News

February 23, 2018

Hello Friends, it’s been a while. Since I last wrote a number of things in our world have occurred; two in particular in the past couple of weeks.  I.  Rev. Billy Graham passed into glory.  2.  Once again, a mad man walked into a school in Florida and murdered over two dozen young people.

I doubt that I have much to add to the Florida massacre that has not already been said but if I can mention a couple of things by way of “de-politicizing” it.

Each time these things happen, the politicians, special interest groups and goofy people come out in full force to voice their opinion and to defend their “side.” I find myself someplace in the middle.  I honestly do not see why the public needs to have access to weapons that can kill loads of people in a short period of time. Call these weapons what you will.  There are clearly lines that need not be crossed.  There is a reason we do not have access to rocket launchers, bazooka’s, grenades, or nuclear weapons, right?  Or are some saying we should have access to those things?  I just don’t see it.  On the other hand no one can be sure that outlawing these “mass killing” guns will solve the problem of these insane people. But I’m willing to take that risk. If it will save the life of one innocent 15 year old, I’m good with that.  But again please keep in mind… no matter how passionate you are for your side, we have no idea how to correct these problems.  None.  Yours is just an opinion, like so many others, including mine.  Don’t misunderstand… I am not in favor of outlawing ALL guns.  I get it… 2nd amendment, hunting… etc.  And by the way, what sort of hunter needs a semi-automatic weapon?!  Have a little pride in yourself!  Filling the woods with lead as quickly as possible is sort of a sissy sport, isn’t it?  If you have never read the short story “Bless the Beasts and Children,” you need todo so.  Semi-automatic weapons that can do what was done in Florida?  I suspect we can do without them.  And arming teachers and administrators… um…  Sadly, when does someone step up and say, “Our society and culture are going to hell in a handbasket?!”  Literally “going to Hell.”

In the end, I believe this wickedness can be traced back to the demise of The Family and the continued shrinking influence of Christianity in our country.  But knowing why these things happen and fixing the problem are two very different things!  I’m not sure if this statistic is still correct, but it’s probably close enough.  The school district in which I am located has approximately 2500 students from K-12.  Any guesses on how many of them are involved in a church or Christian organization on a regular basis?  Best guess… less than 10%.  Less than 250 kids in my community have any exposure to the Gospel or the person of Jesus Christ.  Please do not misunderstand… I clearly implied that the other 90% have NO exposure.  That includes Easter, Christmas etc.  Oh, they have lots of exposure to other things like alcohol, drugs, broken families, adultery, self-centeredness, violent video games, sexting, pornography, sports and other activities on Sunday mornings… but the Gospel… the Good News of Jesus Christ… nope. I see more brokenness down the road, not less… no matter what we do with guns.

On to more glorious things. My grandmother (the only one I knew) died when I was 12.  She was the only person in my life as a youngster who I thought was “spiritual.”  When she passed away my mother came into my room sometime after the funeral and said, “Your grandmother wanted you to have these.”  (Honestly, I have no idea if that was true.  My mother may have just been trying to comfort me.)  So, what did she have for me?  3 books.  One was a Bible commentary.  One was a Bible dictionary.  And one was a book by Billy Graham.  I no longer have them.  Honestly, I was thrilled that I was given something from my grandmother, but REALLY?  No 12 year old is sitting around waiting for those kind of things!  But of all the material effects that are gone from my childhood – my baseball card collection, my comic book collection, my baseball glove that I saved and saved for – nothing would be more precious to me to have than those 3 books.  Not because I can’t go buy them myself.  Actually I have dozens of books that are just as informative.  But those books don’t remind me so much of the impact my grandmother had on me at an early age.  And she was like so many others of her generation… she loved Billy Graham.

If you were not raised in my generation or older it will be hard to have any concept of his impact on our nation and the world. In the end, I suspect that is incalculable.  But I would like to try and correct one thing that is bandied about by the press and others.  “Evangelicals” have gotten a bad name in many circles recently.  You may not know what that means… and that’s just my point.  The word has been used to describe so many Christian groups that it no longer has meaning.  It’s not unlike saying “I’m an American.”  What does that mean?  It may mean something about where you reside, but it says next to nothing about what you believe.  When I was young the word “evangelical” described Billy Graham and others like him.  He crossed all sorts of religious, cultural and political barriers because he exuded the love of Jesus, first and foremost.  He seemed to be able to avoid political affiliation.  But even that was not appreciated by some.  When he came to Pittsburgh for his last crusade a couple of decades ago Pittsburgh Presbytery was the only Denomination or Christian religious group that did not endorse him.  What a bunch of morons!  Whoops, did I say that out loud.  I meant to say, “Oh my, that was unfortunate.”

