Monday, October 31, 2016
October 31, 2016 It's not just about small town life, although that's part of it. It's about our kids who have made good friends with other young couples fro church. Tonight after taking their kids trick or treating, Todd and Jess, Matt and Jeanine, along with their friends (and ours) Jen and Darren, Brandon and Brandi, and Melissa, along with all their kids (I think there are ten of them, but they were here and there, so I didn't actually get a count) showed up at our door. Linda had hidden sacks of treats around the house for the kids to find, and the table was set with doughnuts, Timbits, hot mulled cider, regular cider, and coffee. She also set out a dish of grapes to assuage our guilt for all the junk we were eating. An hour and a half later, we were saying our goodbyes, having shared stories and laughter around the table, the perfect ending to an otherwise quiet Halloween. When we lived in the middle of town, it wasn't uncommon to have two hundred kids show up for Halloween. Living on the edge of the village, only our kids stop by. I miss seeing the little ones all dressed up; not so much the older kids who don a little facepaint and hope for the best. It was a good evening, blessed by the presence of our kids, their friends, and all the little kids who were playing happily together tonight. No, it's not big stuff, but it is the stuff of life, our life, for which I am grateful tonight.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
October 30, 2016 "It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? I had said in my alarm, "I am cut off from your sight." But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you." --From Lamentations 3:26, Psalm 77:9, 31:22, and Proverbs 20:22 I didn't realize how much I missed it till today. Last Sunday, I was in prison with a Keryx team, ministering to 42 men, worshipping with them, but not giving or receiving communion due to the ecumenical nature of the ministry. From the first time I learned that communion wouldn't be a part of the weekend because so many different denominations are represented in both the ministry team and the inmates, it struck me as odd. Jesus instituted the communion meal as the signal means by which he would be made known to us, and by which we proclaim to the world that we are one in Christ. In John's gospel, that first Eucharist was followed by Jesus' prayer that we would be one, as he and his Father are one, "that the world might believe." Yet this was the one thing we wouldn't do together to demonstrate our unity in Christ. Before last Sunday, it had been a long time since I've not received communion on a Sunday morning, and having missed out last week, to receive it today was a special treat. According to John's gospel, prior to receiving communion that first time, Jesus washed his disciples' feet. At first, Peter protested, till Jesus said it was necessary; then he wanted Jesus to wash his head and hands, too. Jesus, alluding to the washing of baptism, told Peter he didn't need a complete bath, just a footwashing. In other words, we are washed from our sins when we profess our faith in Christ, signified by baptism, and don't need a second bath. Incidentally, this is why when someone who was baptized as an infant professes faith as an adult, Methodists do not baptize again. We believe that baptism isn't as much the sign of our faith in Christ as it is God's claim upon us. God is the primary actor in baptism. So, with Peter, we don't need a full bath, but walking in this dusty, sin-filled world, our feet get dirty, and we need the regular touch of Christ for our cleansing. That's what communion is; a regular coming to Christ, examining our hearts, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30. The liturgical prayer for communion reads, "We have done things we ought not to have done, and have left undone things we ought to have done." Every week when I stand in line to receive, I am confessing my sins, clearing out the clutter which inevitably comes with daily living. Of course, I can do it apart from communion, but to hear the words of absolution and receive again the Body and Blood of Christ cements in my heart the reality of God's endless (thankfully) grace. I needed it today; as the Scripture says, I waited for the LORD, and this morning I received the sign of his grace and mercy once more, and am grateful.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
October 29, 2016 Of all the ways we describe what it means to live as a Christian, perhaps one of the most common is that Christ is the head of the Church, and we are his body, each one being a member that contributes to the whole. This analogy is taken straight from Scripture, particularly 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 5:30-32. In the Corinthian text, Paul uses the analogy to teach our interrelatedness, going so far as to say that when one part of the body hurts, the entire body feels the pain, and when one part rejoices, the whole body sings. Those who have experienced deep sorrow or great joy have often experienced the truth of these texts, as they have been upheld in prayer or have keenly felt the suffering of a brother or sister. We also have experienced the pain of betrayal when the body is torn by jealousy, pride, and dissension. What often escapes our notice however, is how the Head of the Body is affected by what happens to the members of it. Nearly thirty years ago, Linda and I built a cabin on the acre of land her folks gave us. I went into partnership with my brother in law Dennis to buy trees from the state lands. We went halves on the money, but Dennis did most of the work, cutting and dragging them to the roadside, and sawing them up on his mill. He took the 6X6s; I got the 4X4s. He built a house; I built our cabin. One winter morning during construction, I was at the cabin site working all by myself. I was working on the roof and needed to reach the eaves for something. There was a pile of 4X4s just behind the cabin, so I climbed up the pile. Actually, I only started to climb. The first step was a big one, so I set myself for it, throwing all my weight to my right foot. Unfortunately, there was a spike on the log I chose to step on, and the energy with which I threw my weight into the step drove that spike into my foot and almost out the top. I was stuck so firmly I had to grab my leg with both hands to free my foot from the nail. The instant I impaled my foot, my entire body sympathized. The message immediately shot to my brain, and from there to my stomach and sweat glands. Once my foot was freed, I lay in the snow, sweating, my stomach heaving. I limped to my truck, got it started, and headed for the hospital. It was an interesting process trying to depress both the clutch and the accelerator with my left foot, all the while trying hard to hold back the dry heaves. Today as I thought about the Scriptures which tell of our connectedness in the Body of Christ, I know what sympathetic pain is like. I've felt it physically, and I've felt it spiritually. But what has me thinking tonight is how my pain or my sin or my confusion or doubt affects Christ, the Head. It's not just other Christians who are affected by my success or failure; as the head of the Body, Jesus Christ himself is first one to receive the messages from the extremities. He's the first to notice, the first to feel the pain, the first to know the exhilaration. Perhaps if I can remember that, I'll make better choices more often, give him more cause to celebrate. That would be cause not only for my gratitude, but perhaps even his.
