Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Heavens Declare His Glory

July 31, 2015

Our galaxy has 150-200 billion stars, and the Milky Way is but one of 150 billion galaxies in the universe. On the molecular level, the number of stars in the universe is smaller than the number of H2O molecules in ten drops of water. In 1966 Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the number of planets in the universe, it seemed likely that there were about a septillion (1 followed by 24 zeros) capable of supporting life. But as our knowledge of the universe has grown, it has become clear that there are far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life, every one of which must be perfectly met, or it all falls apart. For example, in our own galaxy, the gravity of Jupiter's enormous mass draws away asteroids; a thousand times as many would hit the earth if Jupiter were not there.

Scientists now are saying that the odds are against any planet in the universe supporting life--including the one we inhabit. On top of all that, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force were off by the tiniest fraction--even by one part in 1,00,000,000,000,000,000--no stars could ever have formed. All this was just a part of my reading today, and it put me in awe.

Some would argue in the light of all this that it is incredulous that there would be a God who would be personally interested in what happens on this tiny speck of matter in the vastness of the universe; if indeed there were a God behind it all in the first place. As to the latter, the immensely delicate balance of factors necessary for the existence of anything, let alone life, is so incredible that it requires either more faith or more naiveté to believe that it all happened by chance than it does to believe in design. But if there is a God who made all this, why would this God pay any special attention to humans on this insignificant little planet? Isn't such a belief the height of arrogance?

This I believe, is to get things backwards. It is certainly humbling to think that the God who made all that is cares for humanity enough to send his own Son to die for our redemption, but the significance of the enormity of the universe has nothing to do with our own smallness, but rather with the greatness of God. "The heavens declare his glory," the Scripture declares. Some believe that the more we know, the more God recedes to the margins. They understand "God" to be the language we use to explain that which we don't know or understand. In reality, the more we know, the greater our God appears. Psalm 34:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." Think of a magnifying glass. It doesn't make anything bigger; it only makes the object appear bigger so we can see more clearly. When God is magnified, he doesn't get any bigger; we just see him more clearly and in our minds and hearts we see that he is greater than any problem or circumstance we face. When I go outside tonight and see the stars, knowing that what I see is but a infinitesimal slice of all that is, God's glory is manifest, and I get to magnify him; to see how much greater he is than...anything. For this, I give thanks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

God Answers Prayer

July 30, 2015

I didn't hear it myself, but our kids who were sitting at the picnic table in the spruce grove caught the full brunt of it. The swimming hole at the south end of our property is quite the gathering place when the days are hot and muggy. It's not uncommon to see four or five vehicles parked along the road, and a dozen or more people camped out on our lawn, replete with lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, and even the occasional portable grill. It goes with the territory, I guess. Most of the time it doesn't bother me. The ones who come to swim and picnic invariably are a bit more hardscrabble than we're used to. If they could afford a swimming pool, they would probably have one in their backyard. They can't, and don't, so they come to our yard.

Sunday afternoon, the language wafting on the breeze wasn't exactly of the same sort as we had heard in the morning, if you get my drift. F-bombs were exploding all over the place, so I made my way down to explain the house rules. Most of the people who frequent the swimming hole aren't even aware that it is on private property, so when I state the facts, it tends to calm things down. On this occasion, Shaun was the vocalist in question, and became quite apologetic when I informed him that we had little children around and would appreciate his toning things down a bit. He explained that his ex son-in-law was threatening his daughter, which made his choice of words understandable, even if not acceptable. Hey, he doesn't know Jesus; I can't expect altar boy language from him. Of course, the four or five beers sloshing around in his stomach probably didn't help any.

This afternoon, he and his family (minus the ex son-in-law) were back, blankets on the ground, kids in the water, and he apologized all over again. I told him it was over and done with. Period.

In between Sunday's encounter and today, someone was kind enough to throw a pig carcass off the bridge into the water at the base of the falls. Yesterday when I was down meeting some new picnickers, one of them pointed it out to me. They had fished it out of the water and now it laid on the abutment under the bridge. To say it was gross is a bit of an understatement. It was partially decomposed, covered with flies, and stunk to high heaven. So this afternoon, after greeting Shaun and his family and meeting two new friends of his, I grabbed a garbage bag, a shovel, and a potato fork to deal with the carcass. Shaun followed me down the abutment, and held the bag while I speared the head and then the body. A few ribs and assorted other parts fell off as I was putting them in the bag. Instead of waiting for me to spear them again, Shaun grabbed them in his bare hands, tossed them into the bag, and that was that! Did I mention I'm beginning to really like this guy?

He grabbed the bag of pig parts while I had the shovel and fork, and we walked to my truck where he tossed it into the bed. "I have some hand sanitizer in the truck," he explained, but I insisted he come inside and wash up. When he was done, he asked if it was OK to use the towel that hung on the wall. Now I'm really impressed! He may be hard core in his habits, but his heart is tender.

When I think back over the years, we moved to Cassadaga because fifteen years ago when the church decided to stop having a parsonage, there was nothing for sale in Sinclairville. In the meantime, Pappy and Dora both died, leaving this house empty until their daughter finally decided to sell it. The timing was perfect, and we are living in a home we never would have dreamed would be ours someday. Our kids used to swim down here, and now other people's kids are doing so. As I've said elsewhere, I'm enough of an introvert that engaging total strangers is not something you'd see me doing very often. But God keeps dropping these people in our laps; the very ones that fifteen years ago I prayed Park church would be able to reach. I don't even have to go door to door; they just keep coming to us. I think I'm seeing a pattern here. It looks like God wants me to begin answering my own prayers. So each afternoon, I wander down to the swimming hole, introduce myself, talk with our guests, and invite them to church and to Jesus. And tonight, I'm going to bed thankful that those prayers I've been praying for fifteen years are being answered not just by extroverted pastor Joe with the people he meets and introduces to Christ, but even by me, the introvert.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


July 29, 2015

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”—“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”—Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.—Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.—If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.—Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."

This morning's reading from "Our Daily Light" drilled me right between the eyes. In more than 40 years as a pastor, I've had plenty of occasions to counsel people about forgiveness, and plenty more to exercise it myself. And even more to receive it. Forgiveness is a topic we love to hear about when we've wronged someone else; not so much when someone has wronged us. I cannot recall how often I've heard people say, "I can forgive "X," but this is too big to forgive." This misses the whole point. If it's not big, get over it. Forgiveness is precisely for the big stuff.

And it's not optional for the Christian. It amazes me how Christians can continue to hold grudges against a brother or sister for some real or imagined slight. It's like they never read the parable of the Unforgiving Servant who was forgiven an enormous sum, but refused to forgive a picayune amount owed to him by a fellow servant. It's found in Matthew 18. I believe that the reason he refused to forgive is that he hadn't really believed he himself was actually forgiven, and so had to exact every penny out of a fellow servant in a vain attempt to raise the cash to pay his unpayable debt. Unfortunately for the unforgiver, Jesus is crystal clear: If we don't forgive, God won't forgive us.

Contrast the unforgiving attitude we encounter so frequently here in America, the land of the Perpetually Offended with that of the Coptic Christians who forgave the ISIS jihadists who murdered dozens of their brothers "because Jesus commanded us to forgive."

