Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooking the Spook

October 31, 2015

It's been quite awhile since I've felt its gossamer breath noiselessly seeping into my soul. It lurks like a shadow, evaporating at the slightest hint of light that would expose it for what it is. I lived with it for years, but had finally wrestled it into submission, pinning it to the mat of gratitude. It hadn't dared to come around for some time, until a few days ago when I sensed something dark and sinister skulking around the edges of my consciousness. Melancholy had returned, nipping at my heels like disembodied Chihuahuas, never actually making contact, but annoying and distracting.

This morning I finally identified what had been niggling in my spirit. I read through several Psalms and Paul's letter to the Galatians, and emerged victorious, having put to flight these emissaries of the Enemy through faith and the Word of God. That Word truly is "alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword." St. John in the Revelation says that the saints defeated the Enemy "by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives even unto death." It is always thus. We are delivered from the power of sin through the sacrifice of Christ for sin which becomes effective when we testify to heaven and earth that Christ who redeemed us has obtained our loyalty and devotion, no matter what comes our way. The Enemy comes to "rob, kill, and destroy;" so said Jesus. There are many ways to kill, one of which is to kill the spirit through lies. Sometimes my own feelings lie to me, filling me with discouragement and despair if I give them even a moment's attention. My salvation is in Truth; in Jesus who is the Truth. I rose from my time in the Word strengthened and encouraged, ready to face the day with confidence. It's been a good day. I'm thankful for it, and for the Word of God on which I dwelt, finding encouragement and confidence, salvation made real today.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

October 30, 2015

For the past few weeks, a church sign I've driven past has caught my attention. Sometimes church signs do that because someone has thought up some clever saying; sometimes because they say things that have meaning inside church circles but are completely meaningless to someone not familiar with or not caring about church jargon. I suppose there are still boulders throughout the South proclaiming "Jesus Saves," to which some wag once responded before opening a bank account, "Well, if Jesus does it, maybe I should, too."

This particular sign reads thusly: "Jesus said, 'No one comes to God but by me.'" It's comes from John 14:6, except that's not what Jesus said. I'm frankly a bit surprised by this misquote, because I know many of the people in this church, and they are normally quite particular about how they quote Scripture and how they view their doctrine. What Jesus actually said was, "No one comes to the Father except through me." This may seem like a rather minute detail, the kind of things that arcane theologians discuss in musty halls of old seminaries, but in fact, this text strikes at the very heart of Jesus' entire ministry and mission. Miss this, and you miss what Jesus is all about.

In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul was speaking to the philosophers gathered at the Areopagus in Athens. He had strolled around the area noting all the altars and idols scattered about the city. He noted that one of the altars had an inscription to "an unknown god." They were covering all their bases, making sure they didn't overlook a god, accidentally offending him. Paul said he was going to tell them who this unknown god really is, and proceeded to tell them about Jesus Christ. It's interesting to me that on this occasion he didn't tell the Athenians that all their gods were false and empty. In one of his letters, Paul indicates that the false idols are demons in disguise, but not here. He instead takes what they already perceive and builds on it, revealing the true God they instinctively knew existed even while not knowing him.

Our world is full of people who know bits and pieces about God, much as the Athenians knew something, albeit only a very little, about the One true God. I talk with people on a regular basis who understand that God is Love, who hope God is merciful to answer their prayers and overlook their faults. They see beauty in Creation, the vastness of the heavens, and know there is Someone or Something bigger than themselves. They see injustice and evil in the world and hope for some sort of reckoning that will someday put things right. Many of them even come to God regularly in their prayers. My Jewish friends even worship the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as do I. Yet they do not do so through Jesus.

Jesus came to reveal through his life, death, and resurrection as Heavenly Father the God who is known through Creation and human conscience (see Romans 1:19-21). Many people already know him as God, but the only way anyone can know him as a Father who loves, receives, and forgives those who place their trust in him is through Jesus Christ. People don't need Jesus to see God's power in the fury of a hurricane, or his beauty in a sunset. I can see God's power in the heavens, his beauty in Creation, but the full extent of his love and forgiveness only in Jesus Christ. For someone like myself who has struggled with guilt and melancholy for most of his adult life, this is Good News, indeed, and for it I am deeply grateful tonight.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bleacher Butt

October 29, 2015

It took most of the day, but was worth the time invested. We left the house shortly after one, and got back home about 10:30. Six hours of diving and swimming; twenty years ago when our own kids were swimming, Linda and I had a term for it: "Bleacher Butt." That's what you end up with after six hours and/or fifteen years of swim meets. You also end up with something more: the priceless experience of watching three granddaughters doing their best. Alex overcame serious illness at the beginning of the school year that nearly prevented her from diving altogether to make sectionals with fifth place overall; Abi swam her best time, handily making the cutoff for sectionals; and as a first year swimmer in seventh grade, Izzi swam in the last heat with the best swimmers.

Being able to encourage them with texts prior to, and with our presence at the meet, and congratulating their success at the end made the investment of time worthwhile. Eight hours and a tank of gas is a pretty small price to be able to be a part of our granddaughters' lives. In fact, we've already been paid back in full with hugs and smiles. Are we grateful? You bet!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Friend Indeed

October 28, 2015

This afternoon I had a conversation with a good friend. We talked about a mutual friend who is in need, but doesn't recognize it. This mutual friend is hard to describe. There are mental health issues and his social skills are nearly nonexistent. He means well and loves the Lord, but needs help if he is to remain living independently. My friend's description of our mutual friend's living conditions was that he is just a small step away from homelessness. We talked about what we might do to help, but are feeling somewhat stymied. In the present state of things, individual rights trump what might be best for the person. Our friend is pretty independent and is unlikely to be receptive to the kind of assistance he really needs, which may be some sort of group home. We are praying about it; how we might approach things so he doesn't end up out in the cold or sick or injured.

