Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hearing God's Voice

June 29, 2016

"The words of whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king ofJudah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah...when the people of Jerusalem went into exile." (Jeremiah 1:1-3)

So begins the Biblical book of Jeremiah. He continues with, "The word of the LORD came tome, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

I've often wondered how this all transpired. From Moses to Hosea, the prophets of God thundered the words, "Thus saith the LORD," invoking divine authority for their proclamations, but how did that happen? Did they hear an audible voice? Did God's word come in the form of inner impressions? We usually assume the former, but I wonder. According to the text, Jeremiah knew the difference between God's words and his own, and knew that God's word came to him at certain times but not others. Reading through his writings, I get the impression that he needed the assurance of verse four to hold him together through the difficulties God's Word would bring him. Later on (verses 17-19), God would warn him of the opposition he would encounter, perhaps causing him to question whether God had really called him or not.

We tend to see God's word as affirmative. In 29:11 we read words we love to hear: "I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." But we distance ourselves from the words of condemnation and judgment. People today, preachers especially, like to authenticate their words with declarations similar to the Biblical "thus saith the LORD," but usually such claims fall short, and we are back to wondering exactly how God's word comes to people. I've found three ways.

First is Scripture. Some things are spelled out pretty clearly, while we are given freedom on many other areas of life. We always have to ask what the Scripture means, and have the often difficult task of sorting out just how to apply it, but generally it's not as difficult as some would have us believe. The Gospel is for ordinary people; God doesn't give the educated and sophisticated a corner on the market of truth. In fact, he has hidden truth from those too stuck on themselves to come to him in humble faith.

The second way I hear God's voice is when it sounds a lot like my wife's voice. I think he gave her to me to keep me from being stupid and foolish all the time. I still manage to go there often enough, but I would homestead in the land of foolishness if it weren't for her. The Scripture says God intended the woman to be the man's helper, but if the man isn't listening to his wife, he misses the help God intends him to receive. It's pretty simple, if somewhat humbling.

The third way I hear God's voice is suggested by a story I once heard from Leonard Sweet. He says that when Spielberg was filming the animated "Prince of Egypt," he was pondering how God's voice should sound. Should it be a thundering basso a la "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. DeMille? He consulted some Christian and Jewish Biblical scholars, one of whom told him that in Jewish tradition, God's voice sounds a lot like our own. So Val Kilmer, who was the voice of Joseph, also did the voice of God.

I find that story helpful. I've never heard God speak as DeMille had it thundering to Charlton Heston, but I have heard my own voice pondering and often coming to conclusions that I knew didn't come from within me and my puny wisdom. Listening to my own musings has often brought insight that I believe came only from God himself. And for that, I am thankful tonight.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


June 28, 2016

We used to call it a junkyard. Now it's a recycling station. Whatever you call it, it's where stuff that's broken, stuff no one wants, ends up. It's collected, sorted, and sent out to be melted down and turned into different stuff; given a new life, if you will.

Tonight was the first game of the Cassadaga Valley summer youth soccer league. Various businesses sponsor the teams, providing uniforms, paying referees, and supplying the teams with balls and nets. Parents were out by the score to watch their kids from pre-school to high school chase balls all around the five different fields marked off by white lines and goal nets. The last kids to play were ironically sponsored by Mom & Pop's Recycling and by Park church. As I watched, it occurred to me that these two opposing teams were sponsored by the essentially the same business. Mom & Pop's is in the business of recycling metals; Park church is in the business of recycling people: people who are broken, people no one wants. We take them in, sort them out, and by the grace of God, they are given new life, turned into different people. Mom & Pop's does it with stuff that is temporal; Park church does it with people who are eternal.

Park won the game tonight, and in life where it really counts, Park is also the winner, for which I am grateful tonight and always.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Showers of Blessing

June 27, 2016

It startled me wide awake from a deep sleep, with a low rumble that suddenly exploded in a violent blast of sound. After nearly a month without rain, a thunderstorm burst upon us with a  much-needed soaking. Grass that had turned brown, crunching underfoot, suddenly sported new green duds, and the dust that just yesterday choked the lungs was settled, powerless to irritate.

The Scriptures speak often of life-giving rains that would transform the dry desert overnight into a wonderland garden of green.  In Zechariah 10:1 we are told to "Ask the LORD for rain in the season of the late spring rains -  the LORD who causes thunderstorms - and he will give everyone showers of rain and green growth in the field." This description of a regular occurrence of nature is a picture of God's design for our lives: "Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap unfailing love. Break up the unplowed ground for yourselves, for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers deliverance upon you" (Hosea 10:12).

It amazes me that what has been essentially dry and lifeless for so long can so suddenly burst forth in vibrant color of every hue. I would have imagined that after an extended drought it would take time for the green to gradually appear, but that's not the way it happens. One day everything is brown; the next, life. Which gives me hope. I've learned the pattern. I go through extended dry times, living in a spiritual desert, wondering how long before the Lord comes with showers of Holy Spirit blessings. My soul is dry, choked with dusty efforts and hope against hope. Then without warning, the rains come and I am revived. I am thankful tonight for the rain that watered the earth last night, and for the promise embedded within for the refreshing of my soul that shall surely come.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Becoming a People Person

June 26, 2016

I may be a slow learner, but eventually even I get the message. By nature I am pretty much an introvert. People who have known me professionally sometimes have a hard time believing that because my job for years required me to spend a lot of time with people. The extrovert thrives on that; for me, a day with people was exhausting, often requiring some significant time spent alone to recharge my emotional and spiritual batteries. Truth be known, left to myself, I could easily become a hermit.

God be praised, he did not leave me alone. More than 46 years ago he gave me Linda, who LOVES being with people. And on those rare occasions when she is "peopled out," she will push through, with one of her favorite sayings: "It's the right thing to do." I don't usually appreciate it at the time, but her people radar coupled with her instinct for doing the right thing has enriched my life immeasurably.

