Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

August 31, 2016

If we didn't have mirrors, we'd never know what we need to do to look presentable. I get up in the morning, stagger into the bathroom, turn on the light, and look into the mirror. On the best of days, it's not a pretty sight. If you've seen me after I've cleaned up, you can imagine the fright I give myself first thing every morning. James says that Scripture is like a mirror that shows us what we look like where no glass can reflect - in our hearts. No matter whether we're brand-new Christians or old hacks, that divine mirror will do its work if we but pay attention.

This morning I was reading from Luke 7, where Jesus has been invited to a dinner party at the home of Simon the Pharisee, one of the highly respected religious class of the day. As they sat down to dinner, someone crashes the party, and that someone happened to be rather well-known around town for her somewhat unsavory reputation. She was "a sinner," a woman of ill-repute who somehow managed to get by the butler. She threw herself at Jesus in a rather scandalous manner. Weeping at his feet, she undid her hair, something no self-respecting woman would ever do in mixed company, and with it, rubbed some very expensive perfume on him. This was not the sedate, measured act we learned in our Sunday School lessons. It was highly erotic, perhaps the only way she knew how to relate to a man. Jesus remained fixed where he was, quietly receiving this attention.

Jesus' host said not a word, but clearly was not impressed. Jesus read the look on his face and proceeded to tell a story that ended up revealing his host's critical and judgmental attitude. Well, not only his host. Me, too.

To me, the amazing part of this story is the mere fact that she came. She just knew Jesus wouldn't reject her. By contrast, how many "sinful" people in my life would think of coming to me for acceptance? No matter how desperate the circumstances, I cannot imagine anyone with a similar reputation feeling safe enough to do so. Church people sadly are not often known for their compassion. I'm afraid I am more like the Pharisee, judging perhaps not openly, but like Simon, in my heart. This woman didn't come to Simon, but to Jesus. Am I ready to receive with compassion those whose life decisions have been disastrous? Am I ready to receive them with compassion, recognizing their hopeful faith and offering forgiveness? I fear I am more Pharisee than Christian, more ready to judge and criticize than to receive and forgive. May God remove from me this heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh that beats love and compassion for those rejected by the world and the Church (Ezekiel 36:26).

I looked in the Mirror this morning, and didn't like what I saw. Thank God for the Mirror. Now for the hard work of making myself presentable, not to the world, but to God.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Importance of Wild Places

I couldn't get this to post yesterday. So here it is today.

August 29, 2016

Luke 3:1-3 is one of my favorite Scriptures. With its strange list of names, it may seem strange at first, but to me it is one of the most significant texts in the Bible.

"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

We tend to exaggerate the importance of the high muckety-mucks in life. Back in the day, it was Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas. These were the movers and shakers of first century Palestine. Everyone knew that anything of real significance that happened, happened in those halls of power. Things haven't changed much. Everyone looks to Washington, especially in an election year. There's just one small problem: the word of the Lord came to John in the wilderness. And it's to those in the wilderness that the word of God comes today.

Few people love the wilderness. It's harsh, unforgiving, and dangerous. It can kill you, and even if it doesn't, it will throw you to the ground and pummel you till you cry "Uncle." Most of us do everything we can to avoid the wilderness or to get out of it as quickly as we can. The wilderness is not a fun place to be. But it is in the wilderness where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul all met God in the wilderness. Our God is a wilderness God. He loves wild places and the wild people who inhabit them.

There's more. When the Word of God comes, the people of God go. Those who stay put are rarely messengers of the One True God. This text hints at a side of the story we too often overlook. Church people love to talk about places of safety and security. Jesus for them is the gentle Shepherd who protects his people, not the Lion of Judah who leads his people into battle. But here we have God, wild and uncontrollable, who bypasses all the conventions of this world to speak to John in the wilderness.

Don't despise those harsh places, those times that threaten to tear your soul apart and reduce you to ashes. Those are the places, the times when you are most likely to encounter the Living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I still don't like deserts. I much prefer watered gardens. But I know where God lurks, and it's rarely where "the dew is still on the roses." And I am grateful tonight for this reminder that I trust will hold me in good stead the next time I find myself in a desert.

It All Takes Time

August 30, 2016

Sometimes it pays to read between the lines. Reading Matthew's gospel, or Mark's, we get the impression that as Jesus was strolling along the shore of the Sea of Galilee he out of the blue called Peter, James, and John and they just up and followed him without any forethought. Luke tells a different story. Jesus had been preaching throughout the region, had already stirred up controversy in the Nazareth synagogue, cast out a demon in Capernaum, and stopped by Peter's house where he healed Peter's mother in law, whereupon people started bringing to him the sick and oppressed to be healed.

In other words, Peter, James, and John were no strangers to this preacher. He had already gathered a bit of notoriety, was somehow on close enough terms with Peter to have singled out his house for an after-synagogue dinner. These three had opportunity to observe Jesus up close for some period of time before Jesus called them to follow him. Even then, it was only after a sermon from Peter's boat, a command to launch out into deep water and cast the nets, and the resulting catch that Jesus called them. He spent time preparing them, grooming them for the call he knew he would offer.