I wish I could say this topic is academic, but it's not. It's personal. Most of the time, it's not an issue for me, mostly I suspect, because I've not been in situations where it's necessary. I've not had to bury a child, victim of a gang shooting. I've not had someone steal my identity and clean out my retirement fund. But I have had people betray friendship, do their best to destroy the work to which I had devoted my life, and years ago at a time when I could least afford it, I had someone borrow a significant sum of money he never returned. Pretty small stuff when I think about it, but it's real to me, and Jesus' words are pointed and convicting. As a Christian, I have no choice but to let these things go, every time they rear their ugly heads in my heart. Left to myself, I would hold onto the offense, which ultimately would destroy my own soul. Tonight I am grateful for Scripture that cuts to the core, refusing to let me off the hook. Even when it's hard and I don't like it, forgiveness is the only way, and once again, I choose to let go of the offenses because God let me go free, and I don't want to forfeit that freedom by returning to the bondage of the grudge.

Monday, July 27, 2015


July 27, 2015

Whatever you think of Donald Trump, there's no question that he knows how to make news. His bid for the presidency probably won't go any further this time than it has before, but he certainly makes things interesting. Just this morning I read an article about him in which he was asked if he ever asked God for forgiveness. His answer was that he never recalled having done so.

 “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so.” Then he added, “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” Trump went on to admit that he did participate in Holy Communion: “When I drink my little wine—which is about the only wine I drink—and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”

The article goes on to wonder how Trump, a self-professed Presbyterian, could have missed the prayer in the "Service for Repentance and Forgiveness:

"Merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you
with our whole heart and mind and strength;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be,
do that we may delight in your will
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your holy name."

I bring this up not as a criticism of Trump. He receives plenty of that without my help, and besides, he is far from alone in his failure to see his need of forgiveness. Reading this article at the beginning of the day, I gave thanks that God in his mercy has forgiven me. Christ died for our sins, and God credited me with the righteousness of his Son. How incredible is that? It took a long time for me to really grasp the significance of Christ's atonement, but I am living in the light of it every day. This liturgical prayer is just as apropos today as it was the day I first prayed it years ago. Repentance and forgiveness makes life worth living. The Christian group Big Daddy Weave says it about as well as anyone:

"Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me "son
Stop fighting a fight it's already been won"

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I'm redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, "Child lift up your head"
I remember, oh God, You're not done with me yet

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I'll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, yeah, I'm not who I used to be
Oh, God, I'm not who I used to be
Jesus, I'm not who I used to be
'Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed."

How could I not go to bed thankful in light of this amazing grace?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Living Bible Story

July 26, 2015

This morning I had the privilege of hearing what I believe to be pastor Joe's best sermon yet. He was passionate and to the point as he dealt with the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba. Actually, Joe is always passionate and to the point. If anyone doubts where he stands on almost anything, they just aren't paying attention. But tonight, it's time for my own Bathsheba story.

About ten years ago, I joined my good friend Richard Smith on a mission trip to Nepal. It was my fourth and sadly, final trip with him. Circumstances were such that we weren't able to work together again, which I truly regret. Richard is the best when it comes to organizing and leading mission teams, and his influence is largely responsible for my love of missions and the mission culture of Park church.

Our trip began in Delhi, India, where we worked with the national missionaries for Every Home for Christ, then took a train to see the Taj Mahal, which is even more impressive in real life than the photos and travelogues can portray. From Delhi we flew into Kathmandu where my story takes place. If you've ever read National Geographic or seen a documentary on the Hindu culture, you've seen photos of the exquisite stone and wood sculptures that adorn all the religious buildings and many of the ordinary ones. But if you've not been there yourself, you wouldn't know how much these carvings are censored for publication. In short, they are explicitly pornographic, and they appear everywhere. The small hotel at which we stayed had shingled awnings that wrapped around the building. These awnings had angled wooden supports, and each one of them had a carving depicting a different sexual position.

Early one morning after rising and showering, I looked out the window at the rooftops where laundry hung and Buddhist prayer flags fluttered in the breeze. Suddenly, a door to the neighboring roof opened, and a young woman stepped out. On the roof before her was a big tub of water. She proceeded to disrobe and climb into the tub, but not before she checked to see if I was watching. As the sari she had been wearing dropped to her ankles, the story of David and Bathsheba popped instantly into my mind, and I looked away. I thought to myself, "This is how it all started." The story begins in 2 Samuel 11 with the narrator telling us that it was "the time of year when kings went to war," which makes me wonder why David was in Jerusalem instead of out in the field with his men. Were the years catching up with him? Was his affair with Bathsheba some sort of mid-life crisis where David was trying to recapture the illusion of youth? Whatever the reason, he wasn't where he should have been, and when he saw what I saw, he didn't turn away. He kept looking till he was inflamed with illicit desire.

Before it was all over, he was not only an adulterer, but a murderer. This incident marks the zenith of David's reign. Before this, everything kept coming up roses for David; from this moment on, his reign and family life was one disaster after another. He was forgiven, but he and the nation paid a high price for his indiscretion.

I cannot claim to be more righteous than David. Unlike him, I had an example to warn me, and thankfully, I listened. St. Paul tells us that the Scriptures were written not as an example of how to live a holy life, but as a warning to avoid the mistakes and sins of those who have gone before. I never expected that one day I would find myself in the exact same situation as David, but I am grateful that on that day, I remembered, I resisted, and I was rescued by the mercy of God.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

July 25, 2015

It is somewhat of a challenge being an introvert and an evangelical Christian. The Gospel mandate couldn't be clearer: "Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples..." For extroverted Christians, this is like feeding sugar to an ADHD kid; pretty soon they're bouncing off one sinner right into the next one, like a religious rubber ball. But people like myself are seriously challenged by Jesus' command; we don't like it, but we can't escape it.

This morning I went to a bike blessing and ride sponsored by the Panama UM church. About thirty people showed up, ate breakfast, received pastor Steve's blessing, then took off on the ride. The day was perfect; sunny but not too warm, and the bikes stretched out before and behind me, half a mile either way. In one sense, a ride like this is just what the doctor ordered for people like me. We can be together, but on a bike, you're all alone; an introvert's definition of perfection. But the gathering time is difficult, trying to strike up conversations with people I don't know.

Linda tried to make it better by telling me that God made me just the way I am, but we must be careful with that kind of talk; it's the same argument offered by the LGBT community: "God made us this way." What I do and do not do cannot be solely dependent on how I feel about it. The command of Christ is as clear as it can be; his call to go into the world with the Gospel is not a suggestion. It is a command. So I lean on conversation starters. My sidecar motorcycle is a conversation starter. Whenever I'm parked somewhere, inevitably someone stops to inquire about it. So I wrote a Gospel tract giving information about the bike and my testimony concerning Jesus Christ.

This afternoon when I got home from the ride, our side yard was filled with people; adults with blankets spread out on the grass, and kids swimming in the creek. I went down to introduce myself and to let them know they are welcome to swim and have a good time, but we appreciate when they pick up all their rubbish before they leave. I've met more people at the swimming hole this summer than I encounter in almost any other way. Being an extrovert, Linda is better at it than I am, but we both are using our swimming hole as an evangelistic opportunity. God is dropping people in our laps. The least we can do is tell them about Jesus and invite them to church. I'm still not as bold about this as I'd like to be. The Scripture says, "The righteous are bold as lions." I'm working on the righteous part, trusting that the closer I get to the mark, the more boldness God will give me. As I work on it, I am grateful for these tools that open doors this introvert would normally pass by without even knocking. Introvert or not, Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." It's pretty clear: if I'm not fishing; I'm not following. My bike and my yard are the bait. It's up to me to cast the line and see what's biting.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Universal Language

July 24, 2015

The King's Brass consists of three trumpeters, three trombonists, a tuba, percussionist, and keyboardist. Led by Tim Zimmerman who has led the group for 35 years, they performed for two hours, playing hymn arrangements, contemporary Christian music, pop, classical, and big band music with flair and technical expertise that had the audience on its feet for three encores. I am amazed whenever I listen to an individual or a group that performs at such a level, enthralled at how people can move their fingers so fast, with such precision, and in perfect rhythm and harmony with each other. They started out with a fanfare worthy of royalty, and ended with Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," and LeRoy Anderson's "Trumpeter's Holiday," both of which require a level of skill achieved by only a few.

