Friday, April 28, 2017

A Good Busy Day

April 28, 2017

I left the house at 8:30 this morning, and except for a quick dash to pick up some things to take to church, I didn't step inside the door till 8:30 in the  evening. Writer's Group, a quick visit with my son, into town for some errands, and then to our New Horizons ensemble recital before back to church for a two hour missions meeting.

Am I tired? You bet! But as I sat in bed putting thoughts to screen, Linda leaned over and whispered, "I love you," before drifting off to sleep. How can I not be thankful? It's been a good busy day!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Do It Anyway

April 27, 2017

Sometimes the day just doesn't turn out the way I had envisioned. After 6:00 am prayer time with the guys, I figured on finalizing some lessons on the Apostles' Creed for some teaching I expect to be doing soon. I remember having preached on the Creed; I could even show you where on my office bookshelf sat the reference books I used in preparation. But do you think I could find the sermons themselves? They have seemingly entered another dimension. I don't lack for sermon notes; an entire box dating back to the early '80's documents every sermon I've preached for the past 32 years, or so I thought. The ones I wanted have vacated the premises, but it took me about four (futile) hours to find that out.

I suppose it was good training for the next mission trip. Whenever I've been overseas, the one thing I could always count on was that there was so precious little I could count on that the seat of my pants could qualify for frequent flier mileage. So after getting thoroughly disgusted with my total failure as an archivist, I decided to take a break and watch a video posted by a guy who does online bass instruction. He was comparing different kinds of strings, which I thought might be informative. The video itself was somewhat ho-hum, but he started it off by telling the camera about his crappy day. He admittedly didn't have much right to complain; he is in good health, has a wife and child he adores, comes home to hot and cold running water, and clothes to keep him warm. That being said, he noted that we all have days when things just don't go right, and when that happens, we need an attitude adjustment. So he played a short video of someone else talking about this very thing. Here's what the guy said:

"When things go wrong, we ask the wrong question. We ask, "How can I stay motivated when I don't even want to get out of bed? This isn't a matter of motivation," he said, "It's a matter of discipline. Sometimes you don't feel motivated, but discipline gets you going anyway. You don't need motivation; you need discipline."

I needed to hear that today. Things didn't go the way I had planned. So I have a choice; either to mope and gripe about it, or to pick up where I am and move on. I am grateful tonight for this video slap alongside the head; I never did find those notes, but I'm going to move on with what I have already put together and trust that God will use it in his way and time to accomplish his purposes. After all, Jesus didn't call us to be motivators, but disciples - disciplined followers of the Way of the Cross.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


April 26, 2017

Encouragement is a beautiful thing. We never outgrow our need for it or our delight in it. Tonight it came in waves. I play bassoon and upright bass in our local New Horizons Band. Tonight was  concert night; time to shine, but shining is hard when your playing is as rough as mine usually is. Some of our members are retired music teachers, others have played semi-professionally in various bands and groups. Most of them are far more accomplished than I. So when I play, I'm happiest when I'm so surrounded by sound that my squeaks and squawks get swallowed up in the sonorous melodies of my more accomplished neighbors. I'm not a solo performer.

A couple weeks ago in practice, it suddenly dawned on me that one of the pieces we were playing had a mini bassoon solo. It was only about six bars long, and although it consisted of sixteenth notes, the piece was so slow that it looked doable. Actually, it had to be; our first chair bassoonist was conducting this particular number, leaving me high and dry. So after completely muffing it in rehearsal, I practiced it. Over and over again. And tonight when I played it, I actually hit all the right notes. In order.

At intermission, Jim, one of the trombonists who sits behind me, congratulated me on that little solo. It felt pretty good! Mind you, it was such a small solo that after the concert, my wife asked why I hadn't played my solo. "I did," I protested. "It was in the second piece." She had been listening for it, but missed it.

The jazz band played three numbers in the middle of the concert. The original plan was to mic the bass, but for some reason that didn't happen. So instead, they put me up front between the saxes and the piano. The strange thing about the upright bass is that because I stand beside and somewhat behind it, I cannot hear how it projects into the audience. I'm the only bassist, competing against six saxes, five trombones, and as many trumpets. So when one of the concert band members who was in the audience for the jazz band part told me how well it punched through and laid down the beat, I was over the moon. Jazz band is my favorite part, so I worked hard on those three numbers, and since I've only been playing upright bass for a little over a year, Mike's comment was music to my ears. In Ephesians 4:29, St. Paul said, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Tonight I'm grateful for Jim and Mike, the encouragement they gave me, and the reminder of how important such a word can be to someone else.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Coming Around

April 25, 2017

"I'll pray for you." Four simple words that took me by surprise. Back when I started having breakfast with my friend Willie, we started patronizing a local diner where, like the Cheers bar, everybody knows your name. This morning I walked in, greeted the guys in the booth streetside to ours and talked for a few minutes with Marilyn and Roy. John, the owner, was bustling around out back while Patty, the morning short order cook and waitress already had my coffee on the table.

Early on, when paying for breakfast one day, I asked Patty if there were anything she would like me to pray for. "My son," she answered. She didn't offer any details and I didn't ask. But I did pray, and occasionally asked how he was doing. He's in college now, and doing OK.

This morning when I paid my bill, I told her about our coming mission trip to Cuba. That's when she uttered those four words to me. I don't know how much of a prayer person she's been, but hearing those words from her made my day. What goes around comes around.

Monday, April 24, 2017


April 24, 2017

Although I never met him and he died nearly forty years ago, I thought of Hal Borland this morning. The last few chapters of the Biblical book of Joshua are concerned with laying out the geographical boundaries for the eleven tribes of Israel. As ministers to the spiritual needs of the people, the tribe of Levi received no physical inheritance, so after having been pilgrims in the wilderness for forty years, the land was invaded and divided between the remaining eleven tribes.

