Friday, September 30, 2016

Making Music Approximately

September 30, 2016 "Wherever you go, a quarter note is a quarter note, the notes of the scales remain the same. Music truly is the universal language." Frank was commenting on the music theory lesson we had been struggling to get into our brains. A G7 diminished minor chord contains the same notes whether it's played in Uganda, Vienna, or here in Western New York. The instrumentation may vary, but the essence of the chord remains the same. I love making music, although it is difficult to say with a straight face that what I do with an instrument is making music. I hear beautiful sounds in my head, but somehow my fingers only get the message occasionally. Most of the time they are in a running argument with the sheet music. "Are you kidding me? You want us to hit all those notes at the right time without missing a beat?" Most of the time, my fingers win the argument while my brain just sighs. I suspect our conductor does a lot of sighing, too, in between repeated sips of wine. Growing up, my friends would sing along to the latest songs. They knew all the words. I knew the melodies, but in my mind the lyrics often went something like, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show, La, La, La..." My grandkids sing along to today's songs just like my friends used to. At best, I hum. They have it on while studying. If I have the radio on while I'm trying to read, before I know it, my mind has wandered off task, following the musical rabbit trail in the background. I still have boxes of old LPs that I can't bring myself to get rid of, along with a small cabinet of CDs I haven't listened to in ages. But given the opportunity to put my hands to my bass, I'm ready to give it my best shot, which is what I'm sure some folks would like to do to me when I'm in a musical mode. The Bible says that at Creation, the morning stars sang together, and to this day, the Universe reverberates with waves of sound audible only to the angels and sophisticated electronic equipment. I like to think of music as the voice of God, and am grateful to be able to give voice even if imperfectly, to the Voice that is the source of all melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

One Thing Right

September 29, 2016 There are many things wrong in this world, but there is also much good that goes unnoticed because it is so common and ordinary. Like the aroma wafting through our house today. This morning after breakfast with pastor Joe, I was able to pick nearly 40 gallons of grapes for my daughter before the rain came. And since it was raining, I wasn't able to do any of the outside work that's waiting for my attention, so I began processing the grapes I picked yesterday. It smells heavenly, and gives me great satisfaction to see the jars lined up on the counter. I haven't gotten halfway through them yet, but there's always tomorrow. Earth-shaking? Hardly. But as the writer of Ecclesiastes said, "Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works...Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of thy life...for that is your portion in this life, and in your labor which you take under the sun." (9:7-9). There's a lot in this life that I cannot do, but this I can, and will.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Living Water

September 28, 2016 Wrong sized fitting. I'm not surprised. When told that connecting to the new water system would only take about a half hour, my response was, "That's not good. A fifteen minute job usually takes about three days, in my experience." I'm still hopeful that it won't be more than a couple hours, but already Tony had to go to Home Depot for the correct sized fitting. Then it has to be assembled and tested for leaks, both in the house and at the curb. Oh well; we're closer today than we were yesterday, and I've been in countries where a project like this would take weeks, just because the necessary materials weren't available at any price. That being said, I'm thankful to live where the water is safe to drink, where the supplies needed to tap into it are readily available, and where I have friends willing to help get us up and running. Flash update! After a 40 minute run to Home Depot, it appeared as if Tony had been given the wrong fitting again, but it turned out he had what he needed right from the start, so the extra run was for nought. All was connected, we went to the curb valve only to discover that the valve wrench wasn't long enough to reach through the extension casing on the new system. A little digging and unscrewing the extension exposed the valve, but its cover was offset so I had to dig some more and completely remove the casing before I could turn the valve. The sound of rushing water was glorious, and there were no leaks. It wasn't quite a half hour job, but it wasn't three days, either, which is reason enough to give thanks to God and Tony tonight. Jesus claimed to be the Living (or flowing) Water, and said that the Holy Spirit he would give would be a fountain springing up within us. Here in the Northeast, we tend to take water for granted, having the world's largest supply of fresh water in the Great Lakes, and enough rain to keep the wells filled most years. The creek behind our house never runs dry, but having it piped into the house is a luxury many cannot even imagine. The water is available, but I wonder what valves we have turned that keep it from filling our lives and homes with blessing. It is possible to stop the flow to our house, and it's possible to stop the flow of the Holy Spirit to our lives. I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to do a little run through the system to make sure all the valves are opened wide.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thankfully Tired

September 27, 2016 I'm retired. Which means I'm working on getting old. I also got up at 4:00 this morning so I could be at the hospital in Erie for a friend who was having to have his foot amputated. After sitting with the family into the afternoon, I received a text message that the son of a good friend was in the emergency room of that same hospital, so I spent some time with him before heading home via my own doctor's office for a blood draw prior to a scheduled visit Wednesday. A quick dinner with Linda, men's Bible study, and finally home. It's 9:30, and I'm whipped. Too tired to watch the presidential debate, I'm going to bed. Maybe that's enough to be thankful for tonight.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Practical Christianity

September 26, 2016 Most of us aren't poor, but when I surveyed the crowd gathered, I didn't see anyone who could be considered rich, either. but on a Sunday afternoon when they could have been relaxing with family, watching the game, or getting in a few rounds of golf, they were sweating it out with a load of logs. Some weeks ago, our church purchased a semi-load of logs that have since been sitting on the side yard of the building. The cutting and splitting party scheduled a couple weeks ago had to be postponed, so today was the day. I didn't actually count noses, but there had to be twenty five to thirty men, women, and children cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. Six chainsaws, four wood splitters, three pickup trucks, and a trailer was all it took for these men and women in just a little over three hours to cut, split, and stack about twenty cord of wood. But the heart of the matter is that it will all be given away to people in need. Our people weren't doing their own wood; in fact, most of us have yet to get our own in. Instead, they were taking time that could well have been spent taking care of their own needs, and giving to people some of them have never even met. I am grateful to belong to a church that cares for their neighbors in practical and tangible ways. I am grateful to belong to a church that unlike most others I've seen, has so many young men who, in various stages of their walk with Christ, come together to serve him with eager gladness, without even a hint of "what's in it for me." I am grateful for the women who worked alongside us, to get the job done. And I'm grateful for the witness to the love of Christ that will be made when the weather turns cold and snowy and we have the ability to warm homes as well as hearts.

