Saturday, October 21, 2017

Memories


October 21, 2017

A friend commented on yesterday’s post, kindly telling me that my scribblings have been helpful to him. I appreciated his words of encouragement; such words are always welcome. Whether it’s sports, life, or literature, people need encouragement, and usually respond better to it than to criticism. My friend went on to say that he wondered if the date for the past couple days was “in honest error, or to weed out those who are truly paying attention or bold enough to point it out.”

I assured him that calendar dates are among the many things I easily lose track of. I just know I have that book I need somewhere in the boxes in the garage. Once I looked for days for my Go-Devil. For the uninitiated, it’s the size of a sledge hammer, not exactly the easiest thing to lose. Like the saying goes, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Yep. That’s me! Linda says that someday it will all pay off; every time we see each other it will be like our first date. 

Memories often haunt us. Most of us have had experiences we would prefer to forget, but trauma has a neurological effect on our brains that hardwires it into our memories. Years ago, I talked with a WWII vet who had been shot down over Europe and interned in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Knowing how many Vietnam vets suffer from PTSD, I asked him about it. “We don’t hear much from you WWII vets. How did it affect you?” Fifty years after his imprisonment, he told me of his wife waking him up in the middle of the night as he thrashed around in a cold sweat. Many of his memories were frightful things. I’ve listened to countless similar stories from adults who had been abused as children, or from people who had drifted into depths of depravity from which they later emerged, but not without scars.

When John Newton, slave trader turned Christian minister and author of “Amazing Grace,” was an old man, he could often be found walking the streets of Bristol, England. People would stop to talk with this now famous man, who inevitably would tell them that in his later years he had forgotten many things, but two things he remembered well: “I was a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.” 

A friend told me of a woman who was suffering from dementia. Her daughter would faithfully come to see her, even though her mother didn’t recognize her anymore. It made all the difference when her mother told her, “I don’t remember your name, but I know I love you.” 


Some day, our memories will be purged of all that gives us pain and grief. Our God who forgets our sins remembers us, and loves us. And we will love him completely when not only the sin that divides, but even the memories of it, are no more.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dirt and Diamonds

October 21, 2017

It’s been awhile since the table was full, but tonight, not a single grandchild was missing. We even added a couple—Emmanuel and one of Jo’s diving teammates sat in wide-eyed amazement as after dinner we were entertained with loud and rousing choruses of various Veggie Tale songs, followed by dunking for apples. 

The meteor shower tonight is a wonder of Creation, Thousands, perhaps millions of people will stay up late to witness the dazzling light show. There may even be a few “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” but in this household, there is no star show as glorious as what we experienced around the table tonight. 


In writer’s group this morning, we were talking about the discipline of writing. It isn’t as easy as it may appear. Sometimes it takes time to think of something worth putting into words and sentences. Sometimes, I have to stretch for it; if I wait for inspiration, it would be a long time between articles. I know not everything I write has value, but it’s like mining for diamonds; you have to move a lot of dirt to get to the ore. There’s a lot of dirt and precious few diamonds in these lines. Most of what I write is pretty localized, which is why I titled my blog “Refrigerator Word Art.” Like a kid’s pictures that grandparents proudly display on the refrigerator, they don’t mean much to anyone else, but maybe, just maybe, these words will cause you to pause, look at your own refrigerator, and give thanks for what is uniquely yours.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pinpricks of Glory

October 20, 2017

At 6:00 am, the stars were popping out of the blackness, pinpoints of light dotting the sky with their pointillist beauty. Thousands of years ago the psalmist sang, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you visit him?” Elsewhere he asserts that “The heavens declare the glory of God.” That glory was on full display this morning.

There may be many benefits of living in the city, but one of the liabilities is the light pollution that prevents many moderns from seeing the stars as the ancients saw them. Walking out the front door this morning, once the streetlight was hidden behind the big Norway spruce, I got a glimpse of that ancient glory, and it was majestic!

Later in the day, he stormed into the place of business where I sat, waiting for the work to be done on my truck. He appeared about my age, with a shaggy mane of snow-white hair and beard to match, but he was definitely not jolly old St. Nick. The shop hadn’t done the job the way he wanted it done, and he didn’t miss too many words in his profanity dictionary letting the receptionist know what he thought. I’m not sure he could afford losing the piece of his mind he was giving her before turning his sights on the owner. He was met with undeserved grace. It’s sad for someone to have lived so long and not learned that kindness usually gets you farther than anger. The receptionist and I talked. It’s sadly, not an uncommon occurrence.