When I was in fifth grade, I began taking saxophone lessons. I can still remember that first afternoon when I dragged that tenor sax home, assembled it in the spare bedroom and let loose with a "blaaat" that would have stopped an amorous bull moose in his tracks. I practiced diligently, developing pretty good tone, but never able to wiggle my fingers fast enough to attain first chair, even though there was only one other tenor sax player in the band. I ended up on baritone sax in the jazz band, and bassoon in the concert band, orchestra, and woodwind quintet. The quirky nature of the bassoon appealed to me, and although my folks bought me a 1964 Selmer Mark VI tenor, the Rolls Royce of saxophones, I was never able to do it justice.

What I did learn was an appreciation for good music. Even with my hearing loss, I can pick out the different instruments of the band, and appreciate musical nuances that unmusical people miss. Listening to music of the quality I heard tonight puts me in a quandary, suspended between a renewed determination to practice more and get better and just putting the instruments up for sale, knowing I'll never come close to attaining the kind of musical perfection demonstrated by this group tonight. No, I'll not quit; the New Horizons Band of which I am a member pushes me to do my best, even if it's not very good. I am grateful to live near Fredonia State College, with its excellent music program, including this band organized for those who never before played and for those who just want to get back into the instrument they played years ago. Music is as they say, the universal language. It is also one of God's best gifts, combining the mathematical precision of rhythm and of the scales themselves with a breadth of emotional expression that combines both hemispheres of the brain as few disciplines can do. Tonight we experienced the best of this universal language and praised God for it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Participating in Redemption

July 23, 2015

"Finished!" I love the sound of that word. Last Saturday I finished the wiring in my garage. Today I cut up and hauled away the sumac and ash trees I cut down yesterday, even raking the yard so there is no trace of their having been laying there overnight. Cameron and Mike finished the roof and vent installation. Sitting on the back deck this afternoon, I finished Sunday's sermon. There is a special satisfaction when a task is finally accomplished.

In John's Gospel, the last words of Jesus as he hung on the cross were, "It is finished!" In the Greek, it is actually a single word, "tetelestai." It wasn't the last gasp of a dying man, gratefully wimpering that the suffering is over; it was a cry of triumph, meaning literally, "It is accomplished!" He had fulfilled the prophecies, offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins, and accomplished the mission on which he had been sent: the rescue of a world lost and dying.

It isn't over yet. The Revelation at the end of the Bible has these words in the last chapter, verse 6, ""It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End."

"It is done." God loves accomplishment. It is woven into the very fabric of life to finish what we start. Even the Creator of all that is takes pleasure in the accomplishment of his eternal purposes. After all the effort, all the work of salvation, it is finally accomplished and he shouts through the vastness of the universe, "It is done!" This is deeply significant for our efforts; whenever we finish a task, we participate in the work of God. My pleasure in accomplishment is a reflection of God's. Finishing these projects will not shake the world, but through them I experience just a small taste of Christ's victory, and give thanks tonight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


It's not deep theological reflection or major life events. Tonight I'm thankful for protection. With the care of the doctors and the effectiveness of antibiotics to which she is not allergic, our granddaughter Alex in Uganda is now recovering from the foot infection that for a week had been getting worse and making her sicker and sicker. The guys working on our roof haven't fallen off or incurred any injuries from their power tools. Twenty-two teenagers and ten adults from Park church are safely settled in their campsites at Kingdom Bound, and although the third tree I cut down today got hung up in the branches of its neighbor, I was able to pull it down with a rope and without incident. None of this seems like much until the protection is removed and someone is hurt. God's people are not promised exemption from the ills and problems of life, so I am grateful for these times when we are given the privilege of living in peace and safety, and trust for the grace we will need for those times when we are led down paths into darkness and difficulty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Difficult Issues

July 21, 2015

Tony Campolo rocked the evangelical community six weeks ago when he declared that he could no longer remain opposed to gay marriage. As one of the pillars of the academic evangelical community, this announcement sent shock waves through the American Church. Evangelicals felt betrayed while Liberals rejoiced that he had finally seen the light.

I had the opportunity today to listen to him give a lecture at Chautauqua on the religious legitimization of violence. Although for the most part, I agree with him, I suspect he and I approach the interpretation of Scripture a bit differently. In the question-and-answer time following his presentation, the first question referred to his recent "conversion" rather than to his lecture. He explained the process that led to his change of mind, a story similar to many I've heard over the years. Basically, he decided that the Christian ethic of love required him to change his opinion. Though I disagree with some of his foundational assumptions and therefore his conclusions, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity and good intentions. I hope he and others who side with him would do the same for me.

The difference between Campolo and myself (besides the fact that he is well-known around the world) is that he apparently approaches Scripture first as a sociologist, and only secondarily as a theologian. He sees religion primarily as a social construct, which in part, it is. In the case of Judaism and Christianity, the Bible is therefore the record of the Jewish and early Christian understanding of God, an understanding which developed over the centuries. For Campolo, that understanding continues to develop, so that we now can essentially dismiss the early Biblical understanding of God as a Warrior in favor of God the Merciful Lover.

My view is somewhat more simplistic. I see Scripture not primarily as the record of human encounter with God, but as God's self-revelation, which denies me the freedom to simply dismiss those parts of the record that I find distasteful. And to be sure, there are parts of the Bible that are distasteful to me. The story may be apocryphal, but it is one that resonates with me: "It bothers me that there's so much of the Bible I don't understand," said the student to the teacher. "It's the parts of the Bible I DO understand that bother me," responded the teacher.

The LGBT community says that we who take a contrary position are not demonstrating love. If my beliefs are wrong, I suppose that could be true. But if by some wild chance I am correct in my beliefs, then my position is the most loving stance I can take. It is not love that stands silently by while someone engages in self-destructive behavior. I must admit however, that I don't know how to answer those whose personal stories of discrimination and rejection are so intense and poignant.

In the first five centuries of Christianity, the major theological issue was the nature of Jesus as the Christ. In our day, it is the nature of humanity. What it means to be a human being is the hot button issue. Redefining humanity is not merely a sociological, sexual, or psychological matter. It is theological, too. If we redefine what it means to be human, that redefinition will have repercussions on our theology of Christ and ultimately, of God. In his lecture today, Campolo spoke of how cultures values determine their worship. We tend to make God in our image. The problem is, we can see this phenomenon more easily when we look at those who are different than us than when we look in the mirror. Campolo described this phenomenon and then decried it. I suspect he fails to see it as clearly in his approach to the issues of our day as he does in other approaches.

Here's what keeps me from traveling down the same road as Campolo: It isn't those few texts in the Bible that overtly condemn homosexual behavior, those labelled "clobber texts" by the "Progressives" in Christianity. It's the materiality of our being. According to classical Christian theology, we are not merely spirits who happen to inhabit a body from which some day we will be free. That was one of the tenets of the early Christian heresy called Gnosticism. Hebrew and Christian theology exalts the significance of the body. The Creation narrative states that God breathed (literally "spirited") into the body he formed out of the dust, and the man became a living soul ("being"). In part, my body tells me who I am, which is why the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so central to us. To say that who I am is unrelated to the physicality of my body is to deconstruct Jewish/Christian theology at its heart.