Laying aside the ethical issues surrounding what today would undoubtedly be termed the genocide of the previous inhabitants, there remains for us mobile and transitory Americans the question of why possession of the land was so important. We increasingly live in multiple locations over a lifetime in buildings we don't own and communities to which we have but fleeting attachments. The idea of sending down roots seems archaic and antiquated.

In my profession, I am the anachronism, that rare creature who was planted in a small community some thirty six years ago and stayed put, albeit in three different houses. When I began preaching back in 1970, it was common for Methodist pastors to move to a new church every three or four years. The system was our version of advancement and punishment. If you were good, you could expect to be moved to a larger and more prestigious church; if you were capable and well connected, even to the status of District Superintendent. Incompetence was rewarded by lateral transfer at best, or banishment to some backwater outpost where you could  do the least damage. Rarely was someone drummed out of the business. Methodists were itinerant; we moved. We didn't have the luxury of attachment to people or places. Perhaps we were harbingers of the twentieth-century American mobile lifestyle.

Which brings me back to Joshua. And Hal Borland. And the land.

Borland was a New York Times journalist born and raised in Kansas and Colorado who made the decision to move to rural Connecticut back in the '50's. He wrote books and articles on rural life, twenty of which from 1963 to 1968 were quarterly reflections on life itself gathered into a little book entitled "Homeland." Time slows down in the country he knew back then; today country life has succumbed to the paces of our urbanized society and the demands of instant and continual connectivity via electronic media. The world he was able to choose nearly forty years ago has nearly vanished from North America.

In one of his essays, Borland reflects on having gone out one morning in the autumn to walk the lines of his hundred or so acres of field and woodland. As a countryman, he knew his property lines well, and occasionally walked them to make sure the markers were still there and all was well. His observation however, was somewhat different from what we might have expected. He didn't speak of his ownership of the property, although as a bona fide taxpayer, he was entitled to do so. Instead, he said that walking the lines gave a man a sense of belonging. It was here, on the land that he knew his place. It was home; where he belonged.

In our modern transience, we've all but forgotten this. We live in a building, but even if we own it, have no sense of belonging. Even our property is little more than a commodity, something to be bought and sold, bartered away for whatever tickles our fancy at the moment. When my mother in law passed away five years ago, the daughters had to decide what to do with the house and land. It wasn't an easy decision. Finally, the land was divided among several grandchildren and the house sold. In some ways, it still feels as if we have fragmented our souls.

For ancient Israel, the land was their security, where they were grounded, where they were home. Along with their faith, it helped tell them who they were. The Babylonian captivity not only uprooted them from their homeland, it deprived them of their identity. And for nearly 2,000 years following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, they longed for that identity to be restored. Land is land; there is nothing particularly significant in this piece of real estate, except that it tells them who they are.

We live behind a grove of towering firs on 2 1/2 acres of lawn, surrounded by steep hillsides and a creek. I wish we had more land. I feel somewhat constricted. But this small homestead is defining me. It doesn't really belong to me, and someday when I'm gone, my mortal remains will be planted on the hillside overlooking our house. Because no matter where I travel, this is where I belong.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


April 23, 2017

Predestination. Baptists and Presbyterians love it; Methodists and Lutherans not so much. I remember years ago having lengthy conversations with Sunday School teachers and even a few pastors about the subject, which inevitably came around to whether or not we humans had any measure of free will. After all, if God has predestined something, it was a foregone conclusion; free will was merely a figment of our imagination, something we wished were true, but couldn't be.

So is predestination true, or not? St. Paul speaks of it in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, so we can't just dismiss the concept, but if it is true, how can anyone be held responsible for his actions? If Assad's unleashing chemical weapons on his own people is predestined, how can we say he is evil for using them? If everything is predestined, the actions of the racist, child abuser, murderer carry no more culpability than someone eating an ice cream cone.

Unless we have misunderstood what Paul was saying.

This morning, pastor Roy filled in for pastor Joe while the latter was on vacation. He preached from Ephesians 1:4-5. "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved."

"God has chosen you. Now, choose your chosenness," Roy intoned repeatedly. "God chose us because of his great love for us, but for it to do us any good, we must claim that chosenness for ourselves." Then he spoke of this word 'predestination.' "Back when we sent letters through the mail, we would put something on the outside of the envelope. We addressed the letter. That address was a pre-destination, indicating the destination, the purpose of the letter. Letters didn't always get to their destination, often because two of them would get stuck together. In the same way, God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, but we don't always get there. Sometimes we get stuck to another letter, and end up where we aren't supposed to be. Be careful who you allow yourself to get stuck to. Stick to Jesus. He will get us to our destination of holiness."

In all my years of preaching, I have never heard a better definition of pre-destination. It is the address that tells us our destination-where we are supposed to end up. I am thankful tonight for my friend and colleague, Pastor Roy, who remains faithful to proclaiming God's Word to God's people for God's purposes. And I am thankful that we never grow too old to stop learning. I learned something today that puts one more piece into place in this puzzle called life.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

What Really Matters

April 22, 2017

Was it really just this morning when I got up, brewed the coffee, and cooked breakfast for eight grandkids? At 5:30, it already seems a distant memory. They eat in shifts, the early risers who are inevitably the younger ones, then the teenagers who like to sleep in. Things were a bit out of order today as Abi, who is the oldest, needed to rise earlier than normal so she could get to her job lifeguarding. Madeline, our younger brown-eyed girl, is usually the first one up, and today was no exception. The others slowly drifted towards the kitchen as I flipped pancakes and Linda cooked the sausages. An hour later, the last shift is mopping up the last of the syrup and getting ready to clear the table. They make up their beds, and by then their folks start trickling in.