To have a friend is a gift from God. To have a friend genuinely compassionate for those in need is to be doubly blessed, which I am. We don't know what the future holds, but when you have friends like mine, you know if God allows, you'll have good company for the duration.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Gift Humbling, Honoring, and Happy

October 27, 2015

I saw the lights flashing as I rounded the bend just before getting into town. It was hard to tell in the dark whether they were schoolbus lights, until the blues started blinking on and off. Flares alongside the southbound lane told all the story I needed to know: an accident. Slowing down for oncoming traffic, I waited till the flashlight beckoned me forward, a straight up and down motion. But when I proceeded, the motion suddenly turned a frantic left to right, motioning me to the other side of the flares. I crept along till I could see the officer who was yelling at me. I rolled down the window to an angry face demanding why I started driving down the wrong side of the flares. "You motioned me forward," I explained.

"Didn't you see me?" he shouted. Actually, I didn't. All I could see in the dark punctuated by flashing lights was his flashlight, but decided it best to keep silent rather than mention that his flashlight motion indicated I was to drive directly forward. Just like that, this little incident was over, except that I prayed for him as I drove on my way. Maybe he had had a long, rough night. Lord knows, traffic cops are understandably on edge these days. Even more so these nights.

Being early for my morning breakfast with Willie, I stopped to see what the gratitude suggestions were for the day. I'm finding it's best to ponder through the day rather than scratch my head at night. Today's prompt was "A gift humbling, honoring, happy."

It is always humbling to be chewed out, whether deserved or not. I don't feel I deserved it, but then, I don't know what this man had been through while on his shift, let alone what might be going on in his personal life. I chose to honor him by simply listening politely then driving on. And I am happy that over the course of the past couple years I've learned this lesson in gratitude. There was a time when I'd have stewed all day on how I didn't deserve to be treated that way, but when I remember the injustice and tragedy unfolding in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the decades-long brutality of the North Korean regime, the depredations of ISIS and Boko Haram, this morning's little incident is revealed for what it really is-an irritation, not worth fretting over. I am grateful to be living at a time and place in history where not being where a cop thought I should be only resulted in getting yelled at, not beaten up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

My Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day

October 26, 2015

It was a terrible, horrible very bad, no good day. That's part of the title of a children's book, and a pretty fair (albeit somewhat exaggerated) description of my day. It didn't start out that way; there wasn't anything pressing on the calendar, so after working out, Linda and I had some talk time this morning followed by Bible reading and prayer. What could possibly go wrong? I'm glad you asked. At Linda's request, I sorted through the pile of papers by my chair. It felt pretty good to get things organized, and then it was time to change the tire on my motorcycle. You can see where this is going, can't you?

After removing the front wheel, I discovered the reason for last night's flat tire-a nail in the tread. So I set about taking the tire off the wheel, something I've done plenty of times before. Not today. For some reason, I could not get the bead of the tire over the rim of the wheel. No matter how hard I pushed and wedged the tire irons, no matter what angle I inserted them, that tire refused to budge. I had managed to get one side loose, but finishing the job just wasn't happening. And then I noticed something. I had pushed and levered the tire so hard that I bent the rim! What should have been a half hour job costing me only my time turned into a three hour frustration marathon that will cost me between two and six hundred dollars, depending on whether I can find a rim that fits without having to buy a whole new wheel and brake assembly.

Nevertheless, I am thankful tonight, not the least of which is that my wife is melting into a puddle of hysterical laughter as she is feebly trying to text our granddaughter. What really makes me grateful however, is that I have been doing this gratitude discipline for a couple years now. There was a time when this frustration would have had me in a deep funk for days. I can't say I'm particularly happy that my do-it-yourself project is going to cost me far more than it would have had I taken the job to a shop, but my problem isn't life-threatening, and though I don't like shelling out that kind of money, it's not going to break the bank. My pride has taken somewhat of a beating, but maybe that's not a bad thing. So I am thankful that this happened at this time in my life, and that it's nearly the end of riding season anyway. I had planned on a few more weeks, but since it's nearly November, I can afford to shop around and wait. And if that isn't enough, I am able to tell people that this 66 year old man still has enough vim and vigor to actually bend the rim. Grrr!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Flat Tire, No Rain

October 25, 2015

Sometimes I'm grateful for significant blessings, sometimes it's the little things that catch my attention. Tonight it's one of those little things. Yesterday I rode my sidecar bike to Warren, PA, about an hour's drive south of us. In the morning when I left home, it was only about 45 degrees, a bit of a chilly ride no matter how you cut it. I was bundled well enough and made the trip without incident. It was warmer for the return trip, but there was a misty rain for the first twenty miles, so by the time I got home, my legs were pretty damp even if the moisture hadn't been able to penetrate my leather jacket.

Today I rode to church. It was a nice morning, no incidents. This evening I drove it back to church again for SOTA (School Of The Arts) to teach bass. On the way home as I rounded the bend down by my daughter's home, the bike suddenly didn't want to steer. I backed off the throttle, but it still wanted to track straight. Fortunately, nothing was coming as I crossed lanes to the side road on the bend. I limped the last half mile home on a flat front tire. I am grateful that a) nothing was coming as I (almost) rounded the bend, and b) that it didn't happen last night in the rain twenty miles from home.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Showing Up

October 24, 2015

"Sometimes I really don't feel like coming to a weekend such as this. But after being here, I say to myself, 'How could I even think of staying home?'" So said Roy, the organizer of the weekend. Having the top brass admit his human reluctance to engage in his own ministry was like a breath of fresh air to me. I can't even begin to count the times I've shown up for work feeling guilty because I didn't really want to be there. Ministry is often like that, showing up, doing the job because it needs to be done, not because you feel like it, but because people are hurting, lonely, and lost, and need someone who cares more about them than their own comfort.

We talk a lot in church circles about giftedness. It's become somewhat of a catchphrase, and too often, an excuse for our laziness and selfishness. If people served only when they "felt led," or only when they felt "gifted," there would be a whole lot of necessary ministry left undone. The martyrs and confessors of the faith didn't serve only when they felt like serving. I'm sure that my Sunday School teachers, my youth leaders, and yes, even my pastor didn't always feel like showing up. And though I have read the Saturday night posts of pastors who are excited about proclaiming the Gospel the following morning, we never hear from the pastor who dreads standing before God's people because they are drained and needing a word from the Lord for themselves. The pastor whose marriage is in trouble, or whose kid ran away from home, who is brokenhearted at having to tell his little girl that they can't afford the vacation or doll or dress that all the other girls have, or who has an angry board member breathing down his neck doesn't look forward to Sunday morning, but he shows up.

