Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To Talk Again

February 28, 2017

Time was, when people of different opinions could talk about things without resorting to shouting matches, ad hominem attacks, or physical altercation. People would actually listen to each other; imagine that! It seems those days are gone for good. Whether it's the political arena, academia, or sometimes even in religious settings, the ability and willingness to debate, to listen, or to compromise is a relic of a bygone era.

One of the reasons for this is our eagerness to elevate our position to that of ultimate reality. When we do that, we cannot afford to lose, and when that happens debate descends into argument, and often, to violence. I'm no Marxist, but it seems to me that a lot of this behavior follows the money. With federal dollars attached to everything from researching the reasons dogs bark to financing sex change operations, the ordinary stuff of life takes on an importance beyond reason. We cannot afford to lose, lest we lose the money. I know that sounds somewhat cynical, but it's how I see it.

Ideally, in order for people to come together, there will be a win-win scenario. Fact of the matter is, this rarely happens. The scales are weighted to one side or the other, at least in people's minds. So if we are to come together, one of us has to lose, even if it is ever so slightly. The greater the issue, the greater the disparity grows. Reconciliation is difficult business. We humans seem to prefer to live by 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' even if it results in  all of us winding up blind and toothless.

In my Scripture reading this morning, I came across the great Pauline statement that, "through Christ God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation...For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no  sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Tucked in the middle of this great declaration of reconciliation is the means by which it is made possible: God didn't count our sins against us, but took them upon himself. They didn't just disappear; in order for us to be reconciled, God deliberately allowed the scales of justice to be tipped away from himself, taking the punishment we deserved and giving us the life we didn't deserve.

Reconciliation always works that way. It's the only way it can work. In some segments of the Black community are calls for whites to give reparations for the legacy of slavery. But how can that bring reconciliation? It only trades injustice today for the injustices of yesterday. Somewhere along the way, whether it be racism, economics, bigotry, or any other class of inequality, someone has to have the courage and the confidence as did Martin Luther King, Jr., to stand up and say, "I'll accept the inequality so there might be the possibility of reconciliation." The word for it is 'forgiveness,' and apart from it, there will never be reconciliation, in public or private life. Whenever I insist on getting all the good I want no matter what the cost to another, the foundation is laid for division, at home, at school, at work, or in public life.

The difficulty in all this is that it is the offended who must start the process. God didn't wait for us to say, "I'm sorry," before sending his Son to die in our place. We sinned against him, and he took the initiative to reconcile us. It is ever thus. I am grateful that he did so, and long for the day when we follow that example here on earth. I believe it can only happen when we first receive his forgiveness. In that divine forgiveness and there alone, is found the strength and willingness we need to offer it to others. With divine forgiveness, maybe we can forgive each other and learn to talk again.

Monday, February 27, 2017


February 27, 2017

If you live in San Diego, you wouldn't understand. Someone told me a few years ago that San Diego is the sunniest city in the country. If you live there, I plead with you: don't take it for granted! We Western New Yorkers have to ration our sunny days like a man walking in the desert rations water. This morning's dentist appointment meant a half hour drive through the countryside in the brilliant morning sunshine. The bright blue of the sky formed a stunning backdrop to shades of green and brown in the fields and forests, while all was punctuated with the occasional red brick or grey, yellow, or white paint of the houses along the way.

Later in the early afternoon, a walk along the creek that surrounds our yard added the sounds and smells of the day as I meandered through lingering snow and matted leaves from last year. As the afternoon wore on however, the clouds started to settle in, cooling the air and obscuring the sun. The cooling effect wasn't limited however, to the air. The atmosphere cooled, too. The day was not as inviting as it had been mere hours before. Such is the effect of the sun upon earth, body, and soul. I cherish these infrequent sunny days. We don't have the luxury here of squandering them, which is perhaps one reason we don't watch too many movies. Wasting sunshine is an almost unforgivable sin, so we refuse to hide inside when there is even a hint of it to be found. I'm grateful today for the momentary encouragement I saw this morning, but also to know that while the beauty and warmth of the sun may be fleeting, that of the Savior is not.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I am the LORD

February 26, 2017

Ask my wife; I can be somewhat dense at times. I guess God knows this about me too, and about most people as well. There's really no other explanation for the wording of the text. Leviticus is what the name implies; the amplification of the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. It is the laws and regulations by which God's people were to live. Admittedly, it can be pretty dull reading, but buried within its pages are gems of exquisite beauty. Chapter 22 verses 30-33 highlights one of them. In these four verses a single phrase is repeated four times: "I am the LORD," once with the qualifying phrase, "who sanctifies you, who brought you out  of the land of Egypt."

Critics often see the Old Testament Law as the means ordained for us to be brought into right relationship with God, but that is a complete misunderstanding of it. In this particular text, God tells his people how they are to offer their sacrifices of thanksgiving, adding that they are to be careful to observe his commandments, especially to  honor his Name. Twice he links his Name with their obligation to obey his commands, but the last two mentions of the Name are attached to what God himself has done. He rescued his people from slavery and then separates them unto himself from all other peoples. His Name is connected not only with his demands, but also with his mighty acts of salvation on behalf of his people.

Forty eight times in Leviticus God identifies with his people, claiming this special relationship with its demands, but also with the amazing fact of his having chosen them. There have been plenty of times in my life when I felt pretty insignificant, pretty powerless to make a difference in this world, a failure and a disappointment to myself, others, and to God. But God, our God, delivers us from sin and despair, sets us apart from everyone else, reveals his Name to us, and does the impossible: he makes us holy. I may be insignificant; I may be powerless; I may be a disappointment, but nevertheless, because of Christ, I am chosen, and though powerless in and of myself, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, because with God, nothing is impossible. This God, my God...our  God delivered us from sin, and is actively making us holy as he molds us into the image of his Son, our Savior. May the Name of the LORD be praised forever!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Firm or Flabby?