Today we needed to disgorge the entire crew by 10:00 so we could get to Nathan and Madeline's grappling tournament. Their father is intent on their involvement as a means of building self-confidence, and they both like it, so although Linda watches with squinty eyes in hopes she won't actually see too much, we were there for them.

By noon, we were on our way from the northern end of the county to beyond the southern border, into Pennsylvania, to help our friends Ken and Joan tear out drywall and insulation preparatory to the renovation of what will become their new home. Three hours later, filthy and wheezing, we came home to hot showers before heading out once more for a Koinonia event. We haven't finished the day, and already the morning seems so far in the past.

As I was writing, I was interrupted by a phone call from our youngest grandchild who just wanted "to chat." A rollicking conversation that caromed from where she was sitting (in a drawer) to "I have spider eyes on my forehead and cheeks," and a couple of things of which I am sworn to silence.

Time. In this life, there is more of it behind us than before us. Einstein said that time slows down as we approach the speed of light. We must be getting close. I don't know about time, but the faster we go, the slower we seem to move, which makes us more aware than we used to be of how we invest it. Movies don't move us. Shopping has no thrill when we have more than we need. Trinkets and toys are just that. But people; it's taken some time, but this old introvert has finally learned what really matters. It's the people God has placed in our lives. I am so very grateful tonight for the people in our lives, and for having been given the privilege of living long enough to finally get it through my thick head and heart what really matters.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Around a Library Table

April 21, 2017

Most Friday mornings at 9:00 will find me in the back room of our local library. As I walk through the back door, the window to my right reveals anywhere from two to nearly a dozen people settling in for the next hour or so. Welcome to the Sinclairville Writer's Club, where genuine and wannabe authors meet for discussion, encouragement, and critique. We're a motley crew, mostly retired, but all with thoughts buzzing around in our heads like bees trapped inside a window, looking for a way out. Novels, devotionals, memoirs, children's stories, and what could be a magazine article fill this room in the form of men and women with stories to tell, each one of us trying to discern the difference between having to say something and having something to say.

The group has been meeting for quite a few years; my daughter tried for a number of them to get me to join, but work commitments made it all but impossible till I had retired. But retire I did, and I joined soon thereafter. I often feel a bit outclassed; the thought of trying to produce a full-length novel with interesting and cohesive plot, character development, action, and dialogue is quite daunting to me. Then there is the challenge of getting published and actually having people buy your stories. I can do short stories, and have occasionally thought of developing them into something longer, but so far, I don't have the patience for it. I stick with the short articles I post every night in my blog, entitled "Refrigerator Word Art." Like grandchildren's drawings that are proudly posted to the refrigerator, I write about things that are meaningful to me, but which to others are about as thrilling as being trapped in a corner with a family member armed with an iPad full of photos of last summer's trip to Iowa. It's hard to believe anyone else would be interested in what I write unless they were to see their name popping up in it.

So although I feel somewhat like a fish out of water (a cliché a bit too shopworn to believe I actually used it), I keep attending because of the people I have met there. I only have a few people I would consider close friends, but I have found in this group people I wish I had met years ago so we could have been lifelong friends. As it is, I am grateful tonight for whatever time we will yet be given and for how they are building into my life.

Last night, I wrote about one of them who recently published a book. I noted the determination that carried him in that project for nearly thirty years, and then made the comparison that I was also thankful for Christ's refusal to give up or take short cuts for our salvation. He said that was the first time he had ever been compared favorably with Jesus Christ. I told the group how I once compared Jesus to a can of Heineken's, so my friend shouldn't get too excited about it. The truth of the matter however, is that we see what we're looking for. Jesus once said of helping those in need that "inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me." I see Jesus in my friend's integrity, humility, humor, and candor. I see Christ every time I sit down at that table with men and women who are pouring heart and soul into their work, simply for love of the words. I see Jesus in their kindness, their honesty with one another, in their willingness to withstand the scrutiny of others, and their determination to bare their souls for all to see. Indeed, I see Jesus in each of them, and am grateful for the friends I have found around that library table.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Don't Quit

April 20, 2017

Giving up is not an option. Not when you have a dream. And the bigger the dream, the longer it is likely to take. Your dream may not be realized for years, even decades; in fact, you may never see it yourself. But giving up is still not an option.

Joshua was 40 years old when tapped by Moses to be his assistant. When they marched out of Egypt, he had every reason to believe that his dream of freedom in the Promised Land would be fulfilled in a matter of months. When he, Caleb, and ten other leaders of Israel spied out the land, he and Caleb saw the future where the others saw only the obstacles. In spite of his faith and enthusiasm, their unbelief carried the day and postponed his dream by 40 years. Finally, they crossed the Jordan. A cursory reading of the text gives the impression that once in the land, the conquest was almost instantaneous, but when Caleb made his request for the inheritance he had been promised, when he spoke of the 40 years in the wilderness, he added the amount of time it had taken to conquer the land.

"And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old" (Joshua 14:10). Not only the 40 years in the wilderness, but an additional five years of conquest. I don't know too many people who had to wait till they were eighty-five to realize their dream.

This evening I attended a book signing of a friend who recently published his first full-length western novel. During the course of the evening, he read excerpts from his book and talked a bit about the process of writing it, mentioning along the way how patient his sons had been when he was squirreled away with paper and pen. Don is in his seventies; it's been awhile since children graced their household. So I asked how long his book has been in process.

"Louis L'Amour was my mentor. When he pictured a stream meandering through a valley surrounded by hills and forests, he was talking about places he had been,and if you were to go there, you would actually see what he described. L'Amour died in 1988, and I wanted to write a tribute to him." Don's dream has taken nearly thirty years, but I hold in my hands a signed copy of the realization of that dream. It took a lot of hard work, but he didn't quit.

