed at Park, with two youth bands, "Path of Grace," our junior band consisting of our elementary-aged youth, and "Faces of the Ground," our senior band. The younger kids led us in our opening worship song, providing voice with guitar and keyboard accompaniment. The older youth had full band. What was impressive was their heart. They weren't just playing notes and singing lyrics. They led us with their hearts. It's a good thing they did, because with my early morning rush, I hadn't even begun to enter into God's rest. I wasn't ready for worship, and it took their worship to lead me in. Frankly, it wasn't easy.

In the Biblical story of Esther, one couldn't enter the presence of the king unless bidden. Access to royalty and privilege is never easy. The protocol for entering the presence of a head of state is strict and lengthy; one doesn't just waltz in lackadaisically. One must be ushered in by a trusted associate. Rushed as I was earlier, I hadn't taken the time nor had I striven to enter God's rest, and I couldn't walk right in on my own. These kids today were God's associates, ushering me into his Presence, for which I am very thankful.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Strenuous Rest

May 29 and 30, 2015

Yesterday was our granddaughter Alexandria's 17th birthday, which alone is enough reason to give thanks. She is a delightful young woman, beautiful inside and out, blessing everyone she meets with words of encouragement, and a listening heart. She will spend the summer on the mission field in Uganda working with a young woman from Park church. Are we proud of her? You bet!

For me, the day was spent in Syracuse for Annual Conference, then the ride home with pastor Joe. We were both thankful that the rainy weather predicted for both the ride out and the ride back didn't materialize, and the helmet intercom set Linda bought me for Christmas worked perfectly. Though separated by up to a quarter mile at times, we were able to talk about ministry issues the entire way home. The weather was perfect, and we repeatedly gave thanks for safety and the joy of riding.

This morning I read an article about praying the Scriptures, then read in Hebrews 4:11 about striving to enter God's rest. It's an odd phrase, and is not accidental. How does one strive for rest? On the surface, it doesn't make sense. But as I meditated on it, and offered this text as a prayer, I thought about how often I've imagined I could almost saunter my way into God's presence, or lazily read the Scriptures expecting to meet the Lord. God's rest doesn't work that way. This afternoon, Linda and I were sitting on our back deck talking. We had been there about five minutes when she jumped up, grabbed a broom, and started to sweep off the debris that accumulated through the night. "You'd hardly believe I did this just yesterday," she exclaimed. The deck clean, she sat down and said, "It is so hard for me to sit. I start reading my Bible, and see something that needs to be done. It takes me forever to just sit down and focus."

I don't have the same eye for clutter, but I understand the problem. Entering into rest, especially God's rest, is never easy. We are easily distracted, and there is the Enemy of our souls, constantly at work doing whatever he can to keep us from resting in Christ, even if it's as innocuous as sweeping a deck. But if we don't persist, if we don't strive to enter, we can never discover the deep soul-rest God wants us to experience. I can't just slide comfortably into the Presence of God. There are too many barriers in this old world. That Presence is a place that must be fought for, with all the energy and strength we have. To do less dooms us to a restlessness that is characteristic of this lazy, distracted world. I am thankful tonight for God's rest, and pray for strength and grace to strive mightily enough to enter in.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why I've Stayed

May 28, 2015

Tonight after dinner, the guys who are staying at the house instead of the hotel decided to just go home. Well, not quite. They wanted to go out for pizza, so I found myself back on the road again, with the one caveat: I was NOT going to stay out till 1:30 like they did last night. I'm working on being an old man, after all. I'm getting pretty good at going to bed early; now I'll have to start working on my crustiness and curmudging. I think I'll be able to pick it up a lot quicker than the Spanish I've been working on for the past five years.

One of the other pastors wanted to ride in the sidecar, and having an extra helmet, I obliged. He was like a kid on a roller coaster, hands in the air and laughing like a maniac. Well, maybe not maniacally, but close enough for my purposes. We got to our destination, ordered the pizzas, and sat down to debrief on the day's activities. The big event today was the roundtable discussion time where everyone sat at tables to talk about homosexuality. A number of petitions were again brought to Conference with the hopes that they would be affirmed, basically striking all wording that speaks of homosexual behavior as "incompatible with Christian teaching," as well as anything that could be construed as "hurtful." We've been talking about this for 40 years, and may be coming to a tipping point for the denomination. There's been talk of "amicable separation;" It will be a sad day when (I believe it is a matter of 'when' rather than 'if.') that separation finally comes. On the one hand, maybe we will finally be able to focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, a mission that has gotten shoved to the back burner for a generation, as evidenced by our hemorrhaging membership. On the other hand, my more liberal friends have taught me to listen more carefully, and to not just write them off. I cannot say as some would, that they don't love Jesus or take the Scriptures seriously. I believe their hearts may be right, but their heads are wrong. I will miss the challenge they give me to search the Scriptures and my own heart, trying to cut through my own biases. When we only talk with those with whom we agree, we don't grow.

I don't know when the day will come, and I could be wrong. It's happened before. But it appears as I've said, that we are getting close to a tipping point. Although it has been often a bumpy ride, I've appreciated what I've learned in my not-always-beloved denomination. I am grateful that some 45 years ago, God led me to the United Methodist Church. I was asked today why as a conservative, I've stayed. The answer is simple: I am convinced God led me here. Actually, he railroaded me, dragged me kicking and screaming, and slammed doors shut so I couldn't leave. Doesn't sound very complimentary, but it's the truth. And in truth, though it's often been a love-hate relationship, it's been good for me, and the church has been good to me. Divorce is a terrible thing, whether it's a marriage or a church. It's not something to be entered into lightly. I've been married for 45 years, and if my wife left me every time I did something stupid or sinful, we wouldn't have lasted a single one of those 45 years. Is our marriage perfect? No, but it keeps getting better. I keep hoping for the same with my church, and in the meantime, thanking God for the lessons I couldn't have learned anywhere else, for the difficult times that stretched me, and for the nourishing times that have filled my soul. I've had both, and I believe both have been equally, God's gift of grace to me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meeting together

May 27, 2015

Anyone who knows me knows I am not much of a fan of the Annual Conference of our denomination. Part of it has to do with the generally more liberal (I don't use the word "Progressive" because I'm not sure the positions taken by those who claim the nomenclature are actually advancing much except for the continuing decline of our church), stance of that body, but much of it is due to my wife's love rubbing off on me. I just don't like being away from her. Yesterday before I left for the ride to Syracuse, we drove to Hamburg together for a doctor's checkup (fyi, everything's fine). I had stuff to do around home, but I just like being with her. Being away is like only half of me being here. If it were a scenic ride, or hanging out with people we both know and love, I would love having here here. But she knows almost no one from the Conference, and would not have a fun time sitting through the meetings, so it's better for me to miss her than to have her here, not enjoying herself.

The forty-plus years I've been coming to Annual Conference have had their benefits. I've gotten to know and appreciate people whose perspectives on life and faith are vastly different than mine. Forty years ago, I would likely have written them off as apostate unbelievers. I could possibly do that today with some of them today, but I've made some wonderful friendships that have enriched me and helped me see things in ways that wouldn't have been possible before.