Conversion rarely happens instantaneously. I've only seen it happen two or three times in over 40 years of ministry. Even in those cases, someone years before had sown gospel seeds that just happened to germinate and sprout before my eyes, seemingly without effort. It takes time to bring life into the world. Nine months for a baby human, a couple weeks for a squash or radish. Life doesn't happen instantaneously. So when we get discouraged with how long it takes to cultivate and grow a genuine disciple, it helps to remember that even Jesus didn't cold-call Peter, James, and John. He took his time, let them hear his preaching and watch as he healed people. And he showed them in one last catch of fish the possibilities that were ahead if they were willing to lay down what they knew in order to trust him with what they couldn't even imagine.

Linda asked me tonight how she could best pray for me. I asked her to pray for my integrity and for faithfulness in pursuing God's present call on my life. It's one thing for me to talk about "Men, Money, and Mission;" it's quite another to actually map things out and begin working on it. I'm grateful that Jesus takes his time; that he has given me time to sort things out so I could hear his call once more, and that he has given me Linda to help me keep faith with that calling.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Good, Good Day

August 28, 2016

Every so often something happens that confirms my decision to retire two years ago. Today was one of those occasions. Park church sponsored its first annual "I Am Free" event which included worship in the village commons, a chicken BBQ, backpacks filled with school supplies for the kids, back to school haircuts, a dunking booth, face painting and games for the kids, a classic car show, a $20 clothes voucher at Old Navy, all of it absolutely free. It took an enormous amount of work in planning and execution, most of which I had nothing to do with. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have thought of it or would have thought it too much work and expense for the probable return. It's good for the next generation to take over and for me to be in a support role.

Thanks to pastor Joe's vision and compassion, and to so many Park church people who labored for months behind the scenes, the event was a huge success, with over 450 dinners given out, nearly 300 backpacks with school supplies, scores of haircuts, and a park full of people blessed by the generosity of our people and the love of Christ. I am grateful tonight for a new generation of people who have caught the vision to reach our community for Christ and are engaging in innovative ways of proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Unexpected Joys

August 27, 2016

From a swim team breakfast at Applebee's to a delightful wedding of some dear friends, our Saturday has been full. The hours were full, but so was the joy of supporting our granddaughters and their team, and our friends. The hours are gone, but the blessing of relationships being strengthened and deepened will last forever.

We got home about five o'clock and I started working on the woodshed I've been wanting to build. While I was measuring, sawing, and screwing the frame together, the shouts of children approaching made me look up to see Jo, Nathan, Mattie, and Eliza tooling down the driveway on their bikes. After a few minutes gathered around the swing interrupting Linda's reading, they head for the pond. Our fishpond has become a haven for frogs which become in turn, the target of the grandkids armed with nets and buckets. Almost every day they show up ready for froggy war, complete with squeals of joy which turn to squeals of surprise when I plug in the fountain that they've turned off while they wade in the pond stalking their prey.

Little Nathan wants to drive the old 8N again, so I get it out for him to take a couple turns around the yard before they're all off for home. I walk down to the swimming hole to invite the swimmers to tomorrow's worship in the park, free chicken BBQ, and games for the kids. Later, with the night's work done, we sit on the swing, marveling at our good fortune. How is it that we have been so extraordinarily blessed? We've had our share of trials, but tonight they all seem so small and distant. We take none of it for granted, knowing that life can suddenly turn on a dime. But I remember the words pastor Joe spoke at the wedding; words I've spoken countless times myself: "for better, for worse." Marriage and life contains both. Over the years we've experienced some of the worse, but today we have the better, and it's good.

Friday, August 26, 2016

What A Photo Cannot Capture

August 26, 2016

We took lots of pictures for back then, but nothing compared to what photographers do in this day of digital cameras. I can't remember the last time we looked at our wedding photographs. They're in an album somewhere in the basement, memorials to an event that changed our lives. These days, besides the requisite formal poses with the wedding party, parents, and pastor, there are myriads of candids, hundreds of photos of the preparations, the wedding itself, the reception, and assorted others that the bride, the groom, and parents believe to be necessary.

We attempt to encapsulate significant events on film, not realizing that the event itself is a spiritual happening, the essence of which cannot be captured. This is particularly true of Christian weddings, which are in fact, worship services. We review the pictures, hoping to experience again the joys, the depths of emotion, even our sense of the presence of God, usually to no avail. Photographs, and even videos can record the appearance of the event, but not its heart.

Still, I wish I had thought to take a picture of today's lunch with Abi at Steadman Corners Coffee Shop. Abi is particularly close to her sister Alex, she loves coffee, and I love Abi, so believing that the day after Alex's going to college might be difficult for her, before Alex left for college yesterday, I had made arrangements for Abi and I to have coffee together. After swim practice this morning, I picked her up and we drove to Steadman Corners. The building was formerly a General Store back in the late 1800's, has had a few reincarnations without ever really changing the building itself, and today is a quaint coffee roasters and shop where you can get a light lunch, coffee, and atmosphere. Abi loved it, and I reveled in the opportunity to bless her and to listen to her heart as we talked about life, her hopes and dreams, and the challenges before her.

I forgot to take a photo, but it's OK. A photo cannot contain the spirituality of the occasion. The afternoon is firmly in my mind and even more firmly in my heart, which is filled with gratitude tonight for the privilege of sharing an afternoon coffee with my granddaughter.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

When the Cat's Away

August 25, 2016

When Linda was a little girl, she loved spending time with her father. When he would come home from work, she'd be sitting on the front step, baseball mitt in hand, waiting for him to throw the ball to her. He would throw it as hard as he could till it stung her hand, but she wouldn't let on. She loved her special times with him, and was the only one of the girls allowed to drive his tractor. She tells of the time they were cultivating the corn with an old horse drawn plow hitched to the drawbar of the tractor. She was driving while he guided the plow. When they got to the end of a row, she would let off the throttle, turn the tractor around and press in the clutch while he maneuvered the plow. Once he was ready for the next row, she would put the tractor in gear, let out the clutch, and away they would go. Except one time when she wasn't paying attention.