Friday, September 23, 2016


September 24, 2016 The only part of my body that doesn't hurt is the top of my head, ears, eyes, nose, throat. I guess I won't need to see a specialist. The guy came today to dig the trench for our new water line. He did a great job, nice and neat, even undercutting the gas line that runs across the property. I skipped writer's group and band to make sure I was available in case he ran into any problems, but things went smoothly until he got almost to the end. I showed him where the new shutoff valve was located, and hoped he would dig up close to it, but he refused to get that close to the line, so I had to dig the last three feet by hand. Five feet deep. I am sore. Linda came out periodically to check on me, worried she'd find me slumped over my shovel. I told her if I were, to just put the blade on the tractor and cover me up. It would save a lot of money. The last time she came out, Abi was with her. She asked me to quit for the night, but I wanted to get it done, and I knew if I stopped, I wouldn't be able to get started again. She tricked me; talked to me for about five minutes, and when I started up again, I just couldn't do it. I was out back unhitching the blade from the old 8N when Nate came walking across the lawn. He hopped on the back of the tractor and rode with me to the job site to look it over. Abi apparently was worried about me, too, and had mentioned something to her father. He examined the hole, declared that it was almost done, and he was going to finish it. Since it was dark, I drove the John Deere around to shine lights on the trench while he dug and chopped till the hole was wide enough to accommodate the line. Tonight I am sore; tomorrow I may have a hard time moving, but I am thankful for my son who after splitting wood for three hours, came over to help his father finish a difficult job.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sunshine and Shadow

September 23, 2016 What if God's blessing were revealed not in the good things that come into our lives, but in the trials? I can't say as I'm going through any trial right now, but I have been there, and can say that just because everything seems to be going smoothly doesn't mean all is well. Lately, my Bible reading and prayers have felt flat-lined. As in nothing is happening. When I read, it feels like, "Yadda, yadda, yadda;" not something a preacher likes to admit. My prayers have been dull and listless, but things in my life right now are pretty copacetic. Last summer when granddaughter Alex got sick while in Africa, my prayers seethed with fire! I was assaulting heaven continually, fighting as St. Paul said, "the good fight of faith." I scoured the Scriptures for a word from the Lord indicating that all would be well, and stood toe to toe with my doubts and fears till they finally cowered in submission. It wasn't the good times that drove me to my knees and opened the door to God's provision. The blessing came through the trial. So tonight as I lay down to sleep in peace, I remember the trials and ask for the grace of remembrance that will humble me to seek Christ as diligently in the sunshine as in the shadow. And I will praise him as well when I walk by his side on land as I will when he bids me step out of the boat to walk on water in the midst of the storm.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When I Don't Know What to Do

September 21, 2016 It's been a frustrating day. Some weeks ago, I had compiled notes from various classes I have taught over the years on subjects ranging from Bible studies to leadership to family dynamics. I had planned on reviewing them with a colleague to evaluate them for use in training pastors in Cuba, but when I needed them today, I couldn't locate them. I've looked everywhere I can think of, to no avail. Normally, this would be merely an inconvenience, but I had counted on this material to form the basis for what I would be doing in Cuba over the next few years, and losing them feels like losing my anchorage in a storm. The plans I thought would carry me into these next few years have suddenly evaporated, and I don't know what to do. I know Christian brothers and sisters who would tell me to rejoice; that God is going to replace my plans with his own...all of which may be true, but at the moment, I feel lost and at loose ends. It's not a nice feeling; I feel restless, unsure of my next move. For someone who for more than twenty years has had a pretty clear sense of purpose and direction as a pastor, this is very uncomfortable. For all these years, I've set goals, dealt with obstacles, thought about my next step. For the past two years, I've been sorting through what retirement means, and what purpose God has in store now. I had thought about this for years, tried to wrap my mind around how to function in retirement. It's been somewhat uncomfortable to be at loose ends, and I thought I had finally figured out at least one major component of it all. Apparently, not so much. There is however, a light in this cloud of confusion. Whenever we don't know what to do, it's a good time to pray. So I will. With thanksgiving, my declaration of faith. Jehoshaphat and his armies were outnumbered and outclassed. It was a crisis of major proportion, so not knowing anything else, he turned to prayer. "O Lord," he said, "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." (2 Chronicles 20:12). Not a bad plan. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who Will Take His Place?