February 25, 2017

Firm or flabby, which will it be? When I was a kid, Jack LaLane was the exercise guru of television. LaLane was the epitome of fitness, the vision of a Greek god with his broad, muscular chest, bulging biceps and tiny waist. Top it off with rugged good looks and a head of curly hair; I'm sure he caused many a middle-aged woman to swoon in spite of his being happily married for more than fifty years. There was just one problem: his physique were definitely not the result of his TV show routines, which were pretty lightweight. Nevertheless, his emphasis on healthy eating and healthy living were foundational for a new generation of fitness experts.

Today we have an abundance of fitness resources, from dvd's to fitness clubs and personal trainers. We spend a lot of time, money, and effort in our quest for fitness. Firm is in; flab is not. Which is why today's reading caught my eye. "[Stand] firm in your faith," Peter tells us in his first letter. Firm, not flabby. It is interesting how much we pursue firmness of body while allowing flabbiness of soul. We will spend thousands of dollars, countless hours, and enormous amounts of energy for the fitness of our bodies, while expecting that our souls can be firm with an occasional smattering of church and Scripture.

What if firmness of faith requires the same kind of exertion as firmness of body? What if it requires time, commitment, sacrifice, and pushing through the pain of training? What if it meant we had to change our diets, eschewing the empty calories of television, internet, idle conversation, and wasted investment in idle hobbies? What if it required us to discipline ourselves to forgive, to give sacrificially, to push through our fears to actually speak to someone about their need for Christ? What if it took the same kind of dedication as it takes our physical bodies to move from flabby to firm? Well, I believe it does. Tonight I am thankful for the challenges that the Scriptures continually present to me, their refusal to let me coast or rest on whatever laurels I may have. I am thankful that faith doesn't have to be flabby. We can stand firm, no matter what we face.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Baby, It's Warm Outside!

February 24, 2017

The weatherman says it isn't going to last, and I for one, am glad. February 24 in Western New York, and our thermometer reads 74. It's been so warm all week that even the snow in OUR yard is almost gone. It feels good to walk around in shirtsleeves in February, but if the buds on the apples and grapes start to open, there will be an awful price to pay for a few days of Florida weather.

If the Bible hadn't said it, it would still be true that everything has its proper time. The 60's song by the Yardbirds was taken straight from Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season; a time to live, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to harvest..." When those times are interrupted, nothing is predictable; life descends into chaos. In war-torn Syria or Ethiopia, in Afghanistan and Yemen, the normal times of sowing and reaping have been disrupted, such basic necessities as water, electricity, heat, are irregular if they exist at all. We need regular, cyclical times if we are to function well.

The forecast is for a cold front to be moving in overnight. I hope so, for the sake of the buds, and for we who too often take our food for granted. It magically shows up on the shelves of our supermarkets, we buy it, take it home, put it in refrigerators and on shelves, rarely thinking of what our lives would be like if those times of planting and harvesting were interrupted. The apple trees were planted long ago, as were the vineyards, but they depend on the continuing cold weather. So do we, so I've had enough of this balmy stuff. Bring on the cold!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Un-Celebration

February 23, 2017

It's nothing to be ashamed of, but it's still in my best interest to keep some of the details to myself. So I'll just cut to the chase. Today is my wife's birthday, and we are celebrating by me going to my bass lesson in Fredonia while she heads in the opposite direction to attend a basketball game in Panama. We will cap the evening's festivities by having three of our grandchildren over for the night. In case you haven't noticed, we know how to party!

A few years ago, going two different directions on our birthdays would have raised questions about priorities, but one of the benefits of being married for nearly 47 years is that we've gotten beyond that. We know what the priorities are: the grandkids! But to appease the romantics who might chance upon this little article, I'll put your minds at ease with a bit more information: I took her to lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Liberty Grill in Fredonia. We had barely sat down when the cook came out to wish her a happy birthday. He is a young man she had in her special ed class years ago, and had seen her birthday notice on Facebook. They talked for a bit, and we started on our lunch when the waitress came up and asked if I weren't Rev. Bailey. That can be a loaded question, but she looked friendly enough, so I answered in the affirmative, whereupon she said that she had attended the funeral at which I officiated yesterday, and complimented me on it. It was to say the least, an interesting birthday luncheon.

So there you have it; a Bailey birthday celebration. It's about as ordinary as you could get, but that's the point. After so many years together, every day is a celebration of love and commitment. The mountain peaks are still fun, but they aren't necessary to prove our love. The fact is, there is nothing to prove, only to demonstrate, and that is an every day activity. If it were not so, we wouldn't be celebrating this day together (more or less, anyway). But we are, and for that, I am thankful today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


February 22, 2017

"If wishes were fishes, we'd eat ourselves to death." I can still picture old Rudolf Horton leaning over the counter of his general store as he uttered those words. Rudolf walked with a decided limp due to the tuberculosis that had eaten away the ball of one thigh till it was little more than a point. Though he fought with pain every day of his life, he was tough, and determined that this was a fight he would win. When he wasn't tending his store, he would be found in one of two places, in the woods cutting logs or tending the sucker lines of his oil rigs, or in church.

I was pastor of the Alma EUB church, still in school, as green as they come, still wet behind the ears, while Rudolf was easily in his later sixties, which doesn't seem nearly so old now as it did then. I was the pastor, but people like Rudolf and Helen, old Mrs. Dickerson, and a passel of unruly teenagers were the teachers. Linda and I were there for five and a half years; our two sons were born there as we forged the foundations for a life and ministry together.

Alma was barely a wide spot in the road; a tiny hamlet at the intersection of two country roads that wound their way through the hills. Sadly, the church is closed now, but the memories are strong, as are the lessons learned there. When five and a half years later we left for seminary, I was to discover just how much they had taught me.

In my first and only preaching class, the professor asked those of us who had had some preaching experience to critique our sermons on the basis of what we had been saying about Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I started confidently, but was soon appalled at what I was seeing. I had always believed in a high Christology where salvation was on the basis of Jesus' death and resurrection, and by grace through faith alone. Working our way in was simply out of the question. However, when I reviewed my sermons, I discovered that there was a disconnect between what I believed and what I was telling people. In essence, I was telling people to just try a little harder. Ever since, I have made it a point before I preach to review every sermon with one question in mind: "Where is the Good News?" People can get good advice anywhere. We're the only ones with the Good News, and that's what people need.

