Wednesday, September 30, 2015

So Very Blessed

September 30, 2015

It seems rather fitting that on the last day of September I finish the last big project of the summer. The entry room is not only tiled and enclosed; it's grouted too, and I am very much relieved to have that job behind me. I like tiling, but there is immense satisfaction in looking at the finished product. I have some trim to replace around the door where the water leaking in rotted what was there, but apart from staining the wood, that should only take a few hours. This afternoon, Linda discovered in the woodshed some extra tan flashing that we can use to enclose the brick molding on the door, so we are smiling tonight.

Before band practice today, Harry and I were talking with a couple of the other brass guys. One uses a walker to get around. Bill has had some pretty significant health issues over the years, but even he commented on how grateful he is for the health he enjoys. Larry, one of the trombonists talked about his older sister who was born with cerebral palsy, has never been able to speak more than a few words, but who at 86, tools around in her wheelchair, setting the table at the nursing home in which she resides, and communicating with people through her computer. She never misses church, to which Larry remarked, "If she can do it, I guess we don't have any excuse to miss just because we are a bit tired in the morning."

This evening I watched part of the evening news. They were reporting on the increased tension and danger posed by Russia's entry into the Syrian civil war. As they reported, they showed scenes of the wholesale destruction of cities which are just piles of rubble through which a few stalwart souls picked their way. The percentage of the population displaced and seeking safety in Europe is staggering. With human suffering on this scale, about what could we possibly have the right to complain? I am grateful tonight for the strength and ability to finish my tile job, for the health and resources enabling me to play in the band, for the peace and security we take for granted here in the USA, and for God's grace which has enabled me to see life in this way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who is the Fruit For?

September 29, 2015

For more than two years I've been unable to attend our area pastor's prayer group. This morning that changed, and I was given an insight to a Scripture text I've not had before. The test was the familiar passage from John 15 where Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches, then goes on to talk about abiding in him so that we might become fruitful. Aaron Bjork, the devotional leader for today asked this pointed question: "Who is the fruit for?"
Every community seems to have certain people who make the circuit from one church to another, moving on whenever they become irritated with something or come into conflict with someone. There is always a church within driving distance ready to welcome them in without question. These people can be quite toxic to the life of a church and are as every pastor knows, a pain in the neck (although some of us have a much lower opinion of them). The excuse for leaving one church for another is usually the tired old line of, "I'm not being fed," which leads us to pastor Bjork's question of the day.

If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, the fruit is not there for us, but for those outside the church. The pastor and the church don't exist to "feed" anyone, but to help us stay connected to Jesus, the vine. If someone feels they aren't being fed, they are missing the entire point. It is their responsibility to simply remain connected to the vine. If they do that, they'll receive all the nourishment they need to be fruitful. The fruit of the Spirit will be produced in them, blessing others. I've never known church hoppers to be particularly fruitful. How can they be, when their focus is so inward? Narcissism is like cannibalizing yourself; pretty soon, there's nothing left. So I've pondered the question all day. "Who is the fruit for?" It's for others, and for God. The firstfruits always belonged to him.

This Sunday, I'm not going to worry about whether or not pastor Joe's sermon feeds me. That's not his job. I'm going to focus on being connected to the vine. Actually, I'm not waiting till Sunday for that. It starts now. Thank you, Aaron, for your question, and for its insight into the mind and heart of Christ.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quiet Prayers

September 28, 2015

The rain came softly today. Barely a mist, it silently put a shine on the grass and the leaves of the trees as it hung in the air and finally touched the ground. I was working on the tile in the front room, finishing up the few pieces that had to wait till the door was set. Tomorrow God willing, the grouting begins. It's a messy job, but once it's done, the only thing left is to rebuild the trim around the front door. It's a good feeling finishing a job, and although I'm not quite there, it's close enough that I can almost taste it.

It was a quiet day with no people at all except Linda until worship practice and men's group tonight. Almost a Sabbath, I took time to read and pray before tackling the tile. A friend recently lent me a little book on prayer by David Jeremiah, in which he mentioned how difficult prayer is for him. I was more than a little surprised, as I've always imagined that these guys who have national presence with their radio and video productions wouldn't struggle with the same things that plague me. I've always thought it a bit embarrassing to have to admit that the very disciplines in which as a pastor I ought to excel were where I feel like a novice. But I learned something: if I dwell on the discipline, that's all I get, and it remains a task to be completed, a burden to be borne, the sort of thing we just grit our teeth and get through it. But if I use the time to focus on Christ--who he is, what he has done, and being in communion with him--then it ceases being something I check off on my daily to-do list, and becomes what it was meant to be: connecting with the living God. I'm still working on it; still after all these years very much a novice, but I'm not giving up, and someday what is done by faith will be reality seen and experienced on an entirely new level.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kids 'n Stuff

September 27, 2015

Tonight it began in earnest. Our church sponsors music/worship leadership training for our kids. Beginner and intermediate guitar, bass, keyboard, box drum, and worship leadership are offered to kids free of charge. In most cases, we even supply the instruments. Over twenty kids show up for an hour before youth group to learn and practice, followed by a short time of worship, all led by the kids. Adult volunteers teach the classes, but the kids do all the rest, with the goal of raising up new worship leaders for the future.

I had the privilege of teaching the bass classes, which is a bit of a hoot considering how much I need to learn myself. I'm pretty much of a novice, but I guess if I can stay one step ahead of the kids, I can still teach them. Some have a pretty comfortable familiarity with the bass, while others are starting from scratch. We'll see how they do after a week's practice.

Our Park church people have continually surprised me with their innovative thinking. From community youth outreach that brought in unchurched kids through such venues as our annual New Year's All Night AD Free party to hoops and dogs in the village park, our leaders have shown their heart for our kids and their passion for Christ. Not everything we've tried has worked, but our leaders just keep churning out the ideas and the kids keep coming.

If it's not music education for our kids, it's Gunday Sunday that pastor Joe started at the beginning of the summer as a way of reaching out to men who like to shoot but aren't likely to step inside a church. Next week he's planned a bike ride for which he already has about twenty bikers lined up. Sometimes I get tired just thinking of all the stuff we have going on, which makes me plenty grateful to have turned over the leadership of Park church to a younger and much more energetic pastor. It was the right time, and Joe is the right man for the job.