And there are those times between the formal sessions where we just sit and talk, building friendships that will, Lord willing, last for years to come. We have some great people, most of whom know how to disagree without being spiteful and vindictive. I've often said that if we spent half our time at conference just talking with each other, and the other half worshipping together, we wouldn't be wasting so much time on issues that pit us against each other adversarially. Any time a vote is taken, there are winners and losers; the whole process is designed to polarize people. Why we ever adopted this model for what we call "Holy Conferencing" is beyond me. It often ends up being far from holy, and with precious little conferencing. Maybe someday we'll be smart enough to change the way we make decisions. Maybe if instead of offering a quick prayer before we take a vote, we spent the entire time praying, we wouldn't even need to vote. Maybe the Spirit would descend as at Pentecost because we finally prayed our way through to be of the same mind. Now THAT would be a Holy Conference!

It hasn't happened in my lifetime, but who knows? If enough people get tired of our inertia, we might just try something new (or would it be old?). Until then, I am grateful for the opportunities to worship, talk, and pray, even if we don't do enough of it. After all, we are Methodists, and Methodists are as Wesley put it, "going on to perfection." We haven't yet arrived, but hopefully, we aren't just sitting still. If I can be thankful for Conference, at least I know that I'm not sitting still.

A Good Ride

May 26, 2015

Today's post is a bit late. The evening was spent not at home writing, but on the road to Annual Conference. Yep, you heard it correctly; I am back at Annual Conference. A couple weeks ago, when talking with a fellow clergyman, somehow the subject came up, to which he responded, "You're retired! Why are you going to Annual Conference? Are you crazy?" For those unfamiliar with the term 'Annual Conference,' it is the once-yearly meeting of pastors and laity for we United Methodists, where business is conducted, new pastors are voted in, retired are voted out, resolutions and budgets are passed (or not), and worship is offered. Except for the preaching of our bishop, which is the best I've ever heard from a bishop, much of it, in spite of valiant efforts to the contrary, is bureaucratic, and therefore (in my humble opinion) dreadfully boring. So my friend's question had a certain level of relevance.

My answer apparently wasn't very impressive. "Pastor Joe asked if I would ride motorcycle with him."

"Are you crazy?" He was maddeningly fixated upon that question.

"I must be," was the only response I could think of that would end the interrogation while being somewhat close to the truth. Thus, my being on the road for four and a half hours. The trip to Syracuse normally doesn't take quite that long, but I'm riding the Ural, which doesn't like speeds much above 55. When I say, "doesn't like," I mean at prolonged high speeds parts can begin to fall off, or the engine can begin to internally disintegrate. So we poked along at 55, with semis and other vehicles whizzing by us. It was actually quite a pleasant ride. By the time we got to Rochester, it was dark, and the Thruway was pretty traffic-free. The evening air was warm, and occasionally the sweet fragrance of locust blossoms wafted across my face.

I was, and am grateful for the incredible life I've been given, with the freedom to ride, and a motorcycle that can carry two full toolboxes, a suitcase, backpack, and duffle bag, besides various other tools and equipment. (Joe's brother rode two up with him to Rochester, while I carried his tools and gear) Sidecars are one of God's gifts to mankind! Or maybe just to me.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

May 25, 2015 Memorial Day

For about a month, I've been limping around with a sore foot. The podiatrist said it is "Plantar Fascitis," essentially tennis elbow of the foot. He gave me some steroid pills that really helped, but once they were gone, the pain returned. He gave me a steroid shot in the heel; lots of fun, I can say! That too, wore off, and for the past week, I've been hobbling around like an old man, which I will not admit to. With the yard and garden work we've been attacking over the weekend, it's really flared up.

But I refuse to complain. Memorial Day is a reminder of the life and death sacrifices made by our military. So many died horribly painful deaths from their injuries, while countless others survived, but broken in body and soul, suffering daily, often for years. Whatever discomfort my foot gives me is merely that...discomfort, not worth comparing to the disfigurement, disability, and pain they live with constantly. I am grateful tonight for their sacrifices and for the life I am privileged to live because of them.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Blessed Beyond Belief

May 24, 2015

How would it be possible to be more thankful than I am tonight? I had the privilege of preaching the Good News that no matter what the future has in store, with Jesus Christ we can face it confidently because he who loved us enough to die for us has promised to never leave or forsake us. Then a beautiful bike ride home (the ride to Frewsburg at 8 am was a bit chilly) to family dinner followed by a rousing baseball game in the side yard. We only had to fish the ball out of the creek three or four times! How many families get to do this kind of stuff together?

I had to unload the old Gravely off the truck so Linda could get a load of horse manure for the garden, and as long as it was back on the ground, I decided to give it one more shot at tilling. It still needed a little mechanical tinkering, so I tore into it, then at 5:15 it was on to SOTA (School of the Arts), where I taught bass to Abi, John, and Harley, in preparation for the youth leading worship next week. Home again, and back to the garden where I fired up the Gravely, and the rotary plow actually turned! This particular machine was the old 1948 model given me by Rich Thies. I gave it to Steve Carlson when we moved back to Sinclairville, since I didn't have a place to store it. It ran like a champ, but smoked so badly that at one point I looked down the lawn behind the house and actually thought someone had started a tire fire down the road. Over the entire back yard (all 2 1/2 acres of it) hung a blue pall. Two birds with one stone: till the garden and fog for mosquitoes!

The evening ended as Linda and I watched the annual National Memorial Day concert in Washington, DC, where tribute was given to the soldiers who have given so much for our freedoms. It was as always, a moving experience. Tomorrow will bring parades and services, followed by picnics and celebrations. May we not lose sight of the real reason for the day, honoring our veterans whose service has secured, and continues to secure our freedoms as Americans. Many live every day with pain and challenges I cannot imagine. Am I thankful tonight? You bet I am!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Of Gnomes and Gravelys

May 23, 2015

Christmas at the Baileys might be a bit sparse this year. This afternoon as I was picking up tools from working in what will be our garden, I came across a little red hat with white fur trim lying in the grass where Linda had mowed a couple hours earlier. It measures about four inches long, and just fits on the tip of my index finger. I can only guess what became of its owner, and shudder to even think of it. I was unable to locate any sign of him, despite a heartfelt search. I placed the hat on a nail beside our front door. Maybe the owner, having miraculously escaped Linda's whirring blades of death, will venture to retrieve it. I can only imagine the report being submitted to the big guy in the red suit. Suffice it to say, Linda's not likely to be on his "nice" list. I however, expect to rise a few notches on said list, and to be rewarded commensurately. Too any children who were the responsibility of this particular little fella, I am deeply sorry, and truly hope that either he escaped unscathed, or that there is another little helper who will pick up the slack so you don't have to suffer for my wife's carelessness.

It was a beautiful day here at Back Acres, cool enough to work without sweating profusely, but warm enough to keep from shivering. When we moved here a couple years ago, I made the difficult decision to part with my beloved Gravelys, since I didn't have a place to store them. I gave them to our friend Steve Carlson, who loves the old beasts even more than I do, and unlike me, has the mechanical know-how to keep them running in tip-top shape. I usually spent more time trying to get them started than actually working with them. When I gave my machines and attachments to Steve, it was with a caveat: I could borrow one any time I needed it. It was a win-win situation: Steve got a couple more Gravelys and a bunch of attachments, and I got to use a running machine whenever I wanted. So this morning, I headed over to Steve's to pick up the Gravely with its rotary plow to till up the area we had cleared of sumac down by the creek. It was the 1948 model I had given him a couple years before we moved here. It was good to see my old mechanical friend again.