She was singing as she popped the clutch, mistakenly throwing it into fourth gear instead of first. Her father was only about 5' 4", and when she hit fourth gear, his short legs were given quite a workout as he ran along behind the tractor, taking the row in great bounds, shouting to no avail. When they got to the end of that row, he breathlessly asked if she was trying to kill him. She wasn't, of course, but they both told and retold the story many times over the years.

He was fussy over that tractor. I got to drive it once, when he was laid up with a bad back while in the middle of tearing down the old barn. He was worried that the north wall would collapse and hurt someone, and I was as surprised as anyone could be that he let me hook it up to the wall and pull it down. That was the only time in the forty years I knew him that he let me drive his tractor. When he died, Linda inherited it. It sat in Nate's barn for a couple years until we had a place to store it. I'll never forget the day I drove it home.

It's as old as we are, a 1948 Ford 8N, and it can be somewhat crotchety about starting. In the winter it's almost impossible, and in summer only slightly less so. I tried three times this week before managing to get it going this afternoon. Once it starts, it runs like a champ.

Little Nathan and his sister Madeline were visiting for the afternoon; Linda had taken Madeline to the library while Nathan sat sprawled on the couch watching Veggie Tales. When I leaned in the door and asked if anyone in the room would be interested in driving a tractor, it was as if Nathan had been launched from a cannon. At eight, he's a quick study, and after a couple turns around the yard with me behind him operating the clutch, I told him it was his turn. His first try was a bit jerky, but after I had him start and stop it a few times, he was handling it like a pro.

His sister soon got in on it, and we sent them home with ear to ear smiles. Being able to give them an experience like this is a gift to us as well as them, and tonight I am content.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Stung by Life

August 24, 2016

The strangest things can happen when one is driving a motorcycle with an upright bass strapped to the sidecar! I was on my way to my last bass lesson for the summer when a bee flew into my helmet butt first (I'm not sure how she managed to pull that one off!) and stung me on the cheek. I managed to pull the stinger out without going through any contortions, which was kind of nice, since I was on a motorcycle. I continued to my lesson, ran a few errands, and headed home with a sore cheek.

Tomorrow our first grandchild heads to college. I expect it will be a teary day for the entire family; I know I got an extra long hug from her before leaving her going-to-college party tonight. Linda and I both wrote her going-to-college letters; I will share with you the gist of what I shared with Alex.

I love riding my motorcycle! And I love playing my bass. In addition to the joy of the bike and the bass in themselves, I've met many interesting people as a result of these two loves. But even the things we love and the things we believe God has called us to do don't insulate us from the occasional bee that suddenly out of nowhere smacks into our face stinger first. Those unplanned intersections are not pleasant, but if we're smart, we don't let them deter us from the joys of our calling. My cheek still aches, but I love the bass and the bike more than I hate the pain from that stinger. Of course, life's bee stings can be much more catastrophic, but God always gives us options; we can praise him or curse him; we can focus on the good or let the bad suffocate the joys. I choose the former; I pray Alex will do the same, and tomorrow I will pick up my bass and practice for the joy of it. And I may even ride in the rain.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Quiet Life

August 22, 2016

Stepping through the front door this afternoon, the air greeted me with a sweet and complex aroma of green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and spices. Linda was canning a batch of her chili sauce, as delectable a condiment as you'll find anywhere. While I was in Erie visiting a gentleman in the hospital there, Linda was hard at work making my life more pleasant and enjoyable.

St. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian Christians to "aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your hands..." (1 Thess. 4:11). For all his passion to spread the Gospel to the nations, Paul seems to have understood that for most people, living a quiet, ordinary life was as honoring to God as his standing before Caesar, witnessing to the reality of the resurrection. For those whose lives seem shuttered away in some God-forsaken little corner of the world, this is good news indeed! Especially as it immediately precedes his ringing description of Christ's return where he descends from heaven with a shout, greeted by both the living and the dead in Christ. Welcoming Christ is not the special privilege of the sainted few, but is given even to the most humble and unnoticed believers who faithfully and quietly go about their work. Having invested most of my life in a small, backwater village, I am grateful for these few words Paul slipped into his letter so many years ago. They remind me that ordinary life matters to God, and that he notices and cares for small, ordinary people. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "God must love the common man; he made so many of them." Yes, he did. And Yes, he does.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Make Every Effort...

August 21, 2016

As pastor Roy was preaching this morning on "the Last Days," he referred almost in passing to 2 Peter 3:14. "While you wait for these things, make every effort to be found at peace with [Jesus Christ]  without spot or blemish." The old KJV that I learned uses the words, "be diligent..." The meaning is the same, but the modern variation grabbed my attention. It is a delicate balance we Christians hold between grace and works. Our salvation is God's gift to us, undeserved and unearned. That is what we call grace: getting better than we deserve. I've experienced it from countless people who by every right could have justifiably turned their backs on me, but didn't, but also, directly from God.