This has been a long article, and a bit different from my usual "only post the good" habit. But not entirely. I am grateful to live in a country where we can still have these discussions. I am grateful to have the opportunity to listen to someone of Campolo's stature, profiting from his education and experience. I am grateful for someone who challenges my understandings, making me think more deeply and clearly about life. Finally, I am grateful that both his and my salvation are not dependent on our positions on human sexuality or religious violence, but solely on what God in Christ did for us on the Cross, forgiving our sins and offering grace that we receive by faith alone.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Reigniting the Fire

July 20, 2015

I can't remember the last time I had a day without some major project looming overhead. Today was spent reading and relaxing, for which I almost felt guilty, like I wasn't accomplishing stuff that needs to be done. It was good however, to just sit and read, to hear in the background the kids down at the swimming hole, to pray, and jot down some beginning thoughts for a sermon I'll be preaching Sunday at a neighboring church. All in all, a pretty mellow day.

This evening, Roy Miller gave a presentation on his recent mission trip to Uganda. At one point, he commented on how exhausting these trips are for someone who is as much an introvert as he is. I've known Roy for years, and still have trouble thinking of him as an introvert. When he speaks, he is as animated as anyone I know, but I know that this kind of animation is the product of the nature of the job. Any preacher worth his salt knows the craft, and what it takes to communicate a message of such importance. Add to that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and Roy is whipping up enthusiasm for missions as effectively as anyone I've ever heard. One of the themes of his talk was that God loves to bless his people when they listen to his command to go into all the world with the Gospel. "If you want to experience this kind of blessing, go to the mission field," he intoned.

As I listened, I thought of the contrast between his enthusiasm and my inner workings lately. After the meeting, I was talking with Ted, a layman whose love for Christ and devotion to ministry is an inspiration, and commented that it feels like the fire has all but gone out inside me. Talking with Linda just a few minutes ago, she reminded me that (due to circumstances beyond our control) I hadn't been on a mission trip in almost two years, and haven't been to a Christian conference in longer than that. Although there is something almost electric about many of the leadership and pastors' conferences I've been to over the years. I could do without them if need be. The mission trips are another matter altogether. I have no desire to return to leading a congregation, but if life isn't more than the work I'm doing around the house, my world has shrunk too much, and it's time to expand my horizons. Saturday we meet with one of our mission team from Cuba to plan for the work there; it is time to gear up again. Life, real life, awaits, and it's time to get back in the game. I am grateful for tonight's presentation, for Roy's enthusiasm, and for the many brothers and sisters who encourage me on a daily basis to live up to the calling of God on my life. They were there in full force tonight, a platoon of men and women who stand shoulder to shoulder for Christ.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hard Wisdom

 July 19, 2015

"Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" It's an age-old question penned and answered by David in the fifteenth psalm. After listing some of the traits that characterize such a person, he adds this one: "the one who swears to his own hurt, and changes not." This verse has come to mind quite a few times in the last couple days. Over a year ago, I did a favor for a friend who promised to take care of a small matter for me in return; a promise that in the intervening year appears to have been forgotten. After the time frame for the promised return favor had passed, I put it out of mind, remembering another Scripture that admonishes us to do our good deeds without thought of return. Every so often however, this little incident pops up its head as if to deliberately irritate me. In the past couple days, a series of circumstances has arisen that once more brought the whole matter back to mind. I've been toying with the idea of revisiting the matter with my friend, but decided to talk with Linda first. She reminded me of a little saying she used to repeat to me years ago whenever I was waffling back and forth with making a decision. I probably won't get the quote exactly right, but it goes something like this: "When you've made a decision, let it go; the exact moment of certainty never comes." 

It was a good reminder that took me back to this Scripture and to the counsel my mother used to give me: "When you make a commitment, stick to it even if something better comes along." 

I pity people who have to make up their ethical standards on the fly, trying to figure out all on their own the difference between right and wrong, wise and unwise. The matter will rest, and having made this decision, so will I. I am grateful tonight for the wisdom of Scripture, my mother, and my wife, all lining up to point me like an arrow in the right direction. Makes me wonder if that fifteenth Psalm weren't ghost-written for David by his mother.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wet Laughter

July 18, 2015

Laughter wafts up the hundred yards from the swimming hole to the garage where I am working. First it was the Emmott family of four girls and one boy, who along with mom and dad were cooling off in the flow at the foot of the falls. Squeals of joy have a sound all their own, pleasant to the ear, soothing to the heart.

As they were getting ready to leave, we saw the bicycles turning into the yard; one, two, three, four, five. Izzi, Jo, and the three Pascoe girls who stopped in long enough to say hello and grab some of Linda's cow's tails candy before spilling out the door on a hundred yard dash to the water. Abi walked down about an hour later to spend the evening talking with her grandmother. Abi likes the slower pace of solitude, and having Meema all to herself for an hour is a treat for both of them. My working in the garage was my contribution to their time together.

We remember our kids swimming down here thirty years ago, never dreaming one day we would live here, and never imagining when we bought this place that it would be such a magnet for the kids. If I were to listen to this evening's news or go online for it, my head and heart would be filled with a litany of ills and evils. Instead, I think I'll close my eyes and remember the children's laughter, and be thankful.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Falling Short into the Love of God

July 17, 2015

The theme of my daily reading this morning dealt with our realization of our sins and the magnitude of God's forgiveness. I must confess, I haven't thought much about my sins lately; at my age, the youthful sins of the flesh that are the downfall of so many don't have quite the appeal they once had. Lust, greed, power have lost much of their power to entice me, but that doesn't mean I am home free. The various lists of sins in the Bible cover enough ground to touch us all. But today it's the concept of sin as some horrible thing we do that has me wondering. I suspect that the Enemy of our souls is quite content to allow us to imagine that sin is only the gross injustice or damage others do, as long as we fail to examine our own hearts.

Things aren't quite as simple as that. There are a number of different words in the Bible translated "sin." Transgression, ie. stepping across the line, is one. Injustice is another, as is unrighteousness, a legal violation of a known law. Pollution is yet another way of looking at sin, as well as estrangement, a description of our loss of relationship with God, others, and even self. By far the most common word is the simple word sin, which is a military term meaning to miss the mark. It's what happens when we do our best, aiming for the bullseye, and miss. We simply fall short, which is what St. Paul describes in Romans 3:23.

Most sin isn't deliberate rebellion, although some is. I can't say as I've ever met anyone who gets up in the morning thinking, "I wonder how I can screw up this day." We all want to be happy, but most of us don't know how to get there, and even if we do, we make wrong turns, let our feelings get the better of us, and...fall short. And no matter how old I get, if I stop long enough to think about it, the list of ways I fall short just keeps growing. Which is why I need grace: God's unmerited, but freely given favor. You see, I have this thing called a conscience, and it does an admirable job of condemning me. But I also have a God who does an admirable job of forgiving me. Jesus said it most clearly when after declaring God's love so deep that he gave us his Son so we might not perish, went on to say that God didn't send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. So whenever I feel that condemnation, I know it's not God. Forgiveness is. And tonight now that the grandkids are all asleep, I am grateful that in all those areas where I don't quite measure up, God forgives. He simply lets it go, and lets me go free.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Saving the Best for Last

July 16, 2015

Yesterday the wiring of the garage got put on hold while I worked in Cassadaga cleaning out the barn. I almost said I cleaned out 13 years of clutter and accumulation, but the truth of the matter is, most of the stuff in that barn we brought with us when we moved to Cassadaga; who knows how long I've been holding onto that stuff? The good news is, I have a pickup truck load of junk that's heading to the landfill and a fair amount of odds and ends that belong to my sons and got duly delivered this morning. Nate only got a canoe; poor Matt got a kayak, some cedar planks we gave him for his birthday years ago because he wanted to build a cedar strip canoe, and the strongback frame on which canoes are built.