Steve refreshed my memory on the operational procedure and noted that this particular machine had one little quirk. The lever to engage the plow had stripped its bolts, so to engage the plow, he just put his foot on top of the lever to hold it in place while he popped it in gear. Pretty simple fix. We loaded it onto my truck, and I headed home, unloaded it without incident, and fired it up. It smoked like I was trying to fog for mosquitos, but ran great. I popped the plow into gear, and away we went. For about a furrow and a half, before the plow popped out of gear.
Seems that it had enough momentum to stay in gear, but only if I wasn't putting any resistance to the plow. It's a bit hard to plow without putting resistance on the blades. It was an easy fix, however. I hopped on the bike, headed to the Cassadaga hardware to pick up a couple mounting bolts and nuts, and in twenty minutes was hard at work fastening the clutch lever securely to the casting.

I don't know what went wrong. After all, I'm not the mechanic. Everything worked as it should, the gears sliding nicely into place, but the plow doesn't turn. So I guess in fact, everything is not working as it should, which is about typical for me with Gravelys. I love them, but my affections have never been returned. When it comes to Gravelys, I am the quintessential jilted lover. When will I ever learn? Oh well, it was a fine day to change the oil on my Ural, and tonight I am grateful that Steve is the proud owner of all my old Gravelys, and that he still considers me his friend after my having unloaded them all on him.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Team Sport

May 22, 2015

Lunch with dear friends not only fuels the body, it feeds the soul. Rell and I must be slow on the draw. We've been trying to get together for months, but with grandkids' sports, sporadic bouts with health issues, and other scheduling difficulties, we were unable to make the connection. Why neither of us thought to schedule a lunch instead of a dinner engagement is a mystery. Neither of us is exactly stupid, but we are apparently, clueless. That's OK; we have fun together while our wives look on with mutually knowing looks. Fortunately, they enjoy each other's company, too; probably because they can commiserate.

There was plenty of laughter around the table as we shared stories of our lives, and not a little amazement at how God has intervened at times we had our backs to the wall. Hebrews 10:25 tells us to not neglect gathering together, but to encourage one another other. It's a sad fact that too often Christians try to go through life isolated from those God intends to use to bless them. I've listened to people explaining how they can worship God just as well in the woods or on the golf course as they can in church. They miss the point. Christianity is a team activity. You just can't do it alone, anymore than you can play baseball alone. Both are team activities. Just as tossing a ball into the air and catching it isn't baseball, so just reading one's Bible and praying while neglecting corporate worship isn't real Christianity.

Unfortunately, often when Christians get together, instead of encouraging one another, they argue and accuse, tearing one another down instead of building each other up. We shared stories today of how that had happened to us in the past, and rejoiced that God is greater than all the machinations of the Enemy of our souls. Today, we encouraged each other, and in doing so, not only obeyed, but also fulfilled the Scriptures. Not too shabby when lunch becomes an instrument of God's grace in our lives. That's what we experienced today, and I am thankful.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

God's Mysterious Ways

May 21, 2015

St. Paul said, "Who has known the mind of the Lord; who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:34), echoing Isaiah who spoke hundreds of years earlier, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (55:9). Sometimes, those ways are so obtuse that we cannot even begin to see through the mist. The early church father Tertullian wrote that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," but I have often wondered if so much of that blood is necessary. American Christians often think of the Age of Martyrdom as having peaked during the persecution of the church under the early Roman emperors Nero and Diocletian, but more Christians have been killed for their faith in the twentieth century than in the preceding nineteen centuries combined. And if the present trends hold steady, those numbers are only going to increase in the twenty-first century.

The faith and faithfulness of God's people in places like North Korea, China, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa is not generally known. Our secular press rarely reports on such things unless Christians (rarely) happen to be the perpetrators. But the stories trickle out, and horrific they often are. And yet, there are those times when events suddenly take a turn that gives God's people breathing room. I learned of one of those events tonight.

Anyone who was around in the '70's remembers the name of Idi Amin, the military dictator who aided by Libya's Moammar Khadafi, brutally ruled Uganda, using torture, extortion, and murder to maintain control for eight years. The Christian population suffered severely during his reign, and the entire Western world uttered a sigh of relief when he was finally deposed and exiled in 1979. The underground church grew strong during those years, and once he was gone, it exploded with numerical growth.

Tonight, Park church hosted a presentation from AMG International, a mission organization with a significant presence in Uganda. One of our young adults has worked with them for over two years, and our granddaughter Alexandria plans to spend the summer working for the mission. At the close of the presentation, Reuben, the presenter, asked for questions, whereupon one woman asked what danger the spread of Islam has posed to Christians there. Reuben responded that the danger was very real at one time, there being a very influential man who was determined to build a mosque in every place there was a church. The danger is past, Reuben said, because that man is no longer here. His name was Moammar Khadafi.

I am sure that our government's targeting of him had little to do with his determination to build mosques in Uganda, and to whatever extent his demise has stirred things up across the Middle East, it has settled things down in Uganda. As I said at the beginning, I don't pretend to understand the ways of the Lord, but I am grateful tonight that these people who struggled for years under Amin, and are still suffering the devastating social consequences of the AIDS epidemic that has orphaned hundreds of thousands of children, are not tonight having to face the added weight of militant Islam.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Back to the Beginning

May 20, 2015

All I can say is, "God must have a quirky sense of humor." The Psalms tell us that God laughs at the vain posturings of mankind, but I think he also derives pleasure from his lesser jokes. About a month ago, I noticed that my hearing aids didn't seem to be handling the task as they had before. I went to my audiologist, who confirmed that one was completely dead, and the other needed tweaking. The problem is, they were on the edge of obsolescence. The one that died wouldn't even link to the computer. It was clearly time for an update.

So the saga begins...

The last time I purchased hearing aids, I had to bear the full cost. Our insurance carrier didn't cover them, which seemed odd to me, since the ability to hear is pretty important in my line of work. It's pretty hard to counsel if you can't hear what the problem is. Fast forward about ten years, and voila! Our insurance will help cover the cost. With one little condition. I have to go through the providers with whom they contract. My audiologist is not one of them. So I head over to a contracted provider, who supposedly handles the same brand that my audiologist recommends, except that he hasn't worked much with that brand (read "not at all"), and prefers a different brand for which my audiologist does't have the software. I've worked with her from the beginning, and want to continue to do so, making this clear to the other provider. At first, he seems OK with just ordering the brand I want, but a week later, decides it isn't worth the time he would have to put into learning the program.

So now I'm on the phone with Rebecca from the insurance plan, who is absolutely wonderful. She calls the provider, trying to convince him to learn the new program, to no avail, and finally she finds a second provider about forty miles away who will work with me. The appointment is arranged, and I call my audiologist to make sure she is willing to work with me to program them. She's not there, so I leave a message.

Tonight, she called back to tell me she'd be happy to work with me, but only for another month or so, since she's retiring. WHAT!!!? All this back and forth on the phone between the insurance people, the provider who didn't want to learn a new brand, and now a second provider; I would have been as well off changing hearing aid brands right from the beginning. I called the original provider and left a message. Maybe he'll be willing to work with me. Maybe not.

