Friday, June 30, 2017

Pencil Erasers

June 30, 2017

There’s a reason I do most of my writing in pencil. It’s the same reason pencils come with erasers. Mistakes. Errors. Screw-ups. Whatever name you want to give them, when it comes to making them, I am a master. When I was writing sermons, I always started with a yellow legal pad. A sermon is like a journey. If it is to be successful, you need to figure out where you want to end up before you begin. I would write down my goal, do my best to discern where the listeners are, figure out how to get them on board; then away I’d go. More often than not, the writing process took me down plenty of dead ends before I had something I could work with. My pencils and especially my erasers always got a good workout.

When it comes to mistakes, I’m not limited to sermonizing. “God, forgive me,” is a regular necessity in my prayers, as is, “God, help me.” Left to my own devices, I’ll mess things up every time. Fortunately, he does. Forgive and help.

Then there are the ordinary foul-ups that aren’t sins, but that still dot the landscape of my life. Take today, for example. Yesterday I finished the brick patio. There was just one little task left. The outside faucet for the hose is on the front of the house just above a basement window. No matter what we did, the connection leaked when the water was on, which created a nasty, wet scenario in the basement as the excess water seeped down through the gravel and through the block wall. The simple solution was to extend the faucet along the wall to the front of the patio. A few strategically placed bricks would hide it from view. 

I have the tools; it’s a simple job. Even allowing such a thought to pass through my mind should have warned me of things to come. The first trip to Cassadaga for pipe parts should have been the last. It was not. As I picked out the parts, something just didn’t seem right, but like a fool, I charged ahead. Mistake number one. I hadn’t noticed the reducer on the 3/4 inch line just before it went through the wall. I needed half inch pipe; every, I mean EVERY piece I bought was 3/4 inch. 

Back to Cassadaga to exchange parts. This time, I forgot a twelve inch section I needed. Trip number two wasn’t so bad; after all, I had to pick up the cards Linda had bought on trip number one and left at the counter. 

Trip number three was for the ten inch section I needed to make the faucet terminate where I wanted it. Finally, it was all together and working just fine. Of course, that was before I found on a shelf in the garage a faucet with a ten inch section already attached. 

Unfortunately, there are no erasers for plumbing mistakes. Fortunately, today’s mistakes weren’t fatal. They weren’t even disastrous. Not even terrible. And fortunately, I’m retired, and had the time to enjoy the scenery between here and Cassadaga. Three times. Gotta love that number!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Two Men

June 29, 2017

We said goodbye to him nearly forty years ago, but he still lives on inside me and in the presence of God. He was slight of build, but loomed large in the development of this young boy. When he was a young man, he played semi-pro baseball, but settled into his job as a Linotype operator for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. In the days before computerization, the Linotype was a huge, clackety machine that set the type for newspapers. Molten lead was fed into it as the operator banged away at the keyboard. Letters were essentially soldered together into words and phrases which were fed into the drums that printed the paper. It was hot, somewhat dangerous work. It wasn’t uncommon for him to come home with burns on his arms from lead that had slightly missed the feed and spattered over him. Today, anyone who had ever worked on such a machine would probably be hounded by lawyers itching to sue the company for lead poisoning of its employees. The lead didn’t get him; neither did seventy years of smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. It’s a good thing marijuana wasn’t in vogue back then; he’d probably have puffed on that, too. 

His job made him a formidable opponent in Scrabble. He and his English teacher cousin would play by the hour, going at it tooth and nail. Poppa had the advantage of being able to read as easily upside down and backward as I can read normally. It came with the territory of his job, reading type in reverse all day long.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, he was one of the few men on his street who had regular work. He considered working to be a privilege, and quietly supported a number of those families from his earnings until things picked up enough for them to once again support themselves.

He loved to bowl and to fish. He counted more than one 300 game racked up with his old two-finger ball. Countless Saturdays, he would join my father, my brother, and myself as we towed the small fishing boat to Braddock Bay or Long Pond, where we launched and puttered our way along the weedy shoreline where we hoped the bass or pike would be hiding. After a few hours spent bobbing on the ripples, we would break out the bologna sandwiches we had prepared earlier. Slathered in mayonnaise, it’s a wonder we didn’t get food poisoning after they had sat out in the sun all morning. When it was time to head to shore, we did so reluctantly, only to finish out the day with dinner at his house. 