Friday, October 28, 2016
October 28, 2016 It's all in your perspective. A hundred dollars leaves our hands with a light heart when spent on a vacation, a hobby, anything you enjoy. That same hundred spent on an unexpected necessity like a new furnace, a vehicle repair, or in our case, a new water line, is agonizing. What makes the difference? Simply, what we set our hearts on. Though the latter expenditures are necessities, the mere fact that they are necessities somehow sticks in our craw. Our hearts aren't in them. This has been an expensive summer and fall. When the village replaced its entire water system, we had to have a new water line put in. Lightning toasted the electronics on our washer and dryer, and in order to pass inspection, my truck needed new front brakes. Unfortunately, it has a bad design that requires the entire hub and bearings to be removed in order to fix the brakes, a five hour job. Needless to say, it is costing considerably more than the $25 inspection fee. Next week, I'll take the tractor in for a pre-winter servicing. Let's just say that the debit line of our budget has been quite a bit more active than the credit line. But it's all in our perspective. There was a time when expenses like this would have buried us. It's not fun spending money this way, but at least we have it to spend. We aren't having to max out a credit card or take out a loan. We have been blessed, and are grateful. And I don't regret for even one moment the money I spent on my bass, on treating the family to a Sight and Sound vacation, on this summer's mission trip to Cuba, or on our tithes and offerings. With the exception of my bass, these expenditures are for others, and bless us in the giving of them. I am grateful that these necessary expenses, while putting a dent in our bottom line, hasn't completely erased it. God continues to provide, and in that provision, I am content.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
October 27, 2016 Sleep. It's a beautiful thing. Sleep deprivation can kill you, and experts tell us we in modern America don't get enough. Somehow, we imagine that in our self-controlled world, we can do without it, or at least with less of it. With modern lighting, we stretch the days out into the late night, add television entertainment, a little internet, and before you know it, the time we allot to sleep slowly erodes, and with it, our health and sanity. The Bible says that God gives his beloved sleep. In spite of all this, we often find it difficult to get to sleep or stay asleep. One time when I was wide awake in the middle of the night, I simply prayed, "Lord, the Bible says you never sleep nor slumber. Since you're going to be awake anyway, there's no reason for both of us to be up, so I'd appreciate it if I could just get to sleep." He stayed awake; I did not. God loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. If his love moved him to go that far, giving us sleep is pretty minuscule. I'm thankful for sleep, and think I'll get some now.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
October 26, 2016 How is it possible that something written nearly a hundred and fifty years ago can speak so clearly to the issues we face today? "Daily Light on the Daily Path" was compiled around 1875 by Jonathan Bagster from Scripture readings compiled years before by his father and siblings for family devotional use. Linda and I have used it regularly since college days, and since it is only Scripture, it never grows old, and sometimes the daily reading is eerily pertinent for today. The reading for October 26 contains the following reflection: "Not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed." If God is for us, who can be against us? (from Psalm 75:6-7, Daniel 2:21, Matthew 24:6, Romans 8:31). Politics these days seems to be little more than an exercise in fear-mongering. Trump fans are fearful of the prospect of another Clinton presidency, while followers of Clinton are afraid of the prospect of the unpredictable Trump. Political advertising panders to the fears of the people, apparently with some success. I hear all the reasons I shouldn't vote for either candidate, but not so much why either of them should get my vote. What bothers me about it all is not the ugliness of the rhetoric, nor the perhaps legitimate fears of the people, but the Christians who seem more motivated by fear than their faith. Whichever way we vote, we shouldn't be voting our fears. Today's reading speaks to the heart of the matter. Do we Christians believe God is in control? Do we believe God is for us? Reflecting on this morning's Scriptures, I think we are afraid of losing life as we know it. We want to hold onto what we have, or gain what we don't yet have, and believe the candidate we oppose threatens our status quo. It's understandable. Most of us have seen drastic changes in our country over the past few years; the uncertainty of our time and the belief that our elected representatives are more interested in representing themselves than us have shaken our faith. Perhaps it needs to be shaken. If our faith resides more in our government than in our God, a shakeup may be in order, a reminder that God removes and sets up kings (and presidents). We need not, ought not be alarmed. It is still true that if God be for us, it doesn't matter who is against us. And in Christ, we have God's "Yes;" his affirmation and assurance that for those who trust him, even if our world turns upside down, all will be well.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
October 25, 2016 Even a mere ten years ago it wouldn't have been possible to do what I did today. The desire was there, but I just didn't have the equipment. Today I do, and had the blessing of using it to help someone in need. About 11:30, my friend Harry showed up at our door, ready to work. We drove over to son Nate's to get the flatbed trailer and load up my tractor before heading to Falconer. Saturday while I was doing prison ministry, Harry and a bunch of Park church folks were in Falconer digging a drainage trench, laying tile, and wheelbarrowing gravel to try to fix what was a horribly soggy yard and basement for a couple who had a need, but not the resources to do the job. A couple years ago, Linda and I went halves with Nate on a trailer for hauling firewood. Last summer, Linda and I bought our tractor with loader. Neither of these would have been possible ten years ago; we just didn't have the money. But we were blessed with good jobs, faithful with saving, and now are reaping the rewards of having been frugal for so long. We have half a trailer and the tractor to go on it. With bucket and backblade, Harry and I were able to spread a pile of gravel over our friends' driveway. Nate had been using the tractor to load his firewood into his basement woodshed, making that job a whole lot easier. Today, we smoothed out a driveway, and when I got everything home, mowed our lawn and that of another friend whose mower is in the shop. Next week I take my outfit to the dealer for its fall checkup. In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying the greater blessing of giving. Jesus said that much will be required of those who have been given much. Most of the time when we think of things required of us, it isn't with much pleasure. Requirements are often necessary evils, but this is one requirement I am eager to fulfill, for it keeps giving back, pressed down, shaken together, running over. It's hard to beat a deal like that!
