Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Our Mission Field

May 31, 2016

When in October of 2000 we moved into our house in Cassadaga, we prayed that God would make it a base for ministry, not knowing exactly what that would mean. We had been there a couple months when I heard God say, "Lily Dale," the Spiritualist community on the other side of the lake. I didn't hear actual voices, but I know it was God speaking, because that never would have occurred to me. I wasn't sure what that meant, but when I asked, he said, "Go there and pray." I did, and was never so glad to be done and on my way home as I was that day. As I pointed the car down Dale Drive towards home, I asked, "Now what?" to which God responded, "Go back." I ended up prayer walking there for about twelve years, it becoming my favorite place to pray.The spiritual intensity of the place I think intensified and focused my own prayers for the people there and my people at Park church. Some pretty intense spiritual battles ensued over those twelve years, indicating to me that we were doing the right thing. Our home became the foundation of a very specific ministry God gave me.

When we moved back to Sinclairville three years ago, we prayed the same prayer: that our home would become a place for ministry. It didn't take long for us to realize how that ministry would come to us. The swimming hole at the south end of our property is a summertime magnet for kids and families and even the occasional fisherman. It can be a bit dicey. We've had to talk to kids about their language when our grandkids are down there, have had to ask people to park on the roadside instead of our lawn, have picked up countless beer cans and lots of trash. People have brought portable grills and treated our lawn like a public park. We've talked with an attorney about liability and were told that it would be advisable to post No Trespassing signs. But where else would we have our mission field come to us?

When I pulled into the driveway this afternoon, I saw and smelled the smoke from a campfire ascending from down in the creek. Linda and I went to investigate and found a woman we befriended last year, a small fire on the next to a blanket spread out on the rocks. Linda asked her to extinguish the fire, which she did. We continued talking, and she began to open up about how the creek was a place she could come to think and clear her head. Her son was in some trouble, was hanging around some undesirable people and generally making bad choices. We climbed down the bank and after listening some more, asked if we could pray for her and her son. She eagerly accepted, tearfully joining in with heartfelt amens, thanking us profusely for our prayers as we left with promises to continue praying for her and her son. Tonight I am grateful for our homegrown mission field. I think we'll forego the no trespassing signs. Sure, there is a risk to it, but there is a risk to anything worthwhile. And this is definitely worthwhile.

Monday, May 30, 2016

No 911

May 30, 2016

Today's thanksgiving will be short and to the point. As are many others on this Memorial Day, I am grateful for those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today. I pray that we as a nation do not squander that for which such a price has been paid.

On a personal note, I am grateful that no one had to call 911 for me today. The roof of our Cassadaga house had a few shingles blow off, and I decided it was better to fix it sooner than later. The only problem was that the roof is upwards of a 12-1 pitch. In other words, it's steep. Scary steep. Especially without roof jacks. My extension ladder was stretched to the limit to barely reach the eave before I managed to get the shingles up and tossed over the peak, the only way they would stay put. Laying them on the roof itself, they just slid. Catching them while keeping my own footing was a bit tense before I gingerly crabwalked my way to the peak, working hard to to correct my balance when my feet slipped. Straddling the peak, I was able to reach the area needing the reroof, but even that set my heart thrumming inside my chest. It could have gotten ugly in the blink of an eye.

The job isn't perfect, but it's adequate, and I don't plan on going up there again any time soon. It could easily have ended badly, but my prayers were answered as I made it back down to the ladder, and then to the back deck. I'm sure there are many times when God's protective hand delivers from close calls we never even know are there. Today I knew, and am thankful I can write this from the comfort of my own, instead of a hospital bed.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Gift

May 29, 2016

It was given me years ago, and thankfully, I took reasonable, if somewhat imperfect care of it, so  that today it still serves me well. I have an inquisitive and curious mind. Mind you, I don't always know what to do with it. The inner workings of any internal combustion engine fascinates me, but I am no mechanic. Big heavy equipment like bulldozers, cranes, and locomotives leave me in awe.

Yesterday Linda and I attended a ju jitsu tournament in which our grandchildren Mattie and Nathan were participating. As everyone from little kids to grown adults rolled around on the mats trying to get the advantage over their opponents, what to the untrained eye looked little more than just that - rolling around, the one who had the best command of the various moves and holds inevitably became the winner. I've watched my son teach his children different moves, different ways to take down an opponent or break out of a hold. There are basic drills and skills to be learned if one is to become proficient in the sport.

I've been practicing my bass and watching youtube videos in the effort to improve my capabilities. I knew about the importance of fifths in bass work, and of fourths, thirds, and seconds, but I couldn't tell you the notes of even a C major chord, let alone a B minor diminished ninth. A good bassist can do that, and therefore knows the right notes to play just by looking at a chord notation on the sheet music. Me? I'm guessing. And while I'm at it, I'm trying to pick up some slap bass technique, which looks simpler than it is. I can't imagine ever getting bored or satisfied with the status quo of my playing. There is always something more to learn, something more towards which to strive. This is true of everything in life. There is so much more than what any of us yet knows, which means we never have to stop growing in life, in faith, in our knowledge of this world or the next. And yet there are so many who have lost their joy of living, their eagerness to learn and grow. I am grateful for the desire inside me to keep growing. Not everyone has it, and I certainly didn't produce it myself. It is a gift from God for which I am thankful tonight.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Back in the Saddle Again

May 28, 2016

If it's in your blood, it never completely leaves you. Some people are addicted to speed. Whether it's driving cars, swimming, or running, they are obsessed with just a little faster. The man or woman with music in their soul will be humming a tune on their deathbed. For the Christian, it's Jesus. For the preacher...well, you know.

I've pretty much been away from preaching for nearly two years, with just a couple fill-ins during that time. For the most part, it's been good. The weekly pressure of handling the Word of Life is a very real thing that I felt keenly. The Sunday I handed leadership over to pastor Joe, I literally felt a weight leaving me. I hadn't really noticed it; after all, preaching had been my life for more than forty years. It was what I did.