When I was a boy, one of the big events of the year was the annual boat show in the Rochester War Memorial. Coming from a long line of worm-drowners, I would join my older brother, my dad, and both grandfathers for the trek downtown to look over all the various boats, fishing gear, scuba demonstrations, and the like. When I was twelve, I happened to be watching a swashbuckling movie on TV when dad intoned, "It's time to go." I begged for a little more time, because a big battle was about to unfold on the screen. "You have to choose," dad said, and I chose to finish the movie. It came to an unexpected sudden end just as the car with dad, my brother, and my grandfathers pulled out of the driveway. That following winter, my maternal grandfather died, and I never got to go to another boat show with him. I chose foolishly, and sadly, continued that pattern for years. Time and time again, I've missed out on experiences, celebrations, and life because I was "too tired," or too preoccupied with my own agenda. Far too often, Linda would come home telling what happened, and I would feel the twinge of regret for having missed something that will never come around again.

Today began with breakfast at Matt and Jeanine's along with Bob and Bri who are up visiting from Texas. Then worship in the park followed by two graduation parties and a gathering with friends from Georgia who were visiting family and requested that we stop by to see them. We've been gone from the house from 8:30 this morning till nearly 8:30 tonight; non-stop people. But here's what I've learned: I have no regrets. The day was full, but tonight as I reflect upon it, so is my heart. I am grateful for God's patience with this slow learner, and for my wife who has been his chief instructor for 46 years.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

When God Speaks, Who's Listening?

June 25, 2016

"When I called, no one answered" (Isaiah 66:4). How often have I heard people (including myself) wonder why God doesn't seem to be listening to their prayers. This text could be their complaint, except for one thing: this is God speaking, calling out to deaf ears. Perhaps the problem isn't so much that God isn't listening to us as that we aren't listening to God. Centuries ago, Job questioned God about the calamities that had befallen him. Repeatedly he states his case, pleading his innocence apparently without any divine response. When God finally speaks, it is to chastise Job (38:3). Essentially, he told Job to shut up and listen for a change. That God doesn't seem to answer us is not the issue. That we are not prepared to answer him is.

What would we hear if instead of constantly barraging God with our demands we simply came into his presence with praise...and listened? Would I hear him reminding me to forgive someone? Would he ask what I've done with the salvation he so freely gave me? Would he inquire about how I've cared for the poor? Maybe he would question how I've treated my wife. Would he ask why it has been so long since I've simply spent time with him? The day will come when we stand before God who will question us, requiring the answer we so often fail to give. This morning I read the text from Isaiah, and have been challenged to listen to God's call.He rarely shouts, and sadly, my hearing aids don't help when it comes to listening to his whisper.It's not my ears that are deaf; it's my heart. The Word did its work, and I'm listening, grateful that God didn't stop calling yesterday.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Fruit from Barrenness

June 24, 2016

One of the blessings of retirement is being of the age and having the time for reflection. One of the curses of retirement is being of the age and having the time for reflection. This morning's reading took me to Isaiah 54 where Isaiah breaks into song:

"Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.

When I look back over my years of pastoral ministry, I always have a tad of wistfulness about it. I am a firm believer in evangelism. I even received our conference Denman Evangelism award some years back. But however much I believe in it, I'm not very good at it. I've taken courses, attended seminars, even gritted my teeth and gone door to door like a Mormon. I've listened to megachurch pastors speak about how they wouldn't go to bed at night if they hadn't won someone to Jesus. If that were the standard, I'd have missed a lot of sleep.

There have been a few happy exceptions over the years. Awhile back, I was introduced to a man who asked me if I had ever been a camp counselor. When I told him I had, he asked if I counseled at Miracle Mountain Ranch. I told him I had, back in '68 and '69. He asked if I liked peanut butter on my pancakes. I do. He grabbed me, gave me a big hug and said, "I've been looking for you all my life. You are my spiritual father. You led me to Christ when I was a ten year old camper!" I was stunned.

Another time, I had boarded a plane bound for Florida to spend some time with my folks who wintered there. A guy comes swaggering down the aisle, shirt open to his navel, gold chains dangling from his neck and wrists, and loudly cursing, upset because he had lost his cell phone in the airport bar. He plops down next to me, tells me his tale of woe, finally asking me what I did for a living. It was fun to watch the expression on his face. Fact was, his life was a mess, and he needed help. I shared the Gospel with him, and he prayed to receive Christ right there on the plane. I've never had that happen before or since. I was able to stay in contact with him until he died unexpectedly a few years later. God turned his life around.

Those are the exceptions. My evangelistic effectiveness is pretty negligible. If effectiveness is hitting the bullseye, usually I completely missed the target. Which is why I am thankful for Isaiah's song today. Evangelistically, I am that barren woman. Others are far more fruitful. But I have God's promise that in his time I will be more fruitful than some of those who seem to have success upon success. Reading this and believing it this morning transforms my reflections on life and ministry from curses to blessings.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Receiving the Provision

June 23, 2016

Isaiah 53 is called the "Suffering Servant" chapter, in which Isaiah prophetically describes the suffering of the coming Messiah for the sins of his people. Although crucifixion had not yet even been invented, Isaiah describes what Jesus was to experience some four hundred years later. What interests me today about this text is not the description of Jesus' experience, but the explanation of it. In verses 5, 6, 8, 11, and 12, the reason for this particular man's suffering and death is revealed: he suffers for our sins. It is an amazing declaration: our estrangement from God is so severe that it can be overcome only by a sacrificial death.

In our increasingly secular culture we have all but lost what most of the ancient cultures understood, that not only is there something radically wrong with life (two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and our current conflicts with radical Islam have dispensed with any illusions we may have that humanity is improving), but also that we as human beings somehow bear responsibility for what has gone wrong. Isaiah, along with the sages of other ancient religions, knows that what is dreadfully wrong bears a human stamp, and that to correct it requires more than minor adjustments of trajectory. Chapter 53 exposes the depth of the problem.