Monday, October 24, 2016
October 24, 2016 I almost didn't go. When our band director told us about it, I thought it would be nice, but it was on a Monday night, when we have our men's Bible study group. But I have a good friend in Harry, who bought four tickets and offered me one, so I said I'd go. We met his high school friend Gary, had coffee and headed for the concert hall. Tonight, the Army Field Band and Chorus put on the best concert I've ever attended. I can't say I'm a dedicated concert-goer, so I don't have hundreds of concerts under my belt, but tonight's performance featured continual technically difficult and melodic numbers that had the full concert hall on its feet more than once. It's no secret that I love good music, especially live performances. A constantly blaring radio holds no attraction to me, but watching a live performance can be an incredible experience. From classical standards to classic rock, traditional patriotic songs and marches, all performed with uncommon excellence, they provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Good music feeds the soul, and mine is ready to burp. I love making music myself, but I am grateful tonight to have had enough musical training to appreciate music that is far beyond my ability to produce.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
October 23, 2016 One of the most famous lines in cinematic history comes from the very end of the movie as Dorothy exclaims, "There's no place like home!" I'm in my own bed next to my wife, while Izzi snoozes on the floor at the foot of our bed. Her mom and dad have taken big sister Alex back to college, and Izzi doesn't sleep well when it's just her and her sisters. But even with this unexpected surprise ("What other kind is there?" I ask.), Dorothy's remark is so very true. But not for everyone. At the prison, we talked with men who have no home, no family, no one to receive them when they get out. And in the meantime, they sleep in a dorm with a bunkmate in a prison. There's no way it can be mistaken for home. It's where they are, but it will never be home. Their faces are burned into my brain, their stories break my heart. They've done bad things, by their own admission, and are where they are because of what they did. The people they hurt either directly or indirectly are just as real as these men, and the scars of the evil done to them will not soon fade. Sin is enticing, but it exacts a horrible price in the end. And while I am home where I belong, these men, some barely out of their teenage years, others older than I, wait, and long for a home, a place where love reigns in peace and joy. Most of the men we sat with this weekend have come or are coming to grips with their sins, and are reveling in the grace of Christ. Their songs of praise are genuine as they celebrate finally being free from the chains of hatred and addiction. The bars that hold them are still there, but the chains that held their hearts have been broken, and while still incarcerated, they are freer men than many on the outside, for they have found a home in Christ, with a family of brothers who love and accept them in spite of what they've done. Home for them is at the foot of the Cross where they rest tonight. For myself, I await a heavenly home even as I am settled into my earthly home. They are already settled into their heavenly home while they await an earthly dwelling. When put that way, I'm not so sure I have the better deal.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
October 22, 2016 Prison ministry is difficult, not because of the work itself, but because of the duration. We go in by 9:00 am, and don't come out till 9:00 pm. That entire twelve hours is spent with people, which for this introvert, is very taxing. The rewards however, are great, and the work is effective. I don't like missing out on family gatherings. Alex is home from college for the weekend, and little Nathan celebrated his tenth birthday while I've been in prison, all of which makes me ponder how much these men are missing out on life because of bad decisions made often under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I'm missing a single weekend; these guys, many of them young men in their twenties, are missing five, ten, and more years of life. The older ones miss watching their kids grow up. All of them are watching life go by without them. One doesn't have to be a bleeding heart to feel compassion for wasted lives, and the one redeeming factor in all of it is that for most of these men, young and old, their life patterns would never have changed had they not been incarcerated. They would never have encountered the men and ministry that has changed their lives. Prison literally saved some of them. As we worshipped together, their joy and enthusiasm are palpable, and they are as much of an encouragement and inspiration to us as we are to them. So tonight I go to bed thankful for my freedom, for the family that taught me right from wrong, for the parents whose stability in marriage laid the foundation for my life, and for the grace and mercy of Christ, all of which have worked together to keep me on the outside, offering prison ministry instead of on the inside, receiving it.