I haven't delivered it yet, but there are also a couple boxes of stuff dating back to their high school days, and one particular item that is today's gratitude prompt. It's a simple canvas; a modern art rendering of a man in full stride reminiscent of Picasso's cubism, with vibrant colors and bold strokes. In the lower right corner are the initials, "J.W." which would mean little to anyone but ourselves. They belong to a young lady Matt once dated. Jen was a nice girl, one of many Matt dated during his college years. Those were times that tried this man's soul. He would date a girl, bring her home for us to fall in love with, then break up with her, breaking not only her heart, but ours too. By the time he got to Jen, he had decided to get serious enough to talk about marriage. After college, Jen moved to Cincinnati, and having decided she was the one for him, one Friday Matt also moved to Cincinnati.

The following Monday he was back. No, they hadn't had a fight; Alexandria was a toddler, Abi was a baby, and being the good uncle he is, Matt decided he couldn't stand the thought of not being in their lives. It all worked out; shortly afterward, he met Jeanine who is absolutely perfect for him. Actually, I can't think of anyone else who would put up with his idiosyncrasies. Tonight, I am thankful for Jeanine, who loves Matt deeply, and is the mother of two of our favorite grandchildren (yeah, they're all favorites; what can I say?).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hard Gratitude

July 15, 2015

Tonight I am grateful for the combination of technology, friends, and prayer. Our granddaughter Alex is in Uganda on mission work for the summer. Before leaving, she had a small insect bite on her ankle which in Uganda's different mix of bacteria, became infected. She's been keeping us posted through Facebook and instant messaging, and today we were able to Skype with her. Upon Meema's insistence, she showed us her foot with a nasty, weeping sore about half the size of a dime. She's been running a fever, and looked pretty worn down. Her parents are on vacation, and out of cell phone service, so she hasn't been able to contact them. When a kid is sick, she needs her parents, but it wasn't possible. That's the down side. On the other hand, we were able to talk with her, she is being looked after by Dean and Karen Houser, who have antibiotics with them. Unfortunately, Alex is allergic to some classes of antibiotics. Enter Jill, our pharmacist friend. Linda called her with the information on the antibiotic Karen has with her. Jill told us it was a totally different class, and was probably the best for her situation, as it is a generalized medicine that will deal with infection no matter where in the body it manifests. We relayed the information to Karen, were able to make contact with Nate and Deb through pastor Joe's phone, which having a different carrier, was still active.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 & 18 we are told to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in everything. We are learning just what that means. Alex is continually on our minds and in our prayers. The giving thanks part is a little harder right now, but we are doing it, thankful for Alex's heart for Christ and the people with whom she is working, for Dean and Karen who are watching over her, for the doctors in Kampala who hopefully will see her tomorrow, for Jill's friendship and expertise, and for prayer. I don't know what we would do with our worries if we didn't have this recourse to prayer. We cannot by ourselves do even the slightest thing to remedy this situation. So we pray. And pray. And pray some more. And in spite of our worries and fears, we give thanks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Down Side of Up

July 14, 2015

Sometimes despite my best efforts and intentions, I still have days when I have to work at being thankful. Today was one of those days. It's rained almost continually for days on end. The creek out back has been roaring and raging. Last night's men's group was a beautiful thing, but the prayer list is incredible; people going through marital struggles and divorce, medical issues, addictions. This morning I visited two people in the nursing home, who barring a miracle will probably die there. Our granddaughter in Uganda is battling some sort of infection. We pray about all these, but can do nothing tangible to affect any of them. The news is no help whatsoever, with wall to wall stories of human stupidity, brutality, deceit, the will to power, and greed.

My only recourse is to immerse myself in Scripture, in the promises of God, reminding myself of the grace in which we stand. And to pray. So far, none of this has lifted me to any heights of ecstasy, but I haven't succumbed to depression, either. I accept the fact that life has its ups and downs, and know that I have been blessed beyond imagination, so having an off day is but a small inconvenience, not a pattern. There are countless people around the world who would trade places with me any day of the week. So although I am not filled with laughter and feel somewhat subdued, this too shall pass, and I am grateful to live where I live, know the people I know, and be loved by the God who proved that love in the death of his own Son for my sins. And I am grateful that just taking the time to reflect and redirect my attention to my blessings begins to lift the cloud that has surrounded me today.

Monday, July 13, 2015


July 13, 2015

Tonight at our men's Bible study group, a dozen of us discussed Acts 2:46-47, 5:42, and Hebrews 10:25, texts that touch on why Christians get together regularly. The latter text reminds us of our need for encouragement, which as we talked, we recognized as foundational for life. The world we inhabit is not always kind to us and unfortunately, most of us have found that it often isn't much better in the church. But the Scripture is clear: we need encouragement, and we need to be encouragers. I've found that in this group of men.

In the Acts texts, the disciples gathered to eat, fellowship, share resources, worship and pray, study the Scriptures, and hold one another accountable, all of which we do each week. But it is the encouragement that keeps us coming back. Often when Monday night rolls around and I'm in the middle of a project, the introvert in me secretly and silently says in my heart, "I'd rather stay home." But there have been precious few times when I have come home at the end of the evening sorry I made the choice to go.

At one point, the discussion turned on the Acts statement about the apostles' signs and wonders and the awe they inspired. We noted that the Scripture doesn't give us any details about what these signs and wonders were. We tend to think of miraculous healings and such, but then Harry mentioned the work accomplished by our work team in West Virginia just a week ago. This crew of 28 men, women, and teenagers leveled a barn floor, poured 42 1/2 yards of concrete, leveled and screed it in under a week's time. The mix and measurement came out to the shovelful. Ken related how this past week he deliberately sought out men experienced in concrete work, telling them the story. They were to a  man, amazed that inexperienced people could do that job in that amount of time and come out to the shovel with the mix. Maybe the awe of Acts 2 is similar--they shared what they had, and were amazed at what God did with it.

We took prayer requests for men dealing with some serious life issues, and for those we know who need God's intervention in their lives. And I came home encouraged, and grateful for this group of men who are there for me week after week, not just when we get together to study and pray, but also one-on-one when I need a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on. Zephaniah 3:9 reads, "Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder." That's what these guys do; stand shoulder to shoulder beside each other, looking out for each other, helping each other stand strong in this fight we call life. I couldn't ask for a finer group of men, and am grateful and humbled to stand with them.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Who Completes You?

July 12, 2015

It came almost as an afterthought and moved quickly into a place of priority. Pastor Joe had asked me to preach while he was on vacation, and as I thought about it, it occurred to me that his series on marriage needed one last sermon to bring it closure. The church today is usually geared towards family life, which is a good thing given the state of the family in our culture today. But that emphasis creates a particular problem: our society is increasingly populated by single people--the never married and the formerly married, some of whom are hoping to enter the ranks (witness the recent Supreme Court decision granting marriage rights to the homosexual community), and many who have no desire to ever be limited by marriage. This means that the Christian community and the secular crowd are often inhabiting vastly different
worlds. I thought it would be helpful to speak to the single people among us, so that is what I did.

I had developed my outline and knew where I wanted the sermon to go when I remembered a snippet of a Bible verse that hit the bullseye for me. The outline was simple: God's plan for single people is to find their identity in Christ, not in any other relationship, to live a life of holiness and purity, and to experience the grace that enables them to live out the calling of God upon their lives. It really is no different from God's plan for any of us; it just plays out a bit differently. It was at the first point that the snippet of Scripture popped into my head.