So, when you hear someone fussing about “evangelicals” or the press writing about them (and honestly who is less qualified to write about Christianity than the pagan press?); please know that the word means little. Until our terms are defined we can hardly use that one.  When I hear “evangelical,” I prefer to think of Billy Graham.  Those of us on this side of glory will never see another like him.  EVER.

Thank you God for bringing servants like Mr. Graham to model the love of Christ for the rest of us!

Blessings.

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Things that remind me that I’m not 17 any more

January 23, 2018

I actually have a car. Two of them!  (and one in my garage that I’m working on.)

When I wake up in the morning I don’t jump out of bed. When I do manage to drag myself off of the mattress there are a lot of strange popping sounds.

I don’t need to ask any girls that I don’t know out on dates any more.  I have a built in one now.  Ewwww… I hope Ellen doesn’t read that.

When I totter down my fairly short snow covered driveway it takes me 5 minutes lest I fall and break a hip.

My weekly pill container.

When I gather with friends we begin by discussing the weather and our current physical well-being.

I know what a colonoscopy is.

My faith means more and more as the years go by.

I have my own kids who are much older than 17.

I have another child that begins with the word “grand”.

My parents are gone.

My grandparents are gone.

Most of my aunts and uncles are gone.

I don’t live with or see my extended family very much.

I have my own credit card.

I even have cash in my wallet on occasion.

I have drawn closer to Jesus.

I carry two sets of reading glasses… one for close, one for far. (I know they make things called bi-focals!)

Retirement is a part of my language these days… but not yet.

I care little about clothing styles. You don’t need to comment on that!

I listen to music that is now 50 years old… and I have a growing appreciation for the music my parents listened to.

I have begun to lose friends to death.

I don’t worry about school or homework anymore. Sadly I didn’t worry too much about it back then either.

I don’t go play tackle football with my friends. I could if I wanted to… once… for about 15 seconds.  Then we would be off to Jefferson Hospital.

I’ve had a crush on the same girl for over 45 years. None of that “every week” stuff.

I have become more “set in my ways” as much as I loathe that.

I find myself less patient with 17 year olds.

I care little for the world’s values. Nor do I care to emulate them.

Cancer is more of a reality in the life of my friends than it was when I was a teenager…. So is heart disease, strokes and any number of other dreadful illnesses.

The reality of Jesus becomes greater each day of my life. That doesn’t mean you will see it in me very well, I’m afraid.

I don’t struggle with some of the excessive hormonal things that 17 year olds do… if you know what I mean.

It doesn’t bother me so much to say “I don’t know.”

I’ve had my 45th High School reunion.

I am much more mature and sophisticated… um… yeah.

I couldn’t name you 2 popular contemporary rock bands… not even 2.

I eat quinoa, and even succotash. But NOT LIVER!!!

I ache in places I didn’t know I had places.

My knees hate going up steps… and down steps… and pretty much walking on flat places.

Running… yeah I remember doing that… a long time ago.

I have walked out of my office and forgotten what I was going to do. Truth is… I have forgotten a couple of other things.

I care little for where I am on the social totem pole these days. Frankly, I’m not really sure where the pole is.

I slipped and fell in 6 inches of snow last week… first checked to see if anything was broken… 6 inches of snow. Come on!

I only eat what I like. Why should I submit myself to any torture?  By the way… I like a lot of things.

I have grown to appreciate church people more and more over the years.

I have, on occasion, been more and more frustrated with church people over the years.

Figure those last two out!

I have a sister who will turn 70 this year! (I wonder if she’s reading this?)

I have no more dreams of a 1969 Chevy Chevelle… Or a 1949 Chevy Pick-up for that matter.

I don’t drink Tang any more… or Tab, or Simba… (Look it up)

I don’t wear bell bottoms or shirts with obscenely big collars.

I don’t dream of my hair growing down to my shoulders. I just dream of my hair not departing so quickly.

No one offers me illegal drugs any more.

If I want to drink alcohol (which I don’t), I needn’t worry about getting caught by my father.

I don’t hang out with friends any more… for the most part.

I don’t get an allowance any more… Oh wait… I never did.