Neither did Jesus Christ. He had every opportunity to give up, take a shortcut, quit, but instead, he followed the course laid out for him even when it led to a cross. No, quitting is not an option. We may not feel like keeping the faith, but giving up is out of the question. I have read my friend's book; it is very good, with an engaging plot, vivid descriptions, and plenty of action. I'm glad he didn't quit. I'm even more grateful that Jesus didn't quit. I don't plan to, either.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Being Right

April 19, 2017

"It's more important for your relationship to be right than to be right." I cannot count how often I've given that advice to couples who were stalemated in their marriages. Instead of working together as a team, they found themselves on opposite sides of an issue, both of them heels dug in, certain that their version of the incident was the correct one. It is always about more than whatever issue they face. It's about who is in control, a contest of wills. Those words, "to love and to cherish," recede into the shadows, replaced by the need to win at all costs. 

It was some thirty years ago that I first learned this truth. Linda and I had had some sharp disagreement before leaving for work. I long ago forgot what was the issue, but each of us was absolutely certain that our version of the incident was the correct one. I left the house angry, not a good way to begin a pastor's day. Back then, we served a two-point charge, and I had my office in the smaller of the two churches. Since we lived in the community where the larger church was, it made sense to me to maintain a regular presence in the other community. 

I'm not one given to hearing voices, so when I say, "God spoke to me," understand that it was his voice speaking to my heart. I know it was God because at the time, what I heard was the furthest thing from my mind. It was the exact opposite of my inclination that morning, and came in the form of a question. "Jim, which is more important? To be right, or for your relationship to be right?" No doubt about it, this was a God-question to which I knew the answer, even if I were unwilling to admit it.

As soon as I unlocked the church door, I headed to my office and reached for the phone. Before I could get to it, it rang. Linda was on the other end, apologizing for her obstinacy. I didn't let her finish. The fault was mine, and I knew then as I know now, that our relationship being right is far more important than my being right. Especially since I often discover after the fact that in fact, I had been wrong. 

I wish I could say I have learned that lesson once for all, but it is one I have to occasionally revisit. But the clarity of God's voice still rings in my ears, and I know my responsibility. I only wish more couples were willing to learn this lesson. Married life would be much better for them. It has been better for me, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

All the Proof You Need

April 18, 2017

Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.
But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.
--Isaiah 49:13-16

These words from Isaiah 49 were spoken to a nation that was in crisis. Israel was surrounded by enemies bent on her destruction. Zion (another name for Jerusalem) was alone, without friends to come to her aid. The only possible help was that which could be bought - mercenaries who would fight as long as the pay was good, but who could not be counted upon when things got tight.

Into this situation, God himself speaks. Although the language sounds as if he were concerned with the streets and buildings of the city, it is really his people who have his heart. Zion is the people of God, not just the place. And it is these people who are constantly on God's heart. These people are you and me. When it feels as if God has forgotten and forsaken us is exactly the time to break out in joyful song. It is counterintuitive, a song of faith that there is a blessing when we cannot see one.

Although it does happen, it is so rare that Isaiah cannot comprehend a mother forgetting her little baby, but says even if that were possible, God cannot forget his beloved children. We often are tempted to doubt God's love when life turns against us, when we've been betrayed, let down, disappointed. We may not say the words, but in our hearts we ask God to prove his love for us. Well, he has done just that, but not by making life suddenly turn around. He proved his love when Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Isaiah points us to that singular proof of the Father's love when he reports God's claim: "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." God's love is forever carved into the hands and feet of Jesus. If you ever question God's love for you, look at those hands. Though they may not be all the proof you want, they are all the proof you need.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Home to Worship

April 17, 2017

At yesterday's Easter celebration, we were privileged to witness three baptisms and eight people received into membership at Park church. The sanctuary was filled for both services, and the sunrise service on the hillside above Charlotte Center was the best start to the day. Having my son, daughter, and two granddaughters leading the congregation in worship, along with about ten other musicians and singers was personally, very fulfilling. But it is the celebration itself that is important, not who leads it, nor even how many people are gathered for it.

In baptism, the candidates are asked if they repent of their sins, turn from their old ways, believe in Jesus and trust in God to give them new life. They are symbolically buried in the water and raised to new life. Not having a baptistry, and being a bit cold for a creekside baptism, we had a cattle tank set up in the sanctuary. Fittingly, it looked somewhat like a coffin. Justin, the adult who was thus baptized, truly rose from the waters to new life.

Today I watched a video of Christians who finally were able to return to their town and their church after being driven out by ISIS fighters. They had lost everything, just as Jesus said would happen, but they gathered in desecrated and half-destroyed sanctuaries to celebrate the victory of Christ's life over the powers of darkness. The age-old baptismal call still held them: "We bid you come and die." They came, having lost everything for the sake of the Cross, but having gained all that is truly important.

We gather in safety and security. We sing and pray, and listen to the Word of God proclaimed. We hear the ancient call, "He is risen!" to which we reply, "He is risen indeed!" It was a glorious day. May we prove to be as faithful as those who have kept the faith in the face of ruinous persecution. I am thankful tonight for the faithfulness of God's people in such difficult circumstances, and for the unity of the Spirit that binds our congregation with believers around the world who like us, bow before The Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

His Resurrection and Mine

April 16, 2017

Jesus wasn't the first to die for someone else, and won't be the last. Plenty of people have willingly laid down their lives to save another. In that regard, there is nothing unique in the death of Jesus Christ. He is however, the first and only one who died for all, and the only one who after dying, arose from death. The significance of Jesus' death is not in the death alone, but in his resurrection. The resurrection is God the Father's seal of approval guaranteeing that the sacrifice Jesus made is effective and adequate for our salvation. If Jesus had not risen, he would have been merely another forgotten victim of cruel Roman justice. We would not revere his name; there would be no Christianity today, no celebration of Easter in song and rejoicing.