Those gracious folks in Alma deserved an apology and my lifelong gratitude for putting up with me. One day when I was getting the mail (Rudolf's store was also the post office), Rudolf told me that the folks at the church considered it their mission in life to help young preachers get started. Well, they did just that for this young pastor, listening to his awful sermons and loving him in spite of them until they sent him off to greater fields of service. Mission accomplished, Alma church! Thank you. And thank God for you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Too Comfortable

February 21, 2017

Sometimes I think contentment is the number one enemy of faith. I am retired. I have a pension and savings. I live in an old but updated farmhouse with my wife of nearly 47 years. All three of our children live within walking distance of our front door, which means we see our grandkids at least weekly. They all are productive members of society and are raising their children to be faithful Christians. Our health is good. We lack for nothing. Ours is a life many would envy. There is just one problem. When life is like that, where does God fit in? Why do we need God?

I am fully aware that all of our blessings come from him, and I give thanks to him every day for all we enjoy. In the book of Proverbs, the writer makes a pointed observation that turns into a prayer:

"Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God." Life is more than comfort. Comfort is nice, but we were made for more than this. I am becoming quite uncomfortable with my comfort.

In a conversation with a pastor friend this morning, I mentioned my musings on this subject, to which he replied, "Try leaving a guaranteed job to plant a new church. You'll have all the living by faith you can handle." Or words to that effect. The truth of the matter is that there is an excitement about living by faith that stirs the blood and fires the imagination. Contentment and comfort is nice, and many of us default to it, but there is nothing like a bit of danger to add some spice to life. Winston Churchill once said that there is nothing quite as exhilarating as being shot at and missed. I can imagine he is right on that count.

When Linda and I were young marrieds, we pulled up stakes and moved to Chicago so I could go to seminary. We were poor. Really poor. There is no way we should have made it financially, let alone come out of seminary debt free, but that is what happened. When we were uncomfortable, we saw God do the impossible. That rarely happens when we live in our protected little bubbles.

I have no death wish, nor do I plan to do anything stupid. The fact of the matter is, I am quite adept at stupidity even without planning. But I do long to live on the edge of impossibility so I can be a part of the stuff God delights in doing. What that means for the future, I haven't the foggiest idea, but I'm keeping my eyes and heart open. On that day when I finally stand before the One who created and redeemed me, I want to go through those pearly gates in a full power slide, with shouts of praise to Jesus Christ who took me home on the ride of a lifetime.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Body and Mind

February 20, 2017

ADHD seems to be the go-to diagnosis for any kid who has trouble sitting down and paying attention in class. And the go-to remedy too often is to medicate the kid when maybe all he needs is a half hour of recess. Physical movement used to be a normal part of a kid's day, whether it came in the form of chores or play. But the omnipresent ubiquitousness of electronic devices combined with bureaucratic academia's obsession with testing has served to imprison our kids in their own bodies. Our brains are not detached thinking machines. They are a part of our physiological being, and when our bodies are inactive, our brains follow.

I'm a grown adult. I've never been accused of being ADHD, or anything even close. But today, a few hours' worth of sitting, reading, preparing a Bible lesson, and sorting music had me getting pretty restless. I could physically feel my body itching for some exercise. And that, even having worked out this morning! Too much sitting had my body sending out signals that this was not good.

I am far more fortunate than most kids today. There was no such thing as smart phones, tablets, and such when I was growing up. My mother's remedy for restlessness was a command: "Get outside!" Outside was different, too. If we wanted to play ball, we didn't wait for a league to form; we gathered a bunch of guys together and picked up sides. There were no umps to settle close calls, so we had to learn negotiation. Kids today are conditioned to let others (usually adults) solve their problems--not a very good preparation for adulthood.

Our television broke when I was about eight. My folks never bothered to even check on the cause till I was nearly a teenager. When he finally decided to look at it, my dad discovered it was a fifty-cent fuse! At the time, I wasn't too happy about his parental neglect, but I've come to see it as a blessing. We had to make our own entertainment, and much of it was physical.

I am blessed also to live where I can strap on my cross-country skis and take laps around our property, skirting the creek for most of it. I don't have to pay for gym membership; outside my door is all the workout I need. Today, I took advantage of the warming trend. The snow still lies in our yard, and the trail is well-marked. Halfway through my routine, Linda joined me for a few laps. My body says, "Thank you," and my mind is clearer than it was, which will serve me well when I lead our men's Bible study later on. A mind that works in a body that works; I am a thankful man tonight!

Sunday, February 19, 2017


February 19, 2017

While the fire ebbs in the stove, Emma lies on the hearth rug as I write and Linda reads. It's been a quiet afternoon. Dinner preparation looks to the uninitiated to be chaotic, with Linda, Jessie, and Jeanine bustling about the kitchen, Matt setting the table, and kids running around all over the house. But once the feasting is over and the dishes done, life settles down...to ordinary. I hate to admit it, but most of our life is pretty ordinary. George Jones used to sing, "We're not the jet set; We're the old Chevrolet set," with the Chevrolet being pronounced as it looks, not as it actually is. That would be us. Life is busy. We have people and activity in our lives, but it's pretty ho-hum most of the time. And most of the time, that suits me fine.

But every so often, I begin to ponder what "ordinary" really means. Predictable. Uneventful. Plain-Jane. It can be busy, but ordinary means "same-old, same-old," which describes most of my life right now. It's not bad; it's just ordinary. Ordinary can actually be quite pleasant. Tonight's fire feels much better than shivering out in the cold. Predictable means I'm not worried about whether or not I'll be able to eat tomorrow, or whether or not my wife will love me. I don't go to bed at night fearful that the violence in the streets outside barred windows and doors will somehow be able to infiltrate the protective barriers between me and them.

But does predictable also mean I don't have to trust God? It's one thing to pray before a meal, asking God's blessing on what we're about to consume. It's quite another to do so when the plates are empty and nothing is on the table. It is easy to speak of the "peace that passes understanding" when we live in peaceful settings, but what does that peace look like if I live where Christians are the minority and the majority religious and political authorities can swoop in with impunity to confiscate everything I own, even my life? Does predictable mean I've allowed myself to become complacent or apathetic? Does it make my faith a little less faithful?