Colossians 2:10 says, "You are complete in Him..." For me, this is the foundation for life itself. Marrying Linda 45 years ago didn't complete me; only Jesus Christ can do that. She complements me, but even thought I might feel it and certainly don't want to test it, I would not be half a person without her. If I look to her to complete me; to fulfill in me that which only Christ can do, I will be sorely disappointed. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot do it. And if she looks to me to be a complete person, she will be sadly mistaken. I am not God, and cannot fill that role for her. Both of us are complete in Jesus Christ. So is the single person. We don't need someone else to be complete persons. We are made complete in Jesus Christ. If more people understood this, they would be much more content in life, not looking to some other human being to supply that which only God can give. Tonight I am grateful for my wife of 45 years for how she complements me, balancing my reserve and introvertedness with her love for people. I am even more grateful to have learned long ago not to expect her to do for me what only Christ can do. Neither of us puts the other in that impossible position of being expected to provide what we do not have the capacity to offer, which frees us to give to each other the best of who we are, because we know who we are in Christ.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me

July 11, 2015

Today is my birthday, and it's been a great one! No big party--that will come later when we celebrate mine, Deb's, and Matt's all at once. What made it great wasn't the gifts, although Linda's giving me some cash to pay for the Gospel pamphlet I want to have printed is a big gift. What made the day great was the people. 

Last night, I wasn't allowed in the living room. The grandkids were busily at work constructing an enormous birthday card, complete with balloons, stenciling, and stickers, and signed by each child. I got up early to get the griddle ready for the morning's pancakes, and when I finally got to sit down myself, the card was there at my place at the table. My friend Ken showed up at 8:00 to  help with the wiring of my garage. We had breakfast together, then got to work. Actually, Ken got to work, while I watched. 

At a lull in the work in which Ken went for supplies, I took the trailer load of village yard sale stuff over to Nate's. My 92 year old mother, and granddaughter Alex in Uganda called to wish me a happy birthday, the latter giving me the opportunity to pray with her. Before the day was over, a friend stopped at the house to pay for a pair of '80's-era Harley gas tanks I had for sale, before inquiring about the lawn mower. We headed out to a graduation party where for a couple hours, we visited with family and friends. When we got home, a number of birthday cards and email wishes were waiting for me. No amount of tangible gifts could possibly match the wishes and hugs from my grandchildren, the thoughtfulness of my wife, Ken's gift of time and expertise, or the conversation of friends at someone else's party. Stuff is stuff; but time together is eternal in my heart. It has been a happy birthday, and my gratitude is heartfelt.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Of Work And Rest

July 10, 2015

The Fourth of the Ten Commandments reads, "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." It is a reminder that life itself is patterned after the creative acts and plan of God, but also that life itself is not our own doing. It is all too easy to imagine that there is just one more thing to be done; one more achievement to accomplish, and that we are too busy making a living to slow down and actually live. When I was a boy, "Blue Laws" were the norm; except for emergency services such as hospitals, nursing homes, and the police and fire departments, businesses closed on Sundays. It was literally almost impossible to find even a corner deli that was open on Sunday. Department stores and supermarkets--forget it; nothing was open. It was even hard to find a gas station open. Our kids and grandkids cannot even fathom life like that.

Sunday was a day of rest and worship. In my parents' youth, kids didn't even play on Sundays. It was a time of worship, quiet reflection, and rest. There's not much left of that kind of thinking these days. Stores and restaurants are open for business, sporting events have replaced church for many, and we push just as hard on Sunday as any other day of the week.

The Sabbath commandment wasn't given to spoil our fun, but to give people the break we need if we are to be as fully productive as we ought. It doesn't take long for continual work with no time away from the job to become counterproductive, with performance deteriorating as people neglect their basic need for rest and regeneration. I think also, that the Day of Rest is given so we don't become arrogant and self-centered, imagining that if we were to stop for a moment, all of life would cease. The Sabbath is a reminder that we are not God, and that our provision comes not just from the work of our hands, but also from the blessing of our Creator.

Yet there is more to this Fourth Commandment than the familiar words about remembering the Sabbath, to keep it holy. It goes on to command six days of work. Somehow, while major parts of our society have forgotten the need for rest, entire other segments have neglected the command to work, preferring to mooch off the rest of us instead. I'm not talking about the truly disabled, but the increasing numbers of people who prefer to let others work while they simply play at life.

I am retired, and it would be easy for me to simply sit back and coast till I die. Except for one thing; somewhere deep within me is a craving for accomplishment. Whether it's being able to play scales or a sonata on my bassoon, a riff on my bass, fixing my motorcycle, mowing the lawn, or wiring the garage, I need to accomplish. It's a way of measuring life, perhaps even significance, although that can be tricky. Today I ran wire, mounted a junction box and subpanel, got my plow and a bunch of other stuff ready to sell, changed the oil in the mower, mowed the lawn, worked on Sunday's sermon, and spent time with the grandkids. Much was accomplished, and honest labor is a reflection of the work of God in creation, and the work of Christ in our redemption. It's not just work; it's holy stuff, and I am thankful to have been able to do it today.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Brown-Eyed Girl

July 9, 2015

Four-thirty am. That's when my phone buzzed. No, it wasn't one of those middle of the night calls that is never good news unless it's a new baby. It was my alarm going off, rattling me out of blissful slumber so I wouldn't be late for Mattie's surgery. Since birth, one of her eyes has had the tendency to wander, and this is the third surgery she's had to correct the situation. Somewhere I still have a photo of her and me in Canada before her first surgery when it was hoped that it could be corrected without the use of the scalpel. She is wearing her eye patch and we both are smiling as we sport pirate bandanas. But now her double vision has made it hard for her in both school and play. It's pretty hard to hit a baseball when you see two of them coming at you! She's a trooper, and although scared, wanted to get it done early in the summer rather than later, so today was her day.

The surgery center where she has had all three surgeries is an amazing place. I've never been in a similar facility where everyone is as solicitous and helpful as they. The surgeon and anesthesiologist both came and talked plainly and compassionately not only to Matt and Jeanine, but to Mattie as well. She had a little blue teddy bear with her, and the nurse gave it an arm identification bracelet just like Mattie's. When she came out of surgery, little Bo Blue had an eye bandage just like Mattie. Little things, but indications of the depth of care they give. Our prayers certainly have been for complete recovery and proper functioning of her eyes. "The windows of the soul," they are called, for good reason. Look into Mattie's and you'll see behind those beautiful brown orbs a tender heart. Tonight I'm grateful for her surgeon, for the support staff and the beautiful facility, but most of all for Mattie herself, who continues to be a joyful blessing to Linda and me.

A Sunshine Spirit

Yesterday's post got postponed for editing. Here it is:

July 8, 2015

Some people just make life better. Today I talked with a young woman who seems to have a perpetual smile on her face. she was attentive to her work, and to me. I had actually met her some months before and had noticed the slight limp as she walked back then, but as it was our first meeting, said nothing about it.

Today she commented that it was a bit more difficult than usual for her to do her job. It routinely requires her to get into a particular position to complete a certain task. "I need to be either taller or shorter," she commented, then mentioned that she was only six weeks out from her hip surgery. As she is quite young, I asked if it were congenital, and she said, "No, one day it just started deteriorating. The other one is just fine." As we talked further, she revealed that she has a four year old child. With no rings on her fingers, I assume she is raising that child alone, always a daunting challenge.