Friday, October 21, 2016
October 21, 2016 John 1:16 says, "From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." Sometimes we act as if God were some sort of divine miser, parcelling out his gifts and goodness in parsimoniousness. This is often evidenced by our prayers, in which we ask for far less than he is willing to give. We ask for small, personal tokens of his goodness, things like safety, health, financial well-being, when he is ready to give us that and far more. We neglect to ask for wisdom to live, for righteousness and expansive forgiveness; we forget to ask for the fullness of salvation to be bestowed on our neighbors, for the floodgates of holiness and revival to open upon our nation. Our God is so big, but our prayers are so small! I wonder what it would be like if we learned to ask according to the fullness we have received. What would it look like if we understood that we have not only been granted grace, but grace upon grace, that our forgiveness is not merely God wiping the slate clean, but removing the guilt and giving us his own holiness where before there was nothing but sickness and spiritual disease? I suspect most of us, myself especially, haven't begun to even scratch the surface of that it means to have been given multiplied grace from the very fullness of God himself. I am grateful tonight that such grace is not only available; it has already been given, in full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
October 20, 2016 "In my inner being I delight in the law of God...Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day...your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart...I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food," These quotes from Romans 7:22, Psalm 119:97, Jeremiah 15:16, and Psalm 40:8 greeted me as I woke this morning, pointing me to the target I so often miss. The adjectives that describe these writer's attitude towards the Word of God reveal an enthusiasm we (I) often miss. "Delight," "Love," "Joy," "Treasure," are words I don't often hear when people speak of their interaction with the Bible. If we gauge our love for God's Word by the time we spend reading and meditating on it, we would have to admit that we look more to television, the internet, recreation and hobbies to bring us joy; we take a greater delight, we treasure these activities more than the Word of God. And we suffer for it. Television and the internet are filled with talking heads telling us everything that is wrong in this world, and whose fault it is. Recreation and hobbies, while fulfilling, feed only the soul, not the spirit. Apart from God's Word living in us, at the end of the day there remains an emptiness that doesn't go away. St. Augustine said that "there is a God-shaped hole inside each of us, and of course, only God can fill it." As the election year politics intensifies and the mud flies back and forth, we all become soiled by it, and need the "washing of the water of the Word" to cleanse our hearts and help us keep our perspective. To be sure, much is at stake, but our hope is not in who occupies the White House. Neither candidate comes close to being a savior; both need the Redeemer, as do we all. Tonight I am especially grateful for the Word of God. Without it, I wouldn't know of Jesus, I would be caught up in the whirlwind of political hot air that sucks everything into its vortex till it spits us out, spent and broken. Thanks be to God that we have the Word! At this time of year in particular, it is my joy, my delight, my treasure, and my love.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
October 19, 2016 "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning...I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears." Psalm 130:5-6, 34:4. It is unimaginable that anyone would pray, not hoping for an answer to their prayers. The very act of praying presumes the desire for a favorable answer. Yet the sad experience of many, if not most of us is that so very often our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling unanswered. Years ago, a fellow pastor publicly mocked my friends in Lily Dale, the Spiritualist community just a few miles north of us. I had been prayer walking there for a couple years and had met many wonderful, and a few rather strange people, not unlike what anyone could run into in the Christian community. He thought it a joke that they believed they spoke with the dead, held seances, and generally encouraged a lot of New Age thinking. I didn't think his approach would endear him to anyone, was counterproductive to genuine evangelistic enterprise, and besides, I told him, "they aren't so much different than you and me. We pray to a God we cannot see, who may or may not answer our prayers. How is that any weirder to an unbeliever than what they do at Lily Dale?" Our prayers often go unanswered, and for many reasons. But as I read the above Scriptures this morning, I was convicted about my often lackadaisical approach to prayer. When was the last time I actually waited on God? I read my Bible text for the day, think briefly on it, then turn to the news or social media or the work I have planned for the day. Prayer, yes; waiting on the Lord? Not so much. I lose things all the time. I'll lay something down and forget where I put it. I know...that's a sign of old age. I prefer to think it has something to do with a creative mind, but I think Linda would disagree. Sunday I picked up my Bible after church, brought it home, and later looked all over the house for it, to no avail. Twice. Fortunately, I have more than one, but I couldn't find the one I wanted. Yesterday I got my bike out to go to town, and there it was in the sidecar trunk where I had put it Sunday. My point is this: I earnestly sought that Bible. Can I say I seek God, devoting time and attention to looking everywhere I can, where he might be found? I wish I could say that is my habit, but I would be lying. So maybe the reason many of my prayers go unanswered is simply that I am not seeking. I toss a prayer heavenward, but that's not the same as seeking the Lord. The Psalm makes a bold claim: this man sought the Lord, and got an answer. I'm thinking I should do the same. And I'm thinking of how thankful I am that God placed the solution to my unanswered prayers right in front of me this morning. It's time to seek the Lord!
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
October 18, 2016 Retirees who say they're so busy they don't know how they found time to work irritate me. Now that THAT's off my chest, I can get on with my daily gratitude. I know why I found time to work: I got up earlier. One of the benefits of retirement is not having to get up at 5:30 every day. I usually sleep in till at least 6:00 or 6:30, sometimes even till 7:00 or 7:30, except Sundays and Tuesdays. Sunday I'm up early for church, a habit I'm not eager to break, and Tuesdays I have breakfast with Willie at 7:30. Since it takes me awhile to get in gear, I get up at 6:00 for Tuesdays with Willie (Sounds like the title for a good book!). This morning was the perfect day to get up and on the road early. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when I pulled out of the driveway, the air was a balmy 63, and the scarlets, oranges, and yellows on the trees stood in startling silhouette against the deep blue of the almost cloudless sky. On the bike, the temperature changes as I drove from the shade of the trees arching over the road to the sunlight streaming across the main highway, or from the valley to a hilltop accent the different aromas of woodland duff to rotting carcass. My friend Chuck gave me a plaque last summer that reads, "Only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out the window." There's a lot of truth in that. There are sensations that only a biker feels with the wind in his face. Before the day was out, I talked with six different men about my sidecar rig, gave four of the six one of the tracts I had printed up. I'd have given six away, but it's hard to do that stopped at a light with a guy talking to you as he leans out his truck window, and one of the talkers followed me into Tim Horton's just to re-introduce himself from a conversation we had last year at Starbucks. My Ural has been an evangelistic boon to this introvert. All I have to do is drive it around, and the guys come to me. I've not had anyone refuse my tract yet. What they do with it later is up to them, but I am grateful tonight for the privilege of riding and the opportunities this somewhat odd bike gives me to share my faith in Christ.