Well, I still have my mind. My wife and kids might dispute that, but I can look at all this and laugh. The joke's on me, only I can't hear the punch line. I'm thankful however, that it's not life-threatening, and will be resolved. I will save a considerable bundle over purchasing them myself, but in another way, I think I've paid in full.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rural Culture

May 19, 2015

Our United Methodist denomination is an episcopal system whereby pastors are not called by the local congregation, but appointed by the bishop. Those who are familiar with the call system think ours is crazy, or at least, a bit unpredictable. I suppose that's true, but I've seen some pretty serious train wrecks in churches that chose their pastors, and some pretty good successes in systems like ours where pastors are sent by an adjudicating body. Over thirty years ago when I was sent to Park church in Sinclairville, I didn't even know this village existed. Come to think of it, the same was true when I was sent to Alabama (When the bishop told me that, I thought I'd have to learn to talk with a southern drawl, until I learned that there was an Alabama, New York). I must say that in all the appointments I've had, (all three of them), things turned out pretty well.

That doesn't always happen, as when for instance, a city boy is sent to a rural church. Come to think of it, that's what happened to me! I was raised in the suburbs of Rochester, NY, and was appointed to churches in small villages, with the sole exception of the year I spent in Chicago. It appealed to me, so much so, that towards the tail end of my active ministry, I came to the conclusion that had I been asked to take a church in a suburban or urban setting like that in which I was raised, I wouldn't have had the foggiest notion of how to go about it.

I know of pastors whose appointments to rural or village settings have been disastrous. If a pastor hungers for the bright lights, art galleries, professional theater, big name entertainment, and the variety and opportunity that can only be found in a cosmopolitan setting, living where I live would not go well. And I suppose that if a pastor really wants to hit the big time, the city is where it's at. There aren't too many mega churches in rural America.

Today as I finished talking with a young pastor friend in Starbucks, my daughter and granddaughter popped in. They were out doing their weekly grocery shopping and saw my sidecar motorcycle parked in the lot. In a large suburban setting, that probably wouldn't have happened. As it is, there aren't too many places to do one's grocery shopping, and a single Starbucks in our area. We had a nice visit, thanks in part to living where we do. Tonight, after a day spent talking with a friend from Park church, wit a young pastor from another church, and visiting another friend in the hospital, we picked up Nate and met Deb and the girls at the Ashville General store for dinner. It's a one-of-a-kind place that would probably be hard pressed to survive in an urban setting, but here, it's a local hot spot. Then on to school for the art show and band concert, both of which were wonderful.

Professional level? Not quite. But close enough. There were no bright lights, no narcissistic stars with their coterie of banal followers, no thousand dollar gowns and tuxedos. Mostly blue jeans, sweatshirts, and baseball caps in this crowd. But there were kids giving their best and giving us an evening of enjoyment, not for the music and art alone, but for the connections and relationships we have with our kids, their friends, and others we have met and known for years. No, we don't have all the advantages of the cities and suburbs, but we also don't have the loneliness that often comes from the isolation people feel even in a crowd. We were with people we know, and who know us, and our souls are well watered. And we are thankful.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Poison Ivy...Or Not

May 18, 2015

Two days. That's how long it took me to pull all the poison ivy growing along the creek bank in our back yard. The days have been hot and muggy, and dealing with poison ivy, even though the sweat ran down my forehead and into my eyes, I didn't dare wipe it away for fear of possibly spreading it all over my face. Both times I finished the day's work so soaked in sweat that the dirt clung like it was glued to my skin. I thought I had gotten it all Saturday evening, a big pile that filled a 30 gallon garbage bag. The day ended as I showered, scrubbing thoroughly and throwing my clothes in the wash to minimize any chance of contracting the rash.

When I reconnoitered today, to my dismay, I found more, enough to fill a 50 pound dog food bag. Alex' boyfriend Joseph stopped over and took to our lawnmower while I, donning heavy rubber gloves again, tugged and pulled. After a couple hours of hot, backbreaking work, I was just about finished when a little ditty popped into my head: "Red and three, let it be." I stopped everything, Googled it on my phone, and am delighted to report that I won't be getting poison ivy anytime soon. Turns out I spent two days pulling five-leaved Virginia Creeper!

Sunday, May 17, 2015


May 17, 2015

It's been probably ten years since I've kept the little buggers, and will probably be a couple more before I can do it again. Today when I walked out the back door by the apple tree in full bloom, I noticed the bumblebees having a field day on the blossoms, flitting from one to another with their loads of pollen and nectar. There was also the occasional yellowjacket, but where there should have been hundreds of honeybees, I could only find one. I am grateful for the yeoman's job the bumblebees were tackling, but they're no match for that tree.

Roy Overturf was a member of the church I pastored over thirty years ago. When I knew him, he was an old man, and from the time he was a boy, he kept bees, but had to give it up when he suddenly developed an allergic reaction to their stings. No matter how well one suits up, stings are a part of the job, and the day he found himself lying on the ground unable to move, was the day he realized his apiary days were numbered. We often talked about it, and one day he showed up at my door with a hive and a swarm. I was hooked, and kept a couple hives for years until one spring the colonies died.

Honeybees are fascinating critters. There is discussion in scientific circles as to whether instead of the individual bee, the colony should be considered a single living organism. Separate a honeybee from the colony, and it dies. I should say "she" dies, since the colonies are almost exclusively female. The males, or drones, serve only to fertilize the queen, and once that job is done, they are driven from the hive. All the workers are female, a fact of which my wife is not surprised. They don't hibernate in the winter; instead, they cluster around the queen, without whom they cannot survive, moving slowly through the hive vibrating their entire bodies to create heat, and eating the stored up honey that enables them to keep the colony warm enough to make it through the winter.

One summer when Nathan and Matt were in their early teens, I decided to check on the colonies out behind the tool shed in the backyard. Nate and Clayton, one of his buddies, decided to watch from the roof of the shed, not exactly the smartest thing they'd ever done. I had decided to see if I could slip what's called a queen excluder in between two of the hive bodies, and had hoped to be able to do it quickly enough that I could manage without the smoker. Smoking the bees settles them down while you're working on the hive. Usually, anyhow. I pried off the lid, and the bees came boiling out. You can't blame them; you'd be mad too, if someone ripped off the roof of your house. Nate and Clayt had the smoker with them on the roof of the tool shed, and when I looked up, they were dancing all over the roof, puffing that smoker till I could barely see them through the fog.

You know how on the old cartoons, Wile Coyote would run off a cliff with his legs pumping the air? I've seen that scene played out in real life, as both boys literally ran off the roof, striding through the air and hitting the ground running. Nate dove into the swimming pool in our backyard, while Clayt headed for the house. Linda was in the kitchen, and turned around just in time to see him frantically stripping off his pants, slapping his legs, and dancing up and down.

I miss the bees. They are fascinating to watch as they fly in and out of the hive, and there is nothing like local honey for taste and nutrition. It's even good to rub on cuts, since the sugar content is so high that bacteria can't grow in it. But honeybees are in trouble. It used to be that the hobby beekeeper could tend the hives in the spring, check them once or twice in the summer, and harvest the honey in the fall. But new diseases have devastated colonies all across the country, putting the industry at risk. So many of our crops depend on the pollination these little gals provide, that the decimation of the honeybee colonies could trigger catastrophic damage to our food supply.

I am grateful for these little creatures whose importance to our economy and very survival is far beyond their size. And I am looking forward to the day when I've got our little portion of God's green earth whipped into shape enough that I can once more enjoy the luxury of working with them. It will be my small contribution to our agricultural well-being, and my large contribution to my own well-being. Until then, the bumblebees will have to suffice.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Red Will Do OK

May 16, 2015

Every once in awhile, I have one of those unplanned casual conversations that rekindles hope within me for the generations to come. Dubya had invited me to his "Diaper Dudes" party, celebrating the anticipated birth of his first child. The price of admission was a package of diapers. At least that's the common name for them. Most of the guys there had a more earthy name, which shall go unmentioned here. Use your imagination.