This evening, we drove into our driveway to be greeted by the Christmas lights I had hung earlier and set on a timer. After having had lunch with Alex and Emmanuel, and having cheered on three granddaughters in their final regular swim meet of the year, seeing the lights made her squeal like a little kid on Christmas morning. Linda is easy to please. 


It was an Oreo day, blessings on each end, with a sad reminder of our fallen humanity in the middle. The good is all around us, waiting to be noticed, if we only have eyes to see. My sight is dimmer than I would like, but the more we live in the Light, the better we see. Even those pinpricks of starlight bear twinkling testimony to God’s glory, for which I give thanks this evening.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Free

October 18, 2017

I’ve been reading through the prophet Isaiah in my morning devotionals. Sometimes I take two or three chapters at a time, but chapter 55 stopped me in my tracks. There’s so much here that it’s going to take me awhile to get through it all. It begins with these words: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” 

What an invitation! Free dinner; it sounds like church! If you want a surefire way to gather a crowd, offer free stuff. The crowd may disappear once the stuff is gone, but you’ll have them at least until the dessert is served. It’s the Paretto Principle, otherwise known as the 20/80 rule. Twenty percent of the people do 80 percent of the work is the way the business world configures it. At church, it’s 20 percent of the people eat 80 percent of the church dinner. 

So, the text tells us that God invites us to a banquet, a common biblical image of the overflowing blessings offered to us. Jesus spoke of a banquet he has prepared for us in the heavenly kingdom. We are invited to come, but also to buy. But how can penniless people buy anything? If I have no money, it doesn’t matter how cheap the menu; I can’t afford to buy anything. So how do we buy when we have no money? It’s really quite simple: We offer ourselves in return for dinner. God sets a banquet of forgiveness, peace, joy, hope, freedom, strength, and companionship. All that was bought for us at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross. But there is also a price we pay. We have nothing to offer; our righteousness is, as Isaiah says elsewhere, like filthy rags. We are spiritually broke; in debt, even. We have nothing to offer. So we offer the only thing we have: ourselves. And God accepts it, not because we have anything of value, but because he values us. Now THAT is something for which to give thanks!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Small Things

October 17, 2017

It’s a small thing, really. After another busy day, Linda and I are sitting in the Millstone room, she watching her favorite tv show, and me writing. We gravitate to this room when we want to relax. The wood stove is still cold; as backup heat, we don’t need to fire it up quite yet, but the room is still a pleasant place to be. My usual evening drink is tea, or sometimes decaf coffee. I don’t like sugary drinks, so I don’t do the mochas and cappuccinos from Starbucks. Pour-over or a Quad espresso are just fine. 

Tonight, the air is crisp, the leaves littering the lawn. In a small window of down time this afternoon, Linda and I sat on the back deck watching the leaves float down the stream, drinking our coffee, and talking about our life together. It was a Hallmark movie time. Almost. Only it wasn’t cheesy. Apparently, we’ve aged considerably this past year. Used to be, we could drink coffee any time without losing sleep. Now, caffeine after six is a guaranteed sleepless night. So for the first time in at least a year, I mixed up a cup of sugary hot chocolate…just right!


After talking with a homeless man yesterday, small things like a cup of hot chocolate, sitting together on the deck or in our Millstone room, become treasures all the more precious by contrast. I am blessed beyond measure, and thankful for each one.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Homeless

October 15, 2017

This morning I woke up in a warm bed inside a warm bedroom. After a hot shower, I had a hot breakfast with Linda before heading to work. Since the thermometer was pegging around 45 degrees, I decided to drive the truck instead of my bike. When I arrived, people were already gathered, waiting in line for our Monday food pantry and clothing rack. Many of them are from the Puerto Rican community, and in the next few weeks, we expect many more as families arrive from the island following the hurricanes that devastated the island a few weeks ago. 

I try to make conversation with them, letting them know they aren't just numbers, trying to help them maintain what dignity they can while they are asking for help. One of them sat in the waiting area just basking in the warmth, something just an hour earlier I was taking for granted. It’s not easy for most people to ask for help. We don’t like to be dependent on others’ charity, so I try to make it a bit easier for them. I’ve taken to asking them for help. “I need to learn Spanish. Please speak to me in Spanish; just a simple sentence…SLOWLY.” They laugh and try to teach me. I forget easily, but bit by bit, I’m going to get it. And maybe along the way, they’ll get something too, from being on the giving side. It’s all about partnering together. Constantly being a recipient robs people of control and puts them in debt. Making them partners evens the playing field, maybe not much, but perhaps just enough that they will want to become partners in the great venture of following Jesus. I’m working on it; if someone even hints that they believe in God, I’m right there, asking them for help in designing a worship experience they can relate to. We have a long way to go, but we’re making a start.