I don’t have chores these days… now it’s just “stuff you have to do to maintain your house.”

½ of my favorite rock band died decades ago.

When I say I am a Christian, it means something all together different than when I was 17.

I am on the downside of my life. Some people say 63 is middle aged… Seriously?!  Unless I live to be 126…

I just don’t move as fast as I once did… and trust me I was never a speedster.

Two very different perspectives on being 17:

Sung by Frank Sinatra

When I was seventeen it was a very good year It was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights We’d hide from the lights on the village green When I was seventeen

“AT SEVENTEEN”

By Janis Ian

I learned the truth at seventeen That love was meant for beauty queens And high school girls with clear skinned smiles Who married young and then retired The valentines I never knew The Friday night charades of youth Were spent on one more beautiful At seventeen I learned the truth…

And those of us with ravaged faces Lacking in the social graces Desperately remained at home Inventing lovers on the phone Who called to say “come dance with me” And murmured vague obscenities It isn’t all it seems at seventeen…

The unpredictability of youth is hard to explain.

Next year I’ll be singing a different tune… “When I’m 64.”

Blessings.

Words

January 17, 2018

Just so we are clear from the outset… this is not a devotion or a “Christian” writing.

Over 40 years ago now I worked at a drug counseling center while serving in the U.S. Navy. Back then there were too many guys returning from Vietnam who had gotten caught up in serious drug use.  And of course there were many who had not been to Vietnam who also got caught up in the same.  At the center where I worked we did two things:  We evaluated drug users to determine the best treatment plan for them.  And we offered counseling and small groups.  As part of the evaluation process we showed a video called “Chalk Talk” done by a Catholic Priest named Father Martin.  Father Martin was a recovering alcoholic and that’s the subject of the video.  It was very well done for its day.  (You can still find it on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7T5stQQFQg.)  I remember Father Martin going to great lengths to define “Alcoholism.”  Frankly I wouldn’t have thought it that difficult until one tries to put boundaries around a definition.

I didn’t really agree with Father Martin’s definition but I didn’t have a better one. He essentially said, “You are an alcoholic if alcohol has caused you problems in your life.”  He went on to tell a story about a man who got drunk once then had an accident that killed his entire family.  “He is an alcoholic,” said Father Martin.

He also discussed how alcoholics define the word. Basically alcoholism is anything they are not.  “If you drink more than a 6 pack of beer a day, you’re an alcoholic.”  That from those who stop at 6.  “You are an alcoholic if you start drinking in the morning or early afternoon.”  That coming from those who only drink at night.  “You are an alcoholic if you drink hard liquor.”  That from beer or wine drinkers.  And it goes on from there.  The point is that defining our terms is essential to treating and confronting issues.  If we don’t know what we’re talking about how can we progress toward resolution?

Years ago I heard a well-known speaker say this: “If you are white and you were born in the U.S.A. you ARE a racist because it is in the very air we breathe.”  I should add that the speaker was white.  Honestly I don’t necessarily disagree with what he said.  My only question is this: Define “racism.”  I don’t say that in a combative way.  Or even to avoid the issue.  I am seriously asking for a definition so that we all know what we’re talking about.

I had the opportunity to make a few observations for the speaker to address. One was this:  “When we use the term ‘racist’ to define ‘everyone’ from those who are white and born in this country, but are doing all they can to overcome the discrimination and disparity between whites and other minorities to those who wear white sheets and burn crosses in people’s front yards… well, that doesn’t really further the discussion.  What it really does is make people defensive and any reasonable conversation ends there.”  I went on to say that someone needs to invent some new language to help define the boundaries, i.e., a class 1 racist vs. a class 2 racist… Or a chronic racist vs. an “unpremeditated” racist… or whatever.  To my knowledge, no new language has been introduced to help bring clarity to this very serious matter. So we continue to struggle with racial resolution partly because we have no agreed upon words thus we have no idea what we’re talking about.  It’s really not much different than trying to get directions from someone who speaks Russian and only Russian.  They can do a lot of pointing and gesturing but in the end, we will not get where we want to go.

Let me apply this to a REALLY divisive issue.  In recent months President Trump has been accused of being “racist.”  If the speaker I mentioned above is correct, then yes of course he is “racist” because all whites in this country are!  And do you also see how this then doesn’t mean anything?  Those in the press who are calling him a racist are racist themselves.  Those who are opposed to him as president and call him a racist are racist as well.  Those who simply despise him and want him out of office are racist also.  I’m not supporting, defending or accusing anyone of anything other than using language that is meaningless.  I suspect when he is called a racist, it is as a certain type of racist.  But what is it? WE NEED NEW LANGUAGE!