The same can be said of teachers, cops, the waitress at the diner, the greeter at Walmart, the construction worker, the insurance broker, and countless others who no matter how they feel, show up and do their job.

When St. Paul enumerated the spiritual armor and described the spiritual battle in which we are engaged, he said that "having done all, we stand." Sometimes it seems like we're making no progress, but are just standing. Barely. Sometimes, that's all we can do. But we do it. I am so grateful for those who have been faithful to God "in season and out of season," who showed up even when they would rather have stayed home. The Church still stands because of them, not because of their giftedness, but because of their faithfulness. And tonight I give thanks for those weary Christians who did not faint, but kept the faith.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Serving on the Other Side

October 22, 2015

Todd and Jessie joined their dinner group tonight in a special prayer time for Darren, diagnosed with a brain tumor. Their son Ian has been coughing with the same congestion that has run through their family, so we took the kids for the evening. After dinner, we played the bunny game, a Beatrix Potter version of Chutes and Ladders that is a favorite of Gemma. A few rousing rounds of "Nines," another card game, and several cutthroat sets of Connect Four with Eliza (she's pretty good at it), and it was 9:30 before we knew it.

St. Paul reminded us of our connectedness in Christ when he spoke of our being part of his Body, and of how when one part of the Body hurts, we all feel the pain. We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, and we use our gifts for the benefit of all. In our humanness, we tend to honor those gifts that seem more significant, such as preaching or teaching, counseling and leading worship, forgetting that it's the hidden gifts that are often most necessary. This week, Linda and my contribution to the Body consisted of watching kids so parents could do what they needed to do. It may not be as significant as the prayers themselves, but it made some of those prayers possible. We weren't able to actually contribute to the healing of the little baby who landed back in Children's Hospital with an infection, but we made it possible for her mother to be with her.

There are many ways to serve the Body of Christ; some upfront and noticeable, others more in the background. As a pastor, I've had my share of the upfront kinds. This week, we were a part of the behind the scenes type ministry, and it's been good. Whatever we've been able to give has already been returned to us manyfold, as we've been blessed by the children in our care. I am grateful tonight for the privilege of serving on the "other side."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Future is Here

October 21, 2015

Well, the future has arrived, and it's not quite what was imagined back in 1985 when Marty McFly and Doc Brown took off in his flux-capacitor powered DeLorean. True enough, life often seems seedier than it did back then, but we don't have hoverboards or self-tying gym shoes. It just goes to show how little stock we should put in the prognostications of self-proclaimed experts who believe they have everything figured out. Back in 1985, the experts told us that the planet was cooling, and if we didn't do something about our use of fossil fuels, we could be facing another ice age. Then it was global warming, and now climate change, which covers everything. It's supposedly "settled science," according to our president, who doesn't seem to understand that science is never settled. Just ask Copernicus and Galileo. And follow the money.

We shouldn't be surprised, nor should we be alarmed. The world is filled with people who will do their best to manipulate information so as to control the thinking and lives of others. It's called propaganda, and it's everywhere. Years ago, a Russian said that the only difference between Russians and Americans is that they know the papers lie to them. Today, it's all about statistics. Get the right ones, and convince enough people to believe them, and you can call the shots. We too often, to our own detriment, forget the wisdom of Mark Twain who noted that "their are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

So while the future hasn't turned out as expected in 1985, today I mowed the lawn, took off the mower deck for winter, hooked up the loader, and split a pile of wood for my son. After dinner, I practiced my bass, and am now ready for bed. I've not concerned myself with the Banghazi hearings nor the Middle East, other than to pray for the Christians who are being persecuted. Life...real life, is for most of us, not the heady stuff of politics, but the daily small decisions to work, serve, and love. Of course, we choose also to sin; we fall short, and find ourselves in need of grace and forgiveness. Fortunately, there is plenty of that available, if we know where to look, and are willing to actually make the effort to avail ourselves of it. Tonight I am grateful that my future is in the hands of God instead of human prognosticators. He actually knows it, so it is secure. And if the Gospel be true as I believe it to be, that future is also good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


October 20, 2015

Linda and I had the privilege of babysitting three little children today; a four-year old boy, his two-year old sister, and one-year old brother. The littlest one is pretty sedate; he is content in his walker; if you didn't see him, you wouldn't know he was there. The two-year old is a perpetual motion machine. As her father said to me this morning, "I've looked for an off switch, but can't find it." She is cheerful and fun, as is the four-year old, who is all boy, ready to wrestle and engage in anything physical. We had a delightful time, but at the end of the day, we are grateful that we had our children when we were in our twenties. We had a lot more energy then.

That being said, being able to bless the parents of these children, who are busy caring for their little daughter as she is at Children's Hospital fighting off an infection, is a great joy to us. Linda is already asleep, and I am betting we both will snooze soundly tonight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Addicted to Death

October 19, 2015

The children of Israel had conquered the Promised Land. It was tempting then as it is now, to think that the hard work was done, and they could settle down and take it easy. Joshua reviewed the Law with them and concluded, "I have set before you the way of life and the way of death. Therefore, choose life." Of course, those last two words have become the watchwords of the Anti-abortion movement, and with good reason. Our world has a strange fascination with and a macabre addiction to death. In our country, since 1973, over fifty million babies have been murdered through legal abortion. Many of our cities are overrun by gangs that kill with abandon, and we are seeing movements such as ISIS embracing death wholesale. Our movies are so filled with violence and murder that it ceases to shock us. Suicide is welcomed by thousands as a way to end the misery and hopelessness they feel.