The resurrection is more than a guarantee that God is in control, that some day we too, will rise to new life. It is more than a glimpse into the future; it is a present reality for God's people today. Repeatedly, St. Paul says that something has actually happened in our lives because of his resurrection. "We are raised up together with Christ," he claims (Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13, Romans 6:4-14). For people steeped in the importance of the individual and of personal experience, this kind of talk seems foreign. How can people who weren't even born when Jesus died and rose again be raised up with him? And what does baptism have to do with it?

Reformed theology is instructive here. The Reformers and Puritans talked of the Federal headship of both Adam and Christ, referring to Paul's mention of both in Romans 5. Theological Federalism is when what one person does is attributed to all who are included in that deed. Adam's sin is our sin. Jesus' death and resurrection is our death and resurrection. Whether we feel this or not does not affect the truth of these statements. If God says, "As in Adam all died, so in Christ shall all be made alive," that statement is reality, it is truth because God speaks only the truth.

I am in Christ. I died with him and rose again with him. This is true whether or not I feel any different about life. The key factor in this is twofold: What Christ did, and what I believe. As to what Christ did, he has done all that is necessary for our salvation. It's as if he deposited into our eternal bank account all the benefits of his life and salvation. It's there, whether I believe it or not, whether I take advantage of it or not. The only way to access that account is by faith. If God deposits into my account but I refuse to draw upon it, I would still be rich, but I would be living like a pauper. And the only way I can draw on my account is by believing that what God says is true.

In this regard, belief is not a noun. It is a verb. It is not a set of facts to which I give assent. Belief is the act and process of leaning on God and his Word, of choosing the reality of his strength and help even when I feel weak and helpless. It is grabbing hold of all God has placed in my spiritual account by virtue of his placing me in Christ. All that is Christ's is mine, but only that which I choose to believe in makes a difference. Tonight, I am thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and for raising us up with him and giving us eternal life as we trust moment by moment in the effectiveness of his sacrifice.

The work is done, the Sabbath rest observed, and the New has come! Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Saturday, April 15, 2017


April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday. The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Theologians have speculated for more than 2,000 years as to what Jesus was doing on this day. A rather cryptic statement by Peter seems to indicate he was proclaiming the Gospel to the spirits of those who died in the Great Flood of Genesis 6-9, and is the Scripture that is the foundation for the statement in the Apostles' Creed that he descended into hell. This, and other similar texts however, can be interpreted in more than one way.

The work of Christ was completed when he died upon the cross. The price for our sins was paid; nothing more was necessary for our salvation, which is why his last word was, "It is accomplished!" In the Greek, it is a single word, rendered in the Authorized Version as, "It is finished." This was not the sad sigh of a dying man who finally gives in to defeat and despair. It is an exultant cry of victory; what he came to do is done, and salvation is complete. And if it is complete, there was nothing left for him to do except to rise again. It was the Sabbath, the day of rest, modeled after God's own resting after finishing the work of creation. I have no reason to believe that having finished the work of the New Creation, Jesus didn't simply rest, like his Father before him.

This day was quiet, awaiting the glory of the third day. So we wait quietly. The liturgical churches hold vigil through the night with the catechumens who are to be baptized on the morrow. Once the Sabbath rest is over, we burst forth in the new life of the resurrection, but for now, we rest. The first disciples rested in fear, believing that as their Master had died, they would be next. We however, rest in thankful anticipation. It is quiet now as we wait. Sunday's coming!

Friday, April 14, 2017

At Our Best

April 14, 2017

At first, I thought it was some sort of protest. Driving home from band rehearsal, through the traffic I could see a crowd of college-aged kids gathered on the sidewalk by the Fredonia Commons, but I couldn't see who or what was the cause of the gathering. I could hear shouting, and some were recording the commotion with their phones, but it wasn't until the light  changed and the traffic moved that I was startled to see a man dressed as a Roman soldier, standing over another who was stripped to the waist, stumbling and disheveled beneath the weight of the cross he was dragging along the sidewalk. As I drove by, he raised his head and looked straight at me.

It was unnerving. What at first glance I was ready to dismiss as some radical college students protesting something or other was in reality a few young adults willing to boldly and foolishly  parade their faith through the public square of the village. It occurred to me later that the ugliness of sin isn't at its worst in the grosser sins of the flesh where we so often feel its sting in our weaknesses, but in the sins of the spirit that are revealed when we are at our best. It was the holy men of God who brought charges against Jesus, and the best judicial system the world had yet seen that condemned and crucified him. And it was me on the holy day of Good Friday passing immediate judgment before I really knew what was going on.

My ten-year old grandson Nathan gave the meditation tonight at our Good Friday service. He spoke about Peter's denial of Jesus, asked how we have denied him, and reminded us of God's unending love for us in spite of all our denials. Prior to receiving communion, we were encouraged to pause, consider our sins, and ask forgiveness. Tonight, it wasn't for my weaknesses, but for my strengths which reveal the insidiousness of sin that I asked forgiveness. I a grateful tonight for the continual and complete grace of God that covers not only the depth, but the height of human depravity.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hope and Peace in Believing

April 13, 2017

Tonight marks the fourth year the churches in the Jamestown area have sponsored "One in Christ," an ecumenical Maundy Thursday worship service. The music as always, was outstanding. I was in my twenties when what we now call contemporary Christian music burst on the scene with primarily short choruses, usually with simple three chord progressions. The musicians today take it to an entirely new level with music and lyrics that are every bit as good as the old hymns and anthems we used to sing.