It is the constant temptation of grace to receive it freely without giving thought to the responsibility it bestows. Israel was chosen by God; take it from someone who knows what it feels like to not be chosen: it's a good thing to be chosen. But far from being a free ride, that "chosenness" carried with it God's plan to use them to demonstrate to the world what being chosen was all about, ie, being different. Like us, they didn't like being different, and were constantly chafing against the calling and responsibility that chosenness entailed.

As Christians, we have been chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:3-7) to demonstrate to the world the riches of God's love towards us. We cannot do that if having been chosen, we effectively say, "That's nice; now I'll just go back to what I was doing before." That's what's behind Peter's words here. I tend to get lazy, not exerting much effort to be holy and without blemish. Let me tell you, holiness doesn't happen automatically. The word primarily means, "different," and everything within us fights against being different. Even those of us who pride ourselves on bucking the establishment have our own group of people like us who encourage us in our anti-establishmentarianism.

I am thankful today for Roy's sermon and for this text to which he called our attention. If it wouldn't have been rude and if I hadn't been playing bass in the band, I could have gotten up right then and there and gone home, having heard the Word from the Lord that I needed to hear today. I stayed, but my mind stayed with that verse: While I am waiting for Christ's return, I must "make every effort..." I must not let up or slack off, and by God's grace, I will not do either.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

In a Few Hours

August 20, 2016

We are assaulted on all sides whenever we pick up a newspaper, turn on a tv, or go online. The political rhetoric is heating up like a California wildfire, and shows no signs of letting up for the next three months. The pollsters tell us that Donald hasn't a chance; that Hillary has an unbeatable lead; she certainly has the political machine to make things happen, but a lot can happen in three months time. At stake is not only the presidency, but even more significantly, the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation to come. Either way you cut it, the prognosis is pretty dim.

According to those in the know, I'm fast becoming the minority - an old, white male. My values and worldview I am told are fading into the sunset, but if that's so, I suspect there will be a long night before any bright new dawn comes our way. It could get downright depressing.

Yesterday I wrote about having to be careful what we hear. That goes for what we see, too. Three years ago when I started my daily journal, it was due to the bitterness of presidential politics that I was allowing to seep into my soul. My experiment in gratitude did wonders, but it's never a done deal. The world I knew growing up is long gone, and the one around me today is in many ways a foreign land. Evangelical Christians in the USA have been spoiled. The persecution Jesus promised his followers has not been our experience, so much so that the "prosperity gospel" is alive and well. We regard difficulties and troubles as indications that God is either absent or angry instead of signs of his favor.

The saddest part of it all is how we expect the culture to support our values and faith, and our dismay when it does not. I am as grateful as the next person for representatives that reflect my values, but I have long discarded the naïveté that expects them to actually have my interests in mind. Power still corrupts, as we see almost every day.

It is Saturday night. In a few hours we will gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit to the Church. It is our opportunity to recalibrate, to once more set our bearings by the North Star of the Cross, and to remind ourselves to live in gratitude for a grace that is greater than all our sin, and for the life given to us that is not limited by the machinations of this world. Thanks be to God!

Friday, August 19, 2016

What Are You Hearing?

August 19, 2016

The old Sunday School song we learned as pre-schoolers really is true:

"Be careful little ears what you hear,
Be careful little ears what you hear;
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful little ears what you hear."

The song actually began with what the eyes see, but it's the ears that have my attention today. In our writer's group this morning, Beth was today's leader, and at the end of the session mentioned that her Haiku was soon to be published in a poetry anthology. I've been down to a single hearing aid since losing one about a month ago, and my deaf ear was towards her. I thought to myself, "Why would she want her IQ published in a poetry anthology?" It took a moment to match the context with what I  heard in order to make sense of her statement. I wasn't  hearing correctly. That's when I began thinking about that old Sunday School song.

Much of our modern educational establishment places great value on having a wide variety of experiences, exposure to different viewpoints, becoming a repository of all sorts of stuff. Of course, that's only if the material being absorbed is politically correct. Viewpoints that don't fit the proper narrative tend to get shouted down. But I digress.

Years ago, I listened to John Maxwell as he taught one of his leadership seminars. He spoke once of a woman who came to him wondering what to do with all the gossip she was hearing at church. "Do you want to know why everyone comes to you with their gossip?" he asked her. When she said she did, he spoke the unexpected. "Because you are a garbage dump. You willingly take it all in. People dump all their garbage because you want it. You are nothing but a garbage dump." I don't imagine she became a devoted fan of his, but it's true.

It amazes me how we recognize the danger of dumping garbage into a river, but are unable to make the connection between what we put into our minds and what comes out in our lives. Garbage and chemicals dumped into a river turn it into a toxic flow that poisons everything into which it flows. Garbage dumped into our hearts and minds turn us into a toxic flow that poisons all we touch.

Here's the rub: we allow toxic stuff into our minds all the time. We fail to set a watch over our eyes and our ears, letting the Enemy of our souls poison us with his suggestions and impressions. Whether it's paying more attention to the daily news than our daily meeting with God, or letting our thoughts and emotions run wild and unrestrained, we open the floodgates to the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual garbage that poisons our lives. If I want the river of my life to flow pure and clear, I must guard its sources diligently.