I'd have to take off my shoes and socks to even begin to add up the people I know whose depression has caused them to consider ending their lives, and I'd have to do it all over again to count the ones I know who have attempted or succeeded with it. Hardly a family is untouched by this spectre. As we approach the last half of October, our theaters and TVs will be filled with gruesome images of increasingly graphic violence in a perverse celebration of death in Halloween. Against that backdrop we have Jesus who said, "the enemy comes to rob, kill, and destroy. I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly."

For most of my adult life, I fought mild melancholy, and yet I cannot fathom misery so profound that I would consider ending my life. I am grateful tonight for Christ who has given me life, and for those who against the cultural tide of death are standing tall for life. I am grateful for those counselors and cops who regularly talk people back from the edge, and for the hope that is given us in Jesus. And I am grateful for those who have the courage to fight back and refuse to give in to the enemy's lies. Tonight, such a victory was won, and I go to sleep thankful that a life was saved and the future remains for one who came to the edge only to take the hand of Christ when it was extended. "Choose Life," indeed!

Monday, October 19, 2015


October 18, 2015

Where else would he be accepted the way he is here? That's the question I've asked myself time and again. George (not his real name) is developmentally disabled. Not being an expert in such things, I can't say exactly what labels would be given him by a professional, but he is a bit slower intellectually and is lacking in what we would call social skills. Once he gets an idea in his head, there's no letting go of it; it will keep coming up until someone or something interrupts the flow.

And yet...

He loves Jesus. There is no denying or disputing that fact. He is deeply concerned for neighbors and friends who don't know Jesus, so much so that at prayer time tonight in our men's Bible study, part of his prayer was that he wouldn't unintentionally do anything that would hinder his neighbor from coming to Christ. Whenever prayer time comes up, George has someone in mind who needs Jesus.

If that weren't enough, as we prayed our way around the table, he was the only one to think to ask forgiveness for his sins of the day. The rest of us had our (legitimate) prayer concerns, but George was the only one who recognized his need for forgiveness. Any one of us seated at the table tonight would no doubt be able to outreason and and outargue him in whatever subject that should arise. But I don't think any of us has a leg up on him when it comes to loving Christ. Tonight I am grateful for George, and for others like him I've known who reveal Christ to me in a way that those of us who fit into the mainstream of church life cannot.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rebellion Against the Status Quo

October 17, 2015

For over a year we prayed for them, and God heard our prayers. A young couple from our church seemed unable to conceive, so in addition to the medical help they sought, they came every Sunday to the altar for prayer. Week after week, people prayed with them, laid hands on them, and believed that God would override the pessimistic prognostications of the doctors. And on November 12, 2007, they welcomed twin baby girls into the world. We rejoiced with them, and have watched these girls grow, and eventually welcome a little brother into their home.

Yesterday the husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I wondered if they would be here today, but that shouldn't have even entered my mind. They trust in Christ and believe in the power of prayer, so I really wasn't surprised when I saw them walk in, three kids in tow, and take their usual place in the sanctuary. After pastor Joe finished preaching and it was time for communion, they came forward and remained for prayer. Pastor Roy and Val prayed with them, but it wasn't long before they were joined by pastor Joe, and soon two thirds of the congregation was gathered around, with hardly a dry eye in the place. The only ones left in their seats were a few of our newer folks who didn't know them and wouldn't have heard of their plight.

I wish I knew God's ways better than I do. I don't understand why these little girls whom we literally prayed into existence should have to watch their daddy go through the tests and treatments, why they should be faced with the fears and questions that always arise in situations like this; why their parents should have to face the uncertainty that is an inevitable companion to the diagnosis they've received. After the prayers were finished and the service concluded, people still gathered around to listen, love, and offer their prayers. I talked with them as they were leaving the sanctuary. "I don't know what God is doing in all this, but I remember how we prayed your girls into life, and know that the God who answered our prayers then is the same God to whom we offer our prayers today."

The uncertainty is still there. Prayer is not magic, and it's not a matter of getting the words just right, or the fervency of our petitions. Someone once said prayer is essentially a rebellion against the status quo, and as such, I rebel with all my heart. But it is also a matter of aligning our will with the purposes of God and leaning into his heart. It's not easy discerning God's purposes in situations like this, but it was easy to see his heart as his people gathered around, letting this family know that they are loved. It was a difficult, but holy moment, but I confess, I'm praying for and looking forward to that other holy moment when we can praise God for the victory he has won.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


October 17, 2015

She was just coming out the door as I pulled in the driveway after picking up Abi and Izzi from swim practice this morning. Decked out in her hooded winter coat and a pair of knit gloves we keep in an old copper boiler by the door, Gemma was ready for the snow that was gently falling. I bent down and said, "Gemma, it's snowing," to which she replied excitedly, "That means Christmas is coming!"

Later in the day a friend posted a Facebook video of her back deck with the comment, "Ugh...first signs of winter. Again I say, Ugh!" It wasn't three posts later that her husband had posted, "Snow--Woo Hoooo!" Made me laugh out loud. It's all in the perspective. Personally, I like winter. As long as I dress for it, I say, "Bring it on!" It helps to have a warm house, and I am very grateful for mine. I fired up the wood stove and later found Alex cozily ensconced in my recliner, soaking it in with a contented smile on her face.

It's all in the perspective. Tonight I had the opportunity to preach at Koinonia Holy Hour. The theme was from Jesus' words, "The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few." My thoughts went immediately to the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Most often, if we are to hear a sermon on this text, it deals with the conversation between Jesus and the woman, but I was intrigued by the surrounding circumstances. The disciples had gone into town to buy lunch as Jesus begins his conversation with the woman. She leaves to tell her friends and neighbors about this man and the conversation she had had with him. She and the disciples must have crossed paths as she was headed back to town and they were coming back to Jesus with the groceries. Now all the townspeople are streaming out to see Jesus for themselves, and Jesus sees them and says, "the fields are white, ready to harvest."