Monday, October 17, 2016
October 17, 2016 Yesterday I wrote about missing notes and making mistakes while playing upright bass for our church band. My daughter, who plays keyboard but was among the congregation yesterday, wrote me a note: "I didn't notice." She's pretty attuned to these kinds of things, so this was either high praise or extremely biased reporting. Given the present state of journalism, I would suspect the latter. Her comment does however, lend some insight to a Scripture text that though plain enough, often eludes our notice of its central message. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how often must he forgive someone who sins against him. The text itself is vague enough to be subject to two different interpretations, as revealed by the subtle differences in translation. The more challenging interpretation reads, "How many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" In other words, it's not a case of someone sinning against him once, but Peter is having a hard time dealing with it, so wonders how often he has to let it go before he can hold a grudge. Instead, the individual is repeatedly sinning against Peter. How long must that go on before Peter can stop forgiving and take a swing at the guy? It's a tough question, and Jesus' answer isn't easy. Essentially, he is saying that no matter how many times someone repeatedly sins against you, you must forgive. Jesus gives no leeway, no wiggle room. Forgive. Period. The reason behind this seemingly harsh requirement is not the soft, weak attitude of some who ooze sweetness and light. It is Jesus' recognition that when we refuse to forgive, we imprison ourselves in bitterness, poisoning our own souls. By his repeated offenses, the offender is adequately demonstrating a lack of sensitivity to other people, and goes on his merry way, unconcerned about the devastation he leaves in the wake of his continual sinning. When we hold onto a grudge, the offender isn't harmed in any way; we are. That's the rationale behind Jesus' words. Forgiveness is how we set ourselves free. But knowing the rationale doesn't make it any easier. This is where a deeper understanding of the Scripture is helpful. Think about times you have sinned, the repeated failures to measure up to the values and standards you hold in your heart. Apart from sociopaths, most of us are all-too cognizant of our shortcomings. They haunt us like the scenes of a scary movie. We read this text and all we see is the command to do what seems impossible. We fail to see that the reason Jesus can hold forth this standard of behavior to us is because he and his Heavenly Father have upheld this same standard themselves. We are commanded to forgive like this because God himself continually forgives like this. We keep reminding ourselves of our failures, just as I was painfully aware of my musical faux pas yesterday. But like my daughter, God says, "I didn't notice." It's already been covered. Over and over again, as often and for as long as it's needed. That is Good News, indeed!
Sunday, October 16, 2016
October 16, 2016 Sometimes it's just not there. While eating breakfast at our son Matthew's home this morning, I received a text message from his brother asking if I could fill in on bass for worship. Not having time to go home to get my upright, I headed straight to church. The church bass would have to do. It was interesting playing electric bass again. For the most part, it's much easier than upright, but easier means it's tempting to try some runs and riffs that would be impossible for me on the upright. Yielding to temptation, I went beyond the foundational stuff to add a bit of interest to the bass lines. Unfortunately, I missed plenty of notes in the process. I don't know how much of it was noticeable to the congregation, but I knew it. I wasn't trying to show off; Lord knows I'm too much of a novice to do that. It was however, a learning experience. The Bible tells us that it's a virtue to cover the sins of a brother. It's not talking about a cover up as we often think of it. When it extols this virtue, it's not sweeping sins under the rug. Hiding our sins never leads to anything good. But when we stand by one another in spite of a brother or sister's failures, we cover for them, supporting each other, knowing that there are times we ourselves need that same support. The rest of the band covered for me this morning. I made plenty of mistakes, but instead of looking scornfully at me when that happened, they just kept on playing and singing, honoring the Lord. We cover for each other, not in order to excuse each other, but to support the ministry of the whole. There will always be time to work on the details, to improve my part in the mix; and I will do so. I require it of myself, and my fellow band members deserve it. But this morning, we were a team, and they covered for me. That's how it should be in the body of Christ. In the Bible, the Hebrew word for atonement literally means "covering." In Christ, God has us covered. Our sins are real, but he covers them through the blood of Christ. He doesn't excuse them; he covers them so we can approach the Holy One with confidence. Similarly, we don't cover each other's sins as a way of avoiding scrutiny, but in holding one another accountable, we also hold each other up so we can approach God together as one body in Christ. It's the way it should be, and I am grateful today for those alongside whom I serve; for their graciousness to me even as we pursue excellence in our ministry together. May it be so in all of our life together.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
October 14, 2016 I don't remember it being this way when I went through it the first time. Or the second. The first time, my perspective was a bit different; I was the one leaving, and it was just another step towards independence. Ever since I was fourteen, I had spent summers away from home, working in summer camps, so going off to college didn't seem like a big deal. It was only years later that it occurred to me to ask my mother what it was like for her, and to discover that a part of her heart waved goodbye when they dropped me off and unloaded all the stuff that a freshman would need for the next few months. The matter was never discussed with my grandparents. When we left our firstborn at Roberts Wesleyan, everyone was brave for the farewell, but I had to pull to the side of the road while Linda, myself, Matt and Jessie broke down in tears. We had never before been separated from each other for more than a few days. But we gradually got used to the new routine. Except I think, for Matt, who had always been especially close to his brother, and who followed him to Roberts two years later. Twice now, Linda and I have visited and said goodbye to our granddaughter Alex. The visits are always good, the goodbyes not so much. We manage to hold it together, although the hugs at the end are long and sweet, and I felt Alex swallow the lump in her throat as we embraced. It's good, but not all things good are easy. Yesterday I spoke truer words than I realized at the time when I told of my father-in-law's strong hands that found it harder to let go than to hold on. And yet it is in that relinquishing of what has been our delight that opens the door to new possibilities for Alex. Were we to hold on, the family circle would remain intact, but we would never know the joy of watching her excitement at learning new things, or meeting a new wider circle of friends who bless and are blessed in her presence, and someday, the young man she will most likely meet and marry, nor the great-grandchildren issuing from that union. Letting go is the best and hardest gift a parent or grandparent can give their children. It opens the heart, which while it can be painful, readies it for a love that is both deeper and more expansive, reflecting even the heart of God. For this, that Alex teaches me, I am grateful tonight.