The same idea applies to the recent revelations regarding “sexual harassment.” I agree that many deplorable things have been done to women and that men need to be held accountable for them.  But what things?  Can someone help me by defining what “sexual harassment” is?  Not unlike racism or alcoholism some examples are no brainers.  But what I have heard recently is that on some level sexual harassment is “in the eye of the beholder.”  In other words anyone can define it any way they like.  That doesn’t help!  If we can’t define it we can’t very effectively address it.

Sadly there are few forums where we can discuss these things without fear of being accused of something. I’m not trying to make any political statements or social statements here.  I am simply trying to say that we cannot talk about difficult, sensitive issues if we do not have common language.

Years ago, Ellen and I went on a “Marriage Encounter” weekend. Marriage Encounter teaches a form of communicating for married couples.  Basically, you write letters to each other without assuming the other knows what you mean by the terms you use.  The very first thing they had us do was write to our spouse and define very clearly and specifically what we meant when we said we “loved them,” i.e., what does “love” mean in that context?  It was very difficult and very helpful.

So the next time you hear the words “Alcoholic,” or “Racist,” or “Sexual harassment,” ask yourself this question: “How are they defining or using that term?”  And you may want to ask how you use it as well.

Stuff I remember

I wonder… do you have any memories like these?

I think it was around 4th or 5th grade our teacher came into the class room and said something like this:  “Our whole country will be changing to the metric system so we need to learn what that is.  It’s actually much simpler than what we use now because everything is based on ‘10’s’.”  That began the grand experiment to teach American kids the same system that is used by most of the world.  We learned about “liters, meters, grams…” and who knows what else.  By the end of 5th grade the experiment was over and we never heard of metrics again.  Well at least until chemistry class in High School…

My grandparents bought a farm (not bought “The” farm but bought “a” farm) when I was 6 years old.  My sisters and my cousins and I spent the best years of our young lives on those 60 acres outside of West Sunbury PA.  But if the farm was great, the “two seater” outback was even better!  My cousin Glenn and I sat for a good part of our childhoods in that little space.  Well okay maybe not… but who designs a “two seater” for anyone other than young boys?!  I stopped at the farm 10 years ago or so… guess what?  The two seater is still there… it hasn’t’ been in use since the mid 60’s.

I remember great debates on cold mornings with my sisters and the other kids in the neighborhood.  What were we debating?  How late the school bus could be before we were allowed to go home.  15 minutes was the general consensus.

My sisters and I could never find two matching gloves or mittens when it was time to go out sled riding!  Usually we employed several pair of white socks.  They didn’t match either but who cared.

On cold winter days my sisters and I would carry pails of water out to the hill in our front yard and make a sled riding track.

What’s better than hot chocolate after bitter cold, snot oozing, sled riding?!  Well I don’t know for certain because we never seemed to be able to keep “Nestles Quick” in the house for those occasions.  Or “Ovaltine” for that matter.  My grandmother on the other hand always had those things in great supply.

Yes, I do have a sister who licked a metal pole outside on a bitter day.  It was not funny.

What did you use to get the rust off of your sled rungs on the first snowy day of the winter?  We used wax from candles.  Not sure to this day that it worked.

There was nothing more frightening in my childhood than the threat of being sent to the Principals office.  Children who went down there never returned… or so I thought.

I recall once a week a strange woman poking her head into our elementary classroom asking for several children to come for “speech.”  I had no idea where they were going.  I thought they were going to learn to “give speeches.”  I wanted to learn to give speeches also but I didn’t know how to get into that class.  I didn’t learn until years later that they were going to work on speech impediments.

I remember in 6th grade my teacher pronouncing a word that didn’t sound right to me.  “Mr. Stupid” corrected her in front of the whole class.  She looked at me with venom in her eyes and said: “never correct me again!”  I don’t know how she could have handled that but something different might have prevented it from being one of the most humiliating and memorable moments of my young life.

I remember thinking that it would be cool and exciting to be in a car accident… well until I was in one… the 2nd and third weren’t any better.

I played sports from early boyhood until I graduated from High School… I think my father knew that… but I’m not sure.