In the evening, he would sit on the front porch listening to the ball game on the radio, leaning forward so he could watch Lawrence Welk on the old black and white television at the far end of the living room. He lived long enough to meet his great-granddaughter, but in the autumn of 1979, he wanted to visit Sodus and North Rose, NY, where he grew up. I took him to his boyhood home, the cemetery where his baby brother was buried, learned about his grandfather who had built the bell tower for the Methodist church. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was closing up shop. He died the following January.

He was my grandfather, Harry Bailey, and was born on this day in 1892. Funny, but although I remember all four of my grandparents, his is the only birthday I can recall. Perhaps it’s because of another man born on this day; my son-in-law Todd. I can’t tell the same kind of stories of Todd as I can my grandfather, but I will say this: I am deeply grateful for him. His love for Christ, for our daughter and grandchildren, his character as a Christian, his compassion for the poor, and his passion for the unborn are just a few of the qualities that endear him to us. When Jessie married him, we all hit the jackpot. Two special men in my life, born the same date nearly 90 years apart; who’d have guessed? I am thankful for both of them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Yes...and No

June 28, 2017

David had reached the pinnacle. He had consolidated power, subdued enemies domestic and foreign, had embarked on an ambitious public works project, and had built a palace worthy of his growing stature as king of Israel. He even brought the Tabernacle to a specially prepared spot in the city and had the Ark of the Covenant set in place. In a reflective mood one day, he began to think about the Tent of Meeting which at between two and four hundred years old, was probably showing its age. 

“Look, I am living in a palace…while the ark of the LORD’s covenant is under a tent,” he said to the prophet Nathan. It just didn’t seem right to him to be living in such luxury and splendor while the centerpiece of the national identity and worship sat in a tent. Nathan answered, “You should do whatever you have in mind; for God is with you.” It was a perfectly understandable response, but that night, God spoke to him, instructing him to tell the king that he was not to build a temple; that honor would go to his son.

Not every good idea is from God. Not even every good and God-honoring idea is from God. We too often assume that because we mean well and want to do things that glorify Christ, our plans are therefore necessarily God’s will. Problem is, it’s not quite as easy as that. History is littered with good, God-honoring projects that in reality, were not from God at all. Nathan somehow discerned the flaw in the king’s thinking in a dream, not exactly the best rationale to bring a contrary report to the man who is used to getting his way. He meant well, but it wasn’t God’s idea.

I’ve lived long enough, and made enough mistakes to have seen more than my share of good, God-honoring plans blow up in my face. Good intentions weren’t enough. We need to make plans, but plans alone do not necessarily add up to God’s will. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied powers in World War II, and president of the United States from 1953 to 1961, said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” 

I get plenty nervous when I hear people declaring categorically that this or that particular Christian project is God’s will. That kind of language shuts down discussion and dissent, and avoids responsibility when we make bad decisions. Sometimes I wish I had better certainty when it comes to making godly plans, but perhaps that kind of certainty would negate the need to keep in close relationship with Christ. After all, who needs faith when you have certainty? 

I read this story yesterday, and in the afternoon, I was approached about providing pulpit supply for the summer. My immediate reaction was to decline, until I remembered the Scripture. Nathan’s immediate response wasn’t the right one; maybe mine wasn’t, either. So I called back and said I would consider it. Whichever way it turns out, it is my decision, not God’s will. I am praying for discernment, and searching my own heart. I like retirement, but God isn’t finished with me yet. Now, I have to pray…and decide. And thank God for the freedom he gives me to simply decide.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Solitude and Linda

June 27, 2017

“What’s on your schedule for today?” Before heading to town for breakfast with my friend Willie, I asked the standard morning question. One would think that in retirement, we would share a leisurely breakfast before pottering about the premises for the day. Alas! Things are not quite so sedate around here. Linda told me she was going to meet her friend Lisa for breakfast before keeping an appointment with the chiropractor at 11:30. “Why not meet for lunch together?” I answered.


“Sure.” I figured as much. It’s her favorite lunch destination. 

On the way into town for breakfast, all I could think about was meeting her for lunch. Breakfast, our local pastor’s prayer meeting, and a half hour with my friend Cameron at Starbucks all went by in a whirl. While talking with Cameron, I spied another friend having his morning coffee, so went over and sat down to talk with Eric for awhile. At 11:50, it was time to go, so I said my goodbyes and headed out the door. Linda was waiting when I arrived.

I am a private kind of guy. Solitude and I are on a first name basis. Give me a choice between people and solitude, and I’ll choose the latter every time. Except when the other choice is Linda. There’s no one else in the world I’d rather spend time with than her. With anyone else, I run out of things to say, and then it gets awkward. With her, even the quiet times are good. 