Friday, October 14, 2016
October 13, 2016 "Look at these hands," he lamented. "Girly hands, they are. Too soft from doing dishes." For most of his life, those hands had been hard with callouses, knuckles scarred from too many times when the wrench had slipped; trophies of a mechanic's life. In his younger years, those hands had bloodied noses, held a steering wheel in a vice-like grip as he manhandled his number 59 through the turns at places like Dayton, Darlington, and Daytona, when the latter was still a beach course. I remember seeing those hands grab two high school football players who had challenged him. With lightning speed, he snatched the front of their uniforms and lifted them off the ground, pinning them against the wall with their feet dangling. His daughters still tell stories of when he was driving school bus and would throw an unruly rider over his knee to deliver a few well-placed whacks that had an immediate calming effect on the perpetrator. Those same hard hands placed his daughter's hand in mine more than 46 years ago, knowing it took more strength to let go than to hold on. He continued his mechanical work after retirement, but the years took their toll and the time eventually came when his wrenches sat gathering dust in his workbench drawer. Finally, to his lasting disgust, they grew soft...girly hands. We have photos of those hands clasping the tiny hands of his great-grandchildren. All except the last, who was born after he died. I looked at my hands this morning. I've never had the bone-crunching grip he had, and as for callouses...I'm working on one on the side of my right index finger. Bit by bit, it's toughening up for playing the bass. I remember the first few times I played. After just a few minutes, my finger was begging me to quit. I didn't, and now I can play for quite awhile before I have to call it a night. Those callouses are a blessing, allowing me to do what I want to do, just as gramps' callouses enabled him to wrestle with engines, drivetrains, and tires. There is however, one place we don't want callouses. A calloused heart is a danger to anyone unfortunate enough to have it, and to those unfortunate enough to be nearby. Just like calloused hands, a calloused heart is the result of constant abuse, gradually building up layers of insensitivity till it is unable to respond to love and kindness. It is too easy for those who have been abused, bullied, and used to develop a calloused heart that inures them from giving and receiving love. We all have experienced those blows, that constant abuse that hardens the heart. So we all need to pray for God's Holy Spirit salve to soften those callouses till we are capable of feeling once again. I am grateful for the lessons of gramps' hands, and for the single callous that's growing on my index finger. And I am grateful that God in his mercy has kept my heart tender, that I may empathize with others, and respond with mercy and grace to those in need.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
October 13, 2016 At times it's amazing to me how difficult it can be to maintain the habit of gratitude. We live in the midst of abundance, with all the advantages of modern medicine, communication, and technology, with freedoms unimaginable to most people throughout history. We live in more luxury than the most resplendent monarchs of history, but reading the newspaper or social media, or watching television news reveals a level of dissatisfaction and utter disdain for what we have that is nearly inexplicable. Perhaps it is the pervasiveness of modern media that tends to direct our attention to the things that are wrong in life. People doing good doesn't rate as news and media saturates modern society, so we are exposed to negativity from the moment we wake up till we go to sleep by the eleven o'clock news. The only way I know to avoid getting caught up in a vicious cycle of cynicism is to deliberately choose different stuff to put into our minds, from the moment we arise till we lay our heads upon our pillows at night. It is almost natural for us to see the negative; it's all around us, and people are continually calling our attention to it. Deciding to focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), takes a deliberate act of the will that can be a struggle to maintain. We tend not to notice the blessings that fill our days, much the same way as we notice a small spot on a white shirt more than the rest of the otherwise spotless cloth. Today was one of those days. It was busy with meetings and work, but nothing stood out and grabbed my attention as being praiseworthy. There was plenty of praiseworthy stuff, but the ordinariness of the day carried me from beginning to end with little thought of all for which I could give thanks. So tonight, I pause and reflect on all the small and otherwise unnoticeable blessings that filled the day. They are many, ranging from the ability to get out of bed, to being able to offer assistance to a pastor friend, to helping my son with his firewood. I am grateful for these and many other blessings tonight.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
October 12, 2016 "Make new friends, but keep the old; One is silver, the other gold." That old ditty has a ring of truth to it. When circumstances or distance cuts the daily ties, rare are the friends with whom after years apart you can pick up exactly where you left off. Linda and I are blessed to have such friends. More than thirty years ago, I became pastor of Park church as a solo charge. Before that, my responsibilities included the Gerry church where I had my office. We were young then, with young children, and shared life with a couple just a few years our junior until my appointment changed. The geographical distance between us and them hadn't changed, and we occasionally saw each other around town, but without the weekly connection afforded by worshipping together, and with the increasing responsibilities of raising young children, sad to say, life got in the way. Until recently when they started attending Park church. It has been an amazing experience, almost as if time had never intervened. We had them over for dinner some time ago, and tonight we spent the evening with them, sharing and laughing around their dinner table as, except for both of us having grandchildren, the years melted away. One of the often unsung blessings of Christian faith is the connection it gives with those who share the same love for Christ. Jesus prayed that we would be one, as he and his Father are one; in other words, that there would be a connection that binds us together through thick and thin, through the years and miles. Our God never changes; his love is eternal, which means that we are held to one another by more than the common interests of hobbies, something greater than similar political beliefs, by something stronger than time or distance. We are held together by the unchanging love of Christ, and when these relationships are renewed, the timelessness of that love is readily apparent. Thank you, Lord, for such friendships. And thank you, Dennis and Linda, for being that kind of friends.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
October 11, 2016 It's never pleasant, but pain can at times be God's gift to us. At times. When it is deliberately inflicted by one human being upon another, pain has been perverted and twisted into a tool for destruction rather than an instrument of healing. And there are those times when tragedies come upon us for which we cannot discern any path of redemption. This is after all, a sinful and broken world. It can however, be an instrument, a gift from God, a warning that something is wrong. Recently, my right hip has been giving me fits, with pain that radiates from front to back, and down my leg. Ibuprofen helps at bedtime, but sitting hurts, and climbing the stairs sends immediate messages to my brain that roughly translate as, "Stop doing this to me! NOW!" I suspect that carrying my bass around is the culprit. When I grab it, it is with my right hand. Leaning to the left for balance, my right hip is thrust to the side when I walk. Sunday when I took it to church, I carried it by my left hand, leaning on my left hip. It didn't hurt, but whatever damage has been done hasn't been corrected. The pain however, is keeping me from making it worse till I can get to the chiropractor or regular physician. The pain tells me something is wrong. Now it's up to me to respond. I'm grateful for the pain; grateful that isn't so severe that it's debilitating, but merely God's notice that something is wrong, needing attention. I'm grateful too, that I live in a time and place where something can be done about it. Many are not so fortunate. For them I pray.