His perspective was different from that of his disciples. They saw people as human vending machines who could provide what they wanted. Jesus took the opposite approach. In another place, he said he didn't come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." There's the difference. Do we see the people around us as being there to serve us, or are we here to serve them? Our perspective determines the opportunities we either see or overlook.  We can look around at the snow and see cold and work, or like little Gemma, we can see the coming of Christ. We can see people who are here to serve us, or people God has brought into our sphere so we can serve them. There's a key to moving from the former to the latter, but that will have to wait till tomorrow. Until then, I am grateful for the opportunities I've been given to be on the serving side. It's much more rewarding than being served.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dunkin' Time

October 16, 2015

There seems to be no activity that cannot be turned into a sporting contest by a few kids, and tonight was no exception. I'm sure if our neighbors had stepped outside, they would have heard the laughter and shouts of encouragement that filled our kitchen tonight. It's become a Friday night tradition here: Meema and Beepa's Annual Apple Dunking Contest. Of course, it didn't start out as a contest; we intended it to be just good old fashioned fun. Until Izzi broke out the stopwatch. From then on it was cutthroat, pure and simple. The only exception to the rule is little Gemma, who was, on account of her not yet being quite four, given the concession of an apple with a stem. Let it not be said that there is no grace and mercy here!

The rest are not so fortunate. Izzi is a ruthless timekeeper, unfortunately for Ian, because he is plain terrible as an apple-dunker. He chased that slippery sucker all around the washtub, unlike Abi, who holds the record at .26 seconds.The best thing about Ian is that although he came out dead last, he remained just as enthusiastic as ever. He even tallied up the scores, averaged them and announced the winners with great flair. We are thinking that apple dunking would make a good interscholastic sport. After a bit of cajoling, even Meema got into the act, although she refused a second attempt to better her score.

I've talked often about the joys of having our grandchildren nearby so we can have these Friday night times together. It is a gift not many people enjoy, especially as the kids all get along so well together. The Bible says that God sets the solitary in families. He never intended that people live isolated from one another. Family is where we learn to love, to listen, to lift one another up. We got a (literal) taste of that this evening. When it was all over, we mopped up all the water, put everything away, and enjoyed sliced apples and caramel. Not a bad way to end the day; not bad at all.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Etymology Pays Off

October 15, 2015

Some days are just more productive than others. Today when I really needed to be pressing into my sermon for the Koinonia weekend, my head just wouldn't cooperate to any significant degree. I did however, manage to process over 36 quarts of grape juice, uncover the septic tanks at our homes both in Cassadaga and Sinclairville so they can be pumped out tomorrow, and attended our daughter's book signing tonight at our local library. Lots of good stuff for which I'm grateful, but watching your daughter becoming a successful author has to top the list. All those evenings at the dinner table noting the Greek and Latin etymology of words when she was growing up has begun to pay off. They all laughed back then, but inside I'm smirking tonight. Tomorrow's another day; the sermon will come together, and I will be very thankful for that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


October 14, 2015

So much for which to be thankful today. Breakfast, Scripture reading, conversation, and prayer with my friend Willie, a delightful time with Linda, helping her watch two very active pre-schoolers for a friend, talk and prayer with a friend in the nursing home, coffee with my friend Harry before ensemble and band rehearsal. Making music is always a wondrous experience. After a wonderful dinner courtesy my wife, I did my first batch of grape juice, six quarts of the stuff.

Thomas Bramwell Welch was seventeen when in 1843 he joined the Wesleyan Methodist church which forbade the use of fermented juice for Communion. As a Wesleyan Christian, he was also involved in the Abolition Movement and participated in the Underground Railroad. In 1864, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church required that unfermented juice be used in Communion. In 1869, Welch perfected a means of pasteurizing the juice, and founded the company that bears his name, which directly contributed to the early growth and prosperity of Westfield, NY, about fifteen miles from my home. The grapes I used for juice tonight came from a vineyard just outside of Westfield.

The juice you can buy in the store is pretty weak and insipid compared to what I canned tonight. Yeah, it's that good. But it's not without its issues. I process it by steaming the grapes in a specially devised canner, and then pouring the juice into the jars. It always makes me nervous holding onto those jars as I pour the boiling hot juice into them. A couple years ago one of the jars I was holding stress shattered as the hot juice filled the jar. How I avoided getting burned, I don't know. Tonight as I poured the juice into one of the jars, I heard a distinct pop. Slowly setting the jar down, I was very grateful it only cracked. I love the juice, but I love my hands just as they are, and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that tomorrow I'll be able to play my bass or bassoon because my fingers didn't get scalded.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Friends and Grapes

October 13, 2015

Last night's post was missing not because I wasn't thankful. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, just right for yard work, which is what Linda and I did at our Cassadaga house before heading out to church in the evening. Linda had Bible Study and I had rehearsal for worship and Koinonia weekend. So it was a full day that didn't end till after nine. Normally, just right for reflection and writing. But I had to be up at 4:00 to take a friend to Buffalo for his daughter's surgery, so I hit the sack as soon as I got home, grateful to have had a productive day of work.

With all the work getting our entryway finished and tidying up two yards, picking grapes never really entered my mind until the other day, so after doing the yard work in Cassadaga, I decided to drive the rest of the way to Fredonia to the place I normally pick. The vines were barren. I don't know whether someone got there before me or it was last winter's unusually cold January, but there wasn't a grape to be found. My friend Ted however, drives grape truck part time for the vineyards, so I called him up and asked if he could get me a few bushel. He checked with his grower, and tonight I followed him to his job where he introduced me to the owner. I made it just under the wire; Thursday or Friday Ted will haul his last load to the processor.

The vineyard owner took me to a field behind his house, led me to a particular row and let me have at it. When I asked what I owed him, he said, "Is five dollars too much?" Too much! He knew I wanted between five and seven bushels. I figured on paying five times that amount, or more. I picked for over two hours, till it got so dark I couldn't see the grapes. I don't know how many bushel of grapes I picked because I used five gallon buckets, but I filled about a dozen of them before I was done. It's going to be a mad dash to process them all before they spoil, but we'll make it. I love this job! The house will smell of Concord grapes for the next few days, and when we're all done, the canning cabinet in the basement will hold about sixty quarts of juice, and I'll be able to give plenty of grapes to friends and family. Our grandkids in particular will thank me. They drink the stuff like water. If you've never had homemade grape juice, I'll just tell you now; you can't buy stuff this good in the stores.