The theme of the evening centered around the epidemic of addiction that is plaguing our nation and our region, with preaching was as powerful and energetic as I have heard in a long time, that focused on our hope in Jesus Christ. A number of Scriptures were highlighted, but one in particular stood out to me. Romans 15:13 says, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." When I listen to people talk glowingly about their relationship with Christ, I often wonder to myself what it must be like to feel his presence, power, and protection so clearly. I often wonder what's wrong with me that I am only rarely moved in these ways. Then I read texts like this one. It doesn't say, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in feeling," but in believing. Here is the crux of the matter. I (and I don't think I'm alone in this) tend to believe my feelings more than my beliefs, and whenever I focus on how I feel about Christ, everything comes up short. It is our faith that God honors, not our feelings.

So tonight, I am reminding myself of what I believe and in whom I believe. Hope is not wrapped in my feelings, but in my faith. It is when I believe that the Holy Spirit gives hope. Even as I type these words, the Holy Spirit is quietly building joy and peace. These feelings are a result of my faith, not the foundation of it. And for that, I am thankful.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Widow No More

April 9, 2017

The morning reading for today had a phrase that caught my attention. Often in Scripture, Israel and the Church are portrayed as God's (or Christ's) bride, waiting in holiness for him. At other times, this waiting bride is described as less than stellar in her behavior, chasing after other lovers. Either way, God's people are characterized as a bride-to-be, waiting, but not yet wed.

Then there is this text from Isaiah 54:4. "Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; For you will forget the shame of your youth, And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore." That single word: "widowhood." There is not a single other instance where God's people are referenced by this term. Repeatedly the Scriptures tell us of God's special care for the widows and orphans, the most vulnerable people in the ancient world. Even today with all our social safety nets, widows and orphans have a tough time of it. Widow is a dark, ugly word.

The contrast here between the expectant bride and the dashed hopes and dreams of the widow could not be more pronounced. The widow remembers the days of exciting anticipation, but awakens every morning in an empty bed, sits alone every evening staring at an empty chair, and weeps broken-heartedly in the dark. It's that combination of remembered joy and present sorrow that makes "widow" such a hard garment to wear. It is a title that many of God's people carry with them on a daily basis. They remember those early years when God was close, when they felt his touch, breathed in the fragrance of his presence, knew the exhilaration of his power and praise. Those were good times, and the memory would be sweet if only they could experience it once more. But something went wrong; something died, and it all dried up. Perhaps it was a sin, one of the devil's traps into which they repeatedly fell. Or a grief endured, a grief so deep and wrenching that it opened up a black hole in their soul that sucked every bit of light and hope into its vortex. Maybe another believer betrayed them, wounding an already struggling spirit.

Here is the Good News! Christ's love is not only for the hopeful; it is not limited to those who anticipate a blessing. It is also for those who have no reason to hope, for those who never imagined that life could be wonderful once more, for those who once knew joy that since withered and died. The widow, even the widow can lift up her head and once more sing praises to the One who in his resurrection brings life even to the dead. And if the dead live, the widow is a widow no more!

Saturday, April 8, 2017


April 8, 2017

Sometimes it's hard to believe I'm almost 68. That's perilously close to 70, which used to sound a lot older than it does now. When I was a little kid, 70 year old people seemed...well...old. Almost decrepit. There are times when the almost decrepit part almost fits, but only once in awhile. Apart from the occasional strained muscle or twinge of arthritis in my hands, I usually feel pretty good.

The string bass is a physical instrument. It's big, for one thing. Carrying it around is an exercise in itself. I think the stabbing pain in my left hip is the result of hoisting it up on my right shoulder and leaning to the left for balance when I'm carrying it to and from rehearsals. If done incorrectly, pressing and plucking the strings can strain the small muscles and tendons in the hands. I'm still fairly new at it, so it only takes about an hour of practice before my forearms and hands are crying out for mercy, even when I'm consciously trying to do it right.

Today dawned bright and sunny, a beautiful day for some roustabout work. It's still a bit early for some of the yard work that needs to be done, so a little demolition was in order. A few hours swinging a sledge hammer and crowbar fit the bill nicely. This afternoon, my shoulders protested that for 68 year old joints, I had been a bit hard on them. I told them they were just being wussies.

It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to find people much younger than myself who are barely able to navigate, younger people afflicted with all sorts of illnesses or handicaps. To be able to wield a sledge or crowbar, or even manhandle my bass is a privilege denied many, and for which I am thankfully Ben-Gayed tonight.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Circle of Friends

April 7, 2017

Tonight's post will be short because it may turn out to be a very short night for me. Our dinner group normally meets the first Friday of every month, rotating between our homes. Tonight was to have been our evening to host, but one of the couples had a family emergency, and the wife of the other couple is down south visiting children and grandchildren. So Linda and I had dinner out with Ken, tonight's sole remaining member. We had a delightful evening eating and talking about life before receiving a call from the other friends with the news that her brother had passed away. They were planning on taking their grandson to the Cleveland airport for an early morning flight, but with all the changing circumstances, I may be providing the taxi service, or at least keeping them company on the drive.

Life is full of unexpected incidents, crises, and tragedies. When they come our way, it is good to have friends who gather around, circling the wagons in prayer and support. We have often been recipients of the love and support of this small circle of friends. Tonight, it is our turn and our privilege to be there for our friends who have so often been there for us. It feels like we have stepped onto holy ground, so we take off our shoes, bow down, and worship.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ice Cream and Panama Rocks

April 6, 2017

Panama Rocks. No, it's not a high school cheer, although it could be. It's a geological formation just outside the village of Panama, N.Y. that has been local tourist attraction for generations. In the summertime, for a small fee you can park in the lot and roam the formations at will. It's not the Grand Canyon by any means, but it provides an exciting afternoon for the kids who enjoy climbing and exploring. At least once each summer there is a craft fair at the edge of the parking lot that draws quite a crowd. And once upon a time, it provided the setting for an incident that still brings a smile to my face.