I opened up a hot car radiator once.  It landed me in the hospital for several days with 2nd degree burns on my face, arms and chest.  Hard to believe I am so good looking.

It took Ellen several years to realize how wonderful I was.  J

Remember the excitement of “school picnic” days?  Running from one amusement ride to another so that you could squeeze as much fun into one day as possible.  Remember the goofy High School students who wore matching shirts and socks?

I recall going onto haunted house rides and keeping my eyes closed the whole time.  I couldn’t tell you today what was in those places.

I once harangued Ellen into going on a roller coaster with me… one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I did not know one letter or number when I started 1st grade.  There was no public kindergarten back then, or Sesame Street, or Electric Company…  I was not the only one who was so ill informed.

My first grade teacher punished us by grabbing our shoulders and “shaking” us in front of the class.  Something tells me that would not fly today.

The greatest year of my childhood was from 1959-1960.  My sisters were all in school, my mother and father worked and I got to stay with my grandmother all by myself.

Every day I asked my grandmother for the same thing for lunch:  A grilled cheese sandwich made with the “good stuff” (Velveeta), jello and chocolate milk (See Ovaltine and Nestles Quick above).  The grilled cheese were very special because my grandmother cut them from corner to corner given me 4 triangular pieces not the square pieces my mother would make.  Kids are excited about the strangest things.

At the age of 5 my grandmother patiently taught me to play “Crazy 8’s, Go Fish, and Old Maid.”  I didn’t realize for years that you really need to have more than two people to play those last two.  We also played “Parcheesi.”  When did you play that last?

My grandfather once bought a new car… a 4 door.  Back then these were not joint decisions… “The man” made these purchases.  Plus my grandmother never learned to drive.  She made him take it back the next day and trade it in because “my grandchildren will not ride in a car with doors beside them.”  I would love to have heard that conversation!

I once had a fever so high that I was delirious.  I was “dreaming” that I was riding in a car with Mickey Mouse… round and round and maddeningly round.

Social status all through school was indicated by how far back in the bus you got to sit.  I don’t think that has changed after all these years.  I never was cool enough to reach the back.

An interesting sociological dynamic:  One group in this country started a movement to not have to sit in the back of the bus.  Another group determines their value by how close they can get to the back.  So, if you’re African American and you want to be cool… where do you sit?

Church and Sunday school were never ANYTHING but mind numbingly boring.  I fear that has not changed over the years.

I had a pair of shoes that were reserved for church only.  One of them always managed to get lost on Sunday mornings.

One of the most ridiculous and hopeless things my mom said on numerous occasions was this:  Upon getting a new pair of pants and preparing to go out and play… “Don’t get grass stains on your new pants.”  Yeah right!  Stains literally jumped off of the ground onto my pants when I walked out the front door.

Was it just me or did new tennis shoes really allow us to run faster and jump higher?

I’ve been sick for the past 10 days.  It is impossible to not take our health for granted when we feel well.

Well that’s enough for today.  I hope these allowed you some happy memories of your own.

Blessings,

Modeling the faith

December 6, 2017

I was listening to Christmas music a few days ago and was reminded of how easily children are misled. How is that you ask?  Well… I heard the Christmas song entitled, “Winter Wonderland.”  You know the one that begins:

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland

Well there is a line farther down that goes like this:

In the meadow we can build a snowman
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown

Honestly, for my entire childhood and into adulthood until Ellen corrected me… I thought “parson brown” was a color. In other words “we can build a snowman that’s a certain color (parson) of brown.”  I know!  That doesn’t make any sense!  But who knew what a “Parson” was as a kid?  Not me for sure.  You would have thought the remaining lyrics would have helped but NNNNOOOOOO!

He’ll say, “Are you married?”
We’ll say, “No man”
But you can do the job, when you’re in town

By the way… just an aside. The words “Then pretend that he is Parson Brown” were changed in 1953 to And pretend that he’s a circus clown.” Why the change? I’m proud and relieved to say it was because too many children were confused by the original wording.  Ha, take that!