Ben came into the office shortly before I was ready to leave for the day. Twenty one, tall and good-looking, he explained through tears that he was homeless, was bi-polar, and afraid that he will die when the weather turns cold. Right now, he’s squatting in someone’s barn, hiding the few possessions he has behind some boards, coming in late at night, and leaving before sunrise. He spoke of how when he was a kid, the only help he got for his condition was the drugs the doctors prescribed that left him like a zombie. He learned little, didn’t graduate, and has lost his Social Security card and birth certificate, and without a permanent address, can’t even apply for social services. 

I talked with him about Jesus’ ability to change his thinking, without which mere external help will only be temporary. He’s not ready to come to Christ, but allowed me to pray with him. What do you say to a young man who at twenty one has lost all hope? James says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” 


Did I help, or hinder the Gospel today? We gave him some food and warm clothes, but I didn’t bring him home with me. Talking about Jesus’ love without doing something about his situation isn’t enough. I’m going to work on it tomorrow, but tonight, he’s sleeping in a cold barn somewhere outside of Dunkirk. I am thankful tonight for my warm home and bed, for a wife who loves me, children who are living responsibly, and for countless other blessings. But I know also that those blessings come with a price tag, and it’s called “responsibility.” I am my brother’s keeper, even though I often do a poor job of it. I hope tomorrow my gratitude can be turned into grace and giving in a more substantial way than I did today.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fits Right

October 15, 2017

Grandma Helwig was right. Nearly fifty years ago when she first met Linda, she said she just knew Linda was the right girl for me. Although I don’t remember it, grandma said that once when I was a little boy, she took me shopping for a toy. I chose a firetruck, but not just any firetruck. Apparently, I tried them out one at a time, putting each one under my arm until I found the one that fit right. She took one look at Linda standing by my side and said, “She fits right, under your arm.” 

This afternoon, I was talking with a couple. He stands taller than I, while she is tiny. If he held his arm out parallel to the ground, she would fit easily under it, which made me think of grandma’s comment so many years ago. I’ve been away from Linda for three days; when I walked in the door this evening, we embraced, and she fit. Not just under my arm, but also in my heart.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sleep Tight


October 14, 2017

Psalm 127 is one of the shortest of the Psalms, consisting of only five verses, but touching upon three different subjects. It begins by talking about how God’s house is built not merely with human labor, but only with the Lord’s activity in the building. It ends with speaking about children being a gift from God, and how blessed is the man who has lots of them. Sandwiched between these two topics (which BTW, are related; the building of God’s house is never accomplished apart from the building of a godly family) is this solitary verse that seems to be a digression. Verse 2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” 

The connection between the first verse which talks about building God’s house, and the second which talks of sleep, may not be immediately apparent, but it is there. God’s house, and families, for that matter, are not well built by worry or even by long labor, but by trusting God enough to know when to call it quits for the day and simply get a good night’s rest. Those who study such things tell us that the average American is getting less sleep than previous generations. We thought labor-saving devices would give us more time for stuff we want to do, but apparently sleep is not one of them. If it isn’t worry keeping us awake, the advent of computers, smart phones, and tablets has countless numbers of us staring bleary-eyed at the dancing pixels into the wee hours of the morning. 

Christians often have felt that there is so much work to be done that we don’t have time for rest. We imagine that God cannot possibly survive without our efforts, our wisdom, our help. Sometimes, we just need to sleep, as Jesus did, even in the back of a storm-tossed boat filled with frightened disciples. Or Elijah, running for his life into the desert, where God twice tells him simply to take a nap. 


It has been a long and busy day following a late night. I don’t do late very well any more, and I am tired. It might seem more spiritual to read my Bible and pray, but I think right now, the most godly thing I can do is to turn out the lights and sleep, thankful that God will do just fine while I slumber. Another Psalm (121:4) says, “he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” As long as God is going to stay awake, there’s no need for both of us to be up all night, so I’m going to bed. Goodnight.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Solitude

October 13, 2017

It’s quiet out back. The trees etch the sky with jagged tendrils that reach in vain for the clouds, while the geese honk their way from behind the brow of the hill across the road to the tree line opposite. Far above is the faint trail of an almost invisible jet. The leaves slowly twist their way through the air to join their companions that litter the deck and chairs and grass. A few land in the creek to float their way downstream where they will eventually sink to become one with the muck that feeds the cattails and arrowroot down at Redbird Corners.