When I wonder why I so seldom feel the presence of God, I am focusing on me instead of him, and the devil injects another bit of toxic unbelief into my heart. If I indulge what the ancients called "the flesh," I receive another dose of toxic rebellion. The Scriptures repeatedly tell us to remember the great works of God. For the Hebrews, even centuries after the event they were encouraged to remember how God brought them up out of Egypt. Their life and faith weren't tied to a feeling, but to an ancient historical act of deliverance that was constantly held up as the lodestone of their existence. For the Christian, it is the Cross of Christ and the deliverance from sin embodied in it that is the North Star of our lives. The proof of God's love is not some "liver quiver" in my soul, but the great act of God's deliverance in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, be careful little ears what you hear. Your life depends on hearing the right words and leaning hard upon them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dreams Do Come True

August 18, 2016

The two years I worked for Dick Travis was educational, to say the least. Pumping gas exposes one to some of the most interesting and diverse group of people you are ever likely to meet. One of these characters was a kid whose given name I can't recall, but whom we called Waddles. Use your imagination. Waddles was a chubby kid, maybe eighteen, who wore thick, wire-rimmed glasses and...waddled whenever he walked. He was also one hundred percent infatuated with Harley Davidson motorcycles, more specifically, choppers. He had an old Triumph, but managed to find a 1948 panhead totally stock police bike that he immediately proceeded to butcher. He later sold it when he realized that with his short stature and lack of anything remotely resembling muscle, he couldn't pick it up when he went over on it, which he did with amazing regularity.

Waddles did do one thing for me: he got me interested in old Harleys. Growing up, my folks thought motorcycles too dangerous, so I wasn't allowed to have one, but thanks to Waddles, I managed to locate a 1953 panhead motor that had just been rebuilt by the local Harley dealer, an old guy operating out of a shop that looked like it came from a Norman Rockwell painting. Three hundred fifty dollars later, it was mine, papers and all. The guy who brought it in for a rebuild was going to chop the bike but ran out of money. Another $150 and I had the rest of it in my garage, all in pieces. It took me three years to get it together. I soon learned that a basket case project always seems to be missing a few critical pieces which end up costing more money which I didn't have much of back then. I ended up selling the bike to fund my seminary education. It turned out that I had made enough on the sale to buy another basket case while in Chicago. It was a 1948 panhead, the very first production year of that model.

The problem with these kinds of projects is that when I had time to work on it I didn't have the money, and when I had the money, I didn't have the time, so it took a long time to get that bike put together. Actually, I never did get it finished. A friend had a running 1942 Harley '45, but he lusted after that panhead, so I made a deal to trade even up. He was happy. I was happy. I ran into him at a funeral recently and learned that he got it up and running only to have the motor blow up between his legs at about 80 mph. He limped and talked in a a high, squeaky voice for quite awhile, as you can imagine. Nearly 20 years ago I decided the old '45 was getting tired and needed a rebuild, so I took it to a local guy who was a crackerjack mechanic, but who I learned later was having some serious medical issues that eventually claimed his life before he hit fifty. That motor and transmission bounced around between three different shops for fifteen years before I finally got them back.

My son has been badgering me to start putting it back together, so a couple weeks ago I took the frame to be sandblasted and then painted. Just before going on vacation, I picked it up, and Matt and I sorted through all the parts that need to be cleaned up, painted, and mounted on the frame. The project is underway, the only hitch being my need to sell my 1974 Sportster to fund the project. A couple guys are interested, and it's getting to be crunch time.

Sometimes patience is a virtue. It's been a long drawn out affair, but we're getting close. I am grateful that in retirement I finally have the time (and soon, the money) to work on it. I probably won't ride it much. I'd have sold it long ago except for Matt. Having something we both can talk about, work on, and dream about is every father's dream come true. It's been a long night with lots of dreaming, but it's morning now, and we're ready to go.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Grace Upon Grace

August 16, 2016

The story of Samson has always puzzled me. The story itself is plain enough; a man set apart for God from birth, who led Israel in spite of his obvious shortcomings. His downfall was his stubborn headstrong insistence on getting his own way and his unwillingness to reign in his unbridled lust and passion. It is a tragic story of a great man brought low, a story that has been repeated countless times through the ages as men of talent and promise have squandered it all for a brief moment of pleasure.

It is a common enough tale; what is uncommon is how the writer to the Hebrews spins it, numbering Samson among the heroes of faith alongside Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. How is it possible for this man of unrestrained passion and lust to be thus numbered among the greatest of Israel's pantheon of heroes? Therein lies the mystery that has troubled me for years.

Today Linda and I had the privilege of taking the entire family to the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, PA, where the story of Samson was played out before our eyes on the big stage. They do it right at Sight and Sound, the acting being superb and the singing and dancing glorious. As with any theatrical production, they took some liberties with the story, but remained true to the biblical message as they wove imagination into the tale. And it was the message that grabbed my heart and moved me to tears, for it was not only the story of a strong man with a great weakness, but also of a divine grace that lifted a sordid life, transforming it into a story of redemption. It was made abundantly clear that any opening we give to sin becomes a highway leading to destruction, a reality most of us have experienced more often than we care to admit. But God isn't cowed by our sin, isn't deterred by our rebellion, and isn't ashamed to claim us as his own. When I recall how often I myself have wandered from God, how many times I've been headstrong just like Samson, this story of redemption played out before us today accosted me where I sat and broke over me like a fountain with streams of grace and mercy, washing me in ways I didn't even realize I needed. I am a grateful man tonight.

Monday, August 15, 2016

To Spread Her Wings

August 15, 2016

It was almost like Sunday dinners at our house. The entire crew - three kids and their spouses, nine grandchildren, Linda and myself sitting around the table. The only difference was that we all fit at a single table, and had to pay for the meal. There won't be many more times like this. This coming Friday will be our last Friday night with all the grandkids camped out all over the house, and Sunday will be the last Bailey Sunday dinner before Alex heads off to college, at which time the clock starts ticking till It's Abi, then Izzi, and so on, down the line.