Additionally, in a variety of ways the verses mentioned state clearly that the remedy for this disconnect between God and mankind is found only in the substitutionary death of this chosen Man whom we know to be Jesus Christ. He was pierced for our transgressions (v.5), bears our iniquities (v.11), bore the sin of many (v.12). Isaiah doesn't draw the conclusion, but it is certainly implied: if he bore our sin and guilt, our doing so is a denial of the provision God has made for us. How often have I lived in guilt, accepting the condemnation and accusation brought by the Accuser of the Brethren, the Enemy of our souls? Any time I allow guilt to take root in my heart and mind (even when by my sin it could be considered justifiable), I am denying the provision God has made for me. It's one thing to sin; it's something even more serious to reject the provision for that sin, especially when it was made at such a great cost. Isaiah repeatedly affirms the sacrificial provision. It is up to me to believe in it, to put my trust in it, to reject the accusations of the devil, and to rebuke his lies. Tonight I am grateful for this Scripture, for the truth that God's provision for my sin, past, present, and future, is sufficient enough to enable me to live without guilt in the grace and love of Christ.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


June 22, 2016

"For Father's DayI'd like to take you to breakfast this week." These were my son Nathan's words to me on Father's Day. "There's one condition: I want you to think of one piece of fatherly wisdom to give me." Today was the day; we moved from breakfast to lunch and began talking.

I'd been thinking about it for three days. Nate has in many ways surpassed me, so I'm not sure what wisdom I have to offer, but I gave it my best shot. He is 44, which even considering our family's actuarial longevity, means his earthly life is close to half over. He is in the strength of his life, but that will eventually begin to fade, so my wisdom came in the form of a question: "Where is God calling you; what are your goals, and what are you doing now that will position you to get there? What are you doing that will prove worthwhile in 10, 20, 50 years?" We talked about what he is doing, what he needs to do, and what perhaps he needs to stop doing because sometimes good activities can keep us from the right activities. We talked about the priority of spending time with his family, what it means to make disciples of his daughters, of leading men into their strength with bold faith.

I am convinced that we need strong men leading the church, but that strength must first be tempered with submission to Christ and his teachings. The church has too many men who have bought into the false image of Christ as "gentle Jesus, meek and mild." We know what it means to turn the other cheek, but not to stand boldly and forcefully in the face of evil. (That's somewhat of a digression, but we talked about it, and it's something I believe is critical in the life of the church today.)

I am in a different place in life than he. I'm retired, and the challenge for me is similar to his, but with one major difference. We both need to continue seeking the Lord's direction and moving towards him. I don't yet have a clear picture of God's plan for me at this stage in life; I just know it's not to shrivel and shrink into a diminutive version of myself during my working life. Nate says much the same about where he is in life. It's like climbing a mountain. At times we lose sight of the peak, but we know it's there, and we keep moving in that general direction. Sometimes the terrain makes us move in an unplanned direction, but we know the goal, and that keeps us focused. The difference is that my focus needs to be almost entirely on mentoring other men, whereas he still has the responsibilities of ministry, making a living, and family. He is in what David Murrow calls the Strength part of life, whereas I've moved to the Sacrifice part. I am grateful tonight for our conversation, and for having to reflect on life in preparation for our conversation. It helped me sharpen my focus and renew my motivation to rest in Christ, but never on my laurels.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yeah, I'm Proud!

June 21, 2016

It's taken a lifetime to settle into my value as a man and as a pastor. I've been able to acknowledge my strengths and successes, and to admit my weaknesses and limitations. The former is fun; the latter, not so much. I have however, come to terms with both. I will not be the one who pastors a megachurch, writing books and leading seminars; I will not be the one who transforms the world. But earlier today I did get a glance into what I have accomplished. Understand, I didn't do it alone. I had help from my wife, my Christian friends, and most certainly from the grace of God which more than made up for my deficiencies.

Tonight our son Nathan gave the baccalaureate address for Panama Central School. You can chalk my comments up to proud papa syndrome, but you'd be wrong. Had he muffed it, I would merely be silent, choosing to write about something else. He didn't muff it. He nailed it. He was engaging, humorous, and focused, speaking from his heart with stories that drove into his goal, proclaiming with clarity and precision the love of God the Father in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When the "Accuser of the Brethren" who came to rob, kill, and destroy, whispers his discouraging lies in my ear, accusing me of being a pastoral failure and parading out all his corroborating evidence, all I need to do is point to my son and remind Satan that the blessing of the Father isn't limited to the mere third and fourth generation of the devil's curse. God's blessing is to the thousandth generation, and we're just getting started. Am I proud of him? You bet! Am I grateful for the grace of God that took our imperfect parenting and multiplied our efforts while minimizing our shortcomings and used it all to produce an effective communicator who is passionate for Jesus Christ? That goes without saying!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Truth and Grace

June 20, 2016

Our men's Bible study group began a new series tonight: "Balancing Truth and Grace," by Rob Renfroe, pastor and president of our UMC's Good News Movement. His foundational text for this study comes from John 1:14 which says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth." The focus of our thoughts for this study was that only in Jesus do we find the perfect mix of grace and truth; if our goal as Christians is to be like Jesus, we must work towards balancing these two virtues. No one, and no church, gets it perfect. We tend to lean to one side or the other.

One question we discussed was which side did we tend to emphasize, with some interesting observations. For myself, inwardly I lean to truth. There is right and there is wrong; usually it's pretty clear to me which is which. But when I deal with people, I have a tendency to let things slide. Here's the rub: while that may appear to be grace, I believe more often it is cowardice. Too often I'm worried more about what people think than what God thinks.

Where I genuinely live out grace is in my not giving up on people. I know how much I depend on God's grace; my reasoning is, "How can I refuse grace to others when I need it so much myself?" But there are also times when I should speak up and confront bad behavior, but instead let it slide. Not giving up on people is grace; not confronting bad behavior is cowardice. They are easily confused, but they are vastly different. It is not grace to allow a small child to wander into traffic. If I should see that happening, it is incumbent upon me to see the dangerous truth and intervene instead of allowing that child to continue towards its destruction.