Only a half dozen steps separate this little corner of solitude out back from the sounds of the road out front, the comings and goings of people who have places to go and things to do, while little thinking of why they are going and doing. A falling leaf doesn’t question why it tumbles through the air, and the creek bubbles and gurgles its way over the shale and gravel beds as it has done for perhaps thousands of years, insensate yet fulfilling a destiny written in gravity and hydrodynamics. The scene holds a beauty that cannot be fully expressed in words; it must be seen and smelled, felt on the skin, heard in the crinkly crackle of leaves and twigs underfoot. 


It was only a few moments snatched from the grasp of a busy day and full calendar, but when one stops completely enough, inhales deeply enough, looking and listening not only with eyes and ears, but also with the soul, those few moments yield nourishment that has its own unique satisfaction. The day is good, as is the God who brought it to me, and I give thanks.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Morning Smiles

October 12, 2017

After the MRI this morning, Linda and I were ready for breakfast. She had had an English muffin and coffee before we left home at 6:00 am, but my instructions were clear: no food; just plenty of water. So we hit the Galleria Mall at 9:00. Of course, the stores weren’t open, but after a bit of walking, we did locate a Timmy Ho’s. There was a short line, but in a couple minutes we were at the counter, ordering. The young man on the other side had a big smile, and was bantering with the customers, expressing his hopes that the Bills would make it to the playoffs. He hadn’t seen them even close to the Super Bowl in his lifetime, and was hoping that he might, before he died. 

All the time, he was laughing and joking, making life a little better for those in line, who by the looks on most of their faces, weren’t too happy about going to work. One lady in particular, testy because she thought someone had cut into line ahead of her, took out her frustration on him. He took it all in stride. Her criticism dimmed the light in his eyes for a few moments, but before long, he was right back at it. 

On the way out, I tipped him, thanking him for making peoples’ mornings a bit better. It wasn’t much; it certainly won’t put him through school, but I hope he realizes the influence he is having on people, even if some of them don’t know it. It isn’t always the big things that make a difference; sometimes a kind word, or even a positive outlook can be just what someone needs when their own outlook has become overgrown with worries and cares. And maybe; just maybe even that grumpy woman will pause long enough to realize she has received grace, and be a better person for it. I hope that I will be, simply by witnessing it in the smile and joviality of a young man working for minimum wage at a fast-food coffee shop.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Give it Away


October 11, 2017

While working out this morning, I had T.D. Jakes on tv via the Youtube channel through Apple TV. If you have no idea what that sentence means, it’s OK; it just means that you are even less tech savvy than I am. Anyway, T.D. Jakes in the morning is a much better way to start the day than listening to the news, and I don’t actually have to see him to build my soul while I’m building my body.

If you’ve never listened to T.D. Jakes, you’re missing a real treat. That man can PREACH! In this morning’s sermon, he talked about giving. Quoting Malachi 3:10, he reminded us that God promises a blessing to those who tithe and give generously. He then said something I had never considered before. “When we’re poor, we give to have the blessing. When we’re rich, we give so the blessing doesn’t have us.” I have to chew on that for awhile, but I understand where he’s coming from. There was a time when we were barely making it financially, but we never missed our tithe. I’m not bragging; it’s how we were raised. I’ve talked incredulously with pastors who don’t tithe; how can they speak with integrity when they are clearly disobedient in this basic Christian discipline? I suspect that in many cases, it’s why their churches are failing.

Linda and I are at a point in our lives now where God’s blessing is overflowing. We aren’t rich by our society’s measurement, but we have all we need, and more. There is no way to explain it other than God honors those who even imperfectly, try to honor him. The second sentence of Jakes’ declaration is what is grabbing at my heart tonight. I give now so the blessing doesn’t have me. If I stop giving, or even if I fail to give proportionately to his blessing on me, the very things God has given can become a trap, holding me in a grip that is deadly tight. God is not afraid to bless those he can trust with wealth, but those folks are few in number. It is too easy for the stuff God has given to have such a grip on our hearts that we are unable to hear and follow the voice of the Master.