September 20, 2016 Every so often someone says something that changes the entire way we look at things. Take terrorism, for instance. It's on everyone's mind; our presidential candidates are telling us how they would deal with this ever-increasing threat to our national security, and social media are buzzing with invective pro or con. As a nation, we've invested billions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of lives in the (so far) vain quest to neutralize those who would destroy us. Strategically or politically, I can't say as I have even a slight clue as to what is the best course of action, but this morning I was given another perspective that has me thinking. At an early breakfast meeting in a Rochester diner, my friend was speaking to fifteen men about what it was like growing up under a Communist regime that had no scruples about stooping to bully a six year old schoolchild because of his Christian beliefs. He told them about the American missionary who witnessed to his grandmother back in the '30s, and of the Christian legacy that was passed down from his grandmother to his father, and to him. "She never knew that her witness would change my life. I have lots of reasons to hate," he went on, "but I have one reason to forgive, and that is Jesus." He went on to speak about the hatred that drives terrorists, ending with this statement that has me thinking. "If you kill a terrorist, a hundred more will rise up to take his place. But if you convert him to Jesus, you may transform the lives of that hundred by the love of Christ." I'm a believer in Christian missions. I've seen how leaving one's own culture to share Christ in another affects not only those to whom we go, but also those who do the going. In our own church, we've had people go to Uganda, Nepal, Mongolia, Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Cuba, and more. The one place where we don't send many people is to Muslim dominated countries. There may be many reasons for this, including the difficulties inherent in Christians even getting into such countries, but I suspect one of the major reasons is our concern for our safety. When people travel for such mission trips, the most common prayer I hear on their behalf is for their safety. Not for boldness in proclaiming the Gospel, not for people to come to Christ, but for safety of the team; a far cry from the prayers of St. Paul as he sits in a Roman prison, asking prayer that he be bold and clear in presenting Christ to his jailers. In short, we're afraid, and perhaps rightly so. But if we live by our fears, we cannot live by faith. I wonder what would happen if we Christians took my friend's words seriously. Instead of trying to rid the world of terrorists by laws and bullets, what if Christians were to befriend Muslims for Christ? I am not naive enough to imagine that every potential terrorist is going to be won to Christ, and I am not naive enough to believe that our security measures are unnecessary, but alongside them, perhaps we might be bold enough to just attempt sharing Christ with them. Truthfully, I wouldn't know where to even begin with this, but I am grateful tonight for my friend who raised the question and has made me think.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Lie Down in Peace

September 19, 2016 My days are generally simpler than they used to be. The frenetic schedule has been replaced by a more mellow, human pace, and yet things that need to be done get done. I didn't rise this morning till nearly 7:30 am, had coffee with Linda before she left for her swimming lesson, whereupon I worked out, read my Bible, the paper, and finished reading a book, before spraying some weird fungus on the mulch underneath our garden swing and cleaning out the old woodshed so Linda can use it for gardening stuff. The wood that had been in the old shed was some I bought last year from a local man who cuts wood for a living. He is legally blind and works hard, so I wanted to help out. Problem is, he cuts a standard 18" log that is just a bit too long for my small stove. I can get it in with a bit of maneuvering, but Nate's stove is big, so it just made sense to give it to him. I loaded it up, took it over, and we chucked it into his basement storage area. Practicing my bass for half an hour took me nearly to dinner, when a friend arrived for supper. Men's group and a 9:00 drive to Churchville with my friend Willie rounded out the day. It's now midnight, and I have a 6:00 am breakfast meeting, so I'll just say, "Thank you, Lord, for a laid-back day filled with meaningful activity. Forgive the sins of the day, and make me to lie down in peace, for your Name's sake. Amen."

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Showers of Blessings

September 18, 2016 It rained again today. That might not seem like such a big deal, except that it rained yesterday too, after a summer with almost no rain at all. The showers were on and off, but it's been a drenching rain that we've sorely needed. The old Gospel song intones, "Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy drops 'round us are falling, but for the showers we plead." Linda and I have been showered with blessings of family and church all our lives, and today was no different. We celebrated Mattie's eleventh birthday today with pizza and ice cream at our house, replete with the traditional "Happy Birthday" song sung and shouted in glorious and deliberate dissonance to a smiling little girl who is a delight to us all. In addition to our immediate family, her maternal grandparents joined us, driving all the way from Rochester to be a part of her life, and friends with their kids who live across the road from Matt and Jeanine. The house was full till it was time to head back to church to teach bass at our School of the Arts, followed by visiting with and praying for a friend who stopped in to thank us for our prayers for him as he has been going through a difficult time in his life. He wanted us to know that those prayers are slowly being answered as he is learning to trust God in ways he has never done before. This next week will also be full as we host our Cuban friend Willie for a few days while he visits churches in the area, much like St. Paul made his circuit through Asia Minor on his missionary journeys. Life is full, in so many ways, and although I am an introvert who relishes the quiet times such as I am having at the moment, I am grateful for the people, and to be married to an extrovert who ensures that I don't just hole up like a hermit and miss the joy of those people who continue to bless me by their love and faith. It rained again today; showers of blessing watering the earth...and me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Never a Chore

September 17, 2016 It's been a full day. After a week of watching Jessie and Todd's kids while they attended work related conferences laced with a little down time together in Utah, we had the usual crew of grandchildren for our twice-monthly sleepover last night. This morning, Abi and Jo headed off to a swim meet, Todd's parents Denny and Dianne stopped by to pick up Ian, Eliza, and Gemma for the day, while Nathan and Mattie geared up for a ju-jitsu tournament in Buffalo. Linda and I drove to Buffalo for the tournament, truly a gift of love for her, since she gets sick to her stomach watching the kids fight. The referees are great, watching carefully to make sure no kid gets hurt, but it's still a bit disconcerting to see your eight and ten year old grandchildren in the ring, often with older and more experienced grapplers. From there, we headed south for three hours to meet Alex at college, again proof positive of Linda's love for her grandchildren, since long rides in the car are tortuous for her. Alex introduced us to her roommate and a few friends, gave us a tour of the campus, before we took her and two friends to dinner. Apparently, even with such a beautiful campus and a stellar academic program, college food is still college food. Being treated to real restaurant fare ensured that next time we visit, we'll be treated again like royalty. The only time I've ever received such a long and tight hug as Alex gave me tonight was the night before she left for college. Hugs like that feel so good because they are like a physical transfer of love. It is my blessing to love, and to be loved. Two hours together in the car on the way home may be tortuous for Linda, but they were heavenly for me. After a week of giving all our attention to others, spending time just the two of us filled me up. As we lay in bed at the end of this full day, I am aware that it was full not just with activity, but even more with love. Lying side by side, Linda asked me what I was thinking. My response was easy, quick, and simple: Time with those you love is never a chore and never enough.