Tonight I am thankful for our men's group, for these guys who help me sort out important issues of life and faith, and for the insight I gained from our discussion tonight. Tomorrow I will rise and step onto the tightrope holding the balance pole of truth and grace. May I lean into the cultural wind with the right balance for each moment, so I may walk with firm and faithful steps to the goal.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Big Shoes

June 19, 2016

We always think we will remember the special celebrations, like Father's Day. I could tell you about today; what we did, what we had for lunch, who was with us, what the kids gave me. Last year, not so much. The only other Father's Day I can remember with any kind of detail at all is the one when I last saw my own father. He didn't know it because he was in a coma from a massive brain hemorrhage he suffered earlier in the day. It's amazing how a crisis burns a trail in our minds. Before we got the call, it was a pretty ordinary Father's Day, complete with cookout, family, gifts, laughter. The day ended in tearful prayers, holding hands, and remembering a man whose quiet faith and faithfulness blessed us for our entire lives. At his funeral, all his grandsons save one, and two of his grandson-in-laws gave tribute to his influence in their lives, mentioning particularly the legacy of having all his children and all his grandchildren, and all his great-grandchildren of age to know, following Jesus Christ.

I am a grateful and a better man because of influence of the father I was able to honor for so many years. They are big shoes to fill; I only hope my children will be able to say the same of me some day.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


June 18, 2016

When an 8 year old boy decides to teach a Sunday School lesson on discipline, you know you're in for a treat. Nathan's Sunday School teacher decided to give her kids the opportunity and experience of teaching a class lesson, and Nathan was among those who volunteered. I asked what it was he wanted to teach, and he replied, "Discipline." Asked what he thought that meant, he said, "It's what happens when you disobey."

He was quite surprised to learn that discipline is also what happens that keeps one from disobeying. He has been working hard on his batting practice; until recently his batting hasn't been exactly stellar, but with the discipline of practice, he has improved immensely. I explained to him that discipline is the hard work we put in when we don't feel like it that keeps us from the disappointment and pain of defeat. He made me think. Discipline is what we do that keeps us from having to endure discipline.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. And doing it well requires that we discipline ourselves to do what we may not want to do so that we can avoid consequences we don't want to face. The trick is seeing the connection between self-discipline and success, and conversely, seeing the connection between a failure of discipline and the consequences of failure when the test comes. Whether it's a high school student studying to pass finals or a Christian daily studying the Scriptures and engaging in prayer, forgiveness, and compassion, discipline today is what we do to avoid discipline later on. Tonight, I am grateful for my grandson whose desire to teach a lesson on discipline taught me a lesson on discipline.

Friday, June 17, 2016

National Goofy Animal Week

June 17, 2016

Is this national goofy animal week? First, there are the innocently accused frogs; then came the sushi-loving raccoon; now it's ... wait for it ... don't get nervous ... they're really quite harmless ... snakes in the swimming hole. The girls told me about it last night, but I must admit I didn't take it seriously. I've known girls to get snake fever looking at big earthworms, so I listened to their breathless story and went about my business. I did happen to think that posting a "Beware of Snakes" sign down at the water's edge might have a deterrent effect upon erstwhile swimmers, but then I'd miss the entertainment value of kids actually seeing a snake slithering through the water.

This afternoon, three rather rugged-looking high school boys headed for the swimming hole to cool off after a hard day's work. Seeing them get out of their car, I sauntered across the yard to greet them. Two of the three were stripping down, getting ready to jump in when I approached. Standing up on the ledge looking down on the rock shelf, I asked their names. We talked a couple minutes, and deciding to have a little fun, I asked if they had seen any water snakes. They thought I was joking until just at that moment a three to four foot adder snaked his way across the surface at the base of the waterfall. A second, smaller one was making its way along the edge of the pool. Next thing I know, these two boys are standing next to me fully clothed. Their cooling dip had suddenly lost its appeal.

We had been wondering if for liability's sake we should post the land, but I'm thinking a sign warning people not to feed the snakes might just take care of the problem. At any rate, I had a bit of a chuckle at these boys' expense, and I might develop a bit of gratitude for my slithery friends who patrol the pool.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


June 16, 2016

Without even a hint of shame or regret, she spoiled it for me. Not just once, but continually. Without remorse. For more than forty years I was denied the pleasure of the snickers, chuckles, and outright guffaws that many of my friends enjoyed. There was no way I could tell a mother in law joke with the mother in law I inherited when Linda and I married. Today was her birthday. A day that we once celebrated we now observe in remembrance. Our daughter called her mother this morning with an offer to treat her to Texas hots at Johnny's Lunch in honor of Gram. For years, Linda would visit her mom every Wednesday, stopping to pick up a half dozen Texas hots  and an order of fries on the way. They would each have two for lunch, with the remaining two saved for Ginner's lunch the following day.

Yeah, we called her Ginner. That's what Gramps called her, and it stuck. Ginner or Gram; either way, she was a woman of integrity, compassion, and generosity. I can't remember ever hearing her complain; she was always more concerned with other peoples' well-being than her own. Living with her in-laws in their homestead was not easy; she stayed in the background for most of her life. Gramps was pretty opinionated, and she never contradicted him, at least in public. It wasn't until after gramps died that we discovered that she was pretty strong-willed herself. I guess she would have had to be, to stay married to him all those years.

The only time I can recall where she countermanded Lloyd was when Linda went to college. That first semester, a homesick Linda kept calling home in hopes that her father would come and get her. It was providential that Gram was usually the one to answer the phone because she adamantly refused to let Linda talk to her father, knowing that if she did, he would have come to get her. Gram knew that college was Linda's best chance for a future, and had she not stood her ground, Linda and I wouldn't have met, and I would have missed out on a lifetime of blessing.