Our hour at Panera was over all too quickly, and we each headed home by different routes. The afternoon was filled with other activities, in the early evening we watched all three of our daughter Jessie’s kids playing soccer. Linda went to a meeting and I went home. But for one glorious hour, we sat and talked. My heart is full and I am thankful tonight for this woman God put in my life nearly fifty years ago.

Monday, June 26, 2017


June 26, 2017

If it were up to me, we would still be digging roots with sticks. I haven´t got an ounce of engineer in me. Give me time in the Scripture, and I can produce a reasonably coherent sermon; I know how to listen to people, how to stay married for 47 years, how to raise kids to be responsible and faithful adults. But I couldn’t design a tool and figure out how to actually make it if my life depended on it. 

Using tools is another matter. Tonight I am grateful for intelligent and diligent people who have the ability to imagine a piece of machinery and figure out how to actually make it. And I am grateful for those tool and die makers and machinists who actually make stuff. I am thankful for those who mine iron ore, those who smelt it, and those who make castings from which parts are machined. I am thankful for those who put those parts together to make tools that make possible the projects on which I am working. 

Today I helped son Matthew install a floor in what used to be a garage, but is now a family room. Saturday we prepped the floor, scraping the old carpet that had been glued to the concrete. We used a spud, a simple, but very effective tool. Today, it was hammers, pry bars,  vacuum cleaner, a chop saw, jig saw, and band saw. We laid down manufactured flooring that someone somewhere milled to exact specifications. Tools made it all possible.

This evening, I moved the last of the bricks for our patio. If I had to do it by hand, they would still be in their original piles, but they are now all within reach as I work to finish the job. Thank you, John Deere, and all those who work for you! And thank you, whoever you are, who came up with the idea of hydraulics. They work perfectly, raising and lowering the loader on the tractor, enabling me to load and dump those bricks with ease. These tools made it possible for me to do jobs that just wouldn’t get done without them. I am thankful for them, and those who make them.

The right tool for the job spells the difference between frustration and success. That goes for life, too. Words are tools, meant to bless and encourage, to teach and nurture. Without them, not much would get accomplished. Too often however, they are misused, demeaning people, tearing them down instead of building them up. I am grateful for word-tools that have encouraged and corrected me in my times of need, and for the opportunities God gives me to use them to build up others. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Breaking Ribs

June 25, 2017

It was one of those silly, stupid things that just happen. Though an evening appointment meant I would be able to watch only the first two innings of Izzi´s softball game, it was worth it to me to see those two innings. Linda had arrived earlier, and already had the sports chairs set up. Hers is one of those folding camp chairs you can buy for fifteen bucks at Walmart. Mine is a bit different. 

I bought two of them from my brother a few years ago. He had won them in some kind of raffle, and didn´t like them, so he planned on selling them in a yard sale. I thought they were just right. They were beach chairs that sat you so low that your posterior barely cleared the ground. I thought they were pretty comfy, so I paid him five bucks and brought them home, giving one to son Matt, and keeping the other for myself.

Remember, I bought these a few years ago when I was much more supple than I am today. Normally, getting out of this chair isn´t a problem. I admit, I have to get my feet under me just right, but I´ve done it scores of times. At Wednesday´s game however, the game changed. Big time! We were set up on the third base side, which sloped gently away behind us. Gently, but just enough to throw the geometry and physics off. I looked like a beached whale trying to get out of that chair. I couldn´t get my feet under me. Finally, I made it, but lost my balance in the process (Now I´m sounding like an old man). Toppling to my right, I caught the end of the arm on Linda´s chair between my ribs. It felt like someone had hit me with the butt end of a shovel.

I didn´t hear anything crack like I did when I went head over heels off my motorcycle and landed on my back. I actually heard my ribs break when I hit the ground. But that was years ago, and another story. Impaling myself on the arm of a camp chair was a relatively silent affair, except for  the rush of air exhaled from my lungs. 

But here it is, Sunday night, and with every move I make, those ribs protest vehemently. I can´t lay on my right side, and can´t sleep on my stomach. I´ve never been able to sleep on my back, so my options are a bit limited. But I look on the bright side. I have twenty three ribs that feel just fine, which isn´t too bad for an old, unbalanced guy like myself.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


June 24, 2017

Tomorrow is Sunday, in most Christian communities, the day of rest. The commandment actually calls for the seventh day, Saturday, which Orthodox Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists and Baptists keep religiously. Sunday is really the day of Resurrection in which we celebrate the new life we have been given in Christ. It is resurrection, not rest, that identifies one as a Christian. 