When babies are born, so cute and cuddly, we often say that we wish they could stay that way, but if they do, we become alarmed. It's called failure to thrive, and when it happens; when growth is arrested, we know something is wrong. Babies naturally grow unless something is preventing it. We've been privileged to watch not only our own children, but our grandchildren growing up before our eyes, and soon the eldest will take the next step into her future. It will be the first of many changes as one by one, they spread their wings and fly. I am grateful for the years we've had them with us, for the years we will yet have before the last one leaves the nest. It's been so good that sometimes it's hard to believe our good fortune, yet my eyes are on the future, not the past, and we still have opportunity to build into them for that future. And build, we will!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Privilege of Preaching

August 14, 2016

The right tool for the job is a beautiful thing. A crescent wrench is handy, but it can't compete with a 3/8" wrench for a 3/8" bolt. The wrench and the bolt were made for each other, much as I was made for preaching. I'm not the greatest of preachers by any means, but something inside me has always said, "this fits." It fit for me this morning as I did my best to speak to the issue of unanswered prayer. No matter how we try to understand it, there is a mystery to it that is in this life impenetrable, but there is also a grace available for those persistent enough to wrestle through what St. John of the Cross called "the dark night of the soul" without losing faith.

Worship is something different for those who lead it than for those in the congregation. The privilege of playing my bass for the worship team, preaching God's Word, and then offering God's people Christ in Communion is a rare gift for which I am grateful tonight. Doing it twice in one day takes it to an even higher level, especially when I recall that as St. Paul said, "who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is in Christ." I don't deserve the privilege I've been given over the past forty six years, and to be given the opportunity to continue in retirement is beyond blessing. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me once more to do what I have loved for years.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Preaching Scared

August 13, 2016

It's a love-hate relationship I've had for more than forty years. Preaching. Proclaiming God's Word. Offering Christ. It's what I've lived for, what I've agonized over, what has frightened and intimidated me more than anything else I've ever faced. If it were only giving a speech, I'd be fine, but it's more than that; it's handling the Word of life, and it is a formidable task. When I taught our district's lay preaching course, I would tell the students that if they ever lost the "butterflies in the stomach," they should quit preaching.

For two years now, with the exception of the few times I've filled in for pastor Joe and this past ten days when I preached every night in Cuba, I've been free from the feeling of dread that would descend upon me every Saturday night, the realization that I am not up to the task before me, the certainty that I am unworthy of the privilege and honor of standing before God's people, Bible in hand. Tonight as the day is winding down, I feel sick to my stomach, sure that I haven't studied enough, prayed enough, pondered enough. With St. Paul, I say, "Who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is in Christ alone."

If anything good and lasting is to come from what I've prepared, it will be Christ alone. If not, it will have been me. I don't have the wisdom to handle the subject matter of unanswered prayer. I am grateful for the opportunity to preach even though it scares me immensely, literally setting my body tingling with fearful anticipation. It's Saturday night. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed. Tomorrow afternoon, my mind will rest, knowing that Monday morning I will not have to gear up once more for next Sunday. For that too, I am grateful.

Friday, August 12, 2016


August 12, 2016

An overcast sky with clouds scudding from west to east, the road covered by a film of last night's rain, I wasn't sure about getting the bike out of the garage early this morning, but already at 8:00 am, the temperature was rising, so I suited up. The remnants of the morning rain spit up from my front tire, soaking my shins, but the earthy aroma that filled my nostrils as I rode the winding ribbon of asphalt through the woods mad it all worthwhile. One of the joys of riding is the smells and the sudden change in temperature that is encountered along the way. It was a glorious morning.

By the time I got home, it was hot. Beastly hot. So hot even Linda wouldn't venture outside to putter in her garden. She was restless. So I suggested Vidler's. For the uninitiated, Vidler's is a throwback five and dime that takes you back to the days of penny candy, wooden floors, and kids games without screens or buttons. We had been talking about going there in a couple weeks when we got back home from vacation, but we had the time, and drove the hour it took to get there. We spent four glorious hours together, driving, walking, talking, enjoying each other's company. God has given us the blessing of forty-six years together, and though it sounds cheesy, they truly are getting better every year. I am deeply grateful tonight for my wife who fills me up just with her presence.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All's Well

August 11, 2016

A flash and a boom and a phone call; "Beepa, could you come over? It smells like we have an electrical fire, but we can't find it." A call like that gets your attention in a hurry! I grabbed a hammer, a crowbar, and a prybar, thinking I might have to break through a wall. Electrical fires have a distinctive pungent smell, and it hit me in the face as I walked in the door. The ceiling light in the kitchen was hanging by its wires, Matt having removed it moments before. Turns out it wasn't a lightning strike; little Nathan had flooded the upstairs toilet. Apparently, this has happened before, but not quite as completely as today. Water had seeped through the floor, dripped from the kitchen ceiling, and filling the light fixture. When Matt turned on the light, the water began to boil, just before the fixture began to smoke.