So tonight I am thankful to have been able to be a friend, getting a young man to the hospital for his daughter's surgery, and I am grateful to have a friend who transformed what looked to be a grape juice-less year into a bumper crop.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


October 11, 2015

We respected each other. I think that's why our friendship worked. Linda was pregnant with Nate and having problems with the pregnancy; all the driving she did wasn't helping. She was crying as she pulled into the Minute Man station on North Main, and Dick, the manager asked what was wrong. She told him the doctor told her it was either her job or her baby, and she didn't know how we could make it without her job. I was working part time at the little EUB church in Alma, but by itself, it wasn't enough. Dick had a list of applicants that took up a whole sheet of paper, but he leaned in and told her to send me down. He hired me on the spot, forty hours a week.

Dick stood about six-three and weighed about 250. He was pushing fifty, while I was twenty-two. His life and mine were two separate worlds that intersected that day. He told me he'd been everywhere he wanted to go, seen everything he wanted to see, done everything he wanted to do. He smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and womanized like a rabbit. Until he met Mabel, that is. Oh...he had once served as a bodyguard for someone in the Mafia. Yep, we were cut from different cloth. That first day on the job, he called me over, stood toe to toe, looking down at me chin to nose. "Here's how it works," he said. "You don't try to convert me, and I won't try to convert you." OK, we understood each other!

I did my job the best I could do, back when we actually pumped gas, checked oil, and cleaned windshields. He was as profane as ever, I worked hard, and we got along just fine. I buried his little baby when she was stillborn, and when Nate was born in the middle of the Flood of '72, It was Dick who made picked his way through the rock falls on Stony Lonesome Road to lend us his big Olds 88 convertible to get to the hospital in Olean. We sort of lost touch when I went away to seminary, but some five or six years later after we had moved back to Western New York, one day I received a call from Mabel. Dick was in Olean hospital, the cancer slowly sucking the life out of him. I drove the two hours to see him, and did it again and again. Before he died, he prayed to receive Christ. He didn't convert me, and I didn't convert him. Jesus did that.

I learned a lot from Dick, about loyalty, honor, and friendship. As I remember those years of working with Dick, I remember a man who even before those final days had one of the biggest hearts I've ever known. If he liked you, there's nothing he wouldn't do for you. He regularly took in wayward kids, gave of his time and whatever he had to help anyone in need. He was tough and coarse, but I think I scared him the day I told him he was closer to the Kingdom of God than he would find comfortable. Turns out, I was right, and tonight as I reminisce, I am grateful for it. There's a lot I don't know about eternity, but I believe I'll see him again. I'm looking forward to it. Till then, every time I think of Dick, I see him the morning he showed up at my front door, keys in hand, telling me to grab Linda and get her to the hospital before the roads closed. Friends like that are few and far between. I've been blessed with a fistful of them, and am grateful. Whatever I've been able to do for them is minuscule compared to what they have given me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rewards and Revenge

October 10, 2015

Some wag once said that grandchildren are the reward we get for not killing our own kids when they were growing up. For some, I suppose that's true; Linda and I thoroughly enjoyed raising ours, even through those times when we wondered who spawned these creatures. And now we experience the joy of front row seats as our children are raising theirs. Last Sunday, Matt, Mattie, and Nathan came over for breakfast before church. We switch off every other week between their home and ours; something Linda's been doing since Jeanine started singing with the worship team some years back. As they sat at the table, little Nathan began fiddling with whatever was in front of him--utensils, glass, salt and pepper shakers, and whatever else he could get his hands on. All this time, I'm watching Matt's patience wearing thin till he growls between his teeth, "Stop playing with that stuff!" whereupon I burst into peals of laughter, which in Matt's opinion didn't help the situation any. Neither did my reminding him of how he always had to touch whatever was before him.

When the kids were young, we did Advent devotions with them at dinnertime. We didn't do so well other times of the year, but during Advent we read from a little booklet, sang a Christmas Carol, and offered a short prayer. We also lit the Advent Candles, which Matt found irresistible. He was constantly sticking his fingers into the hot wax, then rubbing the wax into little balls which he deposited back in the candle. No matter how many times we told him to stop, the next night it would be the same ritual, all over again. So last Sunday morning, we laughed while Matt muttered under his breath.

Today was a different sort of grandchildren blessing as I was able to take Izzi and Eliza to Rochester to see Newsies. They are the two acrobats of the bunch, and I figured they would appreciate the acrobatic dancing of the show. We had a wonderful time, ending with dinner and a short visit with my mother. After more than sixty years, I can still remember the overnight stays with my grandparents, and the special things we occasionally did together. The Bible frequently speaks of the joy of extended family. I pity those who have never experienced it, and am grateful for the opportunity we have of building into our grandchildren. Someone once said that love is spelled T-I-M-E, and I believe it. Surprisingly, Izzi and Eliza didn't chatter all the way up and back. Maybe they need Meema as the catalyst for conversation; Lord knows I'm not very good at it. But we had fun, and even if they don't remember it for the rest of their lives, I will; and that's enough for me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Real Peace

October 9, 2015

When Linda and I were first married, we lived in the little hamlet of Alma, NY. It didn't even qualify as a wide spot in the road, consisting of a General Store/Gas Station/Post Office/apartment building, a single bay fire station across the road, a handful of houses, and the EUB church where I began my preaching career. Nestled in the confluence of two valleys, with steep hills all around, it was as close to heaven on earth as any place could be. I remember preaching on more than one occasion about the peace God gives us in Christ. We lived there for 5 1/2 years before moving on to Chicago to attend seminary.

In Chicago, we lived as houseparents in a group home for boys, then took on about a half dozen girls. Our son Nathan was three when we took on that task, and about nine months of living with these kids had him stuttering. The staff psychologist told us it was a result of the stress of our living conditions, whereupon we quit that job to take on a small congregation on the Northwest side of the city, 1600 North and 1200 West, to be exact. At the time, it was a cultural junction of Hispanic, Black, and ethnic European. To say it was a volatile area is an understatement, but it was better by far than the group home. We lived there for nearly two years before moving back to Western New York. The weekend we moved home there was a riot in Humbolt Park, just down the street from where we lived. A year later when we drove back for graduation, we learned that a four year old boy had been murdered and dumped in a garbage can in the alley behind our apartment. Looking back, we wondered how we managed to live there for two years.