When I was growing up, the “Blue Laws” were commonplace all over the country. Stores closed, often restaurants were closed, it was difficult to even get a tank of gas if you were on a trip. You couldn’t go to a baseball or football game. And don’t even think about tippling at your local watering hole! 

Nobody seems to know where the term “blue laws” originated, but they were real. Sundays were pretty sedate back then. Church was the only game in town, which is quite interesting when you consider that the commandment to observe the Sabbath really has nothing to do with Sunday. However, for Christians especially, I believe it is high time we revisited the Sabbath. If Sunday is the day we celebrate the saving activity of Christ, where do we create the space we need to observe the Third Commandment? We run ourselves ragged with all our activity, somehow imagining that God cannot function without us. 

We Americans are particularly guilty of pushing the envelope of the created order. Ever since Mr. Edison blessed (or cursed) us with the electric light bulb, we don’t know enough to lie down and rest when darkness descends. Back before cable and satellite tv, the news came on at ten, and at eleven the national anthem signaled the conclusion of the broadcast day. Today, electronic media pulses forth its fluorescent glare from dusk till dawn. We have forgotten how to rest, and then wonder why people are always so uptight. 

On the other hand, when quoting the Third Commandment, people often forget the second part of it, apart from which the first is unintelligible. “Honor the Sabbath day; keep it holy. Six days you shall work…” 

If we don’t know how to rest, part of the problem is we don’t know how to work. Rest is meaningless apart from wearying labor. It is the work that makes the rest so inviting. Today, we laid bricks. An early morning call to grandson Nathan brought him excitedly pedaling his bike into our yard about ten minutes later. Ian showed up shortly thereafter, followed by Eliza. They all took turns operating the tractor, and Eliza is a master bricklayer. We had to quit about 1:00 so we could get ready to go to a graduation party, but when we got home, the bricks beckoned once again. A load of sand, a load of bricks, and another couple rows were laid. But now I am weary; just plain weary. And ready to rest. And worship tomorrow morning. Resurrection sounds good, and I am thankful to celebrate it tomorrow. But around here, the Blue Laws still apply; no bricks till Monday.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Choosing Solitude

June 23, 2017

Sitting on the porch listening to the steady thrumming of the rain on the roof, I could feel the pressures and problems of the week melting away. Three days of inclement weather didn’t set well with the kids who were eager to spend time on the beach, but for me, it was a godsend. Whether it’s a misty drizzle or a full downpour, rain has a way of slowing things down. At the cabin by the lake, there was no tv, no radio, no internet, and no phone. Just time…and rain. 

Today was another one of those slow, rainy days. Sure, there were a few errands in the morning, and dinner out with my wife in the late afternoon, but the planned outdoor projects just sat waiting. But the tv was on, there were phone calls to make, emails to check. It’s amazing how two similar days can be so different. At the cabin, there was time to read and pray, and to reflect. Today, I read and prayed, but reflection requires not only time, but solitude, something a bit more difficult to reach amid all the distractions. 

Moses spent forty days on the mountain receiving the Law. Elijah took a forty day vacation into the wilderness before hearing from God. Jesus was forty days in the wilderness, listening and praying. He walked wherever he went. Paul was three years in the desert, speaking to no one; listening for the Word of the Lord, and John was in exile on Patmos when Jesus revealed himself to him. God tends to take his time. Revelation rarely comes to minds and hearts crowded with the distractions of the world. Throughout history, the saints have occasionally or regularly secluded themselves from society in order to hear from God. I wonder why we so seldom do that anymore. Perhaps we are afraid of what he might reveal to us. Perhaps it’s just too much work. It’s easier to run ourselves ragged, or to anesthetize ourselves with sound and images than to hear from God.

The rain has stopped, but the noise goes on, as does the voice of God. Only by ignoring the one will the Other be heard. The question is, which will I ignore? If I am to be truly thankful, there is only one answer. There can be no gratitude for noise, but for the discipline to enter solitude, I am grateful, for it is not merely my own choice, but the movement of God’s Spirit enabling and encouraging me to choose well.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On a Journey to Manhood

June 21, 2017

Too bad I neglected to take any photos. For a nine year old boy, it doesn’t get much better than running a tractor and loader. We picked up Matt’s kids after their half day of school. Mattie went to a friend’s for a party, while Nathan spent the afternoon with us, first accompanying Linda as she bought flowers to plant in my mother’s garden tomorrow, and then with me as I began laying the brick patio in front of our house. I hooked up the loader to the tractor so I could ferry bricks from the stack to the patio. Once hooked up, he took over at the wheel. He has run it before, but never operated the loader by himself until today. Once I showed him how to operate the controls, he took over like he’d been doing it for years. He hasn’t yet learned to gauge distances with the bucket, so I did guide him through some tight spots, but through it all, he was the man on the machine.