Friday, September 16, 2016


September 16, 2016 Most of the time, it's just a steady "thump, thump, thump" that along with the drums, provides the rhythmic foundation for the band. Those who really know what they're doing can really make the instrument sing with frenzied arpeggios and scales. Me? I just "thump thump" my way through the music, following the general chord structure or more often, quarter note progressions through the number. I must be getting better, though. Today at rehearsal, two different conductors and a couple of band members commented on how much my string bass was adding to the music. I had thought so simply because I like the unique sound the instrument adds to an orchestral or band mix, but having others recognize my contribution feels pretty good. I'm not the soloist, I don't provide the ringing melodies of the trumpets, trombones, or saxes, but I'm part of the foundation, and that's good enough for me. I've never thought much about it, but being recognized for your contribution to the whole makes me want to practice more; to get better at what I do. Encouragement is like that. I've known coaches whose primary tactic is criticism. Their teams show it. Criticize me, and something inside begins to wilt. Critique with encouragement, and I'm ready to take it to the next level. This morning, the writer's group I attend critiqued a children's story I wrote. I had actually made it up on the fly one afternoon as little Gemma sat in my lap. I've never written anything like that before, so I was interested to see how it would be received. One of the group, who herself writes children's books, was a bit reluctant to critique, but with my encouragement, proceeded. She was most helpful, and as I reflected on the experience, it occurred to me that the difference between criticism and critique is that the former negatively focuses on the person him or herself, while critique focuses on improving the work. It is one thing to be told that your work could improve with a few changes, or even that it needs a major overhaul; it is something quite different to be told you are a bad writer or musician, mechanic, or teacher, unless that judgment is accompanied by possible corrective action that can be taken. I was eager to hear how I could improve my writing; it was good to hear that my work on the bass is paying off. I am thankful for both observations of my efforts. I just have to wonder though, why I've never been complimented on my bassooning.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


September 15, 2016 Sometimes I wish I had been born an extrovert. To us introverts, those who can easily mix it up in a crowd of people are like magicians, able to conjure up laughter, conversation, and friendships with ease, while we fidget silently on the sidelines, wishing we knew how to fit in. Most of the time, being introverted isn't really a problem. We introverts don't need lots of people to be happy; we're comfortable with our own thoughts, and left to ourselves, can be quite content...until theology smacks us between the eyes. Christian theology tells us that God made us for fellowship with him and with each other. Communion it's called, and it exists because our God is Triune, a God whose very being is communal. This morning I attended our annual fall district pastor's meeting, and felt curiously out of place. Before retirement, these meetings were a big part of my connection. Though we saw each other only occasionally, these were my colleagues, those who shared the joys and sorrows, successes and failures of ministry. For the past two years, I've inhabited a different world, one that doesn't include preaching, counseling, reports, and deadlines. These mostly younger men and women are dealing with issues that were once my daily routine, but now are but a memory. When our district superintendent spoke of conference positions and committees that needed to be filled, I was almost ready to volunteer, just to again be a part of that connection. I know I still have much to offer; I'm not quite ready to concede that a denominational committee is where I need to offer it. Yet I need the connection, and know there are young pastors who need the mentoring I believe I can provide. I fully believe God calls his servants; he doesn't ask for volunteers, so until I get a call, I think I'll just sit and wait, grateful for the brothers and sisters who have kept me connected and who have provided the communion and fellowship that is so central to Christian faith.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


September 14, 2016

Once or twice each week my day begins before I'm ready for it. If I've scheduled to have breakfast with someone, or have an early meeting to attend, I'm off and running before I've had time to read my Bible and pray. I know, that's a pretty sad admission for a pastor to have to make, but it's the truth. Once a day starts like that, it's usually pretty much a straight shot through till evening. Once in awhile I'm able to stop in the middle of the day to reorient, but not often.

Today was one of those days. It's now just past ten, and I've been on the go since I got up at six. I did get in some reading time before heading out into the day, but I'm ashamed to say that my prayers were pretty truncated. Tonight as we said our evening prayers with Ian, Eliza, and Gemma, I realized that I hadn't prayed for our grandchildren by name in a couple days, which made me wonder, "What kind of grandfather forgets to pray for his grandkids?"

All this is to say that I'm grateful tonight for guilt, or if you prefer, conviction. I'm grateful that God brought to mind my prayerlessness, that I felt that twinge of chagrin, to have a measure of sensitivity to my inadequacy and shortcomings in this area. It would be tragic if we could go blithely through a week without any awareness of our sins, for with no awareness there can be no confession, if no confession, there can be no forgiveness, and if no forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation and no fellowship with God. Conviction is never pleasant, because through it we are reminded of the immensity of the gulf between God's holiness and our sinfulness. But it paves the way for us to return to the One who made us in his image and for his glory. That's a pretty good place to be, no matter how we manage to get there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


September 13, 2016

Excellence always attracts. And amazes. I've been taking upright bass lessons since last January, first from a student at Fredonia State, then from their newest professor of bass, Kieran Hanlon, who joined five other professors for a recital last night. Their first selection was a magnificent jazz version of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess that he arranged, followed by a bass solo that utterly amazed me, not only for its complexity, but also for the fact that he had the entire five minute piece memorized, as did the other performers on their solos.