Pastor Joe had been away at seminary all this past week, and didn't get home till about 4:00 am, so he had asked me to preach for him, which I did. He introduced me with far more praise than I deserve, and I did my job. People asked me how I liked preaching again, and I can truthfully say it was good to do it, but I am also grateful that I don't have to do it all the time. I felt a bit out of practice, and am more than happy to relinquish the role of pastor to one younger and at least as capable as I. I had my turn, and have no problem yielding the right of way to Joe. Tomorrow I will put the hardware on our new front door and lay the remaining tile in the entry room while Joe will be conducting staff meetings and getting started on next week's sermon. Yep, I'm in a good place tonight!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Simple Pleasures

September 26, 2015

You know you're getting old when such simple things bring such pleasure. I don't need my motorcycle to do 150 mph. I'm not quite up to another hair-raising ride down Zoar Valley in my canoe (Wait...I can't do that anyway since my boys wrapped my canoe around a rock!). Linda and I like to catch the occasional ball game on tv in the evening; I don't think I'll dive for a fly ball anytime soon.

So what pleases me today? Being outside to behold the beauty of a dazzling fall day as the colors are just beginning to change. Being able in spite of a nasty cold, to serve a family grieving the loss of the family patriarch. Having my son come over to help me install our new front door. Linda gets to choose all the accoutrements of our home, and she outdid herself with her choice of a door. People have often complimented us on our home. It's all her; I would be living in the equivalent of a college bachelor pad if the decor were left up to me. She brings civilization into our home.

Tonight I'll go to bed early, suitably greased up with Jessie's essential oils in hopes of beating off this cold so I can preach tomorrow. Pastor Joe heard about my sniffle issues and offered to preach, but I'll decline. How can you beat having a pastor who volunteers to relieve his relief pitcher after a seven hour drive? I am surrounded by people who give and bless in various ways, and am looking forward to serving them tomorrow, not in my own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. As I lay my head on my pillow, I thank God for the many people he has placed in my life, and pray for my friends in Canada who recently lost three of their dear ones in a senseless shooting, for those battling cancer, and those brothers and sisters halfway around the world who are remaining faithful in the face of unimaginable persecutions.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sick and Tired

September 25, 2015

The stuff that's been going around stopped by our house. Tonight I'm sick and tired, but with a funeral tomorrow and preaching on Sunday, I'm grateful it's not worse.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Christ Conversaations

September 24, 2015

One of the things I've learned from disciplining myself towards gratitude is to see God's hand in the simplest of everyday experiences. This morning I had breakfast with a friend, during which we talked of our concerns as fathers of grown children. We are both learning to walk that fine line between being the protector that we were when our children were young and stepping back as they make their own way in life. Any father of teenagers knows that feeling of wanting to stand between our children and all evil, yet knowing that there comes a time when we must finally yield them to Christ. It's rarely an easy thing to do. We talked, I heard his heart, then did the only thing we could do: we prayed together.

A bit later I stopped by Germaine & Poppalardo's to cash in a gift certificate for a bassoon reed. The proprietor is a soft-spoken man named Bill, as honest and genuine a man as you'd ever want to meet. I chose one, whereupon he gave me two additional reeds. "I told my supplier to not bring me any more of this brand. Their quality is spotty. You'll get a good one, then one that just won't play. See if you can make them work." As he was about to make change for the balance of the gift certificate, I told him I figured we were even.

He commented on the progress my grandson is making with his guitar lessons and we talked about music theory and me of all people giving bass lessons to the kids at church. I'm not too many steps ahead of them even at the start, but Bill is an encourager and told me the biggest thing the kids need is a basic foundation and lots of encouragement. No wonder he is such a good teacher himself. I stepped out of his shop into the sunshine, grateful for these two men who in ordinary conversations revealed the glory of Christ who lives in them. Nothing unusual or spectacular, but it's in conversations such as these that if we recognize it, we see the hand and heart of God.

At the end of the day, we had a small celebration for granddaughter Mattie's tenth birthday. Her joy and enthusiasm for life is infectious and rounded out the day, blessing upon blessing. Happy birthday, Mattie!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fixing What's Broken

September 23, 2015

It's all fixed now, but yesterday took its toll on man and machinery. I was mowing the lawn, a task not normally noted for excitement or entertainment, but I was on our new mower which has a roll bar on the back. Roll bars are thought to be safety devices, but in my limited experience, they serve a much more sinister purpose. A few weeks ago, Linda was mowing, and as she usually does, ducked under a low branch on the Japanese maple that winter killed. The roll bar snagged a branch which being dead, broke off and whacked her in the back of the head. So much for safety!

Yesterday as I mowed the edge of the property, I tried a similar tactic. There was no low hanging branch, but the roll bar was just the right height to snag a sumac about three inches in diameter, breaking it off and depositing it on my left shoulder. I stopped, dismounted, lifted the sumac from the tractor, and continued mowing. A single turn around the yard later, that same roll bar caught the sign for Bill's Gun and Saddle shop, ripping it from its post and tossing it on the ground. Then I hit a rock. The deck shuddered, then clattered with a "ting-ting-ting" as the blade hit the bent guard. It was time to quit for the day.

Today I installed the new turn signal replacing the one I completely tore off the roll bar when I dragged the sumac down on myself. Yes, that's right, not only did I smack my shoulder, that tree completely severed the turn signal. Fifty bucks later, it looks like new again. Than, after three false starts, I managed to hammer out the offending guard so the deck could quietly go about its business. As usual, a job that should have taken an hour and a half took a day and a half. That's life in the fast lane around here!

Stuff can be fixed or replaced. I am grateful to have the time, and a modicum of skill to do it. There is a certain satisfaction in being able to fix the messes I get myself into. Eleven years ago when Park church went through deep waters, I asked my boss for the opportunity to put back together what fell apart on my watch. I was given that opportunity, and am forever grateful to have been able to hand over to my successor a healthy church. Far too often, the problems of a former pastor are dumped into the lap of his successor who is often ill-equipped to deal with them. I've gotten myself into more than a few predicaments over the years, but am grateful that God didn't let me escape their consequences and gave me the privilege of righting wrongs. There are few things more satisfying than fixing a problem, especially when it's a problem you yourself caused. I got to do that today, and got to do it over the past ten years. Fixing what you broke isn't always easy, but it is always gratifying.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Unintended Consequences

September 22, 2015

"You've blessed me; I'd like to bless you. Is there anything I can pray for, for you?" Suddenly she stopped what she was doing and simply stood there. Unknowingly, I had touched a nerve. Confidentiality prevents me from saying much more, but a few minutes later when she handed me an evaluation form on a clipboard, a post-it-note was stuck beneath the form. "My son. Thank you. I can't talk about it. I will cry." That's all I know, but I know all I need. I would never have guessed if not for the offer to pray. Later, she mentioned in passing that her son had recently graduated from boot camp, so I'm guessing he may be deployed, but that's only a guess.

I'm already praying for her son and for her. Earlier she had commented on my bike, so I gave her one of the Gospel pamphlets I had printed just for such occasions. It has my contact information on it which she may or may not use. Either way, I will continue to pray for her son, and I will inquire.