His mother came to get him after work, but he was in full work mode and didn’t want to quit. She decided to give him some more time, and pulled out, but pulled right back in the driveway. He had ju-jitsu practice and had to go. As we finished loading the last bucket of bricks, I asked him if he’d rather go to ju-jitsu (which he loves) or run the tractor. He didn’t hesitate. The tractor won, as I knew it would. Unfortunately for him, we believe that when you make a commitment, you stick with it even if something better comes along.

There’ll be another day of patio building. Nathan will drive the tractor again, and maybe his cousin Ian will get the opportunity, too. But tonight, I am grateful for the help, and for the opportunity to encourage a young boy in his journey towards manhood. Seeing the smile on his face as he manipulates the control is priceless.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Baccalaureate Again

une 20, 2017

Twenty years ago, the climate was different. Worried over the prospect of lawsuits based on the supposed doctrine of the separation of religion and state, school administrators all over the country shut down Baccalaureate services. It began slowly; locally, at first we were told that faculty could no longer participate and clergy could not lead. The services had to be entirely student-led. In only a couple years however, came the ruling that we could no longer hold the services in the school auditorium. That was the beginning of the end. Once we had to move the services to local churches, the inherently sectarian nature of the locations drove the final nails into the coffin. Two years after the service was moved out of the school, Baccalaureate was no more.

Tonight, I had the privilege of seeing it rise from the dead. Student-led, but with the active support of the administration and school staff, and the guidance of area pastors and youth leaders, tonight’s Baccalaureate service was outstanding in itself, but even more as a sign of a new era of cooperation between the religious and educational communities. It took some years, but the overzealousness of some in the legal community has been tested and found wanting, and the fears of the educational establishment have subsided. Baccalaureate is back.

The service tonight was student-led. Two of the students gave testimony of what Christ has done in their lives. One in particular, told of growing up never having attended church. Invited to an overnight by a friend, she accepted, then was told they would be going to church in the morning. That was the beginning of a transformation that is culminating in her determination to become a youth minister or missionary. Others read scripture and a student band led the singing. I am seeing a boldness of faith and witness in these young people far exceeding anything I had when I was there age. Though some fear for the future, I think it is bright, and am deeply thankful for what I saw tonight. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cultural Christianity

June 19, 2017

Tucked away in the story of the sad string of Israel’s apostate kings is a summary of the reasons the nation was carried into captivity. It would be easy to miss, but in 2 Kings 17:33-34, one line stands out: “They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods - according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away. To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the LORD…”

I used to wonder how people who had experienced so many miraculous deliverances could so easily abandon God for the gods of their neighbors. Not anymore. It happens all the time, and usually in the same way. When in 1 Kings 12 Jeroboam rebelled against the nascent Davidic dynasty, he worried that the worship that was centralized in Jerusalem would undermine his power. If the people under his rule traveled to Jerusalem to worship, they might decide they preferred life in the southern kingdom, so he had two golden calves cast, installing one in the north and the other in the south. Presenting them to his people, he said, “Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.” It was subtle, and it was effective. The Hebrew word for our generic “God” is ‘Elohim,’ which can also mean ‘gods’ (plural). It was nuanced, but it worked. He had successfully wedded the LORD, the God (Elohim) of Israel, with his fabrication which had its roots in Canaanite culture.

We do the same thing today when we baptize cultural norms with a Christian overlay, creating a cultural religion that blesses whatever we choose to do. The writer of 2 Kings said it well; “They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods.” I fear that I have done the same thing more often than I would like to admit. 

I am a conservative Christian who has spent most of my adult life in what has been a predominately liberal denomination. While this has presented its share of challenges, one thing I appreciate about my more liberal colleagues is how they keep me honest. They are not shy about challenging conservative Christianity’s cozy relationship with conservative politics. For example, though I am a life member of the NRA, I have a hard time imagining Jesus aligned with the organization and it politics. On the other hand, I would offer the same challenge to my more liberal (they currently prefer the designation ‘progressive’) colleagues when it comes to their espousal of the political agenda of the left. Either way, it is all too easy to chose our agenda and bless it in the name of God.