Again, all of that to say that the minds of children are so easily influenced and pliable. One author wrote a book entitled “Children are wet cement” because they can be formed and designed… up to a point.  Many studies have been done indicating that parents (or at least guardians) are still THE # 1 influence on their children’s lives.  The things we say and the things we model along with the values we espouse will go a LONG way toward who our children will become.  That being said there are many influences in the world that are forever working to subvert what we believe and have taught.  The television and entertainment industries might be our families’ greatest enemies.  There is clearly open warfare for the minds and souls of our kids.  And with both parents working and the hectic nature of our world, who has the energy to be constantly vigilant?  I would say by the behavior of our kids on too many occasions… not many of us.  I fear that we raise our kids on autopilot.  We just assume that since they live in the same house we do, they will pick up on what we believe and will naturally incorporate those values into their lives.  They will make mature decisions and surely will not behave like “other kids.”  Seriously!?  If you believe that (and most of us do) then you are not paying attention.  Children ARE like wet cement.  They need hands on direction and teaching from their parents and grandparents.  They need adults in their lives who will not just model from afar but who will speak to them about values.  But maybe more importantly… they need adults who will LISTEN to them without lectures.

Serious question… what will you teach your children and grandchildren about Christmas in the next few weeks? Will you passively stand by hoping that they pick up what you believe?  Will you assume that a once a year Christmas Eve service will do the trick?  Or will you intentionally tell them about the faith that has been important to you since your own childhood?  I’m all about modeling but frankly, it only goes so far.

Teach your kids… PLEASE.

Before I go,I have to confess that for much of my life I thought there was a kind of plant called a “partraginapear” tree. I had no clue that the song was about a bird in a fruit tree.  Sigh…

Blessings.

Thanksgiving

November 21, 2017

A few days ago on my way to the hospital to see a church member I stopped at a local convenience store. I got one of their fountain drinks that are too big for any one mammal.  Do you know what I mean?  They advertise “same price for any size drink.”  Well, I don’t NEED to get the largest “barrel sized” drink, but I guess my Scottish heritage compels me to do so.  I mean, why would I get a medium sized drink that has more than enough pop in it when I can get an elephant sized one so that I have plenty to waste… all for the same price?  Duh!  Anyway, you know those cups that the drinks come in?  They are plastic with a plastic lid that fits snuggly over the top of the container.  Then you insert a straw into the cup through the plastic lid.  “Easy peasy!”  So I climbed into the car with my 3 gallons of carbonated drink and proceeded to drop the cup onto the floor of my van upside down.  Miracle of miracles… not a drop came out.  It literally landed on its top and not one drip or trickle of “good old Mountain Dew” was on my carpet.  I picked it up with a sigh of relief and thanksgiving and began to suck on the straw… GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?!  When the drink landed on its top the straw bent sideways and cracked so when I went to inhale my bucket of pop, the straw wouldn’t work!  I was so aggravated!  The straw was broken!  It ruined my whole day.  This by the way falls under the category of “Some people are NEVER satisfied.”  Do you know what I mean?

Let me be clear here and say that some people have more than their share of hardship. However, for too many of us, we complain and moan about our lives when we have been nothing but blessed.  Nothing!  We all know people who answer the phone like they just lost their best friend… and that’s when they’re happy!  And these are people who are part of the most blessed group of people who have EVER lived in the entire history of humanity.  Blessedness and Joy are all wrapped together.  Below are a few quotes from “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg along with a few others.

“And I need to learn. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings. The reason for this is worth pondering awhile. Joy is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of joy in human life until we understand its importance to God. I suspect that most of us seriously underestimate God’s capacity for joy.”

“We will not understand God until we understand this about him: ‘God is the happiest being in the universe.’”

“The Bible puts joy in the nonoptional category. Joy is a command. Joylessness is a serious sin, one that religious people are particularly prone to indulge in.”

“How much damage have joyless Christians done to the cause of Christ?”

And

“To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for our existence.” -Lewis Smedes

And

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” -C.S. Lewis

Please understand I am not implying that we ought to slap a smile onto our faces in the most dire of circumstances. That is just silly and naïve.  But I think when folks remember us they ought to recall us as people of joy and gratitude.  Not angry complainers and whiners who never seem to be grateful for anything.  Or those who always find the negative in the midst of joyous occasions.  Do you remember that at a time and place in history the SON OF GOD WENT TO A CROSS FOR YOU?  DO YOU?

It is my hope and prayer that when you gather with friends and family tomorrow or in the weeks ahead that you exude joy and gratitude. Part of the benefit?  It’s contagious!

Have a joy filled Thanksgiving!

Colossians 3:15 – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Philippians 4 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

P.S. Do I need to mention that the first paragraph is written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek?

Being Jesus?