People who quietly and faithfully do their job are often carrying burdens about which we know nothing. All it takes is an offer to pray, and the floodgates open. I've asked that simple question countless times; sometimes people can't think of anything, but that offer often opens doors to rooms of the heart that have been long closed and locked. Whether it's a business deal, an online purchase, or the reception of service in a restaurant or store, a simple offer to bless those whose service has blessed me has caused walls to collapse like Jericho's, allowing me entrance to the holy ground of the heart. This introvert is grateful tonight for having years ago learned the power of that simple question, and the opportunities it has given me to return blessings to people who have blessed me.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Two-Way Blessings

September 21, 2015

Blessings are a two way street. We had invited to our home a young couple with four children under the age of four, to spend the day, hopefully relax a little. A four-year old, two year old and two one year olds (more or less) require a lot of attention. It's not a matter of behavior; theirs was stellar. But they are preschool, and like all preschoolers, they are busy and keep their parents busy. I don't know how this young mother handles all four of them day in and day out while her husband is at work, but she does, and does so with calm grace. Linda and I each took turns with one or the other, hopefully giving her a bit of a rest, besides just talking about life. Like most young parents we know, they were concerned lest their children break something, but there's not much here that they can destroy, and even if they did, it's only stuff. We have lots of kid stuff here, and at the end of the day, everything is intact.

I watched the four year old jump on the trampoline, taught him how to pump the swings so he could do it himself, then went wading in the creek. Immediately after warning him about the slippery rocks, his feet went out from under him and he sat down in the water. From then on, it didn't really matter how wet he got, so we just kept playing in the creek. Fortunately his mom had brought a change of clothes for him. I got to hold the babies and play with the toddler, who unlike most two year olds, was not in the least afraid of this man she'd never even seen before. Her smile was almost constant, and lit up her entire face.

What we intended as a blessing for this couple was in fact, far more of a blessing to us. I'm not one given much to this kind of language, but these children were adorable! I had some projects planned for the day, and managed to finish one of them, but the other will wait till tomorrow. I had more important, more interesting, and more fun things to do today. Tonight I'm thankful for the pleasure these children gave me today. What would have otherwise been an ordinary day turned out to be extra special in the hands of four pre-school children whose innocence and guilelessness filled our day with a glimpse of Christ. Truly, little children led the way today!

Sunday, September 20, 2015


September 20, 2015

Ninety-three years. Today is my mother's 93rd birthday, so Linda and I left right after Sunday School to drive the 2 1/2 hours to take her out to dinner. It was a surprise visit we had arranged with my brother and sister in law, so mom had no idea we were coming. I try to get up to see her every couple weeks. I had set that same kind of schedule when my father was still alive, but work too often got in the way. When he suddenly died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Father's Day three years ago, I felt bad that I hadn't done better at keeping my promise to myself to get up to their place on that bi-weekly schedule. I told myself back then that I wouldn't make the same mistake with my mother.

Mom at 93 is as sharp as ever, although she would dispute that statement. She's slowed down physically to where any outside excursions are limited to a single destination at a time, but she can still climb upstairs to my brother's. She says she sleeps a lot more, but also told us today that she feels guilty if she sleeps much past 8:00 am. Amazingly, she told me today that she has no aches or pains. Her joints don't bother her; her feet don't hurt. I'm nearly thirty years younger and wonder what is her secret. It takes me about five minutes hobbling around in the morning before I can walk somewhat normally.

It's not her health that calls to me tonight. It's her heart. She has been a rock of faith and love my entire life. It never even crossed my mind that she would ever have been unfaithful to dad, nor him to her. I didn't ever have to worry about substance abuse, child abuse, misplaced priorities. She isn't perfect, but came about as close as a mother could. My childhood was a combination of "Father Knows Best," and "Leave it to Beaver." There was a regularity to life that without explicit instruction taught me that life was orderly and God was in control. Some years ago I asked her what it was like for her to provide that kind of life for us. Turns out, it was harder than I had ever imagined. She sacrificed her own will, her own plans to provide for us a childhood that laid a foundation for life. I could go on with detail after detail, but I'll just declare how grateful I am for the mother I've been given for these many years. To be blessed with both quality and quantity is a rare gift. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

True Character

September 19, 2015

Linda and John taught together for over twenty years until she retired; she teaching middle school special ed, and he middle school music. I can remember Linda coming home from work at different times and telling me how wonderful John was with the special ed kids with whom he worked. I've always said it takes someone special to teach special needs children. It's not enough to pity them; they require imagination, patience, and consistency beyond what most kids need and what most people are willing to give.

Tonight we had the opportunity to talk with John again. Linda told him how impressed she had always been with the way he treated her special ed kids. "I hated every minute of it," he replied. "I wasn't trained in special ed, didn't want to do it, begged for help and got none." We were both somewhat nonplussed at this.

"But you were so good with them," Linda replied.

"I did my job," was John's response. "I did my best. I didn't have to like it, but I did it."

No one, least of all the kids, would have ever suspected he didn't like teaching special ed children. He did his job. How different is John's attitude from what we see so often; people complaining, giving a bare minimum, doing what they have to just to squeak by. I've known John a long time, have always liked him, but my opinion of him soared tonight. Integrity such as that seems rare today. He was tenured and could have coasted his way to retirement, but he was determined to do his best for the children given to him. Other teachers refused to take these kids, so John got them and he worked with them even if he didn't want to and felt he didn't know how.

I wonder how much different life would be if everyone approached their work with that kind of integrity. I've lost count of the people I personally know who are content to slide their way through life, letting others shoulder the responsibility of work and family. Tonight John did his job once more, giving his daughter in marriage to a wonderful young man, even though his own heart was breaking from the all too recent death of his wife. I am humbled and grateful to know this man, and to learn from his example what real integrity and character look like.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Practice Makes...

September 18, 2015

"Practice Makes Perfect." So goes the old saying. Years ago, about twenty Park church people traveled to Syracuse to hear John Maxwell speak on leadership. The conference was outstanding; that's the way Maxwell worked. We were operating on a shoestring budget, so we crowded as many people into a motel room as we could. Two double beds held four guys, while one set up a cot at the foot of one of the beds and another couple just stretched out on the floor. I'm not betraying any confidences when I say that Gordie snored like a train. He actually warned us, but when you wake up someone in the adjacent room, you know this guy was a world-class snorer! We had a great time together, and it was along with other such conferences, a turning point in the life of the church as we learned what it meant to develop leaders.

In one of his presentations, Maxwell took issue with that old saying. "Practice doesn't make perfect," he intoned. "Practice makes permanent." Most of us had never thought of that, but it makes sense. Even professional athletes need trainers who can spot something that through practice has become habitual, but which impedes progress to the next level. Practice a bad habit long enough, and it will become second nature. It's important that the things we practice are the right things.