In Sunday School this week, we began a study of 2 Thessalonians, in which Paul commends the people for their love for each other and their perseverance in persecution. I observed that we seem to need the latter in order to maintain the former. Growing up, my brother and I were often mortal enemies…until a mutual outside threat united us in common bond. Too many churches have imploded over internal issues that would never have arisen had they understood the nature of the culture around them. We’ve been deceived into believing that our culture is friendly to Christianity. It is, if that Christianity is willing to accommodate the culture, much as did Jeroboam. We are often all too willing to worship the LORD, while serving our own gods. 

So today, I am grateful for my liberal colleagues who keep my feet to the fire. And for the Scriptures that convict me when I fail to live up to its standards. And for the love, patience, and forgiveness of our Lord, who commands us to “come boldly to [his] throne of grace that we may find mercy and grace to help in time of need.”(Hebrews 4:16).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

June 18, 2017

This morning in Sunday School, we began working our way through 2 Thessalonians, which has as one of its themes the subject of how the Christian handles persecution and problems. There was a time in my life (many years ago) when I believed that if God were behind something, he would almost magically brush aside all the obstacles to make it happen. I've since learned that often he is behind the problems because it's only through them that we grow. When one's steps are ordered by the Lord, even should there be difficulties (and in God's work, there surely will be), he will always provide a way through. Park church discovered this truth years ago when we were poised on the edge of some new and significant ministries. We had only recently moved into a new building with all the ministry opportunities it made possible. Suddenly, the roof caved in (figuratively speaking; the roof of the new building was just fine). Today, Park is again standing on the verge of some new and significant ministries, which means problems are right around the corner. In 1 Thessalonians, we are reminded that for those serious about God’s work and will, problems are to be expected. Among other things, they are his tools to help mold us more closely into the image of Christ. So, if problems are to be expected, so also is his provision and protection.

Father's Day is here, and it's been good. Worship this morning was Spirit-filled. We have two worship teams which divide up the responsibilities, which means I get to help lead every other week. I play the upright bass, which is more fun than I can explain. In the afternoon, we gathered at our eldest son's for a cookout and celebration of the Day and of our family's June birthdays. Just as we were wrapping it up, the skies let loose with a torrential downpour, which we have sorely needed. I had to wait for a break in the rain to drive my bike home. 

Father's Day has for the past five years, been very special to me. Five years ago, I called my dad to wish him a happy Father's Day. Three months before, that wouldn't have happened. He had for years been severely hearing impaired, and phone conversations were impossible. Three months earlier, he had gotten new digital hearing aids through the VA, and it was like watching someone being raised from the dead. Deafness shuts people off from life even more than blindness, because when you can’t hear, you can't participate in conversations. Over the years, we had watched as dad slowly receded from life...until he got those hearing aids.

I called him; we talked; I told him how much I loved him, how much he had taught me, how his example of faith and faithfulness was the foundation of my life. As I said, three months earlier, that conversation never would have happened. He was at their camp with my mother, my brother and sister, and my brother's boys and grandkids, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him. 

After talking, he took a nap, and when one of my brother's boys who lived at a distance called to wish him a happy Father's Day, they woke him up, but his words were slurred. They rushed him to the hospital, but on the way, he slipped into a coma from which he never woke up. So why is this day so special? Because on it, he was surrounded by family, and the next thing he knew, he was in the presence of his Heavenly Father. I hadn't known it at the time, but my mother told me a couple months ago that I was the last one on earth to talk with him. What an honor! What a glorious (although at the time, difficult) day it was! I am thankful today for this man who by his life taught me what following Christ is all about. I am thankful for the new ministries being set before us, and I am thankful for worship this morning, where we enter God’s presence in praise and prayer, and unfailingly receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the challenge to follow in Christ’s footsteps wherever they may go.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Little is a Lot

June 16, 2017

It’s amazing what a difference only a few weeks makes. Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to play bass for worship. Due to having been in Cuba for three weeks, preaching for a friend on a fourth Sunday, and having my bass in the shop for a much-needed tune up, this will be the first time I’ve played it in nearly two months. I figured I had better practice, so tonight I tuned it up and ran some scales before working on a couple of the songs we’ll be doing tomorrow. 

The upright bass is a very physical instrument; it’s big and unwieldy, and requires more than a little pressure on the fingerboard to sound the notes. By comparison, the electric bass plays easily, with very little pressure required. I spent the morning with hammer and cold chisel till my wrists ached. My hands had been feeling pretty good lately until today. And now, a mere half hour pressing the strings was all I could handle. Tomorrow will require an hour’s rehearsal, plus two half hour segments of playing. It’s going to be a challenge.