Before I went my way, I thanked her for her kindness and cheerful disposition, telling her that her cheerful spirit made my day more pleasant. She smiled and thanked me, and I left for home.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about her. Her job is honorable work, but I can't imagine it to be the best pay in the world. She is raising a four-year-old most likely all by herself, and probably has some significant medical bills from her surgery. Yet she smiles her way through the day with genuine cheer and kindness. In a culture that is continually offended by the smallest perceived slights, she could easily be bitter and complaining, but she is not. Kindness and civility are not to be taken for granted, and they are increasingly rare in public life. It's almost fashionable to complain. Both cheerfulness and grumpiness are contagious, and my own mood was heightened by this young woman who approached her job with joy, despite challenges of the sort that have taken lesser people out of the game. My day was brightened, and I am grateful for this young woman, whose inner light shined upon me today.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On the Road Again (with apologies to Willie)

July 7, 2015

The Ural is on the road again! Last week when I pushed it out of the garage to get at the mower, I noticed the drive shaft chucking on the U-joint. Not good! I immediately called up Holopaw Ural in Florida, and three days later, it was in the mailbox. Not bad, considering it was a holiday weekend. The fix included removing the rear wheel, then the entire drive assembly. Never having attempted this before, I consulted the Ural forum, then dove in. It took a few hours, but by 11:00 pm Monday night, everything was back in place, and that even included time for Men's Bible Study.

This morning I had some business to attend to in Pleasantville, PA, nearly two hours from home. The bike ran flawlessly down and back which, given my mechanical abilities, is just short of miraculous. It was a beautiful morning for a ride. Nothing broke, no parts fell off; it was totally uneventful, which is what I like in motorcycle rides.

The gratitude prompt for today was blessings of challenges, conflict, and change. Mechanical repair is not exactly a major challenge; this isn't' the space shuttle, after all. But there is satisfaction in having met the challenge rather than simply hiring it out to the professional. Having it actually turn out right is added bonus! As for the conflict and change, I'm content to leave them for another day.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Real Enthusiasm

July 6, 2015

A few days ago, I remarked that merely reflecting on the day to find something for which to be thankful doesn't give opportunity to be proactive, which I am learning is essential if gratitude is to be more than an afterthought. When I started this particular discipline, I followed a schedule of suggestions that stretched my imagination. That's good, because sometimes my imagination is pretty unimaginative. Feeling particularly unimaginative this morning, I revisited that list. Today's suggestion was to find three gifts of enthusiasm. That's easy. This morning Isabel brought a few friends over to Sunnyside to swim. One thing about Izzi: she's enthusiasm personified! Whether organizing friends or cousins for some activity, jumping on the trampoline, doing backflips across the yard, or plotting to break school records for swimming, she breezes through life with a joi de vivre that is a wonder to behold. She wasn't long in this world before I started thinking of her as "Busy Izzi." I hope she keeps her enthusiastic spirit all through life. It rubs off on you, and if there is one thing this sad world needs, it is a bit of enthusiasm.

Tomorrow little Gemma will spend the day with Linda so her mother can have a bit of a break for her writing. Gemma is another bundle of enthusiasm, dancing and smiling her way through each day as if to challenge it to try to keep her from wringing every last pleasure from it. Tomorrow afternoon when Jess comes to pick her up, I'm guessing Linda's enthusiasm will have waned just a bit, even though she will savor every moment.

Enthusiasm is actually a religious word. It comes from the Greek "en Theos," ie. "In God." For all those who imagine that being a Christian is a dull, drearisome life spent avoiding anything that is fun or pleasurable, and looking as if one were weaned on a pickle, I would refer them to the origins of the word. Anyone who is not enthusiastic about life hasn't grasped even a basic understanding of what it means to be "in God." In his letter to the Ephesian church, St. Paul reiterates over and over how we are "in Christ," a status that elevates us above the misery and aimlessness of this world, not by removing us from it, but by giving purpose to even the troubles that come our way. Elsewhere, he reminds us that God has given all things for us to enjoy. That's not an invitation to debauchery, but to receive with joy all the good that is present even in the most difficult situations. When one's life is not circumscribed and controlled by all the ills of this world, it is no longer necessary to be depressed or worried. By virtue of being in Christ, the joy and hope of resurrection invades every aspect of life, deepening the experience and infusing it with purpose and hope.

I am grateful tonight for Izzi and Gemma's enthusiasm for life and for the reminder that taking ourselves too seriously cuts us off from the joy God intends us to have. I like enthusiasm, being "in God." And I like how one person's enthusiasm can infect others. It's not enough for only a few people to be "in God;" God intends enthusiasm to be communicable, and the more we realize where real enthusiasm comes from, the more we connect with its Source, and the more we spread it around, the better this old world will be.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Proof of God's Love

July 5, 2015

"The Lord makes his sun shine on the good and evil alike..." So Jesus himself spoke about the knotty issue of theodicy, a fancy word for the attempt to make sense of the problem of evil. For the atheist, it doesn't matter; if there is no God, then good and evil are relative terms and concepts; both are whatever we want them to be. But for a Christian, the existence of evil is a bit of a problem. How do we account for it if we believe in a good and all-powerful God? The classic argument is, "If God is all powerful, he could prevent evil; if God is good, he would prevent it. Therefore, the existence of evil means God is either not all powerful or he is not good." To foist the matter of evil on the devil doesn't really solve much of anything. If God created everything, he must have created the devil, so the issue lands back in God's lap.

It would take more time and space than I have here to even begin to deal with this matter, but it does cause me to ponder how we know of God's love for us. It would be convenient if we could say that we know God loves us because of the blessings he bestows on us. Blessings certainly make us feel God's love, but if Jesus is to be believed, they don't demonstrate his particular love. He loves everyone, and blesses even the evil, while often the good are recipients of troubles undeserved. If blessings are indication of God's love, are problems indications of his displeasure?

Don't get me wrong. I am deeply appreciative of the blessings I have received. Not a day goes by but what I think of our home, our family, our friends, our country. Time and time again I feel like I should pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. But I've been through a few difficulties, and both the Gospel and my experience assure me that God's love has never left me, even in the darkest of hours.

St. Paul cuts to the heart of the matter when he declares in Romans 5:8 that "God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That's the only proof God offers, and it's the only proof we need. I am grateful for the many blessings I have received, but they are no measure of the quality of my relationship with God, or even of his love for me. It's God's sacrifice of his Son that demonstrates God's love, and no matter howI feel at a given moment, I am grateful for it.

A Different Fourth

I didn't have internet access last night, so here it is:

July 4, 2015

It almost felt like a normal Fourth of July: there were no fireworks. For the past nearly twenty years, we've been in Canada for the Fourth. Almost as soon as school was out, we'd pack up and head north across the border to spend a week at McMillan's, a family run camp with fourteen little cabins and a big dining hall where home-cooked meals were served three times a day. Our daughter-in-law Debbra had gone there with her family since she was a little girl, and once she and Nate were married, we picked up and carried on the tradition. Until this year. When we started out, the exchange rate and the price made it a super deal, but the exchange advantage has all but disappeared, and the cost has continued to escalate, prompting the decision to stay home this year.

For years, it bothered me to not be home for the Fourth of July, but we did get to celebrate Canada Day on the first, singing their national anthem at dinner and watching the fireworks in Killaloe in the evening. But here we are in the USA on the Fourth, and I haven't seen so much as a sparkler. We had family and friends over for a picnic lunch, then headed to Churchville to spend some time with my mother prior to her family reunion tomorrow. Only she won't be there. She's caught a nasty cold and doesn't feel like leaving the house, so I guess we'll be going without her.