I've been practicing my bass for the jazz band. It's easy to slip into old habits of grasping the neck like I'm holding onto a baseball bat instead of resting my thumb on the neck and arching my fingers over the fretboard. Unfortunately, that bad habit makes it nearly impossible to do some of the runs I need to be able to do for the music we're playing. It's not enough that I practice; I have to practice doing it the right way.

Awhile back, a pastor friend of mine wrote an article about the postures we assume in prayer. He said that in Scripture, only three postures are mentioned: prostrate on the ground, kneeling, or standing with eyes uplifted and hands outspread. Then he added, "There's no mention of the common Evangelical posture of the "holy crouch," where we sit doubled over or leaning with elbows on a table. He made me think. I wonder if the times I've struggled with prayer have had relatively simple answers: pray audibly, stand up or bow down, keep the eyes open. Too often I've tried praying silently, but my mind wanders. If I close my eyes, I fall asleep.

We are not mere spirits who happen to inhabit bodies. Our bodies are a central part of who we are. We are dust into which God breathed his life. To minimize the significance of posture or audible words is to not take seriously the importance of the body. I've slipped into bad prayer habits over the years, but God is patiently reprimanding me and slowly unravelling the patterns I've developed. Practice made, not perfect, but permanent, and now I'm trying to change that. Hopefully, my new practice methods will make permanent a better and more vibrant prayer life. I may be old, but I'm grateful I'm not so set in concrete that I can't unlearn my bad habits and learn a few new bass licks or a few new prayer patterns.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On the Road Again

September 17, 2015

Suddenly I seem to have been thrust back into ministry in ways I didn't anticipate. In the last week pastor Joe asked me to preach when he has to be away for his seminary work, I've been asked to mentor a young man preparing for possible ministry, am officiating at a funeral tomorrow, singing at a wedding on Saturday, helping provide leadership to an Agape Prayer Ministry training weekend in October, and organizing a worship service for an upcoming Koinonia weekend. I thought things were supposed to slow down!

My first Sunday of retirement remains vivid in my memory. I'll never forget walking into the church that Sunday morning and feeling the weight of responsibility lifting from my shoulders. It was as real as if I had been carrying a heavy backpack and someone took it from me. Before that day, I hadn't even noticed the weight. It was simply life as I knew it. I have no complaints; my life has been blessed beyond measure, and I know too many people whose life burdens are far more than I'll ever know, but still, I pray daily for pastor Joe and for others who are still in the midst of ministry. As our society continues to collapse, the job isn't getting any easier. I'm grateful for the privilege I've had to be pastor of Park church for so many years, and grateful that there is still work for me to do. Hopefully, with age will come increased wisdom and a deeper walk with Christ that will have greater impact for God's kingdom than when I was getting paid for it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


September 16, 2015

"O taste and see that the LORD is good!" One of the oddest phrases in the Bible are these words found in Psalm 34:8. I hear Christians talking all the time about wanting to see God, touch God, hear from God, but I can't say as I've ever heard anyone say they'd like to taste God. And yet, here it is. From earliest times, a meal was part of worship. The worshipper offered a sacrifice which was then eaten at a holy place with prescribed rituals that gave assurance  that the meal was being shared by the god. Even today in many religious traditions, offerings of food are left for the god to consume. In our own Christian tradition we have the holy meal of the Eucharist, or Communion. It is highly symbolic and hardly a meal in the sense we usually think, but it is the centerpiece of our worship as we commune with God the Father through the agency of the Holy Spirit as we figuratively drink the blood and eat the body of Jesus Christ. A casual reading of the liturgy reveals why early Christians were thought to be cannibals.

And here we are told to taste. Today I visited my physician. Medicare mandates such camaraderie, so I hopped on my bike and drove over to have a little chit-chat with a physician''s assistant. For the most part, I'm pretty healthy. I take no prescription medications, and other than some occasional mild tingling in my extremities and the nuisance of plantar fasciitis, I'm in pretty good shape. During the course of our conversation I happened to mention that I have an occasional bout with heartburn. The PA asked if I wanted medication for it, and I declined. I've been down this road before and know perfectly well that if I simply lose about fifteen pounds, the problem takes care of itself. Which brings me back to that business of tasting.

Linda is a good cook, and I am not a picky eater. Most everything tastes good to me. I'm not big on sweets, but her homemade bread or the potato, sausage, onion, and green pepper casserole she made for dinner was heavenly! I don't just taste; I savor the nuances. Problem is, there's always just a little bit more. Linda is not known for frugality when it comes to cooking. A single ham is never enough for a family gathering. She either puts another one in the oven or adds a turkey. We have lots of people here for Sunday dinners, and I don't think we've ever even come close to running out.

Taste and see that the LORD is good! That's the command. Slow down; this isn't a fast-food meal; it's a dining experience where we savor the texture as well as the flavor. Christ sets a banquet for his children, and some day we will sit around his table where no one goes hungry and all are satisfied. I am grateful for the taste of heaven we are given here. If the senses are heightened in God's kingdom, it will be utterly amazing. I'm looking forward to it, but in the meantime, want to invite as many as I can to the table. If you've never come, let me encourage you. Why eat this world's green bologna when God offers steak?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hard Blessings

September 15, 2015

Sometimes blessings can be hard to receive simply because they are so rich and so undeserved. After breakfast with my friend Willie, I headed over to physical therapy for work on my foot, which is much better, thanks to the skilled folks there. While going through the program, I look around me and see people younger than me dealing with much more serious ailments. Then I grabbed a couple cups of coffee from Tim's and drove over to the nursing home to visit my friend Rick, who is also younger by at least a couple years. A stroke during heart surgery left him pretty much paralyzed on his right side and unable to talk. After visiting with him for an hour, I stopped by another friend's house. John, not yet 30, has had two surgeries for torn rotator cuff, and isn't sure when he'll be able to return to work.

When I got home, I read and prayed, worked on the entry room step, fixing the trim that buckled in the humidity, took the loader off the tractor, had dinner with my wife, then took Ian and Eliza to her school open house on the bike, before returning home to pick up four five-gallon bucket of pinecones and have coffee on the back deck. All this while some good friends are going through a terrible situation for which I am powerless to do anything to help other than pray and offer our home and our hearts for respite.

Linda and I have gone through our tough times, but it seems to me that we've had fewer of them than most people, and therein lies the rub. To be blessed as we are is wonderful, but it often seems unfair. Why should we receive so much while others struggle so hard? It's a question for which I have no answer other than that given in the Scripture, that God gives as he sees fit, but to whom much is given, much shall be required. Along with my gratitude for my blessings, I offer my prayers to receive them graciously, guard them carefully, and pass them on generously.