Perhaps it's time to move out of predictable toward the edge where if God doesn't come through the entire enterprise will collapse. Perhaps it's time to move from comfort to confrontation, from ease to exercise. Ordinary feels good, but feeling good is not why we're here. God has given life and resources as tools for faithful and fruitful living. And it is impossible to be faithful and not fruitful. Tonight in the comfort of my home, if I listen carefully enough, I suspect I'll hear God's whisper to come out, to step forth, leaving behind the comfort of ordinariness and reach forth towards a life that is impossible apart from daily dependence on the Holy Spirit. I'm grateful for the challenge...I think. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Songs in the Morning

February 18, 2017

John Wesley, the father of Methodism, once declared himself to be a man "of one Book," the Bible. It wasn't exactly true; he was well-read in philosophy, religion, politics, and medicine. But the foundation of all his reading was the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. All his other studies were ancillary to the Scriptures, which to him, were central to life. I like to read, and am particularly fond of history and biography, but as much as I like these genres, nothing feeds my soul like the Scriptures. They are my guide, my encouragement, my correction, the source of my faith. Sometimes when I read, I come up empty, like letting a bucket down into a dry well. Except that the well isn't dry; the problem is my bucket often has holes in it. But there are those other times when I strike gold. This morning was one of those times.

Most of the time I'm pretty quiet. People who knew me from my life as a pastor often have a hard time believing that. My job required me to use words a lot, but when left to myself, I'm usually pretty quiet, so much so that Linda once quipped that I can't carry on a decent conversation without notes. She's right, of course. Most of the time my inner conversation goes something like, "No one would be interested in my opinion." So I keep quiet. I like quiet.

Unfortunately, that attitude has often crept into my relationship with God. I love music, but rarely have the radio on, and rarely am found singing other than in worship. That may have to change. This morning's reading included this gem: "I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning (Psalm 59:16). Really? Singing in the morning? Aloud? I'm not sure that will bless anyone. Except perhaps God. Maybe lifting up my voice in the morning will help get me started on the right foot. I read my Bible first thing. I offer prayers. But maybe, just maybe, it would please God, perhaps even bless him, to hear my voice proclaiming and thanking him for his steadfast love.

This wasn't written quite as a command, but I'm going to try it. It couldn't hurt, and might just help me be more focused on God. That wouldn't be a bad way to start the morning. Not at all.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Rabbit Holes and Life

February 17. 2017

One of the greatest of life's skills to be learned is distinguishing between problems to be solved and trials to be endured. Many otherwise smart people have expended themselves trying to solve trials that are humanly unchangeable. I think Christians are particularly vulnerable to this kind of thinking. Christians are people of faith, at least theoretically, and are conditioned to believe that "with God all things are possible." Our Scriptures even tell us as much, and there are enough biblical examples of miracles to convince us that there is nothing that cannot be changed with enough prayer and faith.

Alas! Life is not always so simple. St. Peter tells us that there is a trial of our faith that is more precious than gold, and that leads to praise, honor, and glory (1Peter 1:7). Such trials often look like problems to be solved, and when we see them this way, we go about trying to solve something that God himself has ordained for our ultimate good. It does no good to try to pray away something difficult God has given us. Some difficulties are not problems; they are trials. How we handle them depends on which they are.

Such life skills are best learned when we are young. Problems are meant to be solved. We apply our best wisdom and skill to them, whether they be problems of engineering, medicine, psychology, politics, relationships, or religion. Successful solutions benefit us all. On the other hand, people who try to solve trials end up in frustration, which leads often to loss of faith, disillusionment, anger, and blaming.  

Five-year-old Gemma LOVES her Peter Rabbit game. Think Chutes and Ladders, only more expensive. The ladders are rabbit trails that take you closer to home. The chutes are rabbit holes down which you drop to a previous level. Almost every time Gemma comes over, she wants to play. At first, if she fell down a rabbit hole, it was a major catastrophe for her. Until she watched Linda repeatedly fall down the rabbit holes, laughing about it all the way. Tonight was no exception. Linda went down the same rabbit hole three times in a single game. We all laughed, and Gemma is unwittingly learning.

Life is full of rabbit holes. The roll of the dice sends us unexpectedly tumbling, and if we take it to heart, or aren't anticipating them, they become problems that we become frantic to solve. Problem is, you can't solve a rabbit hole. They are just there, and sooner or later, we all fall into one. Sometimes repeatedly. We merely endure it, climb out, and roll the dice for the next move. At five years, Gemma is learning a lesson many adults have never mastered. Rabbit holes aren't pleasant, but they also aren't fatal unless we make them so by giving up or getting mad. Sometimes it's best to just laugh it off, dust ourselves off, and roll again. I'm grateful tonight for a simple children's game that is teaching an important life lesson at a time in her life when it's easiest to learn. It's bed time now, but tomorrow, we'll get up, roll life's dice again, and head off down the path, hoping to avoid the rabbit hole, perhaps wandering into Mr. McGregor's garden (THAT's a problem to be solved!), moving space by space, a little closer to home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Feeding the Soul

February 16, 2017

Sometimes, no matter how much I read or how hard I  try, the Bible seems like a closed book to me. I read the text, read some more, but it's just words on the page. I know the problem isn't with God, but with me. Sometimes my spirit just seems to be asleep. Maybe that's why St. Paul says, "Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Eph.5:14).

Most mornings I have breakfast. It can be as light as english muffin and coffee, or sometimes an omelette or cakes and eggs with the grandkids. No matter what I eat, I can't remember a single time I felt instantly energized by it. However, I don't stop eating just because I don't get an immediate buzz. I know that it takes time for the food I eat to be fully digested and transformed into muscle, skin, and bone. And I know that if I neglect eating long enough, my body will begin to deteriorate.