We missed Canada Day, too, as well as some of the friends we've made over the years. The highlight of my week in Canada was going to the Wilno Tavern for Blues Night on Tuesdays, talking with Grant Fraser, the lead guitarist and knife maker who got Matt started in the business, and bringing home a few bags of loose tea from the shop down the road in Golden Lake, a small crossroads community about five miles away from McMillan's.

This is all pretty ordinary stuff--spending time with people we love, eating hot dogs and potato salad, talking, and watching the kids play. But it is ordinary only to us. For most people around the world, a day like today would be an exquisite treasure. We have plenty of food, live in peace, and are surrounded by those we love. We don't live in fear or want. Our granddaughter Alex is in Uganda working with kids in a boarding school. She phoned and we talked today. We talked about the experience she is having that most kids she knows cannot even imagine. She is seeing first hand what poverty is really like. When I commented on American kids who constantly complain about petty issues, she responded with, "That's SO infuriating to me!" We are truly blessed by the sacrifices people endured to give birth to this nation so we can remember today in such an ordinary fashion as having a picnic. What an unusual gift this is! As it says in the Psalms, Let us give thanks to the Lord for his lovingkindness to the children of men!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Blessings in the Morning

July 3, 2015

Gratitude isn't always (or even often) something that can be conjured up on a moment's notice. In the two and a half years I've been exercising my gratitude muscles, I've noticed that it is imperative that I set my mind to it first thing in the morning. If I don't start out the day looking for blessings, I end up overlooking them, in part because many of God's best blessings come disguised as challenges and difficulties, or even hardships. It is natural to look for the obviously good things in life, but if our gaze ends there, we end up living a shallow, narcissistic life, seeing only those things which cause our immediate happiness. But it is often in the shadows that we find jewels reflected in the searchlight of our seeking.

I would not have chosen the trial we endured ten years ago when a third of our congregation and half our income took flight. One person's issues infected the core of our leadership and brought Park church to its knees, which actually is where we should have been all along. Believing as I do that God has purposes in even the most difficult trials, I thought to myself, "If this is God's preparation for something even more challenging, I think I'd just as soon pass." It turned out that instead, it became a learning experience that has humbled me and enabled me to help other pastors and congregations going through their own storms. More significantly to me personally, I learned that I wasn't as good at reading people as I had thought, and I discovered true friendship in those who stood by us, often at considerable personal sacrifice. You don't forget friendships like that.

Years before, another friend stood by us in a different and more personal storm. He was there in one of the darkest hours of my life. And when ten years ago, he got caught up in the inferno that blazed all around us, leaving the church and accusing me of causing him over the years all sorts of grief and pain, I wondered why he had never mentioned any of it to me, I mourned his leaving, but I am still forever grateful for how he stepped into my life years before when I desperately needed a friend. I'll never forget that, and will never speak evil of this person.

So today I woke to seek blessings. Waiting till evening to retrace my steps looking for the good isn't enough. Today was a day of clear and obvious blessing, with hardly a cloud passing overhead to cast its shadow on the landscape of my life. I am grateful for that, but also for those difficult times that have yielded their own hard blessings. Today wasn't one of them, for which I am thankful. But because I chose to look for the blessing this morning and will do so tomorrow, I hope to be better able to receive with gratitude that hard gift when it is given.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Technological Blessings

July 2, 2015

Modern technology is both a blessing and a curse. Our local newspaper carried an article the other day about our local municipality having received a grant to install security cameras at various locations around the city as a means of crime deterrence. On the one hand, anything that gives a potential troublemaker pause is not a bad thing. On the other hand, we live in a society where the authorities spy and snoop incessantly. We talk much about the right to privacy, but in reality, it is virtually nonexistent in a technological world.

Just this morning the paper contained an article about a man killed by a robot in a factory. During installation, something went wrong with this robot that was supposed to grab parts and move them to the next station. It grabbed the man, pushed him against a wall, crushing him to death. I would dare say THAT piece of technology was a curse to at least one person. And just the other day, my eldest nephew posted on Facebook that he was deleting his account and saying goodbye to social media. If you knew my nephew, you would know what a big step this is. He is Mr. Technology personified, and has been since he was a teenager. But he decided it was wasting too much of his time, so it's sayonara. I give him a lot of credit for recognizing the dark side and going cold turkey.

But there is the blessing side, and it is that for which I am thankful today. I've been working on wiring my garage, and needed to run an underground cable from the house to a subpanel in the woodshed. Son Matt had about 40 feet of underground cable left over from when he wired his shop with 220, I dug the trench, drilled holes through the basement wall and the woodshed sill, and laid the cable. Not being able to claim any semblance to an electrician, I needed to know if the job were done properly, especially where it went through the structures. Alas! My electrical friends Harry and Ken are both in West Virginia at work camp. Text Messaging to the rescue! I snapped a few photos, uploaded them to my message app, added a few questions and sent it all off. Fifteen minutes later, I had a response from Ken. The cable is now buried, and I'm ready for the next step, thanks to technology.

Even more important is being able to keep touch with our granddaughter Alex while she is in Uganda. We received a message from her tonight, just a short note letting us know she's OK and misses us, but it was enough. What a sacrifice it must have been for the parents of missionaries just a couple generations ago, when the only contact was by mail sent by steam packet! Often months or even years would pass before family at home could know anything about what was happening on the field. I am grateful tonight for the technology that keeps in touch loved ones who are half a world away.

A Good Wife

July 1, 2015

Tonight's gratitude may sound a bit convoluted, so bear with me. Linda and I had an appointment with our financial advisor this morning. We've been working with Dan for about fifteen years, and the guy is a money magician. Fifteen years ago, we were worried about retirement because we hadn't been able to save much of anything, what with helping with 3 kids' college and wedding expenses. One of his first questions was, "What do you want to accomplish?" He was, and is more concerned with helping us accomplish our goals than fitting us into a preconceived plan, and he has far exceeded our expectations.

Recently he closed out one of our IRAs. It was a smaller one, and he couldn't see the sense in spending the management fees on it. As a result, he told us we had a certain amount of available cash, and wanted to know what we wanted to do with it. Our first inclination was to just roll it over; we aren't big spenders and we often wonder if we're going to have enough to go the distance. Dan assures us that won't be a problem, but our conservative leopard spots are a bit hard to change.
On the way to his office we were talking about needing to begin looking for a new car for Linda. The 06 Toyota is beginning to show its age; at 200,000 miles and more than a few encounters of the close kind with various deer, we figured it's time. Linda has money saved so we can pay cash, and figured we would see what is available in our price range. Turns out, our cash is a few thousand short of our ideal goal. Here's where the story takes an odd twist.

Also on the way to Dan's I had noticed a small Kubota tractor with a bucket, backhoe, and belly mower for sale in someone's front yard. When I stopped to look at it, I knew right away that his asking price was way more than we have to spend, but I took down the information anyway. So we're talking on the way home, when Linda says to me, "If you want that tractor, we could take some of the money Dan says we have for it, and some to add to what we have for a new car." I almost drove off the road in shock! We don't mind giving money away; we've done plenty of that over the years, but spending big bucks on ourselves is not something we're used to. So to have Linda casually offer that kind of thinking made me wonder who was occupying that body sitting beside me that looked like her.

I'm not sure we'll do it. After all, we still have her dad's 1948 8N, which for sentimental reasons is not going anywhere. It can be an ornery starter in the winter, but once it's going, it does the job. There are plenty of needy charities to which we could contribute. But a backhoe and bucket--THAT would be cool! Tonight I am thankful that God has provided so abundantly for us that we can even be considering such a big ticket item. And I am even more thankful for my wife. For the 46 years I've known her and the 45 we've been married, her generosity doesn't surprise me, but today I saw a depth to it far beyond what even I have known.