Our now grown kids were just little kids on that day we decided to make a day of the Rocks and craft fair. The sun was hot, but the woods grown up around the rocks provided a welcome cooling shade as the kids laughed and ran their way around the formations. I however, was not laughing. I was not feeling well. Somewhere between arrival and midday, my stomach began growling and gurgling. I toughed it out until it was just about time to go, at which time, I had to go. The only facilities were the blue port-a-potties that stood in a neat row at one edge of the parking lot. I don't like using them now, and liked it even less back then, before they started hanging a bottle of hand sanitizer just inside the door.

There is no way to say it nicely. I had diarrhea. Montezuma's Revenge. The Hershey Squirts. It wasn't genteel or delicate. And it wasn't clean. hand sanitizer. I felt better when I stepped out of the blue cocoon, but decided it was time to head home. By that time, the kids had gotten all the climbing out of their systems, so we packed up and hit the road. It was still blazing hot, even late in the afternoon.

"How about stopping for ice cream on the way home?" Linda suggested. In case you didn't know, Linda LOVES ice cream. Especially on a hot summer afternoon.

"I think I'd just rather go home," I suggested.

"Ice Cream!" The din from the back seat was more than a suggestion. This dad is no dud. I know when I've been outvoted and outmaneuvered. Ice cream, it was.

Everyone ordered, I paid, and contentment ruled. I have to admit, mine went down pretty well. Perhaps the complete drainage of my alimentary canal had something to do with it, but I polished off the entire cone except for the tiny little tip at the bottom.

"Aren't you going to eat that?" Linda inquired.

"No," I answered, whereupon she reached over, snatched it out of my hand, and popped it into her mouth.

"Mmph, Mmph,," she said. This translated to, "How come?"

"Because I never got to wash my hands," I replied.

"Aughhh!" She gagged.

I am thankful that Linda has a strong and healthy immune system. As I said, the memory still brings a smile to my face.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Right Tool

April 5, 2017

Having the right tool for the job makes all the difference. Years ago, I needed my 1" wood chisel for a project. When I retrieved it from my toolbox, I noticed a couple deep gouges in what had formerly been a razor sharp edge. A little inquiry revealed that one of my sons had used it to pry open a can of paint. That chisel was never the same after that. It was the wrong tool for the job.

Yesterday when I got home from a doctor's appointment, the toothbar I had ordered for my tractor was lying on the entry room floor. Today was installation time! It bolts to the bucket through holes I had to drill in the sides. I measured as per instructions, and began drilling with a step bit that came with the bar to help with the process. I'd never seen one before, and it sped up the operation considerably. It is what its name implies, a bit with cutting surfaces arranged conically from 1/4" to 3/4." Each step enlarges the hole by about 1/16," enabling the user to drill a large hole without continually changing bits from one size to another. The right tool made the job easier.

Once installed, I had to try it out. What a difference it made! The front yard is a mess, left over from last year's water line project. It needed about three inches shaved off the top to get it ready to receive the sod I plan on installing. It would take a lot bigger tractor than I have to do that with a straight blade, but with the jagged shark-tooth edge of the tooth bar, it cut through with barely a whimper. The right tool makes all the difference.

St. Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:3) that God "has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who has called us to glory and virtue." Everything we need. What Peter is telling us is that Jesus is the right tool for the job of life. Of course, he is God, not a tool to be used by us at our whim, but he is the One who makes all the difference when it comes to life.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Mattress

April 4, 2017

I was cold; I could feel every lump in the hard ground through the sleeping pad and sleeping bag. October in Algonquin is not the place for the faint of heart, but here we were, trying to get through the night, sleeping fitfully, longing for the morning that wasn't in any hurry to arrive. These fall canoe trips always sounded better in the planning stage. Reality however, could be cruel.

The morning finally dawned, cold and windswept. Brushing snow from the tent fly, we peeked out to a bleak view. We were camped on the Tim River, with miles of paddling looming. The sooner we got started, the sooner we would feel the warmth of the car heater when we finally got back to our jump off point. The snow was falling faster now, so we decided to forego breakfast. We packed up, and soon were on our way. Canoe Lake isn't the biggest in the park, but when we rounded the point at the outlet, the scene before us made our hearts sink. Whitecaps! We were loaded pretty heavily; with three grown men in the canoe with all their gear, the gunwales only cleared about two inches.

The wind angled off the port bow, a dangerous situation in the best of circumstances. Loaded as we were, waves hitting the side of the canoe could swamp us before we knew what happened. If we capsized, hypothermia would make survival in the middle of that lake nearly impossible. We had a lot of water to cross.

It was a new experience for me. Every previous canoe trip found me in the stern, providing more steering than power. My eldest son Nate would take the bow, with Matt in the middle, enjoying the ride. They were older now - young men, and for the first time, I had the middle seat. We were set up for the only argument my sons can ever remember having. One wanted to go straight ahead towards an island where we could bail out the water that was splashing over the gunwales, while the other thought we should head directly for our launch point, which meant facing the waves at a dangerous angle. As they argued, I literally thought we were all going to die out on that accursed lake.

We made the island, bailed out, and headed for the launch ramp. I didn't actually do it, but I could have kissed the ground when we finally landed. Tonight, I am not in a sleeping bag on a thin pad with snow falling all around me. I am in a warm bed on a soft mattress. Life is good, and I am thankful.