Dubya received his moniker back when he was playing guitar in our church band and doing custodial work for us. His given name is Nathan, and his last name began with a "W." Since my son Nathan was already employed at the church as ministry director, someone decided it would be easier to give this Nate a nickname. I can't say for sure that George W. Bush being in office at the time had anything to do with our calling Nate by the same nickname, but through the years, it has stuck. Everyone knows him as Dubya now.

The gathering was simple. Dubya lives in an old farmhouse out in the country outside of Findley Lake. The men who gathered were friends from work, a few relatives and neighbors. Burgers and dogs, soda and suds were the order of the day. It was definitely not a suburban cookout. No one wore Dockers, and most of them arrived in pickup trucks. I had to leave before the bonfire was lit, but not before I had a refreshing conversation with one of Dubya's co-workers. "Red" is a young man who immediately reminded me of that iconic portrait of Van Gogh peering from the canvas with those haunting eyes. He looked as if he could have been the model for that painting. Red was pretty quiet for most of the time I was there, in part due I suspect to his deafness in one ear. That all changed as the two of us stood in the front lawn feeling uncomfortable. I'm not much of a conversationalist, but I was determined to try.

Soon after I arrived, Dubya had introduced us, commenting that Red had six kids. I used that information to initiate a conversation with him, asking their ages. I was curious, as he didn't look old enough to have that many. Turns out, among those six are two sets of twins, neither being identical. I remarked that life must be pretty busy in his household, and commented on how when our youngest left home for college, I had told my wife that we should have had more kids; we had enjoyed so much raising the three we had. I mentioned that if he does his job well when they are young, he'll enjoy them when they're teenagers. I noted how we often spent hours at the dinner table as our boys regaled us with stories of their day.

Red answered that it is amazing to him how few kids actually sit down to a family meal these days, and that his father and grandfather would never have stood for that. In his home, the TV is shut off, and they gather around the table for dinner, just like he was raised. Red and his wife will do OK. With six kids, there are certain to be challenges and heartaches, but if they keep setting the boundaries as they are doing now, and continue taking the time to build into their children, things will turn out all right. I may never meet Red again, but I am grateful tonight to have had a few minutes' conversation together, just to hear a young man who from the looks of things, doesn't have much of this world's goods, but who knows his priorities and is giving his children a heads up in life, simply by investing in them.Thank you, Dubya, for introducing us!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Unbelievably Blessed

May 15, 2015

An interesting tidbit you might not have noticed about today's date is that in its shortened form of 5/15/15, it is a palindrome. With that out of the way, we can devote our attention to gratitude. This afternoon, Linda and I were sitting in the backyard watching Gemma and Eliza bouncing on the trampoline when I commented that I don't understand how it is that we have been so blessed, while so many others seem to struggle in so many ways. This morning I went to our local writer's group at the library and shared one of my songs. They all thought I should think about having it recorded and shared with a wider audience, something I've thought about, except that I don't know how to go about it. The affirmation was nice, though.

At noon, I had lunch with a friend to talk about some stuff he's facing in his life. To him, it looked like a no-win situation, but I reminded him that our God is in the business of turning around that kind of stuff. The children of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's armies, but it turns out they weren't in the no-win situation they thought. God was just setting them up for a miracle. The trick is to see things the way God sees them. Too often we end up forgetting that God isn't surprised by the messes we often find ourselves in. We get into trouble though, when we ask the wrong questions. Too often, we define our situations by asking whether choice A or choice B is God's will, when God's will is found not in one or the other, but in how we handle the choices placed before us. God's will is that we live with integrity, compassion, and faith, not that we take this job or that, or marry this person or that one. Making a wise decision can make a big difference in our comfort, but God's will is done even when we make a stupid choice, if we live out the consequences of it with integrity, compassion, and faith.

After meeting with my friend, I drove to the hospital to visit another friend who had a stroke during open heart surgery a few weeks ago. Recovery is slow, but I have the time, so we sat, and talked while he listened and smiled a lot. His speech has not yet returned to him. I played him a new song by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard entitled "My Come Whatever, Unfairweather Friend." My friend's troubles have been many, and his choices at times have exasperated me, but he is a true friend, and I am not about to abandon him when he needs a friend more than ever.

I finally got home in the afternoon, sat with Linda watching the kids bounce on the trampoline, and marveled at God's grace to me. Before the evening was out, the rest of the grandkids showed up, we ate S'mores down by the creek, and I caught the gentle fragrance of the apple blossoms on the tree by our back door. By 10:30, Alex and her boyfriend Joseph had made it home from decorating for the prom and were eating spaghetti, while Abi chowed down on some ice cream and the younger ones were sprawled out on the bed and floor of the spare room.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What Lasts

May 14, 2015

This morning my email inbox contained a David Jeremiah devotional, a link to an online bass lesson, a Starbucks free drink reward (Hooray!), a note from my daughter, and our church's Annual Conference Newsletter. I read the devotional and my daughter's note, saved the bass lesson for when I have time to practice it, and skimmed the newsletter before deleting it. A year ago, I'd have picked that newsletter apart, deciding which church-sponsored programs we would follow, which we would ignore, and pass along to others the things I thought they needed to know. It's a strange feeling since retirement, no longer being the link between the larger denomination and our local church. Many  of the articles and events I once thought important no longer have the same impact upon me.

It makes me wonder how important all this stuff is. In some ways, my world has shrunk since retirement. I spend much of my time working around the house (when I'm not visiting people in hospitals or preparing sermons or mentoring other pastors). Where once I would have jumped on training for improving my preaching or dealing with church growth, I read these advertisements and in the words of my friend Sheri Lienhart, think to myself, "Not my circus; not my monkeys." Linda and I started the day at an intramural swim meet where we watched Izzi set two sixth grade records and Jo's fourth grade relay do the same. One of the wires on Izzi's braces had snapped, and her parents' schedule was already packed full, so I volunteered to take her to the orthodontist. As it turned out, Linda handled that duty while I mowed the lawn, then practiced my bassoon outdoors. When Linda and Izzi returned, I did some reading while she fixed us supper before heading back to school for Jo's choral concert. Other than that single email, I didn't give a single thought to Conference and church stuff.

It's a good thing to step back from the routines that fill our lives. I think it was Socrates who said, "An unexamined life is not worth living," or words to that effect. That's one reason God gave us the Sabbath, to slow down and consider why we do all the stuff we do. In the past two days, Linda and I had the opportunity to invest in two of our granddaughters, Gemma and Izzi. Tomorrow, we'll have the crew over for the night. To be honest, I don't miss all the stuff that occupied so much of my time and attention for all those years. I've never been much of an administrator, and meetings usually felt like a necessary evil. Now I have the freedom and the privilege of feeding my own soul with my music, and pouring my attention into the people who populate my life. It is deeply satisfying, and makes me a grateful man. But it also makes me wonder about all the stuff that as a pastor leading the church I thought so necessary for life that I missed the actual living. I wish I had understood this earlier. I'm glad I know it now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


May 13, 2015

Those who follow such things will be either amused or embarrassed by my latest performance, but it was all for a good cause. These words could refer to any number of stunts I've done over the years. There was for example, the time, clothed in a black plastic garbage bag, white gloves, and shades, that I led half a dozen teenagers dancing down the aisle in church as the "Praisin' Raisins" sang and danced a Christian takeoff of Marvin Gaye's "Heard it on the Grapevine." Or the time I stuffed myself into a galvanized tub, wearing little more than a shower cap and shades, singing "Splish Splash" for our '50's Night. 