A couple weeks ago, pastor Joe asked ifI would preach on June 5th. He outlined the overall thrust of his next series, gave me the text he wanted me to handle, and turned me loose. When I say there is a difference between reading Scripture devotionally and reading it hermeneutically, I am not exaggerating. The text Joe gave me at first glance didn't look too promising, but the more I looked at it, the more it opened up, revealing gems hidden beneath the surface. Linda can testify that by merely looking at me, it would be hard to tell if I were excited or blasé, but I assure you that I am excited about the opportunity to present God's Word once more. And very thankful for the invitation pastor Joe gave me to do this for him.

Friday, May 27, 2016


May 27, 2016

It's called "repurposing." You take something that might otherwise have been thrown out and give it new life as something completely different from its original purpose. In our front yard Linda has a couple old galvanized watering cans filled with flowers. An old ladder becomes a towel rack, and a nine pane storm window becomes a picture collage.

I finished up my own repurposing project today, and it turned out pretty well. It's an archway to the backyard made from a couple old doors and some two by sixes. I scrounged for the doors, had the two by sixes and screws. The only thing I had to buy was the paint and flowers.

Repurposing is God's specialty. He takes people who are worn out and ready for the scrap heap, fixes them up, makes them beautiful again and gives them a new life they never would have imagined. It's called grace, and I'm thankful for it. No matter how old and beat up people get, God isn't about to give up on them. Some of his greatest work has been done on the castaways of this world who by his hand become doorways into the garden of his life.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Be Careful What You Think

May 26, 2016

Talking politics recently with a friend, he quoted musician Chuck Pyle who said, "Don't believe everything you think." I would add to that my own quotation: "It's hard to have deep thoughts when you have a shallow mind." Alas! Such is the condition of much public thought today, and it would be disillusioning were it not for something I learned over forty years ago working with therapist Dr. Day, who talked often of "stinking thinking." Stinking thinking is the self-talk we have that does us more harm than good. It is when we find it easier to criticize than to bless, when we talk defeat, disaster, and discouragement. Life is hard, and as John Wayne is reported to have said, "it's harder when you're stupid."

"If you believe you can't, you're right. And if you believe you can, you're right again." Years ago, I heard these words from motivational speaker John Maxwell, and they haven't become untrue in the years since. How we talk to ourselves and others, and even to God, is important. Especially when life caves in, we need to speak words of faith and hope, for it is then we most need to hear them. The Scriptures are full of them, and we need to be full of Scripture so as to take advantage of the wisdom and hope they can give. St. Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 10 to take "every thought captive to Christ." My thoughts are like young calves that constantly try to break out of the corral, and it is my job to round them up and keep them where they need to be. It can be hard and ceaseless work, but the alternative is to let my thoughts rule my life instead of my faith. So no matter how compelling my thoughts may feel, I don't believe all of them. My thoughts and my feelings often lie to me. They are vicious slave drivers, and need to be put in their place by the Word of God and prayer.

I am grateful tonight for pithy sayings that tell me the truth about myself, about life, and about God. I am grateful for wise people who have thought deeply about themselves, life, and God. And I am thankful that even if my mind is shallow, I can think correct, if not always deep thoughts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Real Celebration

May 25, 2016

Over the past twenty years or so, it has become customary to soften our language about death and dying. We don't use those words; we speak of "passing away," or "passing on." Funerals have become "celebrations of life" as we do our best to avoid the harsh reality with which we are faced. Today however, "celebration of life" was entirely fitting as the Panama Central School auditorium was filled to capacity with family, friends, and students offering their last goodbyes to Mr. Steven Swanson, musician, teacher, and man of faith and integrity who encouraged all who knew him, and was taken too soon from us.

I've been to plenty of funerals in the forty plus years I was in ministry, most of which I was the officiant. I've been to funerals that dragged on seemingly endlessly, and others that were over so quickly you hardly had time to figure out who it was for. But I've never been to a service like today's. For three hours, people talked, guests laughed, listened to music by half a dozen different groups or performers, and heard the Gospel proclaimed with clarity and power, culminating in the entire congregation singing and swaying to a dixieland version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." When it was all over, it was hard to believe we'd been there that long. It was truly a celebration of a remarkable life.

At one point as pastor Rick LaDue spoke of Steve's life struggles and his faith in Christ, I was overcome with a powerful realization of the depth and extent of God's mercy and grace that is continually extended to us in Christ. We never deserve it, cannot possibly earn it, but it is there, dispelling guilt and shame for anyone who has audacity enough to believe it. And as I scanned the nearly 675 people gathered to honor this man, I couldn't help remember that I went into ministry because I wanted to influence people for Christ, but if I really wanted to do that, I should have been a musician. I'd have had to be a very good one, whose enthusiasm for life and love of people was infectious and compelling. I made the right choice for me, but the influence of this man in this community was deep and far-reaching. Best of all, he was unashamedly a Christian, and today stands in the presence of the One who sought and bought him, and gave him life. Amazing Grace is truly that: amazing. And grace, rich and free for all who trust in Christ.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

As Busy as I Choose

May 24, 2016

"I'm so busy now that I'm retired that I don't know how I found time to work." I've heard those words or a variation of them more times than I care to remember. I don't know what drives this sentiment, whether it's a plea for attention, a bit of gloating over those still in their working years, or if it's simply the unwillingness or inability to engage in any serious thought. I'm busy, but only as much as I choose to be; I usually don't rise as early as I used to, and Linda and I take more time talking at the dinner table than we used to be able to. I am grateful for the busyness. In the past two weeks, I officiated at the funeral of a 29 year old young man and attended the funeral of a 48 year old man. Today I visited a man younger than myself in a nursing home, went to the viewing of another younger man at the funeral home, and spent time talking with a close friend who is only a couple years my senior, talking about his battle against cancer.