Tonight, I am grateful for this woman who did so much to shape the character and soul of my wife. Spoiled my mother-in-law jokes is a picayune price to pay for the life I've been given because of the way she raised her daughter. Happy birthday, Gram!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Laughter and Leeches

June 15, 2016

Retribution is very real. Yesterday I had wrongly accused our resident frogs of eating all the baby goldfish. It turned out that those little critters were just being sly and secretive, hiding in the murky labyrinth of dead leaves and muck. All seventy-five, plus or minus a few. We netted them all, tucked them in for the night in a tote and two washtubs, awaiting the cleaning and sealing of the pond today.

At risk of another round of false accusations, it appears that our friendly neighborhood raccoon thought we had set up a sushi bar. This morning when I went out to check on them, there was a solitary adult goldfish in one of the tubs and a few goldfish parts scattered around the area. Said raccoon is somewhat of a connoisseur, eschewing the single mottled goldfish in preference for the solid orange ones.

On a brighter note, this afternoon we had three young girls busy scrubbing the pond in preparation for its eventual sealing. Izzi, Hailey, and Taylor hosed, scrubbed, and gabbed for about three hours till the cement almost sparkled. I was cleaning the bricks I plan to use for our new patio, listening to the non-stop chatter emanating from the pond, grateful for their help and the joyful spirit with which they worked. Having them here was worth every dollar we paid them.

They were pretty grubby by the time they finished, so they decided to pay our swimming hole a visit, which ended surprisingly quickly. I could hear them all the way from where I was working by the house, as they came back up the lawn loudly informing me of the various leeches that they accumulated as they were sliding down the rocks, and of the snake that decided to join them for a swim. It's never dull around here, for which I am thankful tonight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Judging Frogs

June 14, 2016

It's always a mistake to pass judgment before you have all the facts. Things after all, are not always what they seem to be. I could easily launch into a political rant on the basis of those words. Our leaders and would-be leaders are notorious for doing just that, or even worse, having the facts, but misleading us according to the spin they desire. But I'm not talking about politicians; I'm talking about frogs. Fortunately, misjudging frogs is less consequential than judging people.

Our little fish pond has been in need of a serious cleaning. No matter how I've treated it, the algae bloom has turned the water a deep, cloudy green so that it is almost impossible to even see the resident five big goldfish. And the frogs. I can't figure out where they came from. I've never seen any in the creek, but they showed up in our pond like party crashers. I didn't do a head count, but there were at least six or seven of them, all apparently over-sexed, judging from the number of polliwogs we netted. The "we" was our granddaughter Izzi and her friend Haley, who for some odd reason didn't know what I was talking about when I called them polliwogs. Tadpoles, if you will.

Early in the spring when the water was clear, I could see dozens of little goldfish darting in and out of the debris at the bottom of the pool. They are hard to spot, camouflaged in debris-matching brown until they begin to mature at about six months. As the pond warmed, the frogs appeared, the water turned green, and the baby fish (usually called "fry," a term we'll forego due to its association with traditional Friday night meals) disappeared. I attributed the latter to the frogs which I figured had eaten them.

But as we drained the pool and began netting the big fish, we began to catch the little ones, too. Right now, I have two galvanized wash tubs and a huge tote filled with fish. They are hard to count, flitting about as they do, but from the looks of it, I've got about seventy-five of them in those tubs. What am I going to do with all those goldfish?

If I were being judgmental of people, repentance would be in order; I'm not so sure it's necessary for my having passed faulty judgment on the frogs. Either way, it's a good reminder to be careful about jumping to conclusions. It may just be a rather short hop from frogs to people.

Monday, June 13, 2016


June 13, 2016

Life can be full of paradox; those juxtapositions of contrary events that have no business being together, nevertheless are. While our nation is in mourning for the victims of the massacre in Orlando, and politicians and opportunists use this tragedy to push for their varying agendas, Linda and I had the delight of celebrating with some dear friends as their adoption of two little girls was finalized. Sorrow and joy side by side, as the Scriptures say, we we weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice,and give thanks.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


June 12, 2016

I began tonight's post months ago, but just couldn't pull it together. This morning's news fo the mass shooting in Orlando nudged me to finish what I had started.

Theodicy: the problem of evil. It's a problem only for people in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The atheist has no philosophical problem with evil. If there is no God, evil is merely a fact of life; a construct of the human mind. Who's to say what is good and what is evil if there is no ultimate reality, no Supreme Being? If I rob and kill, my victims may not like it, but without God, might makes right. But I am a Christian who believes in an all-powerful, good God. Therein lies the problem. It's been classically stated in this way: "If God were all-powerful, he could prevent evil; if he were good, he would prevent it. Evil exists; therefore God either is not all-powerful or he is not good."

The problem of evil is the subject matter of the Bible. God's action on behalf of his erring people is the subject of the story from beginning to end, but right in the middle of the Bible is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the mystery of suffering in the entire Holy Writ. It's the story of Job, who suffered grievously and in that suffering, questioned the justice of God. Smarter and more educated men than I have wrestled with this epic poem and come up with commentary and interpretations that frankly, leave me unsatisfied. I'm not sure my musings are any better, but it seems to me that Job presents two different responses to the problem of evil.

In the first, Job's misfortune is the result of a cosmic wager between God and Satan in which Job is merely a pawn, the unfortunate recipient of undeserved evil brought on by God's desire to prove a point. From this perspective, Job's insistence on his innocence not only makes sense, it has merit. God is presented as somewhat cavalier in his treatment of his prize subject. Even more, from Job's perspective, not having the insight we have in reading the story, one could argue that had he discovered the behind the scenes action, he would be justified in accusing God of injustice. I've never understood why so many Christians are satisfied with this explanation. In my opinion, this unsatisfactory explanation merely sets the stage for the ultimate conclusion in which God challenges Job with the mystery of his majesty.

Ultimately, evil is a mystery with which we must deal. God essentially tells Job that there are things in life too big for him to understand, and though he will wrestle with them, he is not capable of threading that needle. When God asks Job who he thinks he is to accuse God of injustice, it isn't primarily accusatory, but simply a statement of fact, a revelation Job needs to see.