Linda used to joke (at least I think it was a joke) that without notes I couldn't even hold a decent conversation. I know I never dared enter the pulpit without something in front of me. I've listened to great preachers. They are a delight to hear and watch. They know their material, have a sense of timing, know how to craft a sentence, build suspense, and draw the congregation along to the place where they are ready to make a commitment. I would never claim to be more than an average preacher, more like a hack than a master. But I appreciate excellence in preaching, as I appreciate excellence in any endeavor, whether it be mechanics, carpentry, engineering, sports, writing, etc. I particularly enjoy the excellence of my wife's culinary skills.

Just playing such difficult music is far beyond me; doing it from memory stretches my imagination. It was glorious, and demonstrated what is possible, even if not for me. That's what excellence does; it lifts us beyond the ordinary. I contend that excellence in any endeavor reveals something of the character of God, who does all things well. I am grateful for last night's recital which gave me a target that I'll never hit, but which at least I can see.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hope for the Hopeless

September 12, 2016

"I have seen his ways, but I will heal him." These words from Isaiah 57:18 come at the tail end of a long litany of failure, rebellion, and depravity that lay at Israel's feet. If anyone deserved the judgment of God upon them, it was this nation at this time in her history. God was not unaware of Israel's sins; but he was determined to rescue the people he loved.

For anyone who has ever believed that they were beyond redemption, that they were too far gone, without hope, these ten words are life. God sees. Nothing is hidden from his gaze, not the secret sins we have successfully hidden from all eyes, not even the failures we have managed to hide from ourselves. He sees it all, but instead of judgment, God chooses to heal. If ever there were a promise worth holding onto with a vengeance, this is it. It can be hard to believe when one is in the midst of failure, but this promise is our only hope. We have a choice to believe the accusations of the devil or God's promise. The one will lead to despair, the other to relief and hope. I am grateful tonight for this word from Isaiah that offers encouragement for the people of God who have almost lost hope. God has seen our ways, but he will heal us.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Can We Still Hope?

September 11, 2016

It's been fifteen years. Most of my grandkids cannot remember the attack that changed our world forever. They have no recollection of the Twin Towers, or of the cowardly and murderous assault upon the innocent people who went to work that morning, never to return home again. They cannot recall images of those same towers, collapsing in a cloud of dust and debris, nor of the gaping hole in the wall of the Pentagon or the huge furrow plowed into the field in Western Pennsylvania. America was given a flesh and blood introduction to jihad that Tuesday fifteen years ago, and those of us who are old enough to remember can recall exactly where we were when we first heard the news. We were mesmerized by the video footage of that second plane plowing into the South Tower, shooting a ball of fire out the other side. In spite of ourselves, we watched over and over the collapse of the towers, hoping that somehow it was all just a television fiction instead of the horrific reality it in fact was.

We were brought together as a nation that day. With the exception of a few conspiracy theorists and those in our midst who either openly or secretively support radical Islam, we came together in shock, sorrow, anger, and determination. As is too often the case however, we began to squabble over what to do with the space left after the cleanup, we bickered over what health benefits were owed to the first responders, and we saw our nation's leaders refuse to acknowledge the expressed motivation behind this and subsequent attacks. Today we are divided.

How can we be thankful in light of these events? Some would say that even to think of gratitude under such circumstances is an affront to those who died that day fifteen years ago, and to the many who have since given their lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and half a dozen other countries in the Middle East. But the alternative to gratitude is despair, and yielding that ground can be fatal to a nation and to the individuals in it.

In the sixth century B.C., the city of Jerusalem was overrun by the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah was an eyewitness of the fall of the city, and composed a lament over its destruction. He chronicles the brutality of the conquering armies as they raped, pillaged, smashed babies' skulls against walls, ripped fetuses from pregnant women, while they leveled the city. In the midst of what was to that date the worst holocaust the Jewish people had ever experienced, what possibly might there be for which to give thanks? Through his tears, Jeremiah found what he was looking for.

In the third chapter of the poem he penned, he wrote these words:

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD."
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

Jeremiah doesn't minimize the anguish of his people, but neither does he forget the only hope he can find in what is otherwise a despairing situation. "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Tonight I give thanks that we are not consumed. God loves us still, and evidence of his compassion is all around us, if we will look for it. Every morning we wake to a new day, with the opportunity to experience God's faithfulness. We may have to wait for it, but if we hope in God, if we seek him, his goodness is there, waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


September 10, 2016

It is amazing how soon and how easily I forget. Late in life John Newton, converted slave and slave trader and author of "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound," told of how his mother taught him about Jesus, "but I forgot." While enslaved himself, tied like a dog under the table of an African queen, he promised God he would change, but when he escaped, forgot his promise. Over and over again, he forgot, but God didn't forget, and as an old man slowly walking the streets of Bristol, he was always ready to tell people that as an old man, he had forgotten many things, but one thing he remembered; "I was a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior."