Am I busy? Yes, I am. And I am grateful for it. I am still here in this life, able to get around and hopefully bless some others whose mobility and health has been compromised. I'm not in prison as are so many young men and women. My busyness is a sign of a life and freedom many do not share. My prayer is to be able to be busy as long as I draw breath. And when the day comes that I cannot be busy with things to do, people to visit, and places to go, I hope I have presence of mind enough to be busy in prayer. And if I am, many of those prayers will be prayers of gratitude and praise.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Dr. Day

May 23, 2016

He sat beside the closet door, quietly talking to Tony, who was standing on his head inside in the dark. It was quite unorthodox, but Dr. Day was not your ordinary psychologist. He kept pummeling Tony with questions and didn't rest till he got answers. There were many things about Dr. Day that were different from other counselors. He loved posing a simple conundrum: "I hate baseball, but I love going to baseball games." His whole philosophy of counseling was wrapped up in that simple statement. He would throw it out and wait, knowing that sooner or later the listener would ask why. When they did, he knew he had them. He believed that most counselors get such paltry results because they do all the listening. That's what budding counselors are taught: listen to the patient. Dr. Day said that by doing so, counselors get healthy while the patient gets sicker, because those who know how to pay attention to others are healthy people; those who only know how to talk are unhealthy.

He was right, you know. The more we focus on our thoughts and feelings, the less emotionally and spiritually healthy we become. People pay counselors big money to listen to them talk, never realizing that the reason they have to keep going to counseling is because the methods being used are actually making them sicker. One of the most telling signs of good emotional health is being able to actually pay attention to another person instead of always focusing on oneself.

This same principle applies to our spiritual life as well. I've lost track of the number of times I've dealt with people who compare their own spiritual life with someone else's. "She is always joyful while I struggle with depression." "He speaks so glowingly about his relationship with Christ; but to me, God seems so far away." I must confess I've fallen into that trap more often then I want to admit. The problem is, while I am wondering why I don't feel God's presence the way I want, I'm focusing on me, on my feelings, rather than focusing on God himself. That is by definition unhealthy. Today as I was driving to visit my mother, I was treading precariously close to that trap until I began praising God, focusing on his character and glory instead of whether I was feeling his presence. A most amazing thing happened. I began to FEEL the presence of God. I am grateful tonight for Dr. Day's lessons from years ago. It not only applies to counseling; it helps me to connect with God himself.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

McCallumism #1

"Emotion follows motion." Nearly fifty years ago, I first heard these words that literally transformed the way I look at life. This phrase was one of many McCallumisms to which we freshmen at Houghton College were treated by Dr. Floyd McCallum. Pithy statements that packed a punch of truth, they helped us shape our thinking in ways that have stood the test of time. How often have we said to ourselves, "I can't do ______; I just don't feel like it?" Dr. McCallum turned the tables on us. I listen to people all the time who believe they have to feel a certain way before they can act with integrity, when in fact, it's the other way around. If I only act on my feelings, I will end up speaking angrily when I need to be patient, or tenderly when I need to be firm. If I have to feel loving before I act loving, there's a lot of loving that will be left undone. Too often, we allow what someone else says or does to determine how we feel, thus abdicating control over our lives in the worst possible way.

Years ago, a woman came into my office seething with rage. Her ex-husband had done something that infuriated her, and she wanted to talk about it. I let her vent for a few minutes, then asked her, "Do you want to be married to him again?" That question was like lighting a match to a barrel of gunpowder. She exploded. "NO! I don't ever want to see him again!" A few expletives and sputtering later, I softly asked, "Then why are you carrying him around with you all the time?" She was suddenly quiet. "I hadn't thought of that," she said. She was following her emotion, which was leading her around by the nose.

Husbands and wives do it all the time, meting out kindness and tenderness only when they feel like it, then wondering why their marriage is barely limping along. Brothers and sisters wonder why they don't feel close to each other, as each waits for the other to make the first step towards reconciliation. No one seems to understand that if we act kindly, we'll feel kind. If we act in a disrespectful manner, we will feel angry and hostile. However, if even when we're sad, we practice gratitude, our sadness will be tempered. And if we treat someone kindly even if we are feeling angry or impatient, it not only affects the other person, we ourselves begin to feel better. To a large extent, our feelings are the result of choices we make. We are as happy as we choose to be.

A traveller came to a city gate and found a beggar sitting in the shade of the wall. "What kind of people live here?" he asked.

"What kind of people are there where you come from," the beggar replied.

"They are cruel, selfish, and rude, caring only for themselves," the traveller answered.

"You might want to move on," the beggar responded; "The same kind of people live here."

As the traveller continued on his journey, another pilgrim approached the city gate and asked the beggar the same question.

"What kind of people live in the city from which you hail?" the beggar queried.

"They are kind and considerate, generous and helpful," the pilgrim answered.

"Then enter, kind friend. You will find the same kind of people here."

I am grateful tonight for Dr. Floyd McCallum and his McCallumisms, especially this one: "Emotion Follows Motion."

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Wisdom teaches me that on two Friday nights per month it is best not to drink too much before going to bed, as navigating the narrow corridor around the end of the bed to get to the bathroom is fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the blessings of these Friday nights that begin with dinner and "High/Low," where we take turns recounting the high of the day (required) and the low (optional).

Tonight after dinner, half of the grandkids took up jumping on the trampoline while trying to bat out the three inflatable balls the other half were tossing into the enclosure, before gathering around the campfire for 'smores. Bedtime prayers, Linda joining the older ones for Monk while I sat in dimmed light reading, keeping Nathan company till he fell asleep. Not at all a bad end to a busy day.


May 21, 2016

"A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth." The first part of this verse from Ecclesiastes 7:1 resonates with most of us; the second part is harder to swallow. This morning we received news that cancer has claimed the life of  Mr. Steve Swanson, vocal music teacher, outstanding musician and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. We thought he had been suffering from the flu a few weeks ago when he had to discontinue conducting the pit band at Panama's production of "The Wizard of Oz," when it was really the effects of the cancer that no one knew he had. Full of vibrant energy, a quick smile, and always ready to praise his Panama kids, his like is not likely to come our way again. Loved by his students, respected by his colleagues, he had, as the Scripture says, a good name.