Monday, April 3, 2017


April 4, 2017

For years as a young man, I was taught that God had a plan for my life that was specific and detailed regarding what I was to do, who I should marry, where I should live. It was quite a burden. I worried lest I make a mistake in any area, for such a mistake would have a domino effect on everything that followed. If I married the wrong woman, it would forever after mess things up for her, for me, and for those "we should have" married. And what if I didn't read the signals correctly about what work I was to do, or where I was to do it? Under these conditions, a mistake is not merely a mistake, but a disaster that threatened to unravel all of life.

I have a lifetime of decisions behind me. Nearly forty-seven years ago, I married the woman whom I chose and who chose me. I suppose each of us could have chosen someone else and been happy, but we didn't. We chose each other, and have been happy with the life we've built together. Once we made that free-will choice, God's will was clear to both of us: we stay together, learning to love each other, treating each other with respect and kindness. We haven't done that perfectly, but we've fulfilled God's will as it is spelled out in Scripture. It was our choice to do it where we did and how we did, but we have done it, and will continue to do it until one of us lays the other into the arms of God.

We've tried to live with integrity and faith. We've stepped out into the unknown, attempted what for us were great things, made mistakes along the way, and have known success and failure. We've found God's will quite clear: live by faith, treat people with love and grace, give and receive forgiveness, live in holiness and purity. Everything else has been choices God has given us freedom to make. I can't say it was God's will for us to spend the bulk of our lives in a little village in Western New York. We freely made that choice, and found God's will in it as we've lived according to his Word.

The reason I reflect on this today is that I've been reading in Joshua 1, where God told Joshua it was time to cross the Jordan and conquer the Promised Land. I can't claim to have heard such clear command from God for much of anything in my life. I've been challenged, and have tried to meet those challenges with strength and courage, but the commands have been few. For that, I am grateful, for at this time in my life when I no longer have a job and a specific ministry, I would be in a panic, not having some great calling before me. Instead, I have the clear command of God to continue living with integrity and faithfulness, and the freedom to choose from the many challenges that are placed before me. I don't have the responsibilities of a job, but I do have the responsibility once I choose to do something, to do it as best as I can. I am thankful I can do so without any feelings of guilt when I decline an invitation, and with peace in my heart that God continues to use the desires and interests he placed within me to give him glory as I exercise whatever gifts and graces I have to serve him and the people he puts into my life.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Drop the Stone

April 2, 2017

St. John tells the story of a woman dragged before Jesus in anticipation of his judgment upon her. It was a trap, ready to be sprung, and Jesus didn't hesitate. He took the bait, sprung the trap, and turned it on the woman's accusers. Plenty of preachers have expounded upon this text, delighting in how the religious leaders who thought they had him were silenced. The story is simple in its telling, but profound in its implications. The woman was caught - in the very act - of adultery. One has to wonder how that happened. According to Jewish law, both parties would have been guilty, but the man is never mentioned. Was she a pawn in a deliberate plot to bring Jesus down? Was she set up? We don't know, but we do know that everything was not as it seemed to be. This was no ordinary situation; it smells of a sting.

Whatever the intrigue, the religious leaders were focused on the sin, and intent on shaming the woman. Before we judge them too severely, we would do well to see ourselves in the story. I hate to admit it, but I tend to be judgmental. It is easy for me to see all the  ways people fail to measure up. It's no excuse, but perhaps part of the reason for that is how often I see myself failing to measure up. Painting someone else with a dark brush is one way to divert the attention from my own failures. Whatever the reason, being judgmental is never good. When I focus on someone's faults and failures, I am not seeing the person. Failure to see the person is a failure to take God's view of things. That failure never ends well.

Jesus of course, knew the sin, but he saw the woman. He also saw the sins of the religious leaders. His word to the woman was no different than his word to them: "Go, and sin no more." In neither case did he wink at sin. He instead acknowledged it, forgave it, and encouraged repentance. It's a good thing he did, because all of us are on one side or the other, accused or accusers. And all of us are in need of forgiveness. "Go, and sin no more" are Jesus' words for us, too. For me, it's time to drop my stone, walk away, and ponder his words.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Good News

April 1, 2017

Years ago, we used to subscribe to a weekly newspaper called the Grit. It was geared towards rural and small town life, filled with homey stories and pithy sayings. You probably have to be a senior citizen to remember it, although a little research shows that it is still published in a somewhat different form as a glossy magazine. The Grit's editorial policy was stated by its founder back in the late 1800s:

"Always keep Grit from being pessimistic. Avoid printing those things which distort the minds of readers or make them feel at odds with the world. Avoid showing the wrong side of things, or making people feel discontented. Do nothing that will encourage fear, worry, or temptation... Wherever possible, suggest peace and good will toward men. Give our readers courage and strength for their daily tasks. Put happy thoughts, cheer, and contentment into their hearts."

I don't know of a single other publication or media enterprise that has such a standard. If the modern media is only place you go for your perspective on life, that perspective will be inescapably bent towards trouble, danger, and disaster. The good parts of life don't make the news. And they don't pay the salaries of the media folks and politicians who depend on pandering to our fears and desires to stay in business. Tragedy, discontent, and fear sell, and if we were to believe it, our very future is in jeopardy.

There is however, another story to tell. Tonight I attended a Footsteps Holy Hour. Footsteps is an interdenominational Christian weekend retreat for teenagers. Holy hour is when teens who have already been through the weekend and adults who have attended a Koinonia weekend gather to worship and pray for the teens and the team working with them. During the Holy hour, we are introduced to a team of twelve teenagers who have committed to praying round the clock  for the candidates, sponsors, and team members. It's hard to not be impressed by their dedication and enthusiasm, and for their passion for Christ and his people. With all the bad news we hear and see, this is good news indeed, and I am thankful to have seen just a glimpse of it this evening.