Monday, October 10, 2016
October 10, 2016 He showed up as I was in the middle of resetting the stone walkway that got torn up when we put the new water line in. The kids all have the day off for Columbus Day, politically incorrect I know, but thankfully still honored in these parts, so it wasn't surprising that a few of them might turn up. His sister and mother were having a mommy/daughter day, and his dad was out in the shop, working on his knives. I guess an eight year old boy can only play video games for just so long before he gets bored and starts seeking something a bit more adventurous. I decided to give it to him. He was in the house snacking on grapes with Linda when I leaned in and asked if there were anyone here who wants to learn how to use a bucket loader. I think he beat me out the door. The old 8N is old school. No fancy safety features except the brakes which on ours are marginal at best. I wouldn't trust them to keep me from going over an embankment. My little John Deere however, is only a couple years old, and has all the doodads that Uncle Sam now requires on even lawn equipment, one of which is a seat switch. This creates a problem because Nathan isn't heavy enough to activate it. As soon as he put it in gear, it shut off, which meant I had to push the seat all the way back so he could sit in front of me to steer and operate the pedals. Driving down to our gravel pit, we loaded up. I could dig in, but my little rig isn't powerful enough to fill the bucket without burying itself in the gravel as the tires churned. Nathan didn't miss a beat; jumping down, he grabbed the shovel and started filling the bucket. I showed him how to raise and lower it, and finished shoveling the gravel in before handing him to wheel and heading back to the project. Fortunately, the seat switch doesn't operate when the transmission is in neutral, so after guiding him into position, I was able to get down and let him dump the gravel all by himself. The grin on his face was worth every minute we spent together. To be able to introduce him to the world of machines and work is a privilege for which we both are deeply grateful. I hope I made his day. I know he made mine.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
October 9, 2016 Son Nathan wanted to treat his wife to an overnight, just the two of them. Their blessing each other turns out to be a blessing for us also, as we get to host Abi, Izzi, and Jo, along with Izzi's friend Natalie for the night. All are tucked in after the girls' requisite episode of Monk, and it's time for us all to turn in for the night. Linda and I are blessed and very grateful to live within walking distance of our grandkids (our kids, too, btw). We get to be the recipients of these occasional visits, both planned and spontaneous. It is a treat many grandparents don't get, and one of which we have an abundance.
Saturday, October 8, 2016
October 8, 2016 "A good woman is hard to find." So said the writer of the Proverbs. He was right, don't you know, and more than forty six years ago, I found one of the best. This morning after breakfast, we headed to the rainy soccer field to watch grandson Ian play. This, from a woman who abhors camping because if it rains, "everything feels damp and icky." We hauled home another bushel of apples which will soon be transformed into her family-famous applesauce. I think that will be the end of the canning, which when packed into the old cabinet that my grandfather made years ago, looks almost too nice to eat. A wedding reception this afternoon followed by little Gemma staying overnight rounded out the evening with a rousing game of Peter Rabbit, a variation of Chutes and Ladders. How a woman who can tough out the rain, can up a storm, and be the epitome of grace at a wedding reception can four times in a single game end up sliding down the same rabbit hole is beyond me. She's certainly a good woman, but I wouldn't advise placing any bets on her gamesmanship.