But what do we make of the second half of our text? How is it possible to say that the day of is death is better than the day of his birth? Had he been old and full of years, feeling the ravages of time, we might better be able to agree, but he was middle aged, with so much to offer, taken in his prime. Statements such as this make little sense. Unless we read them from the perspective of faith. For those of us bereft of Swanny's (as his kids called him) gifts and character, there is nothing good about this day. But he was a believer, a Christian. A few days ago, my son visited him in the hospital. Steve said to him, "I have a big God," then pausing for a moment, added, "but I also have a big problem." Today, his problems are over. He stands in the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For him, the day of his death is greater than the day of his birth. The former ushered him into a world filled with things like cancer. The latter ushered him into a world where every tear shall be wiped away, where sickness and sorrow are no more. The skeptic would say that we are just attempting to make a bad situation seem better than it is, and when we deal with matters of faith, it is hard to prove otherwise, but this we believe, that " to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8).

I cannot say we were close friends. I knew him, but more as an acquaintance whose character and skill as a teacher impacted my granddaughters, and as a musician who used his considerable talents as a worship leader. Even in this somewhat casual way, he made his mark. I was privileged to know him, be often blessed by him; am saddened by his passing, but grateful to have been a recipient of his skills and faithfulness. Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Faithful Ferns

May 19, 2016

Did you know t's about impossible to get rid of fiddlehead ferns? Last fall I moved some topsoil for pastor Joe, clearing an old fern and ivy garden in his front yard preparatory to turning it into lawn. Rather than just dump the dirt, I loaded it into my pickup and brought home about eight loads of it. I picked out the ivy I could find and spread it on the bank behind my garage; the ferns I picked out and dumped over the bank by the creek. Or so I thought. The topsoil pile beside my garage is a veritable fern garden! They are popping up all over the place, some even in my lawn where I spread some of that topsoil to level out low spots. Those ferns are hardy fellows, survivors, to be sure.

Actually, I kinda like them. I have to admire their tenacity; to come back so completely after having been uprooted and tossed aside is testimony to their hardiness. Not many plants could take the abuse I gave them. They remind me of some people I know. The world is filled with people who wilt before the slightest difficulty, folks who fade with the slightest stress. But there are also those who take blow after blow, getting up every time they get knocked down. I've sat in their presence more times than I can recall. As pastor, I was often invited into crisis situations, a woman wondering what life is going to be like after her husband walked out, leaving her with no job and a couple kids, a middle-aged man who just received his pink slip, parents who had to visit their child in jail. The list goes on and on. I've watched people endure back to back tragedies with faith and peace. I was called in to give comfort, guidance, and prayers. I received far more than I ever gave. I am still in awe of my Christian brothers and sisters who like those ferns, just keep coming back. Their persistence is a sign of life that is deep and strong, and they encourage me to never give up. For them, and for those pesky ferns, I am thankful tonight.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

African Faithfulness

May 18, 2016

Our African brothers and sisters get it. We don't. In my United Methodist denomination, General Conference meets every four years to consider legislation and (at least ostensibly) the mission of the church as a whole. For the entire forty years of my ministry, General Conferences have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality. When I began, it wasn't even mentioned in the Discipline, our book of ecclesiastical law. But the issue began to be pressed, and has continued every four years since, chipping away bit by bit at the prohibitions that were put in place due to the pressure being brought by those who approved of this lifestyle. The vote to change the Discipline's prohibitions has failed to change things, but every year, the tally got a little closer. Until four years ago. For the past forty years, membership in the US has been in free fall. We've lost millions of members, but during that same time, the African Methodist church has been in revival mode, growing often by double-digit percentages to the point where at our last General Conference, the African delegation had gained enough membership and its resultant representation that for the first time, the votes for loosening the Disciplinary language lost ground. The trend continues to this day.

I predicted four years ago that when those intent on changing the Discipline discovered they could not do so legislatively, they would begin to exercise ecclesial disobedience, openly violating our canon law, forcing church trials which would be so costly and disruptive that they would essentially bankrupt and bring the system to its knees. That tactic has unfortunately been openly admitted by some. Sadly, General Conference four years ago and the one being held at this moment, have been repeatedly hijacked by those intent on forcing change at any cost.

Hundreds of UM pastors, including about twenty bishops, have signed a letter saying they will perform homosexual weddings in violation of church law. Others have come out as being in current homosexual or lesbian relationships. Against all this stand our African brothers and sisters, whose presence has tipped the balance and will continue to do so. One of our bishops complained that once they "matured," they would come to a "correct" understanding of the Bible, but they are too busy making disciples to engage in our cultural wars. I don't know how this will all shake out for my denomination, but I know this: the faithful witness and stand of our African Methodists is the only thing standing between us and complete apostasy. For them, I am grateful tonight. Even though we don't, they do...get it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Be Sharp

May 17, 2016

It hurts from my fingertips to my elbows. Both arms. There is a definite difference between playing around with an upright bass and getting in some serious practice. Last night I got in some serious practice, and my upper extremities are protesting. Vociferously. It's the price to be paid to get better.

The pickup I bought for the upright bass arrived in the mail a couple days ago. It's designed to fit in between the wing and the foot of the bridge, an opening only about 1/4 inch wide, amplifying the sound. The bridge holds the strings in place and transfers their vibration into the body of the bass, creating the sound. It's under about 200 pounds per square inch pressure, but the wings are fragile, and the opening needs to be widened so the pickup will fit. I need to shave and sand that 1/4 inch opening. Do I need a sharp knife? You bet I do! It needs to repeatedly glide through a thin slice of wood without pressure, till the opening is just wide enough to accommodate the pickup, holding it in place with just enough, but not too much pressure. A dull knife means a broken wing and an expensive trip to the luthier.

Our life with Christ is like that. If we are sharp, we are useable in God's hands, able to effectively use the Word of God to "divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). But if we get dull, our effectiveness diminishes and we can even damage God's music.

When I was preaching, I had to be sharp; Sundays came around with amazing regularity and I had to be ready for them. In retirement that's no longer the case, and lately as I was reading some Scripture, God nudged me. "You're getting a bit dull, Jim." The blades of my heart and mind need to be sharpened if I am to be effective for God, so it's back to real study. Part of me doesn't like it; real study is real work, and I kinda like the easier path of retirement. But I don't want to get to the point where God has to choose another tool to get the job done, so I've got to figure out a schedule for study. I am thankful tonight that God used a musical instrument to teach me a lesson, even if I'm not thrilled with the lesson itself.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Brick and Stone

May 16, 2016

It would be a lot easier were I working with bricks instead of stone. Bricks are uniform in shape so they can be laid evenly in rows. Get the base even and generally smooth, and it's clear sailing. If I had a pile of bricks, I'd have been done last week. Instead, I have had to harvest my raw material from the creek, then figure out how to put the puzzle together. That's about what it is: a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces can fit in a number of different places. The stones are of different thicknesses, so the bed can only be prepared one stone at a time. I have to figure out what looks and works best at any given spot, but it's not exact. I like brick, but stone fits our house better. The sidewalk looks good, but bricks would definitely have been easier. And last longer. The stone is shale, and I can count on it that sooner or later various stones will start flaking and need to be replaced.