My latest performance took place this afternoon on the trampoline in our backyard, as Gemma wanted me to join her in singing and dancing to Frozen's "Let it Go!" I wasn't nearly as graceful as three-year-old Gemma; the rubber soles of my shoes stuck to the trampoline surface when I tried spinning around with her, so my spin wobbles like a drunken sailor. But we perfected our bow together and received hearty applause accompanying the raucous laughter from Linda and Jess.

Jesus said that unless we became like little children we couldn't enter the kingdom of God. Childlike, not childish, is the goal. Too many Christians are more childish than childlike. We have tantrums if we don't get our way, insist that others dote upon us, and want to play more than we want to learn. That's childish. Childlike however, is that exuberance, trust, and innocence that we see in a child's performance of a song and dance that has captured her heart. Years ago, after one of my crazy performances, a young man told me he could never do such a goofy thing, and asked how I could do it. My response was that when you know Christ, you don't have to impress anyone. Recently, I told someone that I've reached the age where I've little to lose, and nothing to prove. So I danced and sang with Gemma, who taught me everything I know about "Let it Go," and how to execute a proper bow. Today closes in gratitude for a little girl who holds my heart in her hands much as did her mother years ago.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Not About Me

May 11, 2015

As a pastor, I've often listened to people dissatisfied with someone or something in their church as they told me that they "just aren't being fed," or some such excuse. When I say I listened to these folks, I must confess I use the term loosely. Only rarely was I able to sympathize with such talk. In my heart, I was usually rolling my eyes and saying, "Really?" While there are churches which have abandoned the Gospel for either a feel-good pseudo-theology that has jettisoned the doctrine of Original Sin, or for a watered-down acquiescence to the politically correct propaganda of our society, most of the time people said they weren't being fed, the reality is that they had a conflict with the pastor or some other person, or refused to deal with matters the Holy Spirit was impressing upon them. I can't recall a single time anyone came to me to tell me they were sticking it out for the sake of the body. Of course, people did just that, but they never made any fuss about it.

Chuck had asked me to lead men's group tonight. His flight was delayed, and he didn't know if he would make it in time. I did my study, and showed up at 6:30. My life has been pretty sedate lately. There have been no major or even minor crises. I can't say the same for the guys around the table tonight. As we transitioned from Bible study to prayer, different ones asked prayers for significant issues they or their loved ones were facing. I felt almost embarrassed to take these requests knowing how little I am facing at the moment. I've had my times, but tonight wasn't one of them.

But I was there, not because I had to be fed, but because I wanted to be there for my brothers who needed to hear a word of hope. Technically, worship is not about me "getting something out of it," but about me giving to God the adoration and praise he deserves, whether or not I get something out of it. The same is true of our Bible studies and dinner groups. It's not about me, but about my brothers and sisters who are often dealing with issues that the Enemy has designed to defeat and demoralize them. When that happens, we who are at the moment stronger need to be there to encourage and pray for them, knowing that when it's our turn, they'll be doing the same for us. That's what was happening tonight, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Thanks, Moms!

May 10, 2015

It is Mother's Day, and time for a story or two about motherhood, with a disclaimer right up front. I am very much aware that my experience with mothers is not universal, or even average. Like all mothers, mine was not perfect, but she was not the she-devil I've had the unfortunate experience of meeting on occasion. I've known women who are mothers inasmuch as they gave birth, but had their mothering been graded, would have gotten F's, even on a curve.

There are many things I learned from my mother, the most important of which is her dictum that if you make a commitment, you keep it even if something better comes along. While there are some marriages that probably should be terminated, if more people applied mom's wisdom, there would be a lot less broken homes and broken children. My mother's axiom has saved me much anguish and needless fretting about decisions. Once they're made, they are made. Recently, I had made a commitment to do a weekend prison ministry. Unfortunately, our granddaughters' school musical got bumped to that very weekend, and three of them were in it, one with a starring role, another with a solo and the third with a supporting role in the cast. It took some maneuvering to be able to attend the dress rehearsal, but the decision, while hard to carry out, was not hard to decide. The commitment had been made; I knew what I had to do. I would have liked to be there for the actual performance, especially since it was our Izzi's debut, but I couldn't get my mother's words  out of my head.

I also learned years ago that teamwork was necessary for self-preservation with mom. My brother and I were playing dodgeball in the living room one day when mom and dad were away. It was not a friendly competition, and we were not on the best of terms. At least, not until an errant ball knocked a plaster figurine off the knick-knack table at the end of the couch. It wasn't a particularly attractive piece, and certainly wasn't valuable, but it did happen to have been a wedding gift, and my brother and I instantly called a truce and became allies in the task of reconstructing this shattered piece. Retrieving the pieces, we retreated to our room and with the aid of model airplane cement and paints, did a pretty fair job of reconstructing said figurine. When I say pretty fair, I mean we could have hired ourselves out for fine art reconditioning. It wasn't until after I was married that mom discovered her beloved figurine had somehow acquired a few hairline cracks, and that the gold painted base actually sported two different shades of paint. I learned that sins undiscovered are more easily forgiven years after the fact, probably not the best lesson one could learn from one's mother, but a lesson I am grateful to say I learned.

The other story involves my own wife, the mother of my children. I don't know how I knew it, but I did. When we were dating, Linda on more than one occasion told me that she didn't particularly like little kids. Teenagers were OK, but putting up with them getting there was not something of which she was fond. Nonetheless, I knew! So when we were talking about marriage, we talked about having kids. And I told her that I wanted her to raise my children-to-be. My exact words were, "If I wanted someone else to raise my kids, I would marry someone else." She didn't object, we married, and when our kids were small, she sacrificed her career to stay home with them. It wasn't until they were school age that she herself went back to school, matriculating from grad school with a 4.0 GPA. She became a marvelous teacher, and is still an outstanding mother, and now grandmother. I am a very grateful son and husband to have these two women in my life.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Going Further

May 9, 2015

We hardly expected it, but are grateful for it. The trip down to Norfolk took us about 12 hours, which we took in a single day. Due to the exercise class Linda teaches, we weren't able to get started until Thursday at noon. Do the math. Needless to say, by the time we arrived, I was tired, so we decided to break it into two segments for the trip home. At the beginning of the day we didn't know (and didn't particularly care) what time we would get started, so we just played it by ear, and following Jill's memorial service, we had a delightful time with Chuck and Kelly and their family before starting for home.

Jill loved Virginia Beach, so we joined the the family at the boardwalk, then headed north. Initially, the traffic was pretty congested, but after we got through the tunnel under the channel, things thinned out considerably, and after four hours' driving, I felt better than I expected, so we kept going. So instead of Fredericksburg or Warrenton, we are spending the night in Winchester. Like I said, I didn't expect to get this far, and am grateful that we did. My Mother's Day gift to Linda will be that she doesn't have to spend the entire day in the car. Believe me, she'll appreciate that more than flowers or candy!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Urban Culture Shock

May 8, 2015

Chesapeake, Virginia, the new home of our friend Kelly, and soon to be of her husband Chuck (as soon as he's able to sell their house). Two of their three boys live down here, and both their grandsons. The country and cold of Western New York is no match for the allure of kids and grandkids. Chuck's parents are both with the Lord, so the only ties still holding them to our area is the church and Chuck's brother Matt. Church...grandchildren. It's pretty much a no-brainer, although it brings somewhat of a culture shock. Things are pretty slow and sleepy back home. A twenty minute drive covers quite a bit of territory. Here, twenty minutes might get you five miles. The traffic is horrific, but the area is full of opportunity.