Friday, October 7, 2016
October 7, 2016 Were you to inquire as to my favorite genre of music, my answer would be both quick and unequivocal: Baroque and Big Band. In each there is an intricacy and lushness to the sound that I find particularly pleasing, but aside from the internet and recordings, the opportunity to hear either is pretty limited. So when my Kieran Hanlon, my bass teacher told me Wednesday about a Benny Goodman tribute by the Buffalo Philharmonic, I was immediately interested. What he didn't tell me is that he was to be the bass soloist. Last night, I called and ordered tickets for this morning's 10:30 performance. Linda doesn't like concerts like this; she prefers background music to whatever project she has going at the time, so I asked our daughter if she would like to accompany me. Jessie being a music lover like myself, quickly responded in the affirmative. The concert this morning was all I could have hoped for. The musicianship was stellar, and watching Kieran work his magic on the instrument of my choice gave me particular pleasure. Even better, at intermission, Jessie texted her husband Todd, and when the concert was over, she ordered tickets for tomorrow night's performance for the two of them and their two oldest children. Ian takes guitar lessons, while Eliza has just started with clarinet in addition to her piano lessons. Bennie Goodman's music will raise the bar for her as she sees and hears the possibilities inherent in her instrument. Seeing your own love for music passed on to the next generation is only eclipsed by seeing it in your grandkids. In 2 Timothy 2, St. Paul instructs his young protege to instruct "faithful men who will teach others." Paul was keenly interested in seeing his faith passed on, not just to the next generation, but to the third and fourth as well. In my family, my love for music can be directly traced from my grandmother to my father, to me, my children, and now my grandchildren. Even better, that same lineage holds for our faith in Christ. My prayer is that it may continue to be passed on to at least as many generations to come as in generations past.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
October 5, 2016 Sunday we had breakfast together at our son Matthew's house before attending worship together. When we got home from church, I had to eat early so I could attend the Keryx team meeting that took up the afternoon. I no sooner got home from that than it was time to head back to church to teach bass. All that time, Linda was home alone. On Monday, after breakfast together, Linda headed to her swim class while I went to Erie to see a friend in the hospital there, getting back just in time to eat and head to men's and women's Bible studies. Yesterday, we had breakfast together before she left for exercise class while Harry and I worked together to clean up the mess left by the fellow who dug our new water line. In the evening, she had a Wrap board meeting while I went to a swim meet. Today, Linda had breakfast with her friends Beth and Sue, while I grabbed a quick bite before heading to town to visit a friend in the nursing home and another just home from the hospital. Linda went to her piano lesson then to the library to sort books for their annual book sale. We both arrived back home about the same time, with just enough time to have a quick lunch together before I had to leave for band rehearsal. Supper together, then back to Fredonia for the bass society. Tomorrow, I'm home, but Linda will be gone to exercise class then lunch with her sisters. In the evening, one of us will pick up granddaughters from school while the other attends Ian's soccer game. Tonight, we were both feeling pretty disconnected. At times, it seems like we are two unrelated individuals who just happen to live in the same house. When it gets like that, we both feel tentative; not that we question our loyalty or commitment to each other-we are sure of our love, but like a couple of logs that were burning brightly while touching each other, when we get separated by the craziness of our schedules, the glow begins to fade. So this evening we talked, reassuring each other of our love, wondering how we can make the necessary adjustments. Our life together has been this way from the beginning. I've often felt like we were on a merry-go-round that kept picking up speed till we go flying off. Slowing it down is at times pretty difficult, but we know that if we don't do it, whichever one of us got thrown off last won't be able to climb back on. And climb back on, we must. We Americans tend to think that not only is bigger better, faster is, too. It's not. It's just faster, and the pace can be fatal to intimacy. So we talk. And we figure out how to redeem those smaller snippets of time for those days and weeks when life's merry-go-round gets to spinning, we're found standing side by side so the centrifugal force is driving us together instead of pulling us apart.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
October 4, 2016 "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." So says Proverbs 18:24. The phone rang while Linda and I were eating breakfast this morning. It was my friend Harry, asking if I were busy this morning. Only he wasn't asking a favor; he was offering one. Forty five minutes later he showed up at our door, having driven his tractor the five miles from his home just to help me clean up the mess left in our front yard from putting in the new water line. It's a good thing he came; my tractor with its smaller turf tires wasn't able to do the job. I almost got stuck in the gooey clay more than once, but Harry's tractor with its bigger tires and field tread pushed the gravel and clay around with ease. A couple hours' work, and we were done. Together we made short work of what would have taken me most of the day by myself. A good friend is a rare gift. One who volunteers to give up his entire morning, drives half an hour and works for two more receiving nothing more than a cup of coffee and a thank you is priceless.
Monday, October 3, 2016
October 3, 2016 "Just do the right thing." I couldn't tell you how often I heard that growing up, or how many times I heard Linda say the same thing to our kids. It must be a woman thing. I can almost see my mother telling me that even if something better comes along, you keep your first commitment." It was a paraphrase of Psalm 15:4 where God praises the one who "swears to his own hurt, and changes not." It wasn't overly busy today; just a trip to Erie to visit a friend in the hospital, then writing some Keryx letters. But when it came time for men's group tonight, I didn't really want to go. Staying home was tempting, but I had to show up for band rehearsal, so there was no reason to not stay for group. I'm glad I did. The study was about how we often opt for short term satisfaction and forego long term rewards. The study was about Jacob and Esau, how Esau traded away his inheritance for a bowl of stew. He chose short term satisfaction, trading his much more valuable inheritance just to fill his belly. One would think that as we get older that temptation would have little power. If we've paid any attention at all to life, by the time you get to be my age, you should know the value of patience, of not sacrificing a better future for an immediate pleasure. But even old guys like myself can benefit from the occasional reminder. I got that tonight, and am grateful for these men who study, work, and pray together, supporting one another through the various challenges of life. I had almost sacrificed a greater blessing for the easier and more convenient pleasure of staying home and finishing my letters. It would have been a mistake, one which I not only avoided, but in the process I re-learned a great lesson: "Just do the right thing."
Sunday, October 2, 2016
October 2, 2016 Sometimes it's good to know what is possible even if we ourselves shall never attain to it. I happened upon a video of Lev Weksler playing "The Flight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakov. On the double bass. With himself. I would not have believed it possible for that piece to be played on such a large instrument, but he does it, with a precision and tonal richness that demonstrates potential that I will never attain. The important thing though, is that it is possible. Jesus lived life fully in the power of the Holy Spirit, enduring tests and temptations just as we face, yet without sin. And he did it as an ordinary human being, having surrendered his divine prerogatives when he was born of the virgin. He demonstrated to us that holiness is possible, even if all mankind falls short of it. The possibility of holiness has ben proven. I will never even come close to becoming a virtuoso on the double bass, but I've seen what is possible, and by it am encouraged to keep practicing. I don't expect to achieve any significant proficiency, but I do expect to get better than I am now. The only perfection I expect to achieve in life is that which I have by virtue of Christ's perfection being credited to my account (the old Biblical phrase for this is that his righteousness is "imputed" to me). But although in my humanity I cannot hope to reach what some call sinless perfection, I know it's possible, so I'll keep practicing. I know I won't get it perfect, but I can be better than I am now.