That was nearly forty years ago, and I've never since felt comfortable speaking about the peace of God. I've done so, but I've always wondered how much of the "peace" of which I speak is merely the result of peaceful surroundings and how much of it is truly the gift of the Holy Spirit. I've lived in places where there isn't a lot of external peace, but my worst circumstances are positively idyllic compared to what many people experience on a daily basis; terror and turmoil are their daily lot. I am grateful for the peace it is my fortune to experience, even though I cannot always distinguish its origin. Orienting my life around and focusing my mind upon the Gospel is the best I can do, in the hope that when outer circumstances are in turmoil, my inner soul will remain constant...and at peace.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


October 8, 2015

A good friend from Canada sent me a music video that pretty much sums up what I like about Western New York winters. It's all about the childhood experience of tobogganing. At one point the artist sings about tobogganing off a roof. I've never done that, but I did snowboard off one once at midnight. I was at Watson Homestead for a Board of Ordained Ministry retreat that happened to coincide with a blizzard. I had to wait till all the brass were in bed, but I did have a couple witnesses, just for the record. That's all beside the point, however.

It has not escaped my awareness that some of my friends are not too happy at the thought of winter's advent, but I am looking forward to it. My major good weather projects are almost done, we have October's crisp air and bright colors to lead us into November with the anticipation of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. And snow. I actually love the snow, even though I cannot get excited about snowmobiling and have nothing but bad (or funny, depending on how you look at them) memories about downhill skiing. But I love plowing the snow, cross-country skiing, sitting by the fire watching the cardinals at our feeder, a hot cup of coffee at hand and a book in my lap.

Right now, it's the anticipation for which I'm grateful. Sadly, there are countless people in this world whose anticipation of the future is filled with fear and uncertainty. This evening I watched a couple videos about the Syrian refugees desperately risking open seas in flimsy boats just to escape the fighting and destruction in their homeland. If they make the crossing, it is with only the clothes on their backs and a long and uncertain trek ahead of them. Anticipation is not a happy word for them. Why we should be so blessed I cannot fathom, but I know what these blessings mean. The Bible is clear: "To whom much is given, much shall be required." Being able to anticipate winter with joy is a far cry from what these folks are experiencing tonight, and I am not given the freedom to simply ignore their plight. As far as humanly possible, I am prepared for winter. Now it is humanely possible for me to dig deep and do what I can to help. If I cannot go, I can give, and give I will, with deep gratitude for my experience of the truth of Jesus' words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mercy Over All His Works

October 7, 2015

My morning Bible reading took me to Exodus 25, where God instructs Moses in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. In verses 21-22 we learn that the tablets of the Law were to be placed inside the ark, then the mercy seat, a golden lid crowned with figures of cherubs was set on top. "I will meet with you there, and will commune with you from above the mercy seat..."

It is common for Christians to speak of God's love when talking about salvation, ignoring the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. This morning I read an article in which the author supposes that the reason for this is that we think of God's wrath as petulance. We experience human anger and cannot see how it has any place in the character of God. The problem with this reasoning is that it sets human anger as the touchstone, imagining that God's anger must be similar to ours. It's not. God is angry over sin's destructiveness, mutilating and corrupting everything he once pronounced good.  

St. Paul tells us that the Law was never intended to be a means of salvation apart from it's purpose of revealing to us our need for a Savior. The image of the tablets of the Law covered by the mercy seat is an illustration of what God has done for us in Christ. The Law hasn't disappeared, but it is covered by the mercy of God, and it is in the place of mercy that he meets us. This is Good News indeed! The Law pronounces us guilty, but in his mercy, through the blood of the Lamb that is sprinkled upon the mercy seat, God meets with us, forgiving our sin and pronouncing us righteous not because we kept the Law, but because Christ did, then died in our place, rising in new life which he bestows on all who believe. It sounds incredulous, but it is the foundation of our faith, the source of our confidence, the silencing of all accusation, the hope of our future. I am grateful tonight for this illustration I found this morning, and for the time I had meeting with my God above the mercy seat that covers every violation of the Law I've ever done.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Judge Be Fair

October 6, 2015

I didn't like it twenty years ago, and I still don't like it today. It's not a matter of fairness; I have no doubt that they are trying to be fair. But like gymnastics or figure skating, judging diving is by its very nature subjective. The tightness of the tuck, the snap of the pike, the cleanness of entry into the water; are the diver's feet together, toes pointed? These, and many more details are the nuts and bolts that make up the numbers on the judges' scorecards. When our kids were swimming, I took the training course for judges and attended enough meets to have developed a pretty good sense of what the scores would be unless the judging were sporadic and arbitrary. I was tutored under Shirley Smith, a daunting experience in itself. Shirley had judged Olympic meets; there was no one who knew more about judging swimming than Shirley. She brooked no nonsense and could be scathing in her criticism of an official who didn't know their job. Just being a bystander to a few of her diatribes was enough to make me tremble. Being on the receiving end of one was an experience I was fortunate to dodge. But I learned. And got to the point where I could often match the judges point for point.

The final outcome of the meet was never in jeopardy, but at times watching the scoring was painful for me. Which leads me to my gratitude for tonight. The day is coming when I will stand before the living God who judges fairly and knows every detail, every extenuating circumstance of my life. He will miss nothing, make no mistakes. The bad news is, there is no way I could stand before that bar. I would stand condemned; guilty. The good news is that the God who judges me is the God who loves me in spite of my guilt. Jesus received the judgment of God in my place and set me free. The God who judges righteously also forgives freely. And because of that, I am free. And thankful.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Door Foam

October 6, 2015

Compared to most of the world's problems, it's a pretty minor matter, but tonight I'm grateful for a small blessing. I had bought some spray foam insulation to fill the cracks around our new front door, and this morning it was time to get the job done, so I shook the can, attached the nozzle, and started filling cracks. If you've never used this stuff before, trust me when I say, "follow the directions." Don't ask me how I know. As you spray, it doesn't look very impressive, so it's tempting to add just a bit more. But they aren't kidding when the label says that it doubles in size as it cures. I knew this, and followed the directions to a "T." Nonetheless, in places it ballooned out of the gaps like a swarm of third graders pouring out the school doors on the first day of summer vacation.