November 14, 2017

Ruminations

I was ordained into the “professional ministry” on October 21st 1984 at the age of 30.  I felt anything but prepared.  Feelings of inadequacy surged through my veins at the thought of being a “minister.”  Honestly… they still do.  I so deeply respected the ministers whom I had known that the notion of sullying their profession was overwhelming.  That’s not to say I “liked” all of them… just respected them. The thoughts of incompetence far outweighed the moments of clarity and experience.  No one in seminary told me it would be like that.  I had been called to Ross Community Presbyterian Church a few weeks before my ordination and the service of laying on of hands was the culmination of years of education, but little training in being a pastor.

Not long after October 21st I got a call that the husband of a faithful member of the church had been admitted into the hospital having had a serious heart attack.  He was a member of the church as well, but had not attended in years.  Such is the case with too many spouses, men in particular.  I had little, if any, experience with visiting anyone in the hospital and NO experience with intensive care.  Back then the ICU was very different from what it is now.  There were no televisions, newspapers, radios, books, calendars or clocks allowed.  Patients lay for hour after hour, day after day with no idea of the time, the date or any current events.  I think the idea was to keep them calm and allow for no excitement or stress.

The man I went to visit was named Bill, like myself.  I had never met him before, so I had to ask a nurse which cubical was his.  When I walked in, I introduced myself as the new pastor.  It was just awkward from there.  Very awkward.  Did I mention that it was awkward?  He was very weak and hard to understand with the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.  I don’t really think he wanted to talk anyway.  I stayed for only a few minutes and then tried to graciously excuse myself because, like I said, it was awkward.

I had no idea how often I was supposed to visit him… another thing we never discussed in Seminary.  Every day?  Every other day?  Twice a week?  I just didn’t know.  Concerned that I might fall short of expectations, I visited him every day for over a month and prayed with him on each visit.  To this day I have no idea what people expect regarding the pastor and visits to the hospital.  I have no formula other than, the more severe the illness, the more regular the visits.  Distance is also a factor.  I once visited a church member in Franklin PA and another in Jamestown NY but only once.  I walked/visited with Bill through the intensive care unit to the step down unit (also new to me), until finally he was transferred into a regular room.  After a few weeks it got less awkward.  Did I happen to mention that it was very awkward at first?  Anyway, I learned about his life and his profession.  He had been raised in the church, but grew disenchanted and dropped out.  He had even been a Deacon at one time.  He was retired from a job with the county and was old enough to be my father.  That in itself made it awkward for me.  I am reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4: 12: Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

I dropped in one day and the first thing he said was, “I’m going home.”  And then he said these words, “Thank you for all that you have done.” I was confused and naively responded, “I haven’t done anything.”  He then looked at me with a very serious and puzzled look on his face and said, “You don’t get it, do you?”  I think I may have said, “Get what?”  He responded with these words that have rattled around in my head for over 30 years.  “When you come into my room, Jesus walks into my room!”  Honestly even now I have tears just typing that.  I had no words.  What does one say to that?  Please understand I know he was not likening me to Jesus.  He was trying to say that I represented the presence of Jesus when I visited him.  Over 33 years later and I still have no response to that.  Not many of us get the privilege of being in that position.  Or the honor.  Or the burden.  I am a poor substitute or representative for Jesus.  And yet I get the opportunity to walk with people down a path into His presence… if they want to.

The truth is, there are many more failures over the past 33 years than there are successes.  I’m sure that too many would say I drove them away from Jesus.  They might say that I am a poor representative of the Lord of the Universe.  For that I grieve, daily.  No lie.

Back in those early years I used to wear a clerical collar on occasion  It was in the days when I thought being identified with clergy and being called “Reverend” was… cool.  And it gave me a status that pleased me and in some ways put me above others.  I know… I’m sorry.  There was also the additional bonus of being able to go anywhere in a hospital without being questioned.  I care little for those things any longer.  I avoid anyone knowing I am a minister in strange company.  Why?  Because as soon as they discover a minister is in the room, their honesty, sincerity and vulnerability go right out the window.  And honestly, I don’t want to hang out with phonies all day!  I would hope we/I would be able to represent Jesus without the outward formalities of our “religious positions.”  Maybe a day will come when someone will say that when I walked into a room Jesus walked in, but they won’t know I’m a minister.  I can only hope.

I should add that Bill regularly attended worship after his time in the hospital.  He was still there when I left 12 years later.

Blessings.