Life is often like my stone sidewalk. It's not predictable like the brick. It doesn't come to us in neat rows, one size fits everywhere. Instead, we have to size up our situation, consider the options, and pick the action that fits best where we are at the moment. Sometimes we discover that the pattern we were working on doesn't look right, so we have to go back and rearrange parts so everything fits. And life needs constant attention. Unlike the bricks which once laid rarely need attention, life imitates the stones that occasionally need to be refit or replaced. But the patterns are more interesting, and we need to constantly pay closer attention to the overall goal, praying constantly for wisdom and grace for the times nothing seems to be working right. I am thankful tonight for having had to lay a new stone sidewalk and a brick entryway, learning in the process a few things about life. That's always a win!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ancient Wisdom

May 15, 2016

"Take my advice; I'm not using it." I spoke the words in jest during a conversation with some friends who are trying to deal honestly with their issues. We had been talking about their situation which so far has eluded every attempt we've made to thread our way through the rubbled maze of shattered relationships, when they expressed their appreciation for my advice. "I just wish some of it actually worked," I replied, then gave them that little quote. It didn't apply to them, but unfortunately, it does apply to so many issues in life.

Often those most eager to dispense their opinion are as ignorant as any when it comes to dealing with life, which is why except for when I have let my guard down, I try to refrain from offering mine. I can't even remember how often in sessions of pastoral counseling I sat and listened, silently begging God to let me off the hook because I hadn't a clue as to where to go next. I can listen to people who can quote all sorts of statistics and cite all the experts to support their position, then can turn around and find just as many experts giving proof for the exact opposite side. As one wag once said, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I unapologetically plant my feet on the wisdom of the Scriptures which I believe are not only the Word of God, but also bear the additional weight of thousands of years of human experience. When Proverbs tells us to avoid bad company, to live with integrity, to keep oneself pure, and to fear God, its three thousand years of history bears more weight with me than the latest scientific study that purports to turn ancient wisdom on its head, declaring that we now have proof that the sages didn't know what they were talking about. When I'm thinking clearly, I use Jesus' method in counseling, asking more questions than I answer. Unless people are blowing smoke, trying to evade their own issues, they usually know the answer to their own questions. They just need someone to help them find the truth that God has placed within them, truth people often work hard to avoid.

I am grateful tonight for the invitations I've been given into people's lives, for those who were serious about dealing with life's issues, and even for those who were not. The latter helped me be a better counselor, revealing the tricks and red herrings people toss in our way, but ultimately training me in the art of listening. Now if our national politicians would be willing to learn listening skills...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old Friends

May 14, 2016

One of the benefits of being nearly 67 years old is the comfortability of long-term relationships. Sitting around the dinner table tonight with two sisters and brothers-in-law and a couple who've been family friends for nearly forty years, there's a familiarity that is only possible with the years. "How many years have you been married?" was the question of the night. Fifty-two, forty-six, forty, and thirty-three. There was a lot of marital wisdom gathered around the table. No one was feeling their way, unsure of their acceptance, worrying about saying the wrong thing, wondering if they fit in.

I can't remember how many years we've been getting together. I know that the guys used to meet for Monday night football back when Howard Cosell was the announcer. We'd get together just before 9:00 pm and stay till the game was over. At least it started that way. Over the years, we'd wake up some time after the game was over, wondering who won. Then we'd go home at half time, till finally we got to the point where bedtime was before kickoff.

We have plenty of common ground, but we're all different. The other guys are pretty good mechanics and into racing and football. Ken likes to hunt, Gary is the machine shop man, Lance is a treasure-trove of miscellaneous information, and I am the preacher and music guy. But we get along, enjoying our get-togethers.

In our throw-away society, our marriages and friendships have gone the distance. Forty-plus years of living together is a gift not many people get to share. We have, and for it, I am grateful tonight.

Friday, May 13, 2016


May 13, 2016

People surprise me all the time. People I thought I knew have said or done things I never thought could come from them. People I trusted have betrayed me. And people I barely know have surprised me with unexpected generosity and kindness. I recently served a couple I had before known only casually. It was nothing out of the ordinary; nothing I haven't done countless times before in the course of my work. But to this couple, it touched something deep inside, and they wanted to express their gratitude. And over my objections, they did, more generously than I've ever witnessed before.

One never knows how one's kindness is going to affect another. It often doesn't take much. In a world filled with takers, often even a relatively small gesture of kindness shines like a beacon on a dark night. The flame may flicker weakly, but to those in darkness, it offers hope. Tonight I'm grateful for the gift, but even more for the simple spirit in which it was given, and in the boost to my faith in humanity that it gave me. I am humbled by this couple who are better than they know, and who fed my soul more deeply than they can imagine.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ordinary Blessings

March 12, 2016

I hope he is happy with it, and that it serves him well. It certainly worked well for me, but was just too cumbersome to mount and remove. I'm talking about the homemade snow plow for our old 1948 8N tractor. I bought it about three years ago, successfully used it for one winter before deciding it was too big and heavy for me. It was custom made for an 8N with a frame made of two eight foot, four inch steel pipes welded to an angle iron cross member and activated by a pulley system. I never weighed it, but even in two sections, it was all I and the young man who bought it could do to lift and drag it into the bed of his truck. A steel seven foot blade with frame is not lightweight!