Years ago I heard a story about a wealthy man who lost his fortune in the Crash of 1929. He had been known for his generosity in giving to various charities and needy individuals. When asked if he regretted having given so much away that he had no cushion to carry him through, his response was, “What I gave away, I still have; what I kept, I lost forever.” 


Tonight I am thankful for the blessings we have been given, and for the even greater blessing of being able to give much of it away. If the day comes when God takes it all away, I hope I have the grace and wisdom to still praise him. But until then, the best way to show gratitude is to hold the blessings of this life with a gentle grip.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hello Espanol!

October 10, 2017

It started out as a Swiss steak dinner, and ended as a Puerto Rican blessing. As a fund raiser, our congregation sponsors a monthly dinner with a different entree each time. Tonight’s was Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a choice of pies. For the good of everyone, I stayed out of the kitchen until it came time to clean up. Instead, I slowly wound my way between the tables, greeting people, making new friends. 

As we were wrapping up, one of the members approached and almost whispered, “There are some people looking over your motorcycle. Maybe you should check on them.” So I went out and as I was about to introduce myself, one of them, a young woman said, “You must be the new pastor! I just KNEW it as you came.” 

“Nuts!” I thought. If it’s that obvious, I must be doing something wrong. I introduced myself to the five of them, three women and two men, one of whom was Alberto Martinez, the pastor of the small Puerto Rican congregation that meets in the chapel of our church. Ten minutes later, I was “back in Cuba,” worshipping with my Dunkirk Hispanic brothers and sisters as they praised Jesus in a language both lyrical and strange to me, but familiar to God. 


When I was asked to do pulpit supply at the Dunkirk church, the tipping point that clinched my decision was that Dunkirk is almost 50% Puerto Rican, and the best way to learn Spanish for our Cuban mission work is to immerse myself as much as possible in the Hispanic community. Tonight, I was baptized in it, meeting brothers and sisters in Christ who are going to be my teachers as we worship and work together. God is good, and I am grateful!

Monday, October 9, 2017

More Than We Imagine

October 9, 2017

Too often we Christians have a truncated view of what God wants to do through us. We think of salvation as merely personal, overlooking the Scriptures that tell us of his overall plan to completely redeem the entirety of Creation (see Romans 8:19-23). We see the present evil more clearly than we do God’s vision of a new heavens and a new earth. Sometimes our theology sabotages us. We believe in Augustine’s Original Sin while failing to see that sin isn’t original at all; it is an interloper that invaded all that God created and called good. Years ago, I heard someone say, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” There was great truth in that statement, but also great danger. If we see ourselves primarily as sinners, the grace part of it becomes almost an afterthought or a footnote to the narrative of our lives. 

When Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), he said something interesting that we often miss, especially if we use one or more of the modern translations. The old King James Version has the translation spot-on. In Luke 15:17, Jesus tells us that there was a moment in time when this young man “came to himself.” He didn’t say (as some of the modern translations have it) that he came to his senses. In telling us literally that “he came to himself,” Jesus is paying us a great compliment. He is saying that we are our truest selves when we realize that our wandering doesn’t define us; our longing for home does. When we allow our sin to define us, we are believing what the devil says about us more than what God says about us.

In Isaiah 51: 16, God says, 

“I have put my words in your mouth;
I have covered you with the shadow of my hand,’
That I may plant the heavens, 
Lay the foundations of the earth,
And say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”


God puts his words in our mouths, shelters us with his hand, not merely for our own benefit, but to accomplish great things through us. The Revelation of St. John shows us the vision God has for a new heavens and earth. What Isaiah tells us us that he wants to use us to accomplish this. “All things new” is the promise of salvation. God’s people are the means of it. That is Good News; something for which to be thankful tonight.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Through Hell

October 8, 2017

“We used to say, ‘Come to church so you won’t go to hell.’ Now we say, ‘Come to church so you won’t go through hell.’” Four pastors were sitting around the table, talking, drinking coffee, and praying together. A Salvation Army Lieutenant, a Pentecostal Baptist, a United Methodist, and a Catholic priest. It was Father Dan who uttered those memorable words as we discussed the decay of the family and community and the tragic consequences in the lives of individuals. There is some truth in his words; people who build their lives around faith in Christ and a faith community tend to avoid much of the pain and suffering that are often intimate companions of people with no such connections. On the other hand, the Bible nowhere even remotely hints that the people of God are exempt from suffering. Just the reverse is true; Jesus said explicitly that those who live godly in him will suffer persecution, and that we should not be surprised when fiery trials come our way. It is not a very popular message.