So when my Bible reading doesn't yield immediate "ah-ha's," I don't fret and I don't quit. I know that I'm feeding my soul, and that just as God has designed my body to be nourished by those eggs and muffins, so he has designed my spirit to be nourished by the Scriptures. I like those times when the light comes on and I know God is speaking, but I am content and thankful to know he is working in me even when it doesn't seem like anything is happening.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Faith and...Nothing

February 15, 2017

The Scripture reading for today started out, "Who can say, "I have made my heart pure?"" From there, it proceeded to, "I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing...In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them...If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The texts are, Proverbs 20:9, Romans 7:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 John 1:9.

Last night, I watched one of the satirical YouTube videos of Donell and Conell taking on the heresy of thinking we can somehow add something to the grace of Christ for our salvation. It's pretty funny stuff, but also highlights the point that St. Paul makes when he denies that there is anything at all we can do to merit salvation. Ours is to simply believe in what God has done for us in Christ. For years, I believed this in both head and heart, but had trouble applying it to myself. Every time I sinned, or even didn't quite attain the standard I thought I should, the guilt would set in, and I found myself listening to the shaming voice of the 'Accuser of the Brethren.' It never ended well, and I spent a good many years living under the weight of 'not good enough.'

In reality, I was living the consequences of not fully trusting in God's goodness and in the perfection of his plan of salvation by grace through faith. It's those last words that are telling. God's salvation is by grace alone. Period. It's not faith in Jesus AND... It's faith in Jesus alone. When we allow our falling short (which is our lot as human beings - Romans 3:23) to chip away at our utter and complete faith in Christ, we end up with a watered-down salvation which is no salvation at all. In fact, it is all or nothing, and too many of us have an almost-faith that ends up being no faith and no salvation at all, as we hop on the devil's treadmill of "just try a little harder."

It has taken me too long to get to the place where I am truly believing in the gospel word of John: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Let those words seep into your soul. They are life. In Christ.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine Lumber

February 14, 2017

Though ravaged by desperate shoppers, the Valentine's Day card displays at three different stores today were still well-stocked with over-priced displays of bad poetry and syrupy sentimentality. I looked, and walked away, but not towards either the candy or the flowers. It was time for some serious Valentine's Day shopping, and I knew exactly where to go. If you haven't learned a thing or two in forty six and a half years of marriage, you are probably single. I may be a  bit slow, but I'm still in the game. It was Home Depot or Bust!

The gift was also the card; twelve feet of 2X12s inscribed as big as I could make it: "LINDA, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY FROM ONE WHO KNOWS YOUR HEART." The gal at the checkout looked at me a bit oddly, but she doesn't know Linda the way I do. When I got home, I brought her outside, and she was delighted, just as I knew she would be. "Why would a woman want heavy duty lumber for Valentine's Day," you ask? Because she knew when she saw it what it was. In a couple months, it will be transformed into the raised bed gardens she's been wanting since last summer. She was hoping for them for her birthday next week, but I've got something else planned for then.

Forty six years brings its own blessings, including knowing my wife's heart. Flowers are OK, but they fade. Chocolates? By her own testimony, if she starts the stuff, she can't stop, so she's sworn off it. But a raised bed garden? Bingo! Oh, and by the way, she knows me, too. I walked in the door to see a gallon of maple syrup sitting on the kitchen table. Tonight I am thankful for the years we have had to learn each other's hearts. It has been a Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Knowing God

February 13, 2017

In Exodus 33:12-23 we have an intriguing interaction between God and Moses in which Moses tells God that he wants to know him. Here's what he said: "If I have found grace in your sight, show me now your way, that I may know you and that I may find grace in your sight." Moses wants to know God's ways, i.e., how he thinks, or in modern vernacular, what is his game plan. The conversation goes on a bit before God responds specifically to this request. When he does, it isn't what Moses probably expected.

God doesn't offer to reveal his ways, or even that Moses might know him. He does say that he will honor Moses' request to go with the children of Israel into the Promised Land, but strangely enough, he doesn't get all buddy-buddy with Moses, telling him that he will let Moses know him. Instead, he declares, "I know you," and adds for emphasis, "by name." In the process, grace is mentioned six times in a mere seven verses. The knowledge we need is always a gift of grace.

So which is more important, to know God or be known by God? The Psalmist sings, "O LORD, you have known me..." (Psalm 139:1), but even the great St. Paul speaks of his not having attained this mark of knowing God. That is his desire, that toward which he presses in Philippians 3:10. But he presses on to "lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me" (v.12). From beginning to end, it is God who initiates the relationship, and he does so because he knows us. He knows our weaknesses. Psalm 103:14 tells us that he "knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." He knows our hearts, our longings for him. He knows us. And he reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ. We can know him, and through him, we can know the Father.

In Matthew 11:27, Jesus spells out how this knowledge works. "All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him." Then Jesus adds these words: "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Way back in Exodus 33, we find that same promise: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." In Christ, the Promise finds fulfillment. We know God as much as is humanly possible when we know Christ. But even then, it is God who knows us, which is far better. My knowledge of God is inherently partial; his knowledge of me is complete, which means his grace is sufficient for all my shortcomings and failures, and for that, I am grateful tonight.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


February 12, 2017

Excellence is both an encouragement and a discouragement. Which it becomes depends on the heart of the observer. Yesterday I attended the Second Annual Bass Fest sponsored by the Bass Society of Fredonia State College. High school bassists were judged by two professionals who each teach and play for philharmonic orchestras. I was in absolute awe of these high school students' abilities. In my wildest dreams, I could never begin to play music at the level they are at in high school.

Occasionally, I listen to Youtube videos of professional bassists. Some are accomplished classical musicians, others primarily play jazz or rockabilly. I work at the music, study their techniques, try emulating them, and finally end up just thump-thumping some simple lines I've learned. If you've ever listened to rockabilly, the bass line is known as slap bass, where the player plucks the string then slaps the fingerboard to come up with a chick-a-boom sound. I've tried it; it's hard to do! I can get the chick-a, but miss the boom, or vice-versa. And as far as playing classical, forget it! Trying to play a sustained note with vibrato is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, only harder.