All's well that ends well, and this ended well. A trip to Home Depot, a new LED fixture, and a half hour's work, and they were back in the game. I am grateful tonight that a phone call that could have spelled disaster, but instead ended quietly with a thank you and a goodnight.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Situational Awareness

August 10, 2016

Situational awareness. It's becoming a lost art. From people walking into traffic while their eyes are glued to their cellphones to Pokemon Go players who drive into a crowd, people just don't seem to be paying much attention to what's going on around them. It can be fatal. Just ask the families of some of the people killed in the Islamic terrorist attack in Nice, France. Some of those mowed down by that truck never saw it coming because they were looking at their cellphones instead of looking around them.

Those who study such things refuse to sit in the back of a restaurant, are always aware of possible avenues of escape in the eventuality of someone coming through the door with intent to harm. Their mantra, even if they practice carrying a concealed firearm, is that it's better to avoid a confrontation than to have to fight through one.

This morning I was driving the Thruway enroute to visit my mother. I was minding my own business, driving as I usually do, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A grey minivan was right next to me in the passing lane, except he had drifted into my lane. He wasn't cutting me off; had I not taken immediate evasive action, he would have hit me in my driver's door. I instinctively swerved onto the berm, nearly losing control, but managing to bring it back onto the road without overcorrecting. You know how you often ask yourself after witnessing some dangerous action on the road, "Where is the police when you need one?" As I regained control, a state trooper passed me, turned on his lights and pulled the other driver over. I just kept going, thankful that it was a close call instead of a rollover.

That driver may have been distracted, may have been texting, or just momentarily inattentive, but he was situationally unaware. But so was I. Had I been scanning the rear view mirrors as I drove, I would have seen him earlier and perhaps wouldn't have needed to take such evasive action. Today it turned out OK, but I got to wondering how often I'm not situationally aware, either of my physical surroundings, or of my spiritual surroundings. How often I've missed opportunities God gives me to share my faith, not noticing the distress and pain of someone right next to me, or been unaware of the subtle mechanisms of the devil as he seeks to plant seeds of doubt or fear. Today's close call was just that; a disaster divinely avoided, but also a wake up call to pay attention to life itself; a call for which I am thankful tonight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


August 9, 2016

Cresting Airport Hill on my way to Jamestown this morning, the air was cool, the sky clear, beauty all around me. Five days ago I boarded a plane in Cuba, landing three hours later in a different world, modern and free. As a US citizen, I can travel anywhere in the world without question. I have to go through the normal security checks, but no one tells me I must remain on US soil. This morning, one of my Cuban friends wakes to a different beauty, sits in his tiny garden reading his Bible and praying. Yesterday he went to Havana hoping to get a visa permitting him to travel outside his country. He was turned down. For no discernible reason. The contrast could hardly be more stark. As beautiful as Cuba can be, my friend is prisoner in his own country.

We take it for granted to be able to travel when and where we want, not giving a moment's thought that for many people, that privilege isn't even a dream. I am grateful tonight to be home, and for having been born in a land where freedom is assumed. It is a rare and precious gift, easily squandered, fragile and needing protection. May we always treasure it enough to protect it from those who would either take it from us by force or nibble away at it imperceptibly until we wake to find it gone.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Toilet Tales

August 8, 2016

5:30 am Friday morning I climbed the stairs to our bedroom, ready for some fitful sleep after flying and driving through the night. Reaching the landing, I noticed a post-it note on the bathroom door: "Don't Use Toilet," it said. Linda rolled over as I climbed into bed, and I asked about the note. "It's a long story; I'll tell you when you get up."

Later, I heard all about it. The short story is, the toilet paper cylinder wasn't where it should have been, and multi-tasking isn't all it's cracked up to be. I am a lucky man. If you pay any attention to television commercials and programs, if anything dumb is done, it's a man doing it. In our house, we strive to balance the equation.

Today was fix it day, so after a leisurely morning reading and praying, I decided it was time to tackle the project. Removing and reinstalling a toilet is not usually a major project, and fortunately today I managed to avoid my normal pattern of a simple half hour job taking three days. The worse part is sponging the water out of the bowl, but it's gotta be done, and when I turned it over, there it was, stuck in the curve of the toilet trap. Thankfully, it hadn't separated on its short journey through the curves. A light poke, and it popped back into the bowl where I could fish it out.

Later, walking from the garage to the house and casting my eyes across the landscape in front of me, gratitude welled up within me for the beauty I am privileged to inhabit, toilet and all.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

God's Will?

August 7, 2016

Once in awhile things just seem to come together. I hesitate to say it's God's will because I long ago abandoned the notion that God's will is personal, as if his will is a matter of where I am to live, what job I should have, who I should marry, etc. The problem with that manner of thinking is that if I get one little thing wrong, it not only places me "outside of God's will," but does so for countless others, as well. If for instance, I had married the wrong woman, it means I've not only missed God's will for myself, but also made it impossible for the woman I should have married and the man who should have married the one who actually became my wife; and the dominoes begin to fall.

Instead, I've preached for years that God's will is moral, ethical, and spiritual, but not personal. It is easily knowable, revealed in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, and consists of how I live no matter where I am or what I am doing. I believe this. But there is always the temptation to want God to speak personally as to where I should minister and what I am to do in that place. In that vein, I've been wondering about my future. I have never believed that retirement means my life shrinking to nothing more than taking care of the 2 1/2 acres on which we live. So I've been thinking about Cuba. I had believed that retirement meant spending more time there, but wasn't sure. So I accompanied my granddaughter on a trip there.

Strangely, I didn't feel any compelling passion to spend a lot of time in Cuba. I expect to visit, hopefully to teach and encourage pastors, but the bulk of my life is here in the good ol' USA.