It's been a long time since I've lived in suburbia. Where we live, we know our mechanic personally; I know his family, officiated at his wedding. There's one Home Depot, one mall, a few supermarkets, a Starbucks north of us on the college campus, and one south of us in the commercial district which runs the length of a single street in Lakewood. There's a small hospital, a few nursing homes, a handful of funeral homes, whose proprietors I know by name. I know how to pastor a church in the boonies; haven't the foggiest how I'd go about it down here.

For anyone with ambition, an area like this would be the place to be. But if one wants solitude, it's hard to beat where I live. I feel torn; the Gospel imperative pushes us to the cities where the people are. My heart is in the country where I've lived most of my life, and from which I don't anticipate moving anytime soon. It's been good to be down here though, the crowds an important reminder that Jesus who was born outside a sleepy little village, died in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem among other reasons because it was in the city where are the people whom God loves. There's a big part of me that would be happy to retreat into my little rural world, but I am grateful tonight for the day's reminder that God's love is for all people everywhere, and that if I am to be a genuine follower of Jesus, my heart must expand and grow beyond the woods and fields I call home.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Too Tired to Care

May 7, 2015

As I type, it is actually nearly 1:30 am on May 8. Linda and I are finally in Chesapeake, VA, after driving since noon. A long day on the road, but we arrived safely, for which we are thankful. The only room available in the hotel we were booked at was a smoking room. It's a bit aromatic, but we're too tired to care. We are just grateful to have a bed to sleep in.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Unplanned Blessings

May 6, 2015

Things don't always go as planned. Today I worked on the meditation for the memorial service I'll be conducting in Virginia on Saturday. I had hoped to mow the lawn, but the old 8N was in front of the mower, and no matter what I did, it refused to start. I wasn't about to try pushing it out of the way, especially with the back blade down. If it wouldn't run, I had no way to get the hydraulics to raise the blade. No mowing today!

Linda and I headed to town for dinner with Matt and Jeanine and the kids, prior to attending Nathan's art show at his school. On the way, we dropped off Bruce's birthday gift. Unfortunately, he wasn't home, so we didn't get to personally wish him a happy birthday, face to face. We talked with his father, then headed to dinner.

Matt had asked for some pipefitting help after the art show, so I grabbed my pipe wrench and headed over for what we thought would be about a half hour job. You can imagine how THAT turned out! The only way anyone has all the right parts for a job like that is if they own the hardware. We don't, so a trip to Cassadaga was in order, and when I got there, the UDF (Ural Delay Factor) kicked in. A guy followed me into the store to ask about the bike, and it was an additional twenty minutes before I could get headed back to Matt's. The last piece we had to fit didn't want to thread in, so it was another half hour before we finished the job. I pulled into our driveway at 9:30. So much for a quiet evening at home with my wife.

One thing I learned in over 40 years of pastoral ministry is that often the interruptions ARE the ministry. We have plans and schedules, but it's often in the unplanned occurrences that God's plans unfold. Like Jesus on his way to heal Jairus' daughter, stopped to heal the woman with the uncontrolled hemorrhaging, so the conversation with Bruce's dad, and my time helping Matt were God's plan today. We can resist these interruptions or we can go with the flow. Opting for the latter keeps one from ulcers and bring opportunities that may open larger doors than we can imagine. The fellow who stopped to talk about my bike is opening an antique store in the old Catholic church, and would like to use his building and parking lot for a gathering of bikers. He wants me to bring the Ural, and I offered to bless the bikers when it all comes together. Not my plan for today, but I'm grateful for God's.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lost and Found

May 5, 2015

It wouldn't have been a complete tragedy, but it would have made the next few weeks more difficult. I'm down to one hearing aid. The left one died a few weeks ago, and the right one appears to be on borrowed time. Last week I had an audiological test. In the past, that test would have been followed by my audiologist ordering the device she believes to be best for me, but for the first time, I now have insurance that partially covers hearing aids. Unfortunately, the insurance only works with certain specific providers, and my audiologist isn't one of them. The provider the insurance works with recommended a different brand device than my audiologist handles, so I'm stuck in between two providers, with a couple thousand dollars hanging in the balance. I'll make a decision before the week is out, so that's why losing my one remaining device this morning wouldn't have been tragic.

When I ride the bike, I remove my hearing aids. They tend to get knocked out of my ears if I leave them on while donning my helmet, so I take them out and put them in my pocket. Today, the remaining one must have popped out of my pocket while I was in the mall pondering a Mother's Day gift for Linda. I say that, because I had backtracked through four different stores and three parking lots before I managed to see it lying on the floor in front of a display rack. Thank you, Jesus!

It would only have been a couple weeks with everything sounding like my head is buried in a pillow, but I am grateful tonight that it fell out in the store next to a display, and not in middle of the mall where it could have been stepped on, or the parking lot where it could have been run over by a car. I'll be even more thankful when I have the new ones doing their job so I'm not always saying "huh?" when Linda or the grandkids are talking to me.

Monday, May 4, 2015


May 4, 2015

It's been a banner day. Both the new zero-turn mower and our old John Deere started right up. The far end of the field is a bumpy ride, a leftover from two summers ago when they replaced the bridge and "put the lawn back as it originally was." Not quite. I don't recall mowing over ruts and rocks before the county made a mess of the lawn while replacing the bridge. Numerous calls last year only resulted in a minimal and feeble show of fixing it. So much for returning it to original shape! But today, it's mowed, bumps and all. The big zero-turn does an admirable job, even if the unevenness of the yard means I can't crank it up full speed. I even washed and took photos of it. Linda doesn't like it; can't get the hang of the steering and the brakes being in the handles. It scares her, which means she won't use it. I don't mind mowing now that I'm retired, but she loves doing it, even if it takes her longer on the old style machines. So the big Husqvarna is for sale, less than 100 hours on it.

I cut more brush, pulled stumps, and even took time to be interviewed by a seminary student doing a research paper on Spiritualism. Living as we did for 13 years next door to, and prayer walking through the largest Spiritualist community in the world, I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I knew more than she did, so we had a good conversation and walk through the Dale.

But tonight I'm most thankful for how the Scriptures repeatedly come to life when men get together to study the Bible and pray. We've been working our way through Philippians and tonight were in the 3rd chapter. In verses 12-15, Paul says this:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things...

What caught my attention tonight was that last phrase, "All of us then, who are mature should take such a view of things." I asked myself what it was that we should see as Paul saw in order to be considered mature. The answer came in verse 13: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead..." Then I saw it: immature people allow themselves to get stuck in the past. They refuse to forget their failures, other people's sins against them, and even their own successes to which they keep returning in a vain effort to relive the glories of when they were young. Mature people let go of the past, whether it's the offenses that have been committed against them, their own weakness and failure, or the success that trap them on an endless "Groundhog Day" treadmill.