So here's my dilemma: The excellence I've observed lets me know what is possible, but it also highlights what for me will be impossible. Whether I am discouraged or encouraged is not the responsibility of the examples I've seen, but of the determination of my own heart. I can choose to look at them and give up in despair, knowing that is a level of musicianship I'll never attain. Or I can look at them and say to myself, "I may not be able to get where they are, but knowing it's possible means if I work at it, I can at least improve." And of course, that applies in all of life. We can see our ideals as impossibilities or as challenges. I choose the challenges, and am thankful tonight for the examples that inspire me to reach forth into the future.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


February 11, 2017

He donned the heavy leather gloves and shoved the basket into the maw of the machine which was belching steam, hissing in dangerous defiance. The parts in the basket needed to be degreased prior to painting, and it was his job to make sure it happened with speedy regularity. In the summertime, it was hot, sweaty, mind-numbing and bone-wearying work. It didn't take me even two weeks to decide that was not how I wanted to earn my living. Before the summer was out, I was working as a counselor at a summer camp, and never looked back.

I had a choice, a gift many never get. History is littered with the corpses of men, women, and children whose entire lives were eked out in conditions of forced labor, and there are countless others whose choices were so constrained that they might as well have been born into slavery. I had a choice. I was born into a time, a place, a family that gave me opportunities and options unavailable to so many. And I have enjoyed strength and health to do my work consistently. I never had to rely on unemployment or extended sick leave. My work didn't break down my body as I've seen happen to friends who spent their working lives in heavy physical labor.

Today I attended Bass Fest, a yearly day of seminars and performances by students and faculty at Fredonia State College. The level of musicianship of even the high school students who competed and performed was staggering, let alone that of the professionals who taught, evaluated, and performed. I can't randomly wiggle my fingers that fast, let alone get them in the right places to make music. After one of the seminars, I was walking with one of the high schoolers. I asked if he planned to go into music professionally, to which he replied affirmatively. "It is a great privilege to make a living doing what you love," I mused. "Too many make a living doing what they must." I hope he took my words to heart.

I am one of the lucky ones. No, I can't make music the way these kids can, but I was privileged to make my living doing what I loved - studying the Scriptures, preaching the Gospel, and seeing people's lives transformed. It wasn't always easy; nothing worthwhile is. But it was a great privilege for which I am grateful. And now I am retired; able to put the work aside for new pursuits. Work is good. We are commanded to give six days per week to it, and once more, I get to choose how my work week is to be invested. The day will come soon enough when my work consists of prayer only; my strength and energy will finally be spent. When that day comes, I hope and trust that the work will continue, for it is one of God's choice blessings for which I give thanks tonight.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Family of Fools

February 10, 2017

Laughter. Tonight our house was filled with it. I suppose it's all my fault. Or Linda's. Eliza was chasing Nathan through the house, and I told them to slow down, whereupon Linda commented that they couldn't run slowly. I proceeded to demonstrate that it was indeed possible, showing off my best slo-mo form which the kids immediately copied with a slo-mo chase complete with reaching out to grab me as I dodged their grasp artfully and if I must say so myself, quite successfully. Everyone chimed in, prompting Linda to call granddaughter-at-college Alex for comfort and support. Of course, we had to do a re-enactment so Alex could judge for herself whether or not Meema was being unfairly targeted. A little Skype brought some long-distance and much deserved applause.

All this was after a pun-fest at dinner, and before a rousing game of Twister prior to everyone getting ready for bed. I am tempted to check the news before turning in, but why ruin a good evening? It's sad the way so many people seem angry all the time. And if they aren't angry, they're worried. Anger and fear are stock in trade in the political world, and those who invest heavily and continually in it soon find themselves overwhelmed by one or both of these emotions. I watch people I know and care about trading their joy for a bowl of political pottage that robs them of their inheritance of peace, and am saddened as I watch them dragging themselves wearily down a road to despair. I figure that there's no sense worrying about what I can't change, so I might as well live in the joy of Christ.

St. Paul spoke of being a fool for Christ. We were foolish tonight, and extravagant in our fun together. I'll leave the news for another time, and turn in lighthearted and content, surrounded by the kids who made our evening one to remember. We were fools for each other tonight. It sure beats being a fool for sex, drugs or alcohol, or for fear and anger. What are you a fool for?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

People Blessings

February 9, 2017

People can be one of the greatest blessings in life, or one of the greatest curses. I've had a very few of the curse kind, but countless blessing people. Today Linda and I spent hours in the car together as we drove to Rochester to visit my mother. Our conversation roamed all over the place, without even a hint of conflict. The topic didn't matter; we were together, and that was enough. Then there was the time spent with mom. At 94, she doesn't get out much, so doesn't think she has a lot to talk about, but 94 years' worth of wisdom is not something to be wasted, so we talked and listened, and were blessed.

On the way home, we got a text message from granddaughter Izzi, who was attending a basketball game at Cassadaga Valley and was hoping we'd be willing to pick her up and bring her home. Of course, we did, and as a result, were entertained with running commentary on all the things that matter to a fourteen year old girl while Linda worked to keep her focused on her homework. Izzi's take on things is always unique and interesting, so an hour with her is never dull.

Then there are the friends who responded to my post about double vision. I wrote it rather light-heartedly, but many of my friends were concerned. Apparently, double vision can be an early indicator of everything from cataracts (which my eye doctor has already told me I'm developing) to diabetes and strokes. Tomorrow will be spent making phone calls and setting up appointments to get things checked out. How can I not be grateful for the people God has put in my life? I am abundantly blessed!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Grace Notes

February 8, 2017

Today it began. Our New Horizons Band had its fall concert last November, and except for the hardy few who sign up for the January sessions, we haven't met since. It felt good to be back, bassoon in hand, string bass on my back. Ensemble groups meet at 3:00; I'm in a jazz improvisation group with three saxophonists who are way ahead of me in skill and in knowing the music theory. Jesse, our student leader, writes out a jazz line with chord notations on the board, then says, "Let's start with the third of the root note in the D7. What is that?" The others spit out the answer like it was itching to be spoken, while I'm trying to figure out what in heck he was saying. Jesse goes from measure to measure, adding chords, writing the notes on the board, then starts all over again with the fifths (no, that has nothing to do with Jack Daniels). They start playing what's written on the board, and lo and behold, it sounds pretty good! And all the while I'm plucking away on my bass, trying to figure out a bass line that fits the chord progressions Jesse laid out.