This evening, Linda and I attended the launch service for Conduit North, a new church plant on the north side of Jamestown. The music was good, there was energy and enthusiasm, pastor Cameron preached well, but for me, something was missing, something that had nothing to do with the folks at Conduit. It was missing inside me. I just felt empty inside, like I was left standing on the station watching the God train pull out. I think part of it is envy. I've often wondered if I was playing it safe in ministry, working within a system that provided guaranteed work, housing, health care, and pension. How does any of that help me trust God? I've often looked back at wasted hours, failures in ministry and personal life, wishing I could retrace my steps and do it again, only better. But I can't go back, any more than any of us can. It's easy to wallow in self-pity or self-condemnation. And the Enemy of our souls is more than willing to fan any spark of unbelief into flame.

We got home, I picked some tomatoes, then sat on the back deck in the fading light, praying. It occurred to me that my problem is narcissism. Whenever I focus on me, on how I feel, on the emptiness within, that's where I end up: empty. So I pulled out my phone, went to my gratitude app and looked at the suggestion for the day. It was to give thanks for three things moving. My first thought was about Emma, but she doesn't move enough to count. But looking into the sky with storm clouds rolling in, I could see them scudding across my field of vision, and immediately thought of our God who moves mountains. Giving thanks is a decision we make, not a feeling we have, and as I began to thank him for moving the mountain of doubt and unbelief, I could feel it trembling and finally rolling away like the clouds overhead.

Gratitude has immense power, but only if it is expressed. And only if it is directed to the One, the only One to whom it truly belongs. As Cameron finished preaching tonight, he told the people that though he will make mistakes and probably fail at times as a pastor, he would always give them Jesus. Which was my prayer for him and my encouragement to him earlier today. I am grateful tonight that whether I feel it or not, Jesus is Lord, and will never fail to come to those who truly wait on him.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Unreasonable Atheist

September 9, 2016

Atheism puzzles me. I can understand the agnostic who says, "I don't know if there is a God," but like some fundamentalists, the atheist is too certain of his unbelief. It's possible that I may be oversimplifying this particular worldview; there is much in this world of which I know little, and plenty more of which I know nothing at all, so perhaps I don't really understand atheism. As I understand it, the atheist says, "there is no God; God doesn't exist except in people's imagination; he's the feebleminded's explanation for all that he doesn't understand."

Wednesday I attended my first class in jazz improvisation, a pretty heady subject to tackle when I barely know my way around the string bass. Jesse, the student teacher, was charting jazz and blues sequences on the board, talking about Tonic notes, fourth's, fifths (no, not the kind that comes in a bottle), seconds, augmented, diminished, seventh and ninth chords, how all these relate to each other and work together in a musical composition. When I learned the saxophone, I was taught the notes, key signatures, timing, and the composition notes that told us when to
slow down, speed up, get softer or louder. I didn't get any music theory at all. I didn't know it, but it was still there.

I am amazed at the complexity of sound. An octave is the same note, only in a higher pitch. In any string length, move halfway from one anchor point to another, and you'll have an octave. Sound comes in waves, and an octave is a sine curve cut in half. Music is physics, math, and emotion, all rolled into one. Different instruments produce different tonal qualities, which is why a bassoon sounds dark and woody, while a trumpet is bright and brassy. But I have no idea as to why this is so. So I stand on the shore of this ocean of music and toss my feeble notes into the waves, amazed at the vastness of it; how a single scale can produce so many different songs. It would never occur to me to say, "There are no more songs out there." I may not know what they are, but they are surely there.

Although I don't agree with him, the agnostic at least makes sense when he says, "I don't know." The atheist however, seems awfully arrogant. To categorically deny the possibility of God's existence, one would have to possess all available knowledge, an attribute we give to God alone. Failing this, to say God is an impossibility is either arrogant or foolish. If there is something in this world that I don't know, I must concede the possibility of the existence of a god, or God. There's plenty I don't know, so I know God is possible. My faith tells me who he is, what he is like, and how I may know him. That's enough for which to be thankful tonight.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


September 8, 2016

This morning I was reflecting on some of the Scripture I read yesterday (I can be a bit slow on the draw when it comes to spiritual insight), and Luke 17:3-4 came to mind in an unusual way. The text reads, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day he comes and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." Words similar to these are found on Jesus' lips on more than one occasion. It is a command we are too often slow to keep. Awhile back when ISIS terrorists beheaded six Libyan Christians, to the amazement of even the Christian world, their families went on national television declaring their forgiveness of the murderers. Most of us would at least require months, if not years, to get to the place where we can forgive, but they recognized forgiveness not as a nice gesture, but as a command from the Lord, which they took very seriously.

As I read this text and thought about the command to forgive seven times a day, or as Jesus told Peter, "seventy times seven," I became aware that this is not a command given without a context. Jesus can command this kind of forgiveness because it is the kind of forgiveness he offers us. I think back over the years and over the many times I stumbled over the same weaknesses, and of the times I therefore figured God must have given up on me now, and I realize Jesus isn't telling me to do something he hasn't already done over and over again. He commands us to forgive because that's what he did, and it is how we demonstrate to the world that he lives in us. An unwillingness to forgive, to be reconciled, is proof that no matter how loudly and convincingly we preach, no matter how much we sing and pray, we ourselves haven't received the forgiveness of Christ. This is true not only of our need to forgive others, but also of our need to forgive ourselves.