It was listed on Craigslist for less than two weeks, during which time three different scam offers came in. Heath, the young man who bought it, talked real money in his texts. Imagine that! He showed up right on time tonight, we loaded it onto his truck, leaving both of us happy. I'm thankful for honest people, for his cash, and for the opportunity to bless him. He told me he's been looking for a plow for his 8N for about three years. I'm rid of that unsightly outfit that sat in my front yard for almost a year, and he's happy to have finally found what he needed. Blessings all around!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Making God Look Bigger

May 11, 2016

"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." Ps. 34:3. This Scripture has long been a favorite of mine, as it deals with what happens when God's people worship together. Living in the country, it's not uncommon for me to hear people say that they don't need to go to church to worship God; they do it better out in the woods, in nature. While I understand the sentiment and the sense of peacefulness that can come when immersed in the solitude and solace of nature, those words belie a misunderstanding of what happens when we worship together.

If you look through a magnifying glass, the object beneath the lens doesn't get any bigger; it just looks that way. When we magnify The Lord, he doesn't get any bigger - he can't - he just looks bigger to us. When life turns violent and the storm threatens to overwhelm us, our problem can look bigger than our God. It's not; but it looks that way. Which is why we need to magnify The Lord; to get the proper perspective on our lives.

But how do we magnify the Lord? We do it together. When we are with other believers who can encourage us, challenge us, correct us, remind us who we are. When I am by myself, I have no way to expand my perspective, to see my problems in a different light. I need others to help me. We magnify the Lord when we're together.

Of course, it's not a given that being with other believers means God is magnified. Put people together and there is always the potential for trouble. Anyone who's been in church for any time can tell stories of church fights, splits, and general ugly animosity. The place where God intends for us to find grace, mercy, and forgiveness can often be plain ugly. What is it about being together that results in God being magnified? A few days ago, I ran across this text that I hadn't before noticed: "I will praise the name of God in song, and magnify him with thanksgiving." Ps. 69:30. Songs of praise and thanksgiving are how we magnify God together. It is also how we magnify him during those in between times when we are by ourselves. I can tell from my own experience that praise and thanksgiving have the capacity to open our eyes to see God as he really is: bigger than our problems, bigger than our feelings, bigger than anything we face. I am thankful tonight for the gratitude that magnifies God to me. Try it. Gratitude and praise will help you see God more clearly for who he really is: bigger than your problems.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Take the Risk

May 10, 2016

"There once was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played.
He never risked, he never tried
He never sang or prayed.
And when one day he passed away,
His insurance was denied,
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died."

Years ago, I heard John Maxwell, pastor and motivational speaker recite this little poem. For much of my life, that could have been me. I was raised by good and godly parents who were careful to instill in me a cautious conservatism that served me well in many ways, but which also served as a bulwark against risk-taking that for years blinded me to much of what God had in store for me. In Jesus' parable of the Talents, three men in middle management were entrusted with various amounts of money to invest while the boss was away on business. Two of the three invested wisely and were richly rewarded.

The third simply stuffed his money under the mattress. When the boss returned, he presented the money, safe and sound, without any increase, and with the excuse that he knew how hard a bargain the boss was known for driving. The boss was furious. "You knew I was a tough negotiator, did you? Then at the least you should have put the money in the bank to earn interest." He then had this third manager unceremoniously shown the door.

Jesus' message eluded me for years, but I finally figured it out. Jesus isn't as risk-aversive as I had once thought. We aren't to be stupid, but failure to risk for the kingdom of God is a sin for which his people will be held accountable. Life is filled with greatness, and God expects us to rise to the occasion, to take risks for him. Failure to do so reveals a failure of faith and faithfulness that he takes very seriously.

When I finally learned the truth of Jesus' parable, I began a determined effort to reach forth towards goals I once thought risky and dangerous. Some of my efforts succeeded, others failed miserably. But the issue isn't success or failure; it's faithfulness.

I was reminded of this tonight by my wife. All her life she's been afraid of the water. Growing up in the country, she never had the opportunity to learn to swim, and the older she got, the more it scared her. But a few months ago, she decided it was time to change that, and began taking lessons. Tonight, Abi was lifeguarding at the Panama pool, and Linda decided to show the girls what she has  learned. I am so proud of her! She took a risk and in retirement has conquered her fear to become a real honest-to-goodness swimmer. Don't let anyone (even yourself) put a lid on what you can be or can accomplish. God is bigger than even your fears, so reach for the stars!

Monday, May 9, 2016

God, our Defender

May 9, 2016

The message is littered so frequently throughout the Scriptures that it's a wonder we miss it so often. Today's readings in the Psalms reveal the pattern.

"God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish." Ps. 9:18. In the 69th Psalm, the writer admits his wrongdoing, yet clings to the God he believes will receive him anyway: "You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you...Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me." (vv. 5 & 15). "LORD our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God though you punished their misdeeds." (99:8).   "The LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked." (129:4).

Did you catch it? God is our defender against all enemies. Many Christians labor under the weight of guilt. I know; I've been there. It doesn't take a great deal of introspection to discover all the ways we fall short of our ideals, let alone the Biblical standards of holiness. The Enemy of our souls uses this reality to accuse us relentlessly, and we aren't discerning enough to realize that the condemnation is coming from him rather than God. The Bible tells us that Satan is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10), not God. Rather, Jesus is our Advocate, i.e. our Defense Lawyer who defends us before the Father (1 John 2:1) when Satan accuses us.

God convicts us of our sin, but doesn't condemn us; a big difference. Throughout the Scriptures, our God comes to our defense against the enemies around us and those enemies within us, which is why Isaiah 54:17 reminds us that "No weapon that is formed against [us] shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against [us] in judgment [he] shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD." St. Paul said it well: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). God is not against us; God is for us! Whenever our hearts condemn us, whenever we fail to measure up, God is still for us. That is Good News, indeed, and something for which to be eternally thankful.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Annuals are Best

May 8, 2016

This may be a year of "lasts." Last week was the last pre-concert dinner at the General with all Nate and Deb's girls. In just a few more weeks, Alex graduates, with all the last high school events that brings with it. Then there is mom. It is Mother's Day, after all!

After dinner she ticked off the pros and cons. Her congestive heart failure compounded by a leaky valve caused her doctor to tell her that she needed heart valve surgery. She asked the risks, then the benefits. "It could give you another five or six years," he responded. "Without it, you have maybe a year.