Linda doesn't like jazz. "It's a never-ending song," she says. I often have to agree with her; I've listened to stuff that has so much improvisation that there's no telling what the original melody is. But the theory behind it all-how the music itself is put together, is pretty fascinating. From the sequences of those tones we call notes, to the timing and arrangements, it is amazing how many different combinations can come from a simple eight note scale. I don't understand much theory, but I know that it is very mathematical and scientific. For example, a given note has a wave length that oscillates as a sine curve. That note's octave occurs when that sine curve is cut in half. On a stringed instrument, the octave is halfway between the nut and the bridge. That is about all the theory I know. Pretty basic.

Fortunately, one doesn't have to be a theorist to play music. It helps make a better musician, but there are a lot of excellent musicians who don't know any theory whatsoever. Sadly, I am not one of them. What I am is living proof that one doesn't have to be good at music to enjoy it. And fortunately, the church is not the only place grace is exhibited. I encounter it every week when I show up at band, a hack who will never be a virtuoso, but who fits right in with all the others who love the music they can, and can't make. Tonight I am thankful for those who dreamed of a band for people who love music, and for all those who so graciously welcome the lesser gifted into their fellowship. And I'm grateful it happens in church, too. One doesn't have to be a professional Christian to benefit from and enjoy the blessings of salvation. It's all about grace; there's nothing like it! Now if I can only get my bassoon reeds to quit sabotaging my efforts in that arena!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Double blessing

February 7, 2017

It's interesting, to say the least, entertaining at times, annoying at other times. I can't remember when I first noticed it, but it's been a couple years now. It's most noticeable at night when I'm driving, but this morning on the way into town, it was in full force, and again this evening as I was trying to watch a bit of tv. It's double vision. Two sets of street lights, tail lights, stop lights, side-by-side reflective markers on the side of the road, double double lines in the middle of the road. As I said, it makes life interesting.

I'm wondering how I can capitalize on it. Maybe it can give me an excuse for my poor showing at deer hunting, or my missed notes while playing my bassoon. Surely I now have a reason to rest my eyes during the Sunday sermon. Two pastor Joes is one too many! I doubt though, if I can convince anyone that double vision causes snoring. It might be possible however, to make a case for taking twice as long to read a book. After all, I have twice as many words to look at! I do think it would behoove me to be extra careful where I put my fingers when I'm using my table saw.

Yes, I've been to the eye doctor. He says it's just weakened eye muscles, a by-product of aging. So, how does one go about strengthening the eye muscles? Is there such a thing as eye pushups or squats? Maybe I'll just give 'em a rest. It is past my bedtime, and I'm thankful to be able to see. After all, if you look at it right, it's a double blessing. You get to see God's good earth but once. I get a double dose every day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

False Alarm

February 6, 2017

When you're lying in bed and hear a thump in the night somewhere in the house, your imagination can run pretty wild. The doors were all locked; I remember checking them myself. But strange things do happen, and even out here in the country, people's houses get broken into.

I got out of bed, grabbed some protection and went downstairs. A thorough check of all rooms and spaces where someone might be able to hide came up empty. Yet the thump was real. Perhaps some ice came off the roof. Some years ago at our house in Cassadaga, an ice dam on the back roof came loose and crashed right through the deck. That slab of ice was about two feet thick, three feet wide, and twenty feet long. It must have weighed a ton, and when it came down, the part of the deck next to the house simply collapsed.

This didn't sound quite like ice breaking loose, but it was the best explanation I could think of until we looked into the bathroom right outside our bedroom door. Lying on the floor beneath the window was a picture frame - a collage of flowers painted by a friend. A screw that held the frame's wire had come loose, perhaps with the humidity, sending the picture to the floor. False alarm! No intruders, no need for the protection after all.

We are blessed to live where we do, where break-ins are rare. For too many people, robbery and its often accompanying assault are a matter of course. I am grateful tonight for where I am privileged to live, and for a false alarm that lets me breathe easily and sleep peacefully.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Giving In

February 5, 2017

It was October 29, 1941. The year before, England had nearly been brought to its knees as Hitler's Luftwaffe bombed airfields, military targets, and finally, London in an ultimately futile effort to persuade the Brits to sue for peace so he could attack Russia unhindered by a second front. Many in the Parliament were ready to do just that but for one person who refused to accept defeat. Winston Churchill was adamant that England would never surrender to the barbarous Nazis. From July 10 till October 31, 1940, The Luftwaffe came in waves, leaving behind death and destruction. Churchill and England fought back till Hitler finally cancelled his planned invasion and turned eastward. The Battle of Britain was over, but the war had barely begun.

On this particular October day a year later, Churchill was standing before the students at Harrow, his old school from which he had almost flunked out. In his speech, he spoke of the iron determination that had brought them through the crisis, with these words:

"You cannot tell from appearances how things will go." He then spoke of how appearances can be deceiving, after which he uttered these words forever associated with his name: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense." Everyone had thought they were beaten...except Churchill.

The stakes weren't nearly as high, but tonight the spirit was the same. At half time, it appeared as if the game would be a rout. In Atlanta, everyone was gearing up for a party, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of folks turned off their televisions in disgust. But Tom Brady refused to believe he and his team were beaten, and staged the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

If you look around you, it often appears as if all that is good and sacred is being utterly thrashed by the other team. Violence everywhere, unspeakable immorality, human depravity proudly exhibited for all to see, a tidal wave of addictions of all sorts. It's 21-3; no way we can win. But it's only half time. I am grateful tonight that the game of life isn't over yet, and our Quarterback makes Brady look like an amateur.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mercy Over Law

February 4, 2017

In Exodus 25, God gives Moses the blueprints for the construction of the Tent of Meeting which until the construction of the temple some 400 years later, would become the most sacred place where he would meet his people as they worshipped with prayers, songs, and sacrifices. The Tent had three sections; the outer court where the men could come, the holy place where the priests ministered, and the most holy place (the Holy of Holies) where only the high priest could come but once a year to present the blood of the atoning sacrifice. The most holy place held but a single piece of furniture - the ark of the covenant, a wooden box overlaid inside and out with pure gold and covered by a golden lid on which were carved representations of winged creatures called cherubs.