What the Gospel does say is that when we go through suffering, Christ is with us. I preached this morning on that little phrase in the Apostle’s Creed that says Jesus “descended into hell.” Some modern versions of the Creed omit this phrase altogether, but it is there for a reason. 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Ephesians 4:7-12 provide the foundation for this phrase, although there is much scholarly debate as to exactly what is meant in these two texts. My own take on it is quite simple: However low a person has sunk, Jesus went lower to rescue him. We talk about the bad circumstances people encounter, often saying, “She is going through hell.” Jesus actually did, and according to Peter, proclaimed the Gospel even there, so there is no place in heaven above, or in the deepest hell where the Good News of redemption and rescue has not been heard.


I liken it to Jesus going deeper than we can ever sink so that as he was resurrected, he could grab us on his way back up and take us with him to sit in heavenly places. If you haven’t yet gone through a personal hell, sooner or later, you will. And when you do, Jesus is there, waiting to take you by the hand and lead you through the valley of the shadow of death and bring you into the light. I am thankful tonight that he went through hell for me, so when I descend into it for myself, I’ll not stay there; I’ll just go through it, and rise to new life with him. THAT is praiseworthy! 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Driving Slowly

October 7, 2017

If my memory serves me correctly, (a dubitable hypothesis at best), Indian summer is that mild weather following the first frosts of Autumn. We had a mild frost about a week ago, so I guess technically we are in it. Either way, the mild weather is enjoyable. At 6:30 pm, Linda and I are sitting on the patio in shirtsleeves, talking and watching the leaves drift to the earth in lazy pirouettes, cat and dog lying contentedly by our sides.

Degree by degree, the thermometer descends as the sun sets, bringing a chill that soon will have me looking for a sweater, and perhaps even lighting a fire in the chiminea on the back deck. To look at us, we are the epitome of relaxed contentedness, but it has been a busy day and week. This is the first time we’ve relaxed in quite awhile. Contentment however, is alive and well within. Like any couple, we’ve experienced a few bumps in the road along the way, a couple even this past week that briefly made the wheels of contentment shimmy as we gripped the wheel a bit more firmly. 

We are at that stage in life where we know there are more miles behind us than before us, but the road has leveled out, and we drive a bit more slowly so as to enjoy the scenery along the way. Anyone who knows us realizes that I am speaking solely about the road of life. Enjoying the scenery in a literal drive is not one of Linda’s graces. She has however, many others that more than make up any impatience with a long drive. 


I’ve been thinking often about the road that lies ahead; what it will mean for one of us when the other has reached the end of the road. Neither of us can imagine what that will be like, despite having witnessed it in the lives of loved ones. And if we cannot imagine it, I don’t see how we can prepare for it, except by continually reaffirming our faith and confidence in our God who gives life to the lifeless and hope even in the night. But until that day comes, we sit side by side, content just to be in each other’s presence, thanking God for the gift he has given us for all these years. As the shadows lengthen, the cords of love that bind us together remain strong.

Friday, October 6, 2017

NO!

October 6, 2017

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Ice cream occasionally is nice, but a steady diet of it would not be good. Exercise is good, but there are those who are so body conscious that they have little time for anything else. The same can be said of eating and dieting, making money and leisure. The adage “all things in moderation” is not far off the mark. We humans have a propensity for imbalance that often threatens our own well-being.

Linda and I had a conversation about this earlier today. The challenge I’ve taken on to help lead the Dunkirk church has stirred something within me that is good unless it goes unchecked. I learned a long time ago that church work can take over the pastor’s life. There is always more that could be done than is being done, and the temptation is to tackle whatever lies before us, irrespective of whether or not it is a necessary task. Bill Hybels, pastor of the Willow Creek church, one of the first national megachurches, said to pastors, “Be careful that you don’t let the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ in you.” He knows wherein he speaks; a high energy person himself, he admits to having danced on the edge of disaster by not taking the time he needed to feed his own soul.