I’m looking forward to it. I love playing. The times I’m in the congregation, I’m watching the bassist, listening to his technique, and wishing I could join the band. Tomorrow I will. Not having played in awhile, I may be rusty, but the Scripture tells us to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord;” I like the ‘noise’ part. It offers lots of leeway for a hack like me. I’m grateful to be able to offer the best I have, even if it’s not much, because in God’s hands, even a little is a lot.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Master's Hand

June 16, 2017

Squeals of laughter floating across the backyard drift into the window as I sit on our bed and write. Little Gemma is trying to get to sleep at the foot of the bed, while the Alex and Abi read downstairs and the younger ones play hide and seek outside. It’s a good ending to a wonderful day. Suppertime included “High/Low,” where each one told of the best part of their day, and if they wanted, the worst. “Highs” are mandatory; “Lows” are optional. It’s a good thing; there were many more highs than lows, and lots of conversation and laughter throughout. These Friday nights with the grandkids are always a high for me. Few grandparents that I know have the opportunity to build into their grandchildrens’ lives as we do. And make no mistake: they build into ours, as well.

Earlier this evening as the younger ones danced through the sprinkler and splashed in the creek, we built a fire. As the flames died down and the embers glowed, it was time for S’mores. The younger ones then headed for the backyard while Alex and I sat and talked about life. She’s at that age when life-changing decisions are being made, often inadvertently. I didn’t go to college intending to marry someone I had never before met, but that’s exactly what happened. So with Alex, and with so many others, the plans we make give way to the greater plans of God, and our lives turn in a direction we had never imagined. 

A shorter conversation with our oldest grandson about a life of Christian service followed. Ian thinks deeply, is inquisitive and studious, and loves the Lord. He’s a technology buff, so Lord knows what direction that will take him, but I know that if the issue isn’t raised, Christian ministry is not something he would think of on his own. No one does. Jesus himself said that no one comes to the him unless the Father draws him. That’s true of ministry, too. I can lay the possibility before him, but if God isn’t in it, it would be a bad idea.

The bulk of the day was spent driving to the north of Buffalo to pick up my bass. I had other business in Niagara Falls, so combining errands made sense. I will never be a virtuoso on the instrument. I’ll be lucky if I can attain to hack status. But I love the instrument, and the work Monaco does is outstanding. It sounds like a new instrument; the lows are responsive, and it plays butter-smooth. Even I will sound good now! It reminds me of an old poem written by Myra Brooks Welch in 1921:

'Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
      Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
      But held it up with a smile.
"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
    "Who'll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
      Two dollars, and who'll make it three?"

"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
      Going for three…" But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
      Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
      And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
      As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
      With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
      And he held it up with the bow.
"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
      Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
    And going and gone," said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
    "We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:
    "The touch of the Master's hand."
And many a man with life out of tune,
      And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
      Much like the old violin.

A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine,
    A game — and he travels on.
He is "going" once, and "going" twice,
    He's "going" and almost "gone."
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
    Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
    By the touch of the Master's hand.

Don’t be mistaken. I’ll never master the upright bass. It was Mr. Monaco whose touch brought out the potential of this instrument. And it will not be me who brings out the potential in my grandchildren; that’s God’s job. All I can do with them is what I did with my bass: put them in the hands of the Master. In his deft hands, the music will come. It will surely come.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Prayer for Jesus

June 15, 2017

The Scriptures repeatedly remind us of the importance of reflection. It is too easy to allow ourselves to simply move through life without ever examining why we're here or what it all means. The Bible word for it is 'meditation.' In Joshua 1:8, we are told that if we want to be successful in life, we need to meditate on the Word of God day and night. So it is that this morning in our men's prayer group, Harry opened with Psalm 20.

I've read this Psalm countless times before, but this morning as we were praying, I stopped long enough to actually let it speak to me. It was written as a song to be sung in worship, and begins with the notation, "To the Chief Musician." The identity of this person is lost in the mists of time, but as is often the case, the meaning of this Psalm is deeper than we at first see. Ultimately, the Chief Musician is not the man who led the choir in the temple; it is none other than Jesus Christ himself. This is the only way the psalm makes any sense. 

This is a song that pleads with God the Father for Jesus, his Son. It begins asking that the LORD will answer Jesus in his day of trouble, and defend him. Jesus prayed in the garden that this cup would pass from him, but if not, that God's will would be done. Verse two pleads for help from the sanctuary, ie. from heaven itself, which in fact, was given. It goes on to ask that the Father remember the sacrifices of this Chief Musician, that his heart's desire be given, his purposes fulfilled.