The story however, doesn't end with Job. It climaxes in Jesus Christ, who entered into human life with all its depravity and evil, experienced its voracious appetite, and through his death and resurrection set the stage for its final defeat. There will be unending commentary in the media, with each side accusing the other of stonewalling what they consider the best way to deal with the problem of violence and terrorism. Christians will get caught up in the frenzy of blame, and sooner or later, it will happen all over again. No one seems to realize that no matter how hard we try, we don't have the definitive answer to evil. What we do have is the example of Jesus who called his followers to overcome evil with good. That doesn't mean we merely turn the other cheek and hope those who revel in evil will somehow be chagrined by our meek submission; evil must often be confronted with righteous strength.

Public figures will debate and decide. Activists will activate. People will wring their hands and hearts, Christians and other people of faith will pray while agnostics scoff at such futile exercises. But even they have no answer to evil. We pray, console, and walk with one another through their darkest hours, and struggle at times to give thanks for life itself, believing that what is inexplicable to us God will somehow weave into the tapestry of his plan to eradicate evil once and for all in the final judgment.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


June 11, 2016

Tonight I am thankful for Eliza's piano recital. Her teacher explained that this was a "pre-recital," where her students were learning how to perform before an audience, the etiquette of responding to applause. They might make some mistakes, but because it was a learning experience, a wrong note here or there was OK. Before each presentation each student was asked what they learned that their choice of music highlighted, and before their second presentation, they were interviewed about the composer of their particular piece.

Tonight's recital was a pretty good example of what Sunday morning worship is all about. Each Sunday is somewhat of a pre-recital where we learn how to present ourselves to the Majesty of our Lord. Corporate worship is not a concert performance where the worship leaders entertain the congregation; it's where the congregation learns the etiquette of heaven, how to be in the presence of God. We don't get it perfect, as a matter of fact, whenever we think we've gotten it right is when we probably have missed the mark completely. We are still sinners redeemed by grace, coming humbly before the glorious Creator and Redeemer--how can we presume to "get it right?"

As in tonight's recital, there is no room for a casual, lackadaisical approach to this pre-recital; we must prepare ourselves for worship, ready to be questioned by God himself as to how well we know the composer of life. It isn't necessary to get everything right, but it is necessary to practice, to prepare so that the recital doesn't degenerate into a cacophony of discord. Tomorrow we gather for the new week's pre-recital. May our daily practice be evident as we worship in the beautiful harmony of love.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Power of Choice

June 9, 2016

Gratitude is not merely the natural result of something good that happens to you. The world is full of people whose outlook on life is negative and critical despite the fact that life is generally pretty easy for them. It takes little effort to find things that displease us, circumstances about which we complain, people who get under our skin. But our circumstances have little connection with our happiness. I know people whose life circumstances are absolutely terrible, who are filled with joy and gratitude, while others who have been blessed with health, family, and resources, who are miserable. It's a choice to look at life in a certain way, to focus on the blessings instead of the bumps.

I began thinking of gratitude this afternoon on the way into town. Our dishwasher had sprung a leak, the plumber came out and discovered what I could have found out myself had I taken the time to simply think things through, so after paying him for his friendly visit, I headed to town for a drain hose and a few other items. I wasn't feeling particularly happy, nor particularly sad; I was just hovering in a vacuum of emotion when I decided I didn't want to remain there. I began considering some of the small blessings for which I could give thanks, and my attitude improved. Which leads me to believe that most of the time we miss out on God's blessings simply because we go through each day without attuning our hearts to what really matters. It takes a decisive effort to do this. If I allow myself to drift with the current of whatever emotion surfaces at any given time, things will not end well. It is that decision to choose gratitude that has the power to take a very ordinary day and turn it into an extraordinary one. Today I am thankful that I've learned the power to choose my attitude. It's in my hands, and I choose life.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Four Generations

June 8, 2016

How quickly we are forgotten. Linda has often said that the only thing she fears about death is that she will not be remembered. For the famous and infamous, that may not be a problem, although if the present trajectory of our awareness of history is any indication of the future, even the famous soon will fade and disappear like the wisps of smoke from a summer campfire. Job says as much, declaring that "as the cloud is consumed and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave shall come up no more" (7:9). In Psalm 49:10-14 declares that the future of rich and poor alike lies in the grave to which they both shall go. Linda's fear is echoed in the repeated plea of God's people that he remember and have mercy upon them.

We've spent the day with my mother, giving my brother and sister in law a much needed vacation with friends. Mom correctly protests that she doesn't need someone to watch over her, but I suspect she enjoys having the company, and it's no problem for Linda and me other than we're not used to just sitting around. A few weeks ago we planted a flower garden for mom to enjoy, and Linda thought it needed just a few more flowers to brighten it up a bit, so we went for a drive, purchased a few seedlings at a nursery, and came home to plant them. On the way home we passed the first home I remember growing up, a small bungalow at the corner of Elm Grove and Spencerport Roads in Greece, NY. The corner used to boast a Texaco station where I remember waiting for the school bus and making a little girl cry by scraping my fingernails down the old steel sign that hung by the road.

On the opposite corner, the old Methodist church has since been converted (imagine the irony in that!) into a hardware store, but the graveyard behind the building holds the earthly remains of four generations of my ancestors. My dad lies there, waiting for mom to join him. My maternal grandmother lies in another cemetery next to her first husband, my poppa Henthorn, but her mother Josephine Hafner, her aunt Stahlecker, my great grandfather and grandmother Wink all rest beneath the sod, awaiting the resurrection. It's those four generations that command my attention today.

The Bible says that God visits people's sins upon them to the third and fourth generation, but his mercy is to a thousand generations. Why three and four? I believe it's because that's the limit of our personal remembrance. I remember well my great-grandmother Hafner, but only the faintest memory of my great-great-grandparents the Winks remains. When my father died on Father's Day 2012, my boys and my brother's boys were among those who spoke eloquently of his influence in their lives. That's the third generation. My boys remember my grandfather Bailey who died before they reached their teens, but they couldn't tell any stories of that fourth generation removed. One's influence rarely outlasts others' personal recollections.