Monday, September 14, 2015


September 14, 2015

The conversation was lively as the guys were talking and laughing. Pastor Joe, Doug and Dave Schroeder, and Harry were in Pastor Joe's truck after delivering two pool tables. It's a long story, so don't ask. Fortunately, we weren't the only ones involved. Kent, Jerry, and Otis were also a part of the delivery team. All we really needed was Doug. We had to slow him down as he grabbed one end of the table and was ready to take off with it. This guy is strong as an ox! It was on the way home that the conversation in question took place. The problem is, I couldn't hear much of it. I could hear the conversation, but wasn't able to distinguish most of the words. It's not their fault. They are guys, after all, and they don't talk softly. The problem is these ears of mine. Hearing aids can only do so much, even as technologically advanced as they are.

All of which brings me to my third meditation on the five senses. I've often thought it would be better to be blind than deaf, not that I'm wishing that on myself or anyone else. But one can still be part of conversations though blind. Deafness cuts a person off from the connections with others that make us a part of life. I can see things happening, watch lips move, catch snippets of conversation, but I often miss much of what is really happening around the dinner table, in small groups, or wherever there is any background noise. Sometimes it's easier to let the talk go on all around me than to try to make sense of the fragments of conversation I actually hear. I am by nature somewhat introverted, but not nearly so much as people might think by my behavior in a group.

I'm not complaining. The hearing aids I wear are marvelous examples of technology, and they are getting better all the time. The difference between wearing them and going without is night and day. With them I can hear the birds singing, my grandchildren laughing and talking, and Linda's whispers of love.

It's no wonder to me that in the Bible, hearing is more significant than seeing. We often hear Christians sing about wanting to see Jesus, much as Moses wanted to see God. Moses didn't know at the time, and we often don't realize that seeing God might not be best for us. But hearing him is another matter altogether. It is no accident that Jesus is not only the image of the Father, but even more, is the Word made flesh. More important than seeing God or even feeling his Presence, is hearing his Word. I am grateful tonight for the gift of hearing, not only physically, but spiritually too. I am also thankful that God speaks through his Word, and that I've been hearing from him. My prayer is that I might learn to listen more carefully so I might hear him more frequently.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Losing My Touch?

September 13, 2015

We don't often give much thought to the five senses, except perhaps when we begin to lose one of them. A couple days ago, I mused on the sense of smell; tonight I'm thinking of touch. I can't say as it's something I think of often, but it has been on my mind recently. Years ago, we knew a young lady from Cambodia who had Hansen's Disease, more commonly known as leprosy. Contrary to popular lore, leprosy doesn't cause extremities to rot away and fall off. It is caused by a bacteria transmitted most commonly through sneezing. While there are a number of symptoms, one of them is the loss of nervous sensation. People infected with this bacteria can cut or burn themselves and not know it. Damaged tissue can become infected and necrotic without the individual knowing anything is wrong.

The ability to feel pain can be a double-edged sword. Chronic intense pain is a curse to anyone having to endure it, but the inability to feel pain can be deadly. In 1973 I had appendicitis. Had I not felt the pain and nausea, it would have gone untreated. As it was, I lay in the hospital most of the day before a simple blood test was ordered. It didn't take long for the physician to tell me I wasn't going home as planned, but was being prepped for surgery. I didn't like the pain. I didn't like it when I was doubled over prior to going to the hospital. I didn't like it after the surgery when my mother told me a funny story and I tried desperately not to laugh. But I am glad I had it.

Life for me would be much more desolate without being able to feel the touch of my wife's hand, or the softness of her skin as we lay side by side at night. There is nothing to compare to this sense of touch in marriage.

Lately, this sense of touch has been playing tricks on me. There are times when my extremities feel all tingly; almost like when my foot or hand goes to sleep. It's happening more frequently as of late. I don't know what it means, but I have a doctor's appointment scheduled for this week, so I'm going to ask. Just the fact that I've noticed a change is a good thing. It may turn out to be nothing, but for now, I am grateful for this sense that literally keeps me in touch with my body. I'd hate to think I'm losing my touch!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Small Town Heaven

September 12, 2015

I've written before about the joys of small town life, and today the residents of Sinclairville saw it again. Having grown up in the suburbs, I never knew this kind of life actually existed, except on TV. But here I am, living in what may be the best of all possible worlds this side of heaven. Like any small town or big city, we have our problems. People are still sinners, and we squabble, complain, and need to give and receive grace. People struggle with marriages, addictions, low paying jobs and bills to pay, just like anywhere else. But for one day, we joined together to celebrate this little nondescript village in which we live. Folks, today was History Days in Sinclairville!

It began with sermonettes given by the Baptist pastor and myself, the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, and the Lord's Prayer, all led from the steps of the Historical Society on Main Street. Where else will you find that combination in such a public setting. And no one even complained. The parade was pretty short this time, but Fowlers had their candy apple and taffy truck set up, the Masons did a brisk business selling hot dogs and hamburgers alongside another trailer serving up only the dogs. Italian sausage at the other end of the commons and a chicken barbecue in the fire hall sponsored by the library rounded out the refreshments, while various vendors had set up shop all through the commons. Bands played at two different venues, and a gentleman gave free buggy rides to all who wanted them. No celebration of this sort would be complete without a beautiful baby competition, for which I was able once more to avoid serving as judge. Same thing goes for the pie cookoff, although I could be persuaded to judge that.

The weather was a bit uncooperative, with rain that drowned out the Park church band early on, and pared down the entries in the chainsaw competition to a single contestant, Dennis Wilson, who took both first and second prizes home. Art Anderson headed up the car show, which included the categories of motorcycles and tractors. Early on, only one tractor showed up, so I told Art I'd bring up our old 8N if someone would take me home to get it. Fifteen minutes later I was chugging up the road. By the time I got there, a couple other tractors showed up, and a couple more stopped in shortly after.

You know it's Smallville, USA when the late entry, who only entered his motorcycle because Art directed him in as he was headed home, and the tractor retrieved simply so there would be more than one, both took home trophies. First for the bike, probably because it's so unusual, and second for the tractor because it wasn't as good as the first place 1938 John Deere, and was better than the third place 1953 Ford Jubilee.