When we've failed (again), it can be hard to believe that with simple repentance we can be forgiven, but amazingly enough, that's how it works. If we believe, it works. I am grateful tonight that what Christ commands he also enables, and that he only commands what he has already done. Repeatedly. Seventy times seven.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Time With God

September 7, 2016

It's easy to forget how relationships work. When we do, we usually end up expecting more than the relationship can deliver. Young couples used to come to me wanting to get married. Although we talked about how relationships work, I suspect most of them thought they would be the exception; that they would be the couple who lived happily ever after, with nary so much as a ripple to spoil the glassy surface of their life together. Of course, that never happened. Two imperfect people cannot possibly create a perfect marriage. There are always issues of power and control, selfishness and sacrifice, the need to give and receive forgiveness. Anyone who has been married for more than a couple hours knows this.

So why should it surprise me when my relationship with Christ has its ups and downs, its moments of joy and of disappointment? But the fact of the matter is, whenever I pick up my Bible or pause to pray, I expect that I will receive a revelation, feel God's presence, be lifted to new planes of spiritual experience. In fact, that rarely happens. Most of the time, it feels like I'm just going through the motions, doing the routine, checking "devotions" off the list. The fault is not God's; it always lies with me. Too often, I'm not ready, haven't prepared myself, in effect, casually strolling into the presence of the Almighty God and wondering why I'm not granted an audience. Life with Christ is a relationship, and like any relationship, there are failures, misunderstandings, imperfections, only in this case, they are always one-sided.

My marital love language is time. Linda doesn't have to give me things, doesn't have to talk to me, doesn't have to do things for me. All she needs to fill up my heart is to spend time with me. If that's how God wired me, it makes sense that my relationship with him works the same way. I need to spend blocks of time with him, just being in his presence. Which means I must make some decisions. There's only so much time in a day, so to give God the time I need to hear from him, I may have to curtail other activities. Even then, I don't expect that every time I pick up my Bible or bow my knees I will experience some rending of the heavens. Relationships don't work that way, and sometimes God hides himself to see if we are in earnest about seeking him.

So tonight I will lay my head down, once more ask forgiveness for the sins of the day, offer intercessions for those in need, and do my best to offer myself unreservedly to Christ. What he does with all that is his business, and I know his grace is not dependent on my perception of it. For that, I am grateful tonight.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It's Good to be Home

September 6, 2016

It's a cliché, tried and true: "We don't miss it till it's gone." Of course we don't; if we still have it, we can't miss it. We can however, take it for granted. I'm pretty much an introvert. I don't mind alone time; in fact, I thrive on it. But even the introvert was made in the image of the triune God whose very nature is fellowship. A few years ago, I slowly drifted away from the area pastor's prayer gathering. At times, it just didn't feel like a good fit for me, and I had become involved in a mentoring relationship that was very fulfilling, and met at the same time as the prayer group.

I was still in active pastoral ministry at the time, and had many opportunities to engage other pastors, but then I retired. It took awhile for the ripple effect of retirement to hit the shores of my introversion, but I began to realize that there is still a pastoral part of me inside that was starving. I needed time with other pastors. I hadn't realized it at the time, but I was neglecting a Scriptural command I've preached about many times. It's Hebrews 10:25; "Don't neglect gathering yourselves together as is the practice of some, but encourage one another..." When it comes to weekly worship, I'm spot on with this, but I had a huge blind spot when it came to encouraging my fellow pastors. You see, this Scriptural command isn't just about my need for encouragement, but also about my need to be an encourager. I was doing it one-on-one, but had completely missed the boat with my colleagues.

The Bible has a way of cutting through to the heart of the matter, exposing the hypocrisies we aren't even aware of. I'm grateful that God doesn't give up on us when in our blindness we miss the plain Word of God. It was good to be back. I'm sure there will be times I chafe against it, but I need the iron sharpening iron that happens when men of God get together. And amazingly enough, they need me.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Now It Begins

September 5, 2016

Summer is officially over. Labor Day has come and almost gone; the remnants of the last summer picnic are scattered across the lawn, the tables are down, the lawn chairs put away, the parents of young children have long since headed home to put their progeny in bed early. School looms. Little Gemma is excited to be going to preschool, but the others are bemoaning the end of the long, lazy days of summer and the early mornings that await them for the next nine months. I contend that something is drastically wrong with an educational system that in two short years can transform a child's natural curiosity and love of learning into dread and apprehension. A wise preacher once said that it is a sin to bore people with the Word of God. The same can be said of our educational system.

It's been a good summer for us. Lots of outdoors projects got scratched off the list, and the few remaining ones will bite the dust soon. I've sensed a renewal and readjustment of direction and purpose that I anticipate will give form and substance to my life for some time to come. I'm slowly settling into this reality of no longer having the responsibility for leading Park church; instead, I'm discovering what it means to be in a supportive role, which can be somewhat awkward at times, even though it is a good place for me to be.

I'm developing a new appreciation for lay Christians. When I was pastoring, my spiritual care was part of the job description. If I let things slide, everything would begin to unravel. The job both demanded, and provided the opportunity for Bible study, prayer, ancillary Christian reading, and works of charitable nature. I think at times I took for granted the spirituality of my people, not realizing how difficult it can be to attend to spiritual disciplines while juggling family, job, and a host of other responsibilities. If growth in discipleship was slow, part of it was due to literally not having the time to pursue God. Our modern American culture has us pushing and busy all the time, and swimming against that stream is like trying to navigate up the Niagara River in a canoe. Bucking that tide is a daunting task, and tomorrow it all begins in earnest once more.

So I pray for our young families, for the parents who are trying to raise their children to love Jesus in a world that values everything else. I pray for the kids who are trying to live faithfully in a world much more hostile to our faith than the world I faced as a teenager. And I pray for our pastor who is trying to lead faithfully his people to be faithful. And I am thankful to have been released from much of that pressure. May I be faithful to help those still in the grind to see and follow Jesus who sees them in love.