Scripture repeatedly tells us that God remembers us, but not our sins (Isaiah 43:25). "How can I forget you?" God asks his people in Isaiah 49:15. He cannot, and will not. Our Christian hope is unlike that of any other people, for whom the grave is the only future they see. We are resurrection people, who look beyond the grave to the Christ who conquered it and promises to return to receive us unto himself. The world may not long remember even the most famous of us, but God will not forget. Four generations. Ordinary lives counted out in years of struggle, success and defeat, sin and grace. Most is already forgotten except to God to whose grace we commend our lives in confidence that he will never forget his covenant of love to those so desperately in need of it.

On that note, I honor the memory of my late father in law who was born on this day in 1912. His legacy of faith and faithfulness, like my own father's is etched deeply into the hearts and lives of his children and grandchildren. But like generations before him, those memories will fade. What lasts is the legacy of faith that we hold, but it only lasts if we hold it firm and share it boldly. I am grateful for the reminder of the shortness and frailty of life, but also for the significance it has when daily it is entrusted into the care of God, the only Wise and Eternal One, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Savior.

Interrupted Plans

June 7, 2016

Actually, I wasn't there for it. I wanted to be, but instead, I was at Annual Conference waiting to be ordained, stepping out of session to call home every hour on the hour. Earlier, I had conferred with Bishop Yeakel who assured me that there would be no deliveries that day. The following year I told him that it was a good thing he was a much better bishop than prophet.

Every time we talked, Linda kept assuring me she would be by my side for ordination until the last call which she made from the phone booth in the hospital hallway (this was MANY years before the advent of cell phones), when she finally said she didn't think she'd be able to come. A mere ten minutes later, Jessie was born.

For quite a few years I was the only person in the Conference who had two dates engraved on the Communion set every ordinand was given at his or her ordination. The only other person with that distinction came by hers by having a heart attack. I prefer our way: the birth of my daughter. She has been interrupting our plans ever since with unexpected blessings and joy deepened by mutual love. As I told her when she married, Todd would from then on be her best, but I would always be her first love. Happy birthday, Jessie! Your mother and I are so grateful God interrupted our expectations to bring you into our lives on this day so many years ago.

Monday, June 6, 2016

46 Years

June 6, 2016

On this day forty six years ago, Linda and I were married in a simple Christian ceremony in the Weidler Memorial Evangelical United Brethren church. Our reception was even simpler: homemade tea sandwiches, peanuts, mints, and punch. No band, no DJ, no dancing. We opened a few gifts then left for home, the Alma parsonage. It was an evening candlelight service, and we were home by 11:00.

Some years ago, I officiated at a wedding that almost outlasted the marriage. I had done all the counseling and never saw it coming. They honeymooned in Arizona, from whence she didn't come back until after the divorce. Made me lose faith in my premarital counseling ability.

Forty six years with me is proof positive that Linda is a patient and forgiving woman. She's stood by me through flood (literally) and drought (figuratively), through fire and storm. Love like that doesn't come along every day. We used to try to imagine what our lives would be like years in the future, an exercise in futility if there ever was one! It is different than what we imagined, and better than we had dreamed. I am a better man because of her, and very grateful tonight to have spent the past forty six years with her by my side.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Sigh of Relief

June 5, 2016

Some thirty years ago I knew a man who aspired to be a preacher. For all the wrong reasons. His character and work ethic was sub-par, to say the least; what he saw in preaching was people listening in rapt attention to what he had to say. It was about respect and power, neither of which he had due to the choices he made in daily life. Although he actually had potential as a speaker, integrity, or rather, the lack of it, sealed his fate.

In our denomination, not just anyone can become a pastor. Our system is far from perfect; we've ordained people who never should occupy a pulpit, but there are some safeguards. Everyone feeling called to pastoral ministry has that call tested numerous times along the way, beginning with the local church. The people who best know the potential pastor must confirm his or her call. Without that confirmation, the calling is a non-event. In the case of this gentleman, the local church refused to confirm his calling, thus saving the church as a whole from a great deal of misery.

I thought about this today after preaching for pastor Joe this morning. It felt good to again present God's Word to his people, but it was still a terrifying experience. As any even halfway decent pastor can attest, handling the Word of life is not a lightweight responsibility. It's not an ego trip where people hang on every word; they just don't do that. I prepare as best as I can, reading, praying, writing and re-writing, then reading and praying some more. Anyone with a bit of chutzpah can get up in front of people with a pep talk, especially when the crowd is generally favorable, but we're in the serious business of presenting the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Even after it's all over, I review and rehearse, wondering to myself if I said all that needed to be said, if I was clear and compelling, and especially if I presented the Good News instead of mere good advice, but ultimately, I have to place it all in God's hands.

All that to say this: I am honored and grateful to have once more been given the opportunity to present the Scriptures to our Park church people, but I am equally glad it's over for now.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Waiting Patiently

June 4, 2016

The seeds are in the ground. Finally. Spring projects kept me from getting the garden ready as soon as I would have liked, but today was make or break. The rain is supposed to be here tonight and through the week. Digging into the soil the other day only turned up a powdery dust. We need the rain. We had just enough yesterday to moisten the soil to receive the seeds, and today I got them in. Now comes the waiting.

We Americans don't like to wait. Fast cars, fast food, fast profits, fast romances; if it's not microwaveable fast, we don't want it. But sometimes slow is better. Wine, cheese, wisdom, and love are best when aged. Try to speed it up and we lose the intricacies and nuances that give it worth. The sumac along the creek spring up and mature in just a few years, but its wood is soft and punky, hardly worth tossing even on a campfire. The oak that takes a generation to mature is beautiful when made into furniture, and heats the entire house when loaded into the stove on a cold winter's night.