Fireworks were cancelled due to rain, so Linda and I went to see "The War Room" movie. It was excellent, a real nudge to my prayer life. And now we're home, almost ready for bed. I write all this because it is a way of life that seems to be passing away, and one I am grateful to participate in. All but the youngest of our grandchildren had free reign of the day, wandering the booths, buying taffy, and enjoying themselves without adult supervision and without fear that something bad might happen to them. It was a special ordinary day here in this corner of the world, and I am blessed to be a part of it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fourteen Years Later

September 11, 2015

Fourteen years ago today we had but one granddaughter. None of our grandchildren's lives have been shaped by the events of that day. In my youthful days it was Kennedy's assassination, the murders of his brother, and of Martin Luther King, Jr. In my children's day, it was the Challenger disaster and the collapse of the Twin Towers. The dangers to our country haven't diminished. Despite the assurances of our president that ISIS is "JV," they now control vast swaths of the Near East, and Muslim immigration threatens to overwhelm Europe. I am no prophet, and therefore am unable to predict what the future may bring. Some proclaim dire warnings of calamitous events for this month, citing Blood Moons. Date setting has not lost its allure, despite Jesus' clear warnings against it.

Others minimize the dangers, claiming all will be well. Their failure to see the precarious state of secular morality is astounding. Historically speaking, the kind of moral and spiritual decay we are seeing in Western society today has always resulted in national collapse. Me? I'm caught in between, with a biblical perspective that demands I discern the times, not in hopes of finding some sort of escape, but rather that we live more faithfully as we see people more desperate than ever for truth and hope. Our Gospel is for times such as these. Fourteen years ago, thousands of people who went to work in the morning as they had countless times before, thought they were beginning a day much like any other. Instead, they were ushered into eternity, ready or not.

Jesus' admonition is simple: "Be ready." We cannot count on seeing tomorrow, much less our full allotment of "threescore and ten." Readiness doesn't consist of holing away in some monastery, but in daily living in the awareness of our mortality, receiving with joy and grace the life God gives us, and offering all we are and all we do to Christ, in gratitude for his offering of himself for us. I am finding that each day I am in need of forgiveness and mercy, which I receive from the God of all grace. And each day I am called on to extend that same grace and mercy to others. I pray for discernment, wisdom, and courage to do just that, and am grateful tonight to have been given not only one more day, but fourteen more years to live, love, and serve.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Whiff of Blessing

September 10, 2015

This morning on the way home from town I passed a man mowing his lawn and momentarily caught the sweet aroma of the grass as I drove by. Immediately, my mind went back nearly fifty years to when I counseled at Miracle Mountain Ranch. The dirt driveway wound its way through the woods and fields till it broke out into the open spaces on top of the mountain. We didn't have air conditioning in our cars back then, and the smell of the new mown hay was like music to my nose. That whiff this morning had the ability to transcend time.

It happens all the time. Often in the evenings when we drive home from town, as we pass the machine shop on Route 60, we'll catch the smell of gas from the wells down in the swamp. It's a tossup who will be the first to inhale deeply and say, "Alma." Our first home was in the heart of the old oil fields surrounding Wellsville, NY, and that aroma was constantly in the air.

It's amazing how our sense of smell, apparently hardwired into the brain, can transport us to different times and places. I've often told people grieving that the smell of a flower, perfume, or even motor oil or manure, can trigger another round of tears by conjuring up memories of their loved one. Of course, it can also warn us of danger, as when we smell a gas leak in the house, or catch the smell of an electrical fire. I am grateful tonight for our sense of smell and the good memories it brings, tying past and present together in double blessing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Successful Succession

September 9, 2015

A few days ago a pastor friend posted a cartoon about retired pastors grading the current pastor's sermons, along with a comment on what is actually quite an issue for many clergy. I responded with the comment that having a successor of skill and integrity is crucial to a successful transition from one pastor to another. Another clergy friend chimed in about the significance of the length of the tenure of the previous pastor in successful transitions. "The transition from a long term pastorate can be very difficult, and if a retired the former pastor, then it is a recipe for troubles no matter how competent the successor."

I responded once more. "hat you say may often be true, but I was at Park for 34 years and have had as seamless a transition as I could imagine. I and my family continue to worship under Joe's leadership, and while he doesn't do everything the way I would, the church continues to grow. I decided quite awhile ago that I would not interfere in Joe's ministry, refusing to do anything remotely "pastoral" apart from his initiative or without his blessing. I worked too hard to build the church to screw it up by meddling."

My pastor friend responded with a compliment regarding my handling of the transition, but rightly stood his ground as to the rarity of such transitions. It is sad commentary on the character and self-awareness in the pastorate that so many former pastors are so threatened by the success of their successors. The very term we use to describe the new pastor would seem to indicate that the goal of transition has something to do with success. I wouldn't claim to be particularly skilled in transitions; after all, I only have a couple under my belt, but the more I see our situation unfold, the more cognizant I am of God's grace in the process. Were Joe not as competent or theologically sound, or were he plagued with issues of self-esteem, placing the congregation in his care would be much more difficult.

Joe does many things quite differently than I, but that's OK. The church continues to grow, people are coming to faith in Christ, and I get to see the results of years of sowing seeds. And the weight of responsibility rests on his shoulders now, not mine. I cannot find words to express how I appreciate that, and how it makes me pray for him. I've said it many times before, but as I watch him shoulder that responsibility and lead with integrity and passion, I am filled with gratitude to God who has blessed me far more than I deserve by sending us a pastor who is leading us to levels beyond what I could do. Moses viewed the Promised Land, but wasn't allowed in. Joshua was the leader now. We have a new leader, but I am more blessed than Moses, because I get to plant my feet into the future for which we have spent years preparing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Case of Mistaken Identity

September 8, 2015

Linda showed me a story posted on Facebook that reminded me of an incident that took place some ten years ago while she was still teaching. You will soon know why this particular experience has burned itself so deeply into my psyche.

This particular winter morning, I had to make a trip to Buffalo. I pulled out of the driveway ahead of her and watched in my rearview mirror as she made the turn at the light, pulling up behind me. About halfway to Fredonia, I remembered that the EZ Pass device was in her car instead of my truck, so when I got to the turnoff to the school parking lot, I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of my truck and flagged her down. She stopped, and as the passenger window opened, without even looking I reached in to grab the EZ Pass. It wasn't on the windshield. I looked over to look into the startled eyes of a woman I'd never seen before in my life. "You're not Linda!" I exclaimed, just about as surprised as she. I barely got my arm out the before she closed the window.

Linda drove up in our identical tan Dodge Intrepid just as this woman drove away, leaving me to explain what had happened. Unbeknownst to me, Linda had gotten stopped at the light, while at that very moment, this woman came down the hill and turned right behind me. I reached in, grabbed the EZ Pass and went on to Buffalo, while Linda continued on to work. At lunch that day, she overheard one of the teachers telling another of this crazy man who flagged her down and reached into her car just before she got to work. She quietly kept eating her lunch, not saying a word. I was grateful then, and remain grateful today that this woman wasn't carrying a can of mace. Linda would have found me flat out in a snowbank and might not have laughed quite as heartily as she did while I was explaining my case of mistaken identity to her.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Thank you, Grrr!