This stuff cures pretty quickly, and once it does, it's about impossible to make any adjustments. We have this foam insulation in the walls of our house, and the fellow who did the job said that it actually adds structural strength to the house. I believe it. When I went to apply it on the outside to seal the top of the door, I noticed that at there was about a 3/4" gap between the door brick molding and the siding. Fortunately, I hadn't driven flush the nails holding the door to the jack studs and was able to pull out the top two, pull the door flush with the siding and re-drive the nails. If I hadn't wanted to seal the outside of the door, I wouldn't have noticed the misalignment of the door at that moment. It would have been impossible to re-align it after the foam had cured. The upshot of it all is that Linda had had trouble unlatching the door; she had to use both hands. If you pushed in while depressing the latch, it worked fine, but I have to admit it was sticky. Today's slight re-alignment fixed that latch issue--an added bonus! One problem avoided; another fixed. Small stuff, but it still fits amidst all for which I give thanks tonight.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Introverted Together

October 5, 2015

I'm really not antisocial; I'm just not pro-social. I introduce myself to new people at church because they need to be welcomed, but I had to train myself to do it. It doesn't come naturally, is not my spiritual gift. Which leads me to observe that while spiritual giftedness is great for discerning one's calling, it cannot become an excuse for not doing what God expects of all his children: kindness, service, and availability. I may not have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but that doesn't exonerate me from the command to bear witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Even if I am a natural born introvert.

You might think that an organized bike ride would be just the ticket for an introvert, but you would be wrong. Today's ride was great; the weather cooperated, we went on roads I'd never before seen, our lead rider didn't let himself go so fast the others had to speed to keep up. Riding a motorcycle is a solitary sport, much like swimming. In swimming, you can be on a team, but most events are solo by nature, even the relays. When you're in the water, it's you, the water, the lane markers, and the ends of the pool. You must be aware of the swimmer in the next lane, but the water isolates you. Riding a motorcycle is much the same. Fellow riders may be strung out in a line before and behind you, but unless you have a helmet intercom, you are by yourself. Until you stop for gas or food. Then the conversation begins in earnest.

Today we rode, stopping only for a single conversation and butt rest break, and for gas. Most of the crew headed for a restaurant at the end of the ride, but I had a commitment back home that precluded any eats and fellowship. I learned something, for which I am grateful tonight. Though I am a committed introvert, the ride would have been much more meaningful to me had I been able to sit down with my friends and share a meal. Even solo activities can be more fun with friends. God wired us to need each other. Even those like myself. So, next time pastor Joe arranges a ride, I'll do my best to make sure I can take it all in. Life, and rides, are better with friends.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Money Can Buy Happiness

October 3, 2015

Anyone who says money can't buy happiness obviously has never gone shopping with a ten year old girl. When each of our granddaughters turned ten years of age, our birthday gift to them changed. When they are little girls, dolls and stuffed animals and frilly dresses work just fine, but there comes a time when that stuff doesn't work anymore; they are developing their own taste and style, so rather than guess, we give them a set amount of money with the promise to take them shopping. By the time we're done having lunch together at the end, it costs us way more than it would to just give them the money, but that's not the point. We've spent a morning together, listening to dreams of the heart and doing our best to fill the day with memories that will last.

Today it was Mattie's turn, her first trip, having turned ten last week. We continue to do this with Alex, Abi, Izzi, and Jo, but this was the inaugural run for Mattie. Old Navy, Payless Shoes, Claire's, Justice, Michael's crafts, and Walmart all yielded their wares to Mattie's eye and purse. Lunch at Panera Bread was a first for her, and a treat for Linda and me as we sat together and talked about the things that are important to her.

Of course, it's not the money that produces the happiness; it's the relationships. At ten years of age, Mattie of course doesn't  fully understand this, but deep inside she knows. And the money Linda and I spent actually did buy a little happiness as we watched our granddaughter growing up before our very eyes.

This evening, after having been gone all morning and well into the afternoon, we were debating passing on our tickets to hear Daryl and Tracy Strawberry talk about marriage. We've had a busy week, and know that we won't have another evening home till at least Wednesday, but decided to bite the bullet. I am so glad we did. We learned a long time ago that the times when we least feel like doing something is often the time we need it and profit from it the most. Tonight was no exception. They talked about how Christ has transformed their broken marriage by transforming them as they learned to give everything to God and do it his way. They talked about the difficulty in blending a family with children from former marriages. Tracy at one point said, "When you say 'I do,' you are saying 'I do' to his children, his family, his issues." Too many people say 'I do' to the ideal person they imagine the other to be, and ignore the reality of the package they're really getting.

There was so much more, but what impressed me the most is how consistently and forcefully they pointed to Christ as the center of their home, the Rock that constantly calls them to himself so they can become their best selves in Jesus. Today has been filled with grace and blessing for which I give great thanks tonight.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


October 1, 2015

For my retirement gift our friends Harry and Beth treated us to dinner at Marco's in Buffalo and an evening at Shea's. It took over a year to make the arrangements, but it was worth it. We saw "Newsies," which was an amazing performance not only with the singing, but the dancing was as acrobatic and energetic as I've ever seen. Tonight I am grateful for people who strive for excellence in performance, whether it be on stage or in a restaurant, and for lifelong friends who have been by our side through thick and thin, good and bad. The commercial says it. Mastercard is for the stuff that can be bought, but this kind of friendship is priceless. It's not for sale at any price. Beth and Harry, thank you for a wonderful evening, but even more for the friendship, for which I not only thank you, but also God.