Her response? "I'm 93; I'm losing my hair, I can't see well enough to read, my hearing is going, I can't taste my food, and it's hard for me to get around. Why would I want another five or six years?" How do you argue with that kind of reasoning? Her faith is strong, her husband and most of her friends are gone, she is ready to go, and if her doctor has read the signs correctly, this could be our last Mother's Day with her. When that day comes, it will be sad for us, but we've been blessed by her presence, her wisdom, her character, and her faith in Christ for more years than most. Today may not be her last Mother's Day, but we didn't want to take any chances.

When asked what she wanted for Mother's Day, mom said she'd like a flower garden by her front door. There had been a garden there once upon a time, but it hasn't been tended in years and was overgrown with weeds and thistles. So we dug up some of the perennials from what's left of Linda's Cassadaga gardens, dug out the weeds, and planted lilies, Black-eyed Susans, daisies, hostas, and a couple others I can't identify. She was pleased when we told her we'd be back with some colorful annuals. I think I detected somewhat of a twinkle in her eye as she explained, "I had thought some shrubs would be nice, but they will take a few years before I could enjoy them. In my condition, I think annuals are just right."

Saturday, May 7, 2016


May 7, 2016

Got out of bed. Check. Worked out. Check. Made coffee. Check. Spent some quality time with Linda. Check. Read my Bible and prayed. Check. Mailed an item I sold on eBay. Check. Gave Linda her Mother's Day gift. Check. Broke up the concrete pad at our front door. Check. Picked up Ian and Nathan and took them and an old shotgun to Bill's Gun Shop. Check. I left the shotgun there; took the boys with me. Check. Drove them to Cassadaga to dig flowers for the garden we're putting in tomorrow for my mother. Check. Took the boys to Walmart to get sand for the brick door stoop. Check. Treated the boys to McDonalds. Check. Unloaded the sand and laid the bricks for the entryway. Check. Joined Linda and the kids for a delicious dinner of chicken piccata made by my daughter. Practiced my bass while listening to the kids playing Spud in the backyard. Check. Sat with Linda on the back deck, warmed by the chiminea Mother's Day gift. Check. Writing my gratitude list. Check.

It's a good feeling to look back over the day and know you've accomplished a few things. But of all the things accomplished, the most important is one I'll not be able to measure. I prayed for my friend Rell, and for others in need. The accomplishment of our prayers is not ours to measure, but it's there. Until we meet Christ face to face, we have no way of knowing the significance of our prayers. Until then, I am satisfied with knowing that just as my physical labor bears results, so will my prayers. And I am satisfied with having had time to spend with my grandsons, working together not only on a project, but on life. Check.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Breathe Deeply

May 6, 2016

"I'm not sure what I want to do now." Max uttered these words in response to my asking how I could pray for him as he graduates from college. I'm guessing that on that college campus he's far from alone. For the past four years, his life has been pretty well regimented and proscribed by a curriculum and syllabus, but in two weeks that all changes. "What do I want to do" however, is not a problem limited to the young. I've been fortunate enough to have not had to ask that question for more than thirty years. Unlike many friends who moved from one job to another with relative frequency, I pastored the same congregation for most of my working life. It's been a long time since I've had to wonder what I do next. Until recently.

Since I retired, it seems Max and I hold his question in common, except it isn't quite as momentous for me. "What do I do with my life now that the last chapter has concluded? For Max, it involves work, location, family--big ticket items no matter how you cut it. For me, it's often whether I mow the lawn today or tomorrow--pretty insignificant stuff. But for both of us, the question misses the mark because it's actually the wrong question. The real issue is not "What shall I do?" but "What shall I be?"

Max could make all the right choices for work and career, but if he forgets who he is, he'll never find true joy and contentment. Life will have its ups and downs; its successes and failures. What he does will be inconsequential compared to who he is, and that is only found in Christ. The Creation story tells us that God breathed into the dusty man he had formed, "and he became a living soul." The world is filled with soul-less people who have never inhaled the breath that truly gives them life. So they run from job to job, lover to lover, addiction to addiction, hoping that somehow the next experience will give them the life that is only found when they get a whiff of God's breath. My prayer for Max is that as he searches for what to do, he will discover who he is, taking a deep breath when God exhales the wind of his Spirit in his direction. It is the same prayer I offer for myself.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Weary Find Rest

May 5, 2016

"Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). I learned this Bible verse when I was a teenager, but never really thought about it. When you're young, rest doesn't mean much to you. Little kids run and jump and hop everywhere; once they've learned to walk, anything less than full bore is...well...boring. "There'll be enough time to rest when we die," was our motto.

Funny what a few years can do to your perspective. Linda and I were up for the better part of the night last night. Morning with its responsibilities arrived as it always does, the day was full, and now at nearly 11:00 pm, I'm finally sitting in bed writing. I'm tired, but weariness is another thing altogether. When I think of the countless people who have been enslaved over the centuries, literally worked to death, I know my tiredness is just that; it's not the bone-deep weariness Jesus addresses in the gospel. When I talk with friends going through chemotherapy and hear them speak of the incredible weariness that comes with the treatment, I know I am blessed beyond measure to have never been thrust into this kind of weariness.

Jesus however, is going even deeper. There is a restlessness that comes from deep within, from the constant labor of trying to measure up, to meet the ideals we hold but never seem to fully attain. St. Paul spoke of the attempt to attain righteousness by the keeping of the law. Psychologists tell us of how grown adults often emotionally wear themselves out still trying to win the approval of parents who have by then died. Constantly having to prove oneself, to measure up to an impossible standard, is an unbearably heavy burden. Jesus' offer of acceptance, forgiveness, and salvation by grace and faith alone is truly good news. Rest from soul-weariness is the best kind of all. Strangely, it takes some work to get there. It's hard to rest! But it's rest we need, and rest Jesus offers. And rest I'll gratefully take now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles

May 4, 2016

It started out as just a bump in the lawn, a bit of rock that I barely clipped with the mower. (For the record, I'm glad I listened to my wife who suggested I leave last year's old dinged-up blades on for the first couple mows. My new blades are still pristine-sharp). That telltale "ding" as I made the pass was all I needed to make me decide to finally unearth that offending stone. So, shovel in hand, I attacked the sod. Wow! This thing is bigger than I expected. Retrieving my big prybar, I went at it again. Half an hour later, I had loosened up a small boulder about two feet in diameter, sunk so deeply in the hole that try as I might, I could not pry out. It's still there, but it won't be tomorrow night.