September 7, 2015

I wish I were not such a slow learner. I am facing an unpleasant situation over which I have almost no control. Circumstances are proceeding according to other people's priorities and values, circumstances which impact me directly, but which I am powerless to control. I would like it very much if God simply placed the matter in my hands and said, "You take it from here," but I don't see that happening, and I am hard pressed to see a happy ending to this situation. This is one of those "hard eucharistos" I've talked about occasionally, where I am forced to trust God. I know the Christian life is a life of faith, but there are times I wish it were a little less so.

Be that as it may, I am (reluctantly, I admit) choosing to trust God for the outcome. I feel like Peter when Jesus asked him if the disciples were going to follow the crowd that was abandoning Jesus left and right. "Where else can we go? You have the words of life," was Peter's response. Where else, indeed? I can rant and rail about this situation, but I might as well bang my head on one of those big rocks on our backyard terrace. So, I choose to trust, and as a sign of that trust, to thank God for this situation as it forces me to my knees.

Years ago, Andrew Murray wrote a little book, "With Christ in the School of Prayer." Christ's School of Prayer is not so much a seminar or an academic class that we take. He schools us by placing us in situations where the only thing we can do is pray. It's very pragmatic, but it's also pretty challenging. I'm grateful to have been accepted into this school, but have to admit some of the coursework has been a bit more challenging than I anticipated. It appears as if graduation is a long way off, so I had better buckle down and study, not by reading a book or listening to a lecture, but by actually praying this through.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Missing Worship

September 6, 2015

An interesting end to a warm Labor Day Sunday...Linda and I had gone to one of her sisters for our annual Labor Day corn roast, returning home about 10:15 to see a truck parked by the side of the road down by the swimming hole. Grabbing a flashlight and some protection, we went down to investigate, only to find a young man asleep, feet dangling over the edge of the abutment. The flashlight shining in his eyes not waking him, it took me nudging him with my toe before he stirred. "This is private property, and it's pretty late," I told him.

"I didn't think this part was private." How many times have I heard that? He got up lowly. I thought he was going to topple into the creek before he unsteadily got to his feet and wandered off to his truck. I couldn't smell any alcohol on him, but I think his truck was hitting on more cylinders than he was.

The day began pretty normally for a Sunday, with a quick breakfast before heading to church. This morning I was scheduled for the media booth, which is where I spent the worship hour. When I got home, it felt like something just wasn't right, but it took some reflection to figure out what it was. Here's what I learned: Some time ago, one of my son Matthew's students was told playing on his phone in class with the excuse that he was multi-tasking, Matt's response as he confiscated the phone: "You can't even task!" That's me. When I am running the video for worship, I'm so focused on the technical part of things that I don't really worship. So although I was there listening to the songs, anticipating the lyrics and putting up the Scripture for Joe's sermon, I missed out on what I really needed.

I don't understand those who come to worship sporadically. For me, missing out on it even while I was with my brothers and sisters prevented me from starting the week the way I need. There's something missing inside me. I am thankful that this only happens occasionally, and that most of the time I get to begin my week with people I love in the presence of the God I love.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


September 5, 2015

Tonight's gratitude will be short and hopefully sweet (although I don't know what "sweet" would look like). Most of the day was spent out in the sun, gnats buzzing all around as I helped Nate cut and load firewood. We loaded onto the trailer what he had cut before, then he took it home, leaving me to keep cutting what still needed to be blocked up.

I am not a sun worshipper. Give me shade any day, except today. The wood was out in a field where the only shade was the small shadow cast by the trailer. I sat there for lunch, but otherwise was sweating it out in full sun. One short foray into the woods convinced me to stay in the field. As bad as the bugs were in the field, they were worse in the woods. Which leads me to my gratitude for the day. Our homestead lies in the shadow of a shale cliff that rises up from the other side of the creek. We have huge spruce trees in front, with a maple and an ash rising between the garage and the deck and an old apple tree outside the windows of the Millstone room. We have a lot of shade. But we have hardly any bugs. I don't know why that is, but I can sit out on the deck as I'm doing now, only occasionally swatting at a mosquito or fly. No gnats or sweat bees at all. I'm tired from all the work, but I'm also content as I relax this evening. I am grateful for this place of quietness; few people have the privilege I have of sitting in the cooling evening, listening to the stream dancing over the shale, giving thanks for strength and health enabling me to help my son get ready for winter.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Better than I Deserve

September 4, 2015

I haven't got this retirement thing figured out yet. After working out, showering, and breakfast, I headed to the library this morning for our writer's group, followed by entering the lyrics for Sunday's worship into the presentation program. All that took me till after lunch. Linda had an appointment with the eye doctor, so I volunteered to cut up the salad vegetables for tonight's dinner group meeting. I was about halfway done with that when Harry showed up, ready to usher me to band rehearsal at 3:00. Instead of coming home, we went straight to his house for our dinner group, from which I have just now gotten home at 10:30. My plans to haul the slab of concrete someone dumped in the creek have been just that--plans--for a week. Tomorrow I'll be helping son Nathan get some of his winter's wood in.

If Einstein's theory of relativity is true and time actually slows down as we approach the speed of light, I wonder if the opposite is equally true; that it speeds up the slower we go. It must be so. I'm moving more slowly and time is racing by. At this rate, I don't have to worry about getting bored. My projects are lined up longer than those crazy people waiting for the latest iPhone to appear. It's good to be at a place where if I just don't feel like tackling a project, I don't have to. It's good also that I have a wife who gently prods me to get at it, which is really the subject of my musings tonight.

I've been thinking a lot lately about all the things she does around here. She handles the budget; has it all mapped out on her calendar when the checks come in and when the bills get paid. Heaven help me if she goes before me; I haven't the foggiest idea of the state of our finances other than we're solvent and were able to pay cash for her car and my tractor.

She keeps the house almost spotless. Almost, because if it's above her eye level, it doesn't exist. Our home is as far from a bachelor pad as one can get without full time cleaning service, and most of it is her doing. She used to chide me about my profession, wondering why anyone would doom themselves to what amounts to a term paper each week as I wrote sermons. But I'm not doing that anymore, and she is still cooking every day. If I had to survive on my cooking, I wouldn't. She does the laundry, loves to mow the lawn, and takes care of the gardens. If that weren't enough, she cares for everyone who calls or stops by, and she loves me. What's there not to appreciate about her? I can't think of anything, and I thank God every day for Linda, the only woman I've ever, or ever will love.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Winding Down

September 3, 2015

As I was changing the oil on my motorcycle, a car pulled over down by the south end of the property and a young family hopped out and made their way down to the swimming hole. School has started and the steady stream of kids taking advantage of the water has slowed to a trickle. Soon the weather will slowly cool and the kids will disappear.