Sunday, September 4, 2016


September 4, 2016

We can hear it as we pull into our driveway, a high-pitched yipping that turns into instant energy that bursts upon us as we open the front door. Emma is glad we're home. She squeals, she dances, she runs in circles in utter ecstasy. We don't have one of those fancy electronic fences, and we failed to train her as well as we should have, so when we go away, Emma gets locked in the house after we've secured the furniture by shutting the bedroom doors and putting the dining room chairs on the stuffed chair and living room couch which she otherwise thinks are there for her convenience and pleasure. If we're going to be gone for an entire day or overnight, she gets to visit her friend Ruby courtesy of our very gracious daughter and son in law. For shorter stretches, she is confined to our house, apparently a great infraction of canine law.

Everyone should at least once in their lifetime be the cause of such wild joy. We would be happy to make that happen by renting Emma out for an afternoon. You will never have felt so wanted as you will when you walk in your front door to Emma's antics. Of course, I'm not reflecting on Emma's joy at our return because it has significance for world history. I'm thinking tonight of Jesus' promised return for his bride, the Church. He's been a long time gone, and it's tempting to think he's never coming back, much like Emma's small brain can't tell whether we're gone for good, or just for a short while. It's been a long time, but his promise is greater than the centuries, and his coming is nearer today than it was yesterday.

The question is, "How will we receive him?" Do I wait with eager anticipation, listening for the sound of his footsteps outside the door, or am I slumbering senselessly, not paying attention, not caring, not looking for his soon return? I wonder if I will receive him joyfully, with shouts of joy and praiseworthy dancing, or if I will be wishing he would stay away so I can attend to my own business and desires. Emma can be exasperating at times, but there is no doubt about her love and loyalty to us. May Jesus be able to say the same about us; that though we may be exasperating, our loyalty is unquestioned. Tonight I am thankful for Emma, our loyal and loveable mutt who unwittingly teaches me about myself and about Jesus' Second Coming.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Happy Ending

September 3, 2016

Reading together by the fire after a long day's work makes for a beautiful way to end the week. Most of the day was spent building a woodshed. A couple sections of roof, then weatherguard and shingles, and one more project gets scratched off my list, and a very satisfying scratch it will be! Earlier today, Matt and I took a truckload of old motorcycle parts to be sandblasted as preparation for painting. A few hundred dollars and a couple weeks down the road, we should be able to start assembly. Come spring, it will be another project done, one that has literally been a lifetime in the making. Matt will get to enjoy it more than I, but that's OK; finishing the build will be reward enough for me.

Yesterday I commented on the full calendar of events looming before us. It will be busy, but we are busy with the people who fill our lives with joy. In between, are the projects, most of which are things that have been on the back burner for years, waiting for the time when I could get to them. I wish I had a good comeback for all the retired people who tell me that they're so busy they don't know how they found time to work. I'm busy, but it's with matters of my own choosing. Scratching things off my list feels good, but there will always be more that gets added on. The people however, don't get scratched off. They remain, giving meaning and purpose to the projects. My main project purpose sat with me by the fire tonight, making a perfect ending to the day.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Time for Perspective

September 2, 2016

Pattern. Schedule. Regularity. Ordinary. Sometimes I rebel against these things. Linda and I sat down after breakfast this morning to map out our calendars for the year. With eight grandkids in three different school districts, swim meets, soccer games, choral and instrumental concerts can get a bit daunting, especially when two or three events are scheduled for the same day. And that's just the school activities of the grandkids; we haven't even talked about our own stuff. Linda will soon begin teaching her exercise class, going to swimming, breakfast meetings, library board, women's Bible study, while I meet with people most of the day on Tuesdays, have band rehearsal twice a week, men's Bible study, teaching bass on Sunday evenings, meetings for the prison ministry, and assorted other commitments. Just looking at the calendar sometimes makes me want to crawl into a hole. I'm not a people person, and constant activities drain me. I had made the assumption that retirement would mean I could do what I want when I wanted. Not quite.

It's at times like this that the ordinary, the mundane and banal appeal to me. The fourth Commandment that we honor the Sabbath day has fallen out of favor in our secular, busy world, but our need for rest, for time to step back from everyday life so we can get some perspective, is as important today as when that commandment was first given. We take time with God in the morning so that we can orient our minds and hearts before the day thrusts itself upon us. I need similar time in the evening to lay the day to rest, to offer thanks for the grace offered me, ask forgiveness for my failures and shortcomings, and to place it all in the hands of the God whose love is so deep that he gave up his Son to the Cross so we could have new and abundant life.

Above all, I am looking forward two days for that weekly grace given where the entire day is set aside for holy purposes. It will help me reorient for the busy week to come, an adjustment I will sorely need and gratefully receive.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An Open Door

September 1, 2016

A regular prayer of mine is that God will give me opportunities to bear witness to his love and salvation in Jesus Christ, that I will recognize them when they come, and that I will have the courage and determination to make the most of them. Opportunities are of little use if we don't see them, and they are often disguised as problems which often we'd prefer to avoid. Fortunately, one of the benefits of my prayer is that it sensitizes me to those very opportunities I used to miss. But opportunities recognized do little good if we shrink from the work or danger in which they come wrapped.

I am grateful tonight for those opportunities that still come my way, and for the grace given me to recognize them. My prayer tonight is for the wisdom to know the best way to respond to the opportunity God is giving me, and the courage to actually walk through the door that has opened just a wee crack. God isn't done with me, and I am not done with God. There is still much to be done, and I want to be the man to do it. By his grace, I am.