I thought of an incident that happened recently where Linda had said something to which I took offense. It wasn't a big deal, but I was having a hard time letting go of it. Tonight God shoved me and told me to stand up to the plate and be a man. Boys hold onto those minor offenses. If I want to grow into full maturity in Christ, I have to let go of the things which are behind and get my focus on the future. It helped that Linda apologized and asked forgiveness, but my letting go of the past cannot be contingent upon her choices if I am to grow in maturity. I don't always like how the Scripture brings me up short, but I am grateful tonight that it does. And just for the record, when it comes to apologizing, if we were keeping track, I would win that contest hands down; I've had much more occasion to do it than Linda.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Gift of Music

May 3, 2015

It's not like I really NEED another instrument! Two guitars (one electric, the other acoustic), two banjos (a tenor and five string), an electric bass, two bassoons (one of which will soon be sold), and an alto saxophone already take up space in various nooks and crannies of our home. I've given away at least two guitars, sold another, and sold my beloved Selmer Mark VI tenor sax some years ago to help pay for our new church building. Musical instruments have always fascinated me. I've played all the above, or should I say I've played at them? Proficiency has never been my trademark. Let's face it: I'm a musical hack, playing for my enjoyment and everyone else's annoyance. Most of my instruments I've gotten on the cheap; I don't think I've ever paid full price for one, with the possible exception of my acoustic guitar.

So today before church as I was getting my bass ready for worship, Jenn came up and asked me if Greg had seen me yet. I answered in the negative, to which she replied, "I know you play the bassoon, and thought you might like our daughter's oboe. She hasn't played it since high school, and it's just been sitting in the basement." A few minutes later, Greg set a small black instrument case on the altar rail.

It's been a busy day working at the community dinner after worship, followed by pastor Joe's Gun Day Sunday shoot, which was a lot of noisy fun. Once home, it was time to clean the firearms, spend a some time with Linda, then to try out the oboe. Fortunately, fingering charts are readily available online and the basics are pretty straightforward. The oboe has a shrill, reedy sound that some find unpleasant. I rather like it, not quite as much as an English horn, but no one has given me one of those. The nice thing about the oboe is it's size. Every instrument I've ever played has been pretty big. The smallest is perhaps my old tenor banjo or the alto sax. But the tenor sax, bassoon, and bass aren't something you can toss in a suitcase or backpack. I could easily take this little baby with me and make music almost anywhere. No, I don't need it, but am grateful for the kindness of friends who know my love of music, and generously offer such a gift.

The Bible is full of music, from stringed instruments to trumpets, cymbals, and voice, all used in praise of our Maker and Redeemer. The Revelation tells of a new song only the redeemed can sing, accompanied by the harp. It's not uncommon for people to talk of angels' song at the birth of Christ and at the end of time when our salvation is made complete, but to my knowledge, there is nowhere in Scripture where angels are said to sing. They shout loudly and wholeheartedly praise the Lord, but do not sing, because in the Bible, the source and motive for singing is salvation. Since angels are not the subject of salvation, they have nothing of which to sing. We however, have through the blood of Christ been saved from sin, redeemed from slavery, and given a glorious future. So we sing, make melody, harmony, and rhythm, and give thanks to our glorious God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


May 2, 2015

In the Ural community, the motto is, "If you don't have pictures, it didn't happen." Well, I don't have pictures since it's a bit difficult to take selfies while piloting a motorcycle, but this morning pastor Joe texted me about helping take down the ice rink. It was a great year for the ice, but was so cold that the rink didn't get quite the use we had hoped for, but that's the way it goes when you're dependent on WNY weather. Son in law Todd drained the rink a week ago, and we had hoped to get everything put away Wednesday, but the liner still had puddles in it. We flipped it over so it could dry in the sunshine we have enjoyed for the past three days (a WNY springtime record, I believe!), and today was the day. Sunshine means motorcycle, so I hopped on and headed to the church.

Harry showed up a few minutes later, then Joe skipped out on his meeting while lunch was served, and Greg Stenta suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and the liner folding show was on!It didn't take long, and pretty soon we had both sections of liner folded and ready to haul to the garage. Except for one thing...neither Joe nor I had driven our trucks. Harry offered to load the liners on the trunk of his car, but the thought of scratching the paint job on his new Chevy didn't appeal to me, so I nixed that idea.

Enter the Ural. My Gear Up has a luggage rack on the trunk of the sidecar, so we each grabbed a corner of the folded liner, and heaved it up on the rack. A short jaunt to the garage, a return trip for the other half of the liner, followed by the plywood sideboards, and we had things put away in no time. Have I ever mentioned that I love my sidecar bike? It suits me fine, in that it's designed to be an off-road machine, with engageable two-wheel drive. The paint job is matte camo, so there's not much I can do to hurt it. It's not a speed demon, eschewing highway speeds, but I can load all kinds of stuff into the sidecar. Pastor Joe signed me up for Annual Conference this year, just so we could ride the bikes to Syracuse together. He's pretty sneaky that way--I figured that retired, I was done with Annual Conferences, but he knew my weakness for a good ride, so come the end of the month, I'll be packing his stuff and mine into the sidecar for the excursion. It'll be fun, and best of all, every time we stop for gas or whatever, I'll be sure to get into a conversation with someone who has never seen one of these bikes before. It's called UDF, Ural Delay Factor, and adds a minimum of twenty minutes onto every trip, but it's worth it, as it is an opening for this normally introverted ex-pastor to speak with someone about Jesus. They open the door, and all I have to do is walk through it.

I am grateful tonight for this quirky bike, for a full day of work cutting brush that has worn me out, and for a comfy bed to which I will retire in just a few minutes. Tomorrow we gather to worship, share a meal together, then do a bit of target practice and fellowship with a bunch of guys (and I believe, gals, since they complained about being left out last time) with pastor Joe's "Gunday Sunday." I am a blessed man.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Life Together

May 1, 2015

After a day filled with chain saw, fire, and tractor, we had dinner group. It's been a glorious day, sunshine and mild, with no breeze, perfect for pulling more sumac and briars, cleaning up the dead beech I cut down yesterday, and playing with little Gemma who came to visit after writer's group this morning. I like having her around. At three years of age, she sees the world with a wonder that has long been abandoned by most people my age. The physical/kinetic joy of being pushed on the swing or jumping on the trampoline, and her eagerness to help pick up pine cones for a penny apiece give me the opportunity of seeing this wonderful world God has given us through her eyes. We are blessed to be living where we live, without fear of violence, of kidnapping by radical Muslims, or stray gunfire from rival gangs shooting at one another. We aren't without problems; drugs and alcohol do their destructive work here, as elsewhere. We live in a poverty-stricken area, but by and large, it is peaceful and we get along with one another. The world is, and has always been a dangerous place, but here we are isolated from most of the evil that is everyday life for so many.

At dinner group tonight, we sat around our dining room table, with more than enough to eat, and enjoyed not just conversation, but the sharing of hearts and lives with people we have truly grown to love. Life isn't perfect, and as we share with one another some of the things we are going through, we have the opportunity to pray for, and encourage each other. What one couple is experiencing that seems to have no discernible solution, another has already been through, and is able through their experience assure the other that God will work things out. We can't fix it, but we can pray and love, which is what we usually need to keep putting one foot ahead of the other.

It's been a day of contrasts; the innocence of a three-year old, healthy, hard, physical labor, and friends sharing the joys and sorrows and mysteries of life. I am grateful to be able to look back on it without regret, and to look forward to tomorrow with anticipation. As we often say, "God is good, all the time."