I can see much that needs to be done, and it gets the blood flowing. I want to do more, but I know that if I bite off too much, instead of chewing, I’ll be choking. The only way I can spend more time with my Dunkirk family is by letting go of some responsibilities I have elsewhere. It’s not easy saying ‘no,’ but as my friend Willie says, “We need to learn the power of ‘No.’” So tonight I am thankful for the wisdom of years under my belt, a wife who senses before I do when I’m reaching my limits, and for faithful Christians who instruct me with their wisdom. It’s not easy, but I’m learning to say, “NO!” It’s the only way I can say, “yes” to what’s most important.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Awake at 4:00 am

October 5, 2017

Every so often, I awake in the middle of the night to find the other side of our bed empty. Every so often, it’s not until I get up in the morning that I realize the other side is not occupied. If for any reason Linda wakes up in the middle of the night, as likely as not, she can’t get back to sleep. Unless she turns the TV on. I’ve told her it’s OK to do that, but she knows that the flickering screen and the sounds will wake me and keep me awake, which is somewhat odd, since I can’t hear much without my hearing aids. Once she’s awake, her mind starts racing, which isn’t too surprising, since most everything she does, she does at double time. She goes downstairs, turns on the TV, lays down on the couch, and is soon fast asleep. I don’t know how she does it.

I was wide awake at 4:00 am this morning; I don’t know why. Usually if I wake up, I can go right back to sleep, but not last night. After lying in bed for half an hour, I got up, showered, and went downstairs. Our men’s prayer group wasn’t until 6:00, so I had plenty of time. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does, I’ll take it as a Samuel call. The young man Samuel was sleeping one night when he heard someone call his name. Thinking it was Eli, the priest and his guardian, he got up and went to him. Only Eli hadn’t called him. This was repeated, and finally the third time, Eli realized what was going on and told Samuel to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” 


I really like my sleep, but if this happens again, I’ll take it that God has something to say to me. When that happens, it’s a good idea to listen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bass-ic Blessing

October 4, 2017

That it might be a bit dicey later in the day was a given, but the morning was so inviting that taking the chance was worth it. I strapped the bass onto the sidecar, tossed my work satchel and bassoon into the tub, and took off up the road. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the air was fresh and cool; just right for a leisurely ride through the countryside. 

Stopped for the light at the intersection of routes 60 and 20, a guy in a pickup truck pulls up beside me and starts talking excitedly about my bike. We converse till the light changes, and he pulls away. The next three hours, it sits in the parking lot behind the church while I work. At 2:30 when I leave for my jazz improvisation group, it’s just starting to mist, but I arrived and unloaded before any serious rain hit. For the next two hours, I didn’t care how much it rained, and when it was time to come home, the skies had cleared, and the ride home was as enjoyable as my early morning jaunt. I wouldn’t have minded riding in the rain; I’ve done that before, but I sure don’t want my 1936 bass to get wet!


Tonight, my thankfulness is for the small blessing of a break in the rain just when I needed it most. No big, earthshaking miracle, but when so much tragedy has been played out before our eyes for the past three weeks, even small blessings are more than welcome; they are wisps of hope in a dark and dreary world.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Averting Tragedy

October 3, 2017

Every mass shooting in recent history has been followed, usually within hours, by press and commentary calling for more gun control on the one side, and by rebuttal on the other side arguing that criminals don’t obey laws, and that as the NRA says, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Conflicting statistics get bandied about and politicians posture while real people are still grieving. We struggle to understand why someone would commit such a horrific act, psychologizing and jostling for position in the debate. People inevitably talk about race and religion, but I’ve never heard anyone in a public position of influence address a common thread that almost always winds its way through the narratives. 

The Las Vegas shooter was by all initial indications, older than the usual perpetrator; he was white and apparently rich. His age and economic status contradict the usual profiles, but in one major way, he was just like all the others. He was raised in a fatherless home. He didn’t even have a poor male role model; he had none at all, and apparently in his adult life, moved from place to place, never building real and lasting friendships. 

Our prisons are filled with men whose fathers were absent or abusive. A fatherless child is the one almost foolproof predictor of poverty, social maladjustment, violence and crime that we have, and yet it is the one social issue we as a society are failing to address. In our desire not to stigmatize a child born to an unwed mother, we have inadvertently fostered an entire cultural subset of fatherless children who are for the most part doomed to poverty, dependency, and often crime. Add our welfare state that essentially makes male presence superfluous, and we have the perfect breeding place for the society we have created. 

The Christian Church and Jewish Synagogue are unique institutions that in addition to their religious training, elevate the role of men in the family. To be sure, one doesn’t have to be Christian or Jewish to have healthy family life, but it is in these traditions that our American society has been rooted, to the benefit of all. But even in the Church, the secular worldview is under attack as male leadership in has been seen as oppressive and demeaning to women. An unintended consequence has often been further erosion of the presence of strong fathers in the home. While I do not believe for a moment that this is intentional, even a cursory glance around the typical Christian congregation on any given Sunday morning will bear our my contention that we have emasculated Christian culture to the point where most men see the Church as an institution for women and children. 