There was a time when I looked at life's problems as doors God was shutting, moving me in a different direction. I reasoned that if it was God's will, he would open doors, part the Red Sea, and smooth the way. Obstacles were indications that God was leading in a different direction. I no longer believe that to be true. The size of the obstacle is only indicative of the size of the goal. God doesn't always smooth the way; instead, he uses the obstacles to teach us persistence and skills that wouldn't be developed in any other way. That rock in my lawn is an obstacle. It is not yielding easily. But that doesn't mean it should stay there. It has to go, and it will go. Obstacles are meant to be overcome, and I shall. It'll just take a bit more time, a few more tools, and perhaps some help from another set of hands. But that rock doesn't belong there, and I will win. And not just at rocks. At life, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It's Big

May 3, 2016

"I didn't realize how BIG it is!" Those were Linda's exact words as her eyes got big like saucers. Since this is a family oriented post I won't say what went through my mind, but alas! She was looking at the bass I had set up in the living room. She must have been thinking cello when I said bass, so I guess it's a good thing I didn't get the second one I had a line on. She's trying to figure out where I can put it that doesn't take over the entire room, but so far, no luck.

I'm having a great time with it; it's fun to play, has a cool thump, and when I put the bow to it, she responds with a deep, resonant growl. But it is big, and the grandfather's clock I rebuilt took up the last big space we had. Something has to go, and if I'm not careful, I think it will be me. I did redeem myself today however, when I came home with a new lawnmower. She was worried I would go for the super duper extra fancy model, but I fooled her with the bare bones model perfect for the trim work for which I bought it. She LIKES it! I'm grinning. And picking. My bass.

My peace and well-being doesn't depend on anything material. That bass is nice to have, but I could walk away from it in a heartbeat because I've not set my heart on it. What I love most about it is the opportunities it has given me to meet people and share Christ with them, which is the reason for my gratitude tonight.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Feeding Greed

May 2, 2016

Whether it's the blackjack table, the slot machines, or government-sanctioned lottos, the one thing they have in common is suckers greedy for a quick buck. Every so often when the jackpot really starts to grow, the lines at the checkouts grow with them, every one of them holding "a dollar and a dream," except it's usually more than one dollar, and the dream is usually more of a nightmare. It's one thing for a private individual or corporation to be in the business of swindling people, but when the government gets its fingers in the pot, it's usually the most vulnerable who are victimized. Then there are the ever-present scams that come to us over the phone and now even the internet.

Again, the common denominator is desperate people looking for a quick buck. A few days ago I posted an ad on Craigslist for a plow that fits an 8N tractor. Within hours I had a text message telling me to pull the ad, because he was instructing his assistant to send a check with an extra $50 even, so I would hold it for him. The spelling and grammar were a bit odd, which put me on my guard, but when I got a second message telling me that his assistant accidentally wrote the check out for more money than he should have, and that after taking my money out I should send the overage back to him, the red flags started waving like a military parade in Moscow.

Today I received an almost identical email from another source telling me that a check was on its way, and asking me to pull the ad. Now tell me, what would you do? I'll tell you what I did. I sent back an email informing him that I don't do scams. I haven't figured out where the catch is, but I know it's there. Proverbs 15:27 says, "He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house." None of these scams would work if people weren't greedy for just a little more. Money has a way of blinding us to reality, causing us to do really stupid stuff. There's a reason why the Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. I am grateful tonight to have a Biblical foundation that provides wisdom to keep me from falling into traps such as these. I know too many people who should have passed on deals too good to pass up. I wonder how many more of these offers I'll get, and if there is anyone who genuinely wants my plow. I know this much: anyone who has an assistant who writes checks for them probably hasn't a clue as to what an 8N is, and has no use for a snow plow to begin with. I don't think there's much snow in Nigeria.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Open Doors

May 1, 2016

My prayer today was for an open door to bear witness for Christ with Max, my student bass instructor who had his senior recital tonight. At the reception after the recital, I met his mother, told her what a wonderful young man she raised, and talked with her about his future. Max is a great teacher who pays attention to details, is encouraging and patient. He should do well. When asked Max how I could pray for him, he hesitated for a moment before saying, "I'm not sure what I want to do now." I remember being that age, dealing with the uncertainty, wondering what the future held, trying to decide what I should be doing with my life. I must say, it's easier on this end. I told him I would certainly be praying for him. He will soon be back on Long Island; the likelihood of seeing him again is pretty slim. My prayers however, will follow him wherever he goes, and the God in whom I believe is just as real and active on Long Island as he is here. I'll have a couple more weeks to talk with him, and pray to be able to take the conversation another step towards Christ.

Unexpectedly, I had a lengthy conversation with Danielle, a biology major who is a member of the bass society. Music is for her a reprieve from the isolation and depersonalization of the laboratory. She wants to work for hospice when she graduates next semester, has recently decided that religion holds no allure for her, based on a series of disappointing conversations with a pastor regarding evolution. she talked; I listened, then suggested that faith language is a different way of looking at life. We can describe human experience psychologically, sociologically, biologically, educationally, politically, etc. Each approach has its advantages and its limitations. "What I've found," I told her, "is that religious language is a way of looking at life that explains things that other approaches cannot." In hospice work, she will be dealing with these issues on a daily basis. I am praying for Danielle, and for opportunity to take our conversation further. Religious language after all, is only that. It cannot save her, nor can it give her peace and direction for life. That is only found in Jesus Christ.

One conversation planned, another dropped in my lap. I am grateful tonight for the opportunity to meet these kids and bit by bit, to expose them to a way of life and a relationship with Christ that they have never encountered before. God is opening doors with all sorts of people on campus, simply because I am interested in music. Isn't he good, to take melody, harmony, and rhythm, and use them to make connections, bridges from my world to theirs over which Jesus can walk into their lives?