Finally, in the fifth verse comes our rejoicing in the Chief Musician's salvation, and the full confidence that the LORD saves "his anointed," an appellation given almost exclusively to Jesus. Because of all God has done for Jesus, we can be confident in his plans for us. The psalm ends declaring that "we have risen and stand upright." This is not merely wishful thinking; it is a theological and spiritual fact. St. Paul tells us that we have been raised with Christ, and we stand firm against the trickery of the devil (Ephesians 2:1, 5-6, and 6:11 & 13). 

So we can sing this song in retrospect, knowing that its longing was answered 2,000 years ago when Jesus cried out in prayer to his Father, who answered decisively when he raised him from death and seated him above all authorities and powers, at the right hand of the Father by "the saving strength of his right hand." And because all this is true, the final words of this Psalm are also true: The King will "answer us when we call."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


June 14, 2017

Sometimes it takes awhile to get something right. Last year I spent a small fortune on some epoxy sealer for the fish pond in our front yard. When we moved here three years ago, the pond was half filled in with silt and debris, and I was foolish enough to try to bring it back to life instead of burying it for good. In short, it leaked. We could only fill it about halfway; thus the epoxy sealer. The epoxy itself was bad enough; I'm not going to tell you how much I paid for it. I also paid grandkids Ian and Izzi and Izzi's friend Hailey to clean the pond and paint it with the epoxy. When all was said and done, I couldn't put any more water in the pond than when we started.

This spring I had the good fortune of coming across some used rubber roofing just like I had used on our fishpond in Cassadaga. Finally, a couple days that were both available, sunny, and hot; perfect for laying down the rubber and gluing pieces together so everything fits. Today I jacked up the rocks surrounding the pond and slid the rubber edges underneath to hold it all in place. It looks pretty ugly now, with folds and creases all over the place where I had to make it conform to the odd shape of the pond, but they won't be noticeable once it's filled with water. The only question is whether I got any gaps in the gluing where the water can leak out. I'll know in a day or two when I start filling it.

Even now, just like some of the excuses people give me for not following Jesus Christ, it may not hold water. If that happens, I'll locate the leak and find a way to seal it. The crazy thing about all this is it's all for a bunch of fifty cent goldfish! I'm stubborn that way. Someone once asked me why I put up with a particularly troublesome friend. "Jesus didn't give up on me; how can I give up on him?" was the only answer I could come up with. 

Too often people give up instead of soldiering through their problems. Marital problems, aches and pains, a difficult school class, or financial issues that could be solved or endured, instead become occasions for throwing in the towel, preventing them from experiencing the satisfaction of overcoming.

This evening, our granddaughter Madeline was honored by the local Kiwanis Club for being a "Terrific Kid." She was one of four chosen by her school faculty out of more than eighty names submitted. chosen for the character traits of Thoughtfulness, Enthusiasm, Respect, Responsibility, Inclusiveness, Friendliness, Inquisitiveness, and Capability. Madeline works hard, cares for others, and has a tender heart. And she never gives up. My perseverance may not pay off this week, but it will eventually. The leaks will not win, but that is of little ultimate consequence. What really matters is the kind of perseverance Madeline demonstrates, the kind that makes a difference not in a puddle, but in people. It's been a good day, and I am thankful tonight, not for the pond, but for Madeline.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


June 13, 2017

Dinner tonight was exquisite. A text from our daughter mid-afternoon invited us to join them for swordfish and chicken on the grill. That was just the beginning. Rosemary potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, along with squash, yellow peppers, onions, mushrooms, and red peppers added up to a dinner par excellence. A rousing and somewhat innovative game of softball followed, with a combination pitcher, infielder, outfielder, and catcher facing three batters. Home plate was the deck step, first base a fence post, second a soccer ball, and third the slide on the swing set. With three grandkids, our son-in-law, and myself, score was meaningless and unnecessary.

It was a welcome end to what began as a frustrating day. Four hours on the phone and online with government agencies to solve what should have been a simple problem, with no end in sight is not my idea of a fun day. It got better as I put unfinished business aside to glue some rubber roofing together to make a liner for our fish pond. Another day or two, and it will be ready to use. Sometimes God uses ordinary things to calm a troubled soul. My problem is solvable; it will be inconvenient, but it's solvable. Lots of people are facing issues for which there are no earthly answers. I am grateful tonight for an evening's diversion. Tomorrow is a new day. I'll tackle the government again. Goliath will eventually fall when I find the right stone. Putting all things in God's hands lets me let go to enjoy the moment unsullied with the frustrations of the morning, and causing me to give thanks tonight.