I do not usually bring these matters up in public conversation, but believe it is high time that we addressed this issue in a meaningful way. I am grateful for those congregations that have taken seriously the call to our men to stand for righteousness and faithfulness in their homes, and to call them to commitment to their wives and children for the sake not only of the Gospel, but of our very culture. I’ve been privileged to be pastor of such a congregation, and am grateful that our present pastor is taking this kind of leadership even more seriously than I did. I am hopeful that others will do the same, and perhaps even unknowingly intervene and prevent what could be the next national tragedy.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Repeat

September 26, 2017

It wasn’t exactly a David and Goliath match, but watching them face off did remind me of the Karate Kid. I was standing by the ropes watching my friend and his opponent as they circled, looking for the advantage. They were in a championship ju-jitsu match, and my friend Cameron looked like he was in for a hard time of it. His opponent swaggered, muscles rippling, while Cameron calmly sized him up. Cameron isn’t pretentious about his skills. Looking at him, he doesn’t appear buff and ripped, which may work to his advantage. He knows his stuff, and showed it that afternoon.

Suddenly, Cameron was on his back, his feet planted on his opponent’s chest while he had a firm grip on his gi. To the uninitiated, his opponent had him down, and we were just waiting for the final move that would put him out. In fact, Cameron had pulled guard on him and had his opponent right where he wanted him, in a grip that was wearing him down, making him use up his energy in a wasted effort to get through to him. Cameron was almost relaxing on his back while his opponent struggled to break free so he could maneuver. As the match wore on, his opponent wore out, and Cameron emerged the clear victor.


The devil swaggers through this world, muscles rippling as he makes an impressive display of might. To the uninitiated, he has Jesus and the church on our back, and is just awaiting the right moment to deal the death blow. To the casual onlooker, we are losing badly, but the saints and angels know better. Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, has a firm grip on old Slewfoot, and is calmly letting him wear himself out. Unlike ju-jitsu, we don’t know how long the match will last; we don’t know when the buzzer will sound, but when it does, God the Father will stand, raising high the hand of Jesus the Victor, to the triumphant cheer of all the faithful ones whose praise to God echoes throughout the universe for all eternity.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Final Word

October 1, 2017

Look around you. It may not be any worse than in the past, but one thing for sure: the world isn’t getting better. There was a time when thoughtful people believed that we were finally ready to put war and grasping ambition behind us and invest our energies in peace. Our nation is divided, our enemies determined to destroy us, and our communities are inundated with drugs, violence, and corruption. If that weren’t enough, there’s not a one of us who can look within our own hearts without finding sin, regrets, even despair. Even in the places where we expect to find guidance and help, there is only confusion and contradiction. Schools, politics, even churches are often places of greed, corruption, and dark desires. Whenever I feel this world closing in, I remember the words of John Bowring:

In the cross of Christ I glory, 
Towering o’er the wrecks of time; 
All the light of sacred story 
Gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me,
  Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
Never shall the cross forsake me,
  Lo! It glows with peace and joy.

When the sun of bliss is beaming
  Light and love upon my way,
From the cross the radiance streaming
  Adds more luster to the day.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
  By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
  Joys that through all time abide.

Those words were written nearly 200 years ago by a man who could speak fluently in 22 languages, and converse in 100 more. He witnessed plenty of turmoil in his lifetime as England’s ambassador to China in the years leading up to the Boxer Rebellion. I’ve sung this song countless times over the years. It is based on St. Paul’s word, “God forbid that I should glory except in the Cross of Christ.” 

Today in worship, we sang a more modern version of the same theme:

The cross has the final word
The cross has the final word
Sorrow may come in the darkest night
But the cross has the final word

The cross has the final word
The cross has the final word
Evil may put up its strongest fight
But the cross has the final word

There's nothing stronger, nothing higher
Nothing greater than the name of Jesus
All the honor, all the power
All the glory to the name of Jesus

The cross has the final word
The cross has the final word
The Savior has come with the morning light
The cross has the final word


Tonight I am thankful for these words of hope and encouragement. I sit tonight in comfort and security; countless people tonight sit in grief, fear, suffering, or uncertainty. I’ve been there, though not to the extent of many, and I know the hope these words give. We may not always see it from where we sit, but God’s promise is sure, and the Cross has the final word. The day will come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.