It's been an interesting summer. Opening day of trout season saw a fisherman landing a very nice brown trout and stashing it in the snow as he cast in vain for more. A few other angling adventurers tried their luck, which did not smile kindly on them. Once school was out, the kids were in. And the picnickers. At times they came by multiple carloads replete with blankets, coolers, and even a charcoal grill. Most of them were courteous and appreciative when they learned they were on private property, but there's always the occasional jerk who leaves a mess behind. We've wondered about liability and consulted an attorney who told us the only thing we could do to protect ourselves would be to post no trespassing signs. Problem is, this has been a public swimming hole for generations, and we don't feel right about posting it. So we didn't.

To be honest, I'm going to miss the kids and the conversations we had with picnickers. This weekend will probably be the last hurrah; it will be awhile before we hear children's laughter again. In the meantime, I plan to fill in a few of the gaps in the rocks and low spots in the lawn so it'll be easier to mow in the springtime. I am grateful to be the caretakers of Sunnyside, with the opportunities it has given us to meet people. And my gratitude is not abstract. I thank God who redeemed me through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, and who has led me to this time and place. Every week in worship, we pray the Lord's Prayer in which we ask that the Father's kingdom come and his will be done, and throughout the week, I do my best to live into that prayer, always including the words about forgiveness, knowing that even my best efforts fall short. And every day that forgiveness is offered through God's marvelous grace for which I am also thankful.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Listening and Seeing

September 2, 2015

"What do you see?" The question isn't overtly stated in the story, but it is implied in the 18th chapter of 1 Kings. There had been drought for three years, and it finally had come to a head. Elijah had singlehandedly done spiritual battle against 450 prophets of Baal, quietly calling on God to rain fire down upon his water-soaked offering. It was a spiritual and political battle the likes of which is rarely seen. The prophets of Baal are rounded up and executed when Elijah hears something no one else hears: the sound of rushing rain. While he prays, he calls upon his servant to search the heavens for a visible sign of what he is hearing. It takes seven trips before the servant comes back with a positive report; a tiny cloud is forming in the distance.

Before anything was seen, someone was listening. Which makes me wonder how often the miracles of God are unseen because we aren't listening. This kind of listening isn't casual, but is intense. Elijah bowed with his head between his knees, doubled over as if in agony. But he listened and persevered in prayer till finally, the much-needed rain came. Elijah wasn't looking at the cloudless sky; he was listening to the whispers of the Spirit. Fire and rain both came in response to his prayers. He stood alone, a mountain of faith because he wasn't looking where everyone else was looking. In fact, he wasn't looking at all; he was listening. Over the last couple weeks as I've been worried about my granddaughter's health, my problem hasn't been her illness. My problem is that I was seeing the illness instead of listening for the voice of God. And like Elijah's servant, I couldn't see anything. Because in God's economy, listening comes before seeing. Maybe someday I'll be wise enough to know that up front, instead of halfway through the situation. Someday...but till then, I am thankful for God's patience, as I am apparently a slow learner.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Test Taking

September 1, 2015

The air is warm, the tiny lights strung around the deck provide just enough light to see, being September 1st, the mosquitos have pretty much given up.If I were taken to imbibing, a glass of wine would be sitting on the table beside me. It's too late for coffee, so lemon water will have to do. In short, it's a beautiful evening here in this corner of Paradise, made all the more beautiful in the knowledge that our granddaughter is safely home tonight. She was diagnosed with something similar to mono, the actual name of which I couldn't pronounce even if I could remember it. She will always have it dormant in her body and just needs to make sure she doesn't let herself get run down so her immunity becomes compromised. Tonight we breathe a big sigh of relief!

People close to me have wondered why I've been so worried about Alex. After all, I've been the one who for over 40 years preached faith and trust in God and in his ability and willingness to heal. Why has her situation rattled me so? I guess now that she is home and has a diagnosis, I can reveal what's been roiling around inside me for the past week. I wrote it down August 25th. Here's what I was thinking:

"Sunday morning, I watched Alex from the sound booth as she walked out of the service momentarily. As she passed by, I immediately had a feeling of dread, that she is not long for this world. The thought shocked me as the words of missionary Henry Martyn came to mind--"Let me burn out for God!"--which he did at the young age of 31. I cannot say whether this thought and feeling was a word from the Lord (which I fear), a premonition, or merely my worries made manifest. But last night as she lay on the hospital gurney, smiling in spite of her pain, this terrible thought returned. As her sisters, Linda, and myself tearfully prayed for her that evening, I couldn't get that thought out of my mind. Linda asked me what was wrong, and I cannot tell her. She worries enough. But it remains, silently haunting me.

Monday night in men's group we studied the Lord's Prayer. So often I pray it almost glibly, but what am I to do with that phrase, "thy will be done," when I want my will concerning Alex? If God wills to take her from us, I'm not sure I can honestly pray this prayer, though it could turn out that I have no choice. If this is a word from God, or a premonition, it is also my hope and prayer that like Scrooge's dream of the ghost of Christmas Future, it is a warning of what might be rather than what inevitably shall be."

I'm not normally one who operates primarily out of my feelings, so when I felt this come over me so forcefully, I didn't know what to do with it. I never received any sort of divine confirmation that she would be all right, and finally had to just leave the whole matter in God's hands--not an easy thing for me to do. The fact of the matter is, I still have no word from the Lord that Alex, or for that matter, any of my family will not experience tragedy. God promises not that we will not walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but rather that we will not walk it alone. The question is whether I will be content with God beside me if he refuses to answer my prayers the way I would like. That's a hard test, and the only way we can be sure we would pass it is by taking that test, which we are usually loathe to do. In the meantime, it is ours to strengthen ourselves in the Lord.

Just this morning I read a text that struck me in a new way, probably because of the new translation in which it appeared. It's Isaiah 29:19 and reads, "The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD." We often equate meekness with weakness, but the word really means 'to have a teachable spirit.' Fresh joy is what we need, not the old stale joy of last week or last year. But it only comes to those willing to be taught by the Holy Spirit through God's Word and God's leading. I've usually been willing to be taught by the Word; following in the footsteps of Jesus when they lead to a cross upon which I am called to die is a whole 'nother matter. I'm walking, sometimes trudging, but I keep putting one foot in front of the other, occasionally taking a few sidesteps, often being dragged by the relentless will of God. Sometimes I stubbornly sit down or even turn back. But tonight, I'm stepping out again, grateful that God doesn't lambaste me for my recalcitrance, but instead embraces me in his grace.