What interests me about this box is what it contained, and what it was called. Originally, it held only the tables of stone on which were carved the Ten Commandments. Aaron's rod and a bowl of manna were later added, but the Ten Commandments were its most important contents. The box itself was called the Ark of the Covenant, which signified the one-sided agreement whereby God claimed his people for his own. The Ten Commandments inside the box signified the responsibilities incumbent upon the people God delivered from Egypt's slavery. Inside the covenant, so to speak, were the conditions by which from a human perspective, it was maintained.

The lid of this box was called the Mercy Seat, and it was where God promised to meet his people through the intercession of the high priest and the application of the sacrificial blood. Psalm 145:9 tells us that God's mercies are over all his works. Nowhere is that better represented than here. Whenever we try to live by the law, doing our best, hoping God will somehow accept us, we fall short. None of us is able to perfectly do all we know we should do, nor can we fully abstain from what we know we should not do. Our best is never good enough, and if our best is all we have to offer, we end up living in either despair or frustration. But over all our failure sits the Mercy Seat, where God meets us because Jesus died in our place.

I wish I had lived a better life than I have lived. I wish I were able to say, "from now on, I'll always do exactly as God demands," but I live every day in the knowledge of my failure - past, present, and future. I'll never measure up. The holy Law of God continually testifies against me. But over it all is the Mercy Seat. God meets me there, not because I deserve it, but because he is merciful and forgiving. And for that, I am thankful tonight.

Friday, February 3, 2017

"Out the Door, Kid!"

February 3, 2017

"Out the door, kid!" A paper napkin from wedding reception became the repository for a joke that has lasted for twenty years. It's ensconced on the wall in our bedroom in a collage of photos of our daughter; photos that go through the years from infancy to adolescence and young adulthood. The conversation around that wedding reception table so many years ago had to do with the fact that Jessie being my only daughter, I would have a hard time letting her go. "Easy-peasy," I replied, to which I was challenged to put it in writing. So I did.

For months prior to her wedding, I secretly worked on a surprise for her; a song that expressed my pride in her, my love for her, but also my willingness to release her into the care of the young man who loved her differently, but just as much as I. In wedding ceremonies, I've often spoken to the parents of the couple, admonishing them of the necessity of their letting go of their children if the latter are to have a chance at building a good marriage. That release is the most difficult, yet most important gift they can give their children, and that evening so many years ago, I was called on to receive the counsel I had so often given. It was some of the best advice I've ever received.

A text message this morning invited me to join her for cappuccino or just plain joe at one of our favorite coffee shops. Writing was mentioned, but we didn't get any done. We just talked. A couple hours later, I dropped her off at her home and returned to mine. Neither of us accomplished anything, yet we both accomplished much, and for the cup drained and the soul filled, I am thankful tonight. "Out the door," indeed! But never out of my heart.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Taking out the Garbage

February 2, 2017

"I absolutely detest taking out the garbage!" Our conversation during and after dinner covered everything from grandkids to racism to what it meant to live in grace instead of guilt, with a few other topics thrown in for good measure. It is a Thursday, and tomorrow is trash collection day in our village. Linda had a meeting at church tonight, and as she got ready to leave, I uttered these words as I began to gather the filled plastic garbage bags from their various receptacles in the kitchen.

"Really?" Linda asked, then offered to take it out on her way to the garage. I motioned her away, and finished collecting the bags before taking them out, filling the official village bag, and taking it to the side of the road.

"I don't know why; it's not a hard job," I continued. But it is true. It's not a particularly unpleasant job. I don't mind the daily shoveling up the piles our dog leaves in the yard, but I hate taking out the garbage. That doesn't mean I don't do it. It's one of those chores that becomes very noticeable if not done regularly, so I do it.

A lot of life is that way. Unfortunately, we've come to believe that everyone should follow their dreams, and that the resulting quests should never be hampered with unpleasantries. Children are given participation trophies, college students riot so they won't have to listen to a speaker say things that don't fit with their preconceived and unreflective notions. And Christians often expect to achieve holiness and to feel the presence of God without waiting on the mountain or walking through the desert. If we just sing another chorus, dim the lighting, close our eyes and raise our hands, God will surely hear and answer us with signs and wonders.

"Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a ever flowing stream." Amos 5:23-24. This afternoon I read of Moses ascending the mountain of God, where he waited six days before God spoke to him. What was he doing for those six days? The Scripture doesn't say, but we can be sure he wasn't checking his cell phone every five minutes. Important business was at hand; he was listening for the voice of God. And I ask myself, "When was the last time you waited for six solid days without interruption, just to hear from God?" Like, never.

Some things in life just need to be done, not because they bring us pleasure, but because left undone, like that garbage, life begins to stink. I am challenged by today's Scripture. You can read it yourself in Exodus 24:16-18. I have no excuses. I'm retired and don't have to report in to work. But I do need to make the decision to forego some things if I am to do the one thing necessary. The trick is this: it's not the bad things that start to stink. It's the good things that have hung around too long. The trash is waiting by the side of the road, and I feel better now that it's out there instead of in here. Truth is, that's not the only garbage that has to go.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Home Depot

February 1, 2017

Yesterday I stopped at Home Depot to check out some baseboard molding for our bedroom. I looked over the options and walked out empty-handed. Because I had neglected to measure the room beforehand. Before a remedy can be applied, the problem needs to be assessed, which in this case means, the room needed to be measured.

How often I have approached God with a general "I need this from you" mentality, but without having done the prior work of actually measuring out the situation so that I can come before him with specific prayers. When I live a generalized Christian life, too often I leave the heavenly Home Depot empty-handed.