When I was pastor of Park church, I made as a ministry focus three sub-sections to our mission statement of reaching the heart of the county with the heart of Christ. I firmly believed then and still do now, that we need to center our efforts on "Men, Money, and Missions." Too many of our churches are mostly female-oriented, which either drives men away or leaves them listless and uncommitted. And many churches suffer from financial strains caused by not being taught the importance of tithing and sacrificial giving. Still more are so inwardly focused that missions is incomprehensible to them.

Since retirement, the vision for Park church lies with pastor Joe, not me. This morning pastor Joe asked us what we would do, what ministry we would engage if we knew we couldn't fail. If I knew I couldn't fail, I would know that either my sights weren't set high enough, or that it was definitely not of God. Fail-proof means faith-less, which is never God's plan. But as he spoke, some things began to fall into place for me. My ministry focus for the past number of years is not to change. I believe I myself need to continue this emphasis on "Men, Money, and Missions," continuing to focus my efforts on engaging and enlisting men who will covenant together to devote themselves to missions, both by raising the funding for our own mission teams and providing funding for mission projects in Cuba and elsewhere, as well as personally engaging in international mission projects. As I said, it has begun to come together, not as a matter of God's will, but as the direction I want to go at this stage in my life. I am grateful that God gives freedom to make choices as long as we center everything in Christ, and that when we make those choices, we can feel God's favor.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Life's Gold

August 6, 2016

Olympic fever is raging in our household, particularly when it comes to swimming. Life doesn't exactly stop for the games, but it does get interrupted just a bit. Today was spent getting ready for the annual Moore family reunion that we hosted at our home. Weed whacking, moving a few things around, getting tables and chairs set up - all the usual preparations for having guests kept us busy, with the occasional time out to watch another race.

Watching these kids (I can say that of even the oldest of them) perform is simply amazing. The level of competition is incredible, and the dedication that it takes to achieve these kinds of performances is beyond imagination for most of us. All for a five inch disc, the exhilaration of seeing the numbers on the board and standing on a podium for a few minutes.

St. Paul must have had quite an interest in sports. He speaks of boxing, running a race, winning a prize, all the while encouraging us to look beyond the things that command our attention and admiration. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he uses the sports of the day to reveal an important life lesson:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

The words that catch my attention are in the middle of this quote: "They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." The prize back then was an olive branch wreath which would of course, wither and fade rather quickly. But even a gold medal, though it won't fade, is only a piece of metal that will sit on a shelf or hang in a showcase on a wall. All that dedication and effort is directed towards what for some is a matter of mere seconds. In our home there are no medals on the wall, no trophies in a case, but there is the laughter of little children, conversations of substance, and plenty of love and respect as our family sits around the tables set up in the spruce grove and the kids play on the trampoline or walk the creek. Medals will eventually perish. It probably won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen. But people are forever, and the investment of time, the dedication to excellence in relationships, and the pursuit of God are eternal. I have never been much of an athlete, but I know that my life focus has been right. My only question is whether I have as much devotion to Christ as these athletes have to their sport. Following Jesus takes the same kind of intensity and focus if we are to win the prize. We aren't competing against other believers, but simply offering our best to God.

The Good News is that we live by grace, not by performance. We strive to be our best because our God deserves our best, yet knowing that it could never be enough, and grateful that God stepped in with the gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of his Son.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Home Again

August 5, 2016

After a red-eye flight from Cuba to Toronto and a three hour drive, Alex and I were safely home by 5:00 am this morning. Fortunately, I didn't just drop her off at her house, for it was locked. Her mother apparently was awake, but the dog didn't bark, and she didn't see my truck, so Alex slept through the morning in our spare room.

Ten days in Cuba is a good reminder of all for which we have to give thanks. There, even mention of Castro's name can have you brought in for questioning. One never knows who his true friends are; who one can trust, or who will stab you in the back. Cuba is not the only place where this is true, but it is true there to an extent it is not here. Contrary to glossy fliers advertising the nightlife in the tourist magnets of Havana and Veradero, life for the average Cuban is bleak, indeed. When they think of Cuba, most Americans think of classic cars. There are plenty of them there, but get away from the tourist centers, and they are dull and dented rattletrap jalopies held together by wire and Cuban ingenuity. Most all of them sport diesel engines, the original interiors are long gone, replaced by nondescript seats and little else.

There are modern vehicles, too, but away from the tourist areas, the most common form of transportation is horse cart, walking, bicycle, or bici taxi, pedal-powered two-seater vehicles that are ubiquitous in the cities outside Havana and Veradero. The lack of vehicular ownership ensures however, that people congregate as they wait to hitch a ride or gather to talk because that's what you do when the pace of life is slowed to a walk.

Living conditions that are common for what passes for middle class wouldn't be tolerated by the poorest of our poor here in the states. There are constant shortages of food and the stuff of ordinary daily life such as soap or toilet tissue. My hosts for the week live in a small, cramped cement block house with only cold running water that barely drips out of the shower head, an open air kitchen with a single hot plate for all the cooking needs, with no internet and television limited to two state-run stations (which is why there have been no nightly posts since a week ago last Tuesday).

I'm not trying in any way to disparage the Cuban people. They are warm-hearted, generous, and gracious. But they face daily challenges that would leave most Americans frustrated and angry. I always enjoy my time in Cuba and come home having received far more than I could possibly have given. I am thankful tonight to be home, with all the blessings great and small that being home means.