"See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient." So counsels James (5:7-8). St. Paul reminds us that the fruit of the Spirit is...patience." Isaiah told us that those who wait on the Lord renew their strength (40:31), so I wait, but not lazily. We often think of waiting as the twiddling our thumbs kind of waiting in the doctor's office or impatiently waiting in line for a concert, but I think it's helpful to instead think of Patty, our cook and waitress at Lisciandro's where I have breakfast each Tuesday with my friend Willlie. Patty waits on us, but it is anything but laziness. She is constantly on the move, cooking breakfast, filling coffee cups, making sure the customers are satisfied. Waiting on the Lord is much like that; busily doing everything we can to make sure he is satisfied.

So I wait. I'll hoe and weed, thin the seedlings, pray for rain. And as I do, I'll wait patiently on the Lord, busy engaged in pleasing him in attitude, thought, word, and deed, thankful for lessons of the soil.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Staying Up

June 3, 2016

Sixty-six years can take its toll on a body. Mine is no longer rippling with the masculine muscularity and animal agility it once knew. Who am I kidding? I was the 97 lb. weakling who got the sand kicked in his face. My point still remains. It is harder for me to keep up the workout I've been doing for fifteen years, it takes more time to get up off the floor, and at least a couple dozen steps when I get up in the morning before my feet don't hurt. My left thumb throbs continually-a big concern for someone who just purchased an upright bass, eager to improve enough to perform in public. My ears have been ringing since I was a child, and last week when we were shooting at Gunday Sunday, I couldn't see with the spotting scope things that others could see with their naked eyes. No wonder my marksmanship is so bad! At least I have a good excuse.

That being said, I refuse to complain. I was talking today with a young man who faces daily much more significant physical challenges than I've ever had. "When I get up in the morning, it's a good day if I can walk," he told me. Yet with all that, he is cheerful and positive, more ready to give than to receive, grateful for what he is able to do instead of grumbling over what he cannot do. Our visit was a reminder to me that what goes on around us is much less significant than what goes on within us. I see people all the time who focus on their problems, all the reasons they can't do this or that, complaining about their lot in life, which is usually far better than my friend's. I think it was Henry Ford who said, "If you think you can't, you're right. If you think you can, you're right again."

Everyone has issues, facts of life that pray as we will, don't change. Learning the difference between a problem to be solved and a fact of life to be gracefully endured is one sign of maturity. Many of us never get there because we see every problem as an obstacle for God to overcome instead of an opportunity for the grace of God to work. St. Paul said it best when he told of asking God three times to take his "thorn in the flesh" from him, only to have God tell him to suck it up because his grace was sufficient. I am thankful tonight for my friend, for the conversation we had, and for the example of faithful living I saw in him.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wait Patiently

June 2, 2016

The night of June 21, 1972 was rainy and cold, but otherwise ordinary, but when before daylight the next morning I heard the sound of running water, I knew something was amiss. My brother and sister in law were visiting with their year old baby, Linda was nine months pregnant, and when I stepped out the front door to the porch, I could see the water lapping at the boards. We needed to get out! The creek beside our driveway was normally about eight feet down, but that night it was swollen to knee deep in our front yard.

We quickly gathered clothes together to evacuate, but there was one problem. In our driveway behind our car, blocking the way, was a brown Rambler that wasn't there the night before when we went to bed. I sloshed my way to the car and looked in the window to see a young man asleep, sprawled across the back seat. It was Dennis, sleeping off the effects of whatever he had ingested the night before. A bit of frantic hammering on the window finally woke him up, and he groggily backed his car out of our driveway so we could get to the hospital where later that day, Nathan was born in the midst of the Southern Tier flooding from hurricane Agnes.

Dennis had been in our youth group, even singing in a youth choir with his friend Charlie (if you could consider a low droning growl from the back row singing), but after graduation had entered the Navy where he began to make some bad choices, a pattern that continued for about fifteen years. We never stopped praying for him.

Dennis visited us today. We see him every couple years when he and his wife come up north from their home in North Carolina to see family and old friends. He came back to Christ about twenty years ago, and has since been faithfully serving Christ. He would be the first to tell you how far he has yet to go, but I will be among the first to tell you how far he has come. He even leads the singing for the small church he attends. Tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor! And I have a deeper appreciation for yesterday's Scripture reading that reminded me that the fruit of the Spirit is...patience. It went on to say, "In due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Be patient therefore, until the  coming of The Lord." (Galatians 6:9, James 5:7). I am grateful that God doesn't give up, and that if we are patient, we will see the harvest, just as I have seen with Dennis.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Quiet Evening

June 1, 2016

Following a full day rototilling the garden in what to me is blazing heat (I'm more of a shade dweller), with Linda trim mowing and working her garden, my suggestion that we go to the Liberty Grill for dinner was received with enthusiasm. Not having to cook on a warm evening after working all day apparently is attractive even to a heat lover like Linda. Our appetizer for the evening was deep fried pickles. Alex, our eldest granddaughter is a pickle and elephant freak. Since elephant wasn't on the menu, deep fried or otherwise, I suggested that we save one of the pickles for her. Linda, apparently not having learned as a little girl how to share, would have none of that, so we ordered another whole serving to bring home to her.

When we called, she affirmed she was home and would be happy to stop by our house in about half an hour, which she did...accompanied by Abi and Izzi. Jo arrived later, having been swimming at the Pascoes when we called. It so happened that their parents had gone out to dinner, leaving the girls home alone. Unfed. Linda got out the sloppy joe that she had  planned to serve to company that would be coming tomorrow, added some peas, cottage cheese, and the remainder of the fruit slush she has been fixing for the library tea on Saturday. So much for not cooking!

They hung around, exuding teenage craziness for awhile, and just before they left, I got a call from Jessie. It seems Gemma hadn't had her Meema and trampoline fix for the day and wanted to come over "for just a few minutes." The Bailey girls went home except for Izzi who wanted to do her "I Ready" school work. Jess and her three pulled in, and in short order, all the kids were jumping on the trampoline before heading to the creek. "A few minutes" equals at least an hour around here. Must be something goofy about our clocks.

Pretty typical of a quiet evening at our house. Almost anything can happen, most of it unplanned much of it unexpected, all of it pure joy.