Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cletus and the Frozen Pipes

A few weeks ago Vickie and I went up to Nelson County to get some apples. For a number of years we’ve enjoyed eating at The Lovingston Café and so after our time at the orchard we stopped at the café for lunch.

I struck up a conversation with a man at an adjacent table who was down from Pittsburg for the weekend. Then, as the waitress was taking our order she and I talked about the weather.

She said, “Last winter it was so cold that our pipes running under the concrete slab of our house froze. I sure hope this winter isn’t so cold.”

I said, “Well, at least you didn’t do what my cousin Cletus did last winter. His house is also built on a slab with the pipes beneath the slab. Because he was afraid that his pipes would freeze he built a fire on his floor to keep them warm. The problem was that he burned his house down.”

“Oh my,” the waitress replied, “our problem wasn’t that bad.”

Later on, as the visitor from Pittsburg rose to leave I said, “Enjoy your trip.”

He responded, “Thanks; and I’ll be thinking about your cousin.”

I wonder if the folks up in Pittsburg are talking about my cousin Cletus. Come to think of it I wonder if the folks in Nelson County are talking about him too.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I hope that this will be a sweet day of thanksgiving and blessing for you as we give thanks for the goodness of our kind heavenly Father, who makes His sun shine on all of us whether we acknowledge Him or not, and who sends His rain of refreshing on us all whether we acknowledge its source or not. 

As He is a blessing to us may we learn to be a blessing to others in our Lord Jesus - as Black Friday intrudes even upon Thanksgiving...may we be givers and not consumers. Nothing we can buy tonight or tomorrow can fulfill our greatest hunger or the hunger of those we love - only our Lord Jesus can do that - may we intentionally share Him with others as we enter into Advent.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Salivation and Black Friday

A runny nose is one thing, excessive salivation is another. We normally associate a runny nose with having a cold; salivation is often associated with a stroke or madness. People do not normally salivate excessively; it is abnormal for entire populations to excessively salivate - at least it once was abnormal...but no more. 

We have friends and coworkers excessively salivating, communities salivating, an entire nation salivating - our excessive salivating puts Pavlov's dogs to shame - they produce a trickle of salivation compared to our Niagara. 

Like Pavlov's dogs we have been conditioned; as Black Friday approaches our habits change, our Thanksgiving changes from what it once was, our time with family changes, our spending changes. We think we are smart by taking advantage of Black Friday "savings", we think we are even smarter by taking advantage of Black Friday sales that begin on Thanksgiving - no matter that this means we pay lip service  (or stomach service) to Thanksgiving, no matter that others must work so that we can gorge on materialism. 

We think we are smart, but our excessive salivation reveals that we are but following in the paw prints of Pavlov's doubt they thought they were smart too. Considering that Pavlov's dogs were few but we are many...perhaps we are more akin to a pack of rats. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Foxes at Play; A Glimpse of Heaven, A Taste of Joy

Early one morning, as the fog hovered just above the trees, I was riding my motorcycle outside Huntington, MA, heading north, when coming around a curve I saw a mother fox and her kits playing in the road. It was a fleeting scene, for my presence caused them to flee; only a moment or two – but it was a lasting moment. The joy of the mother and pups running in circles and jumping brought joy to my heart. The early-morning ride occurred some fourteen or fifteen years ago, but the memory still brings joy and pleasure to me.

I remember how the rest of my ride that day was flavored with the delight of seeing the foxes and how I couldn’t wait to share my experience with Vickie.

This past Monday morning there were three adolescent foxes playing in our backyard; running in circles, jumping on each other, rolling over, leaping into piles of leaves – but this time, as Vickie and I enjoyed watching them, it was not a fleeting moment as it was outside Huntington, MA, but at least forty-five minutes of wonder, forty-five minutes of delight, forty-five minutes of a glimpse of heaven. Innocence at play is a preview of heaven, and perhaps nowhere do we see such innocence as in creation that has yet to encounter the hand of man and the general decay of the earth in its fallen condition.

Jesus wants His joy to be in us and He wants our joy to be full (John 15:11; 17:13) – this is not a joy of passing euphoria, but a joy that transcends circumstances and the vicissitudes of life; it is a joy of innocence, a joy without guile – rather simplistic it may seem, yet profound in actuality; profound because its source is God – not the trite little gods of temporal pleasure and narcissism and materialism – but the God who created and redeemed us to be His sons and daughters.

If earthly parents take pleasure in playing with their children – how much more does our heavenly Father look forward to playing with us?  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sealcoating Contractors – the Great Cover-up

Three times sealcoating contractors have stopped by our home to give us pricing on coating our asphalt driveway. Each time, had I said “yes” we would have wasted our money. They all stopped because they saw either Vickie or me outside – I wonder if the fact that we are “senior citizens” had anything to do with their attempt to separate us from our money.

The last time was typical. The contractor stops, says he is doing work in the immediate area, notices that our driveway needs sealing (which it does), and asks if he can give us a price. I say “yes” and he then measures the driveway and tells me the price. I tell him that I’m going to get other bids, he then says that if I do the work today that he’ll give me a special price, which turns out to be around $500.00 lower than his first price; he tells me his boss (who is not with him) will only allow him to give me the “special” if the work is done today. I thank the contractor and tell him I’ll wait to get bids.

What none of the contractors tell me, but which I know from being in property management, is that there are two sections of our driveway that need repair and that sealcoating these sections will only mask what will become a serious problem if not corrected. If the repairs are not done soon the problem areas will grow and our driveway will be undermined – costing us thousands of dollars to dig out and fill with new asphalt. Sealcoating may make the driveway look good in the short term but a day of reckoning will come.

We had a reputable contractor come and repair the problem areas and next spring he’ll be back and sealcoat our driveway to protect the asphalt – it was too late in the year for the sealcoating to have worked well – the reputable contractor did not want us to waste our money.

One of the great disciplines of life is that of not glossing over our sins – whether individual or collective. When I was younger I was engaged in one great sealcoating project in my own life, I ignored problem areas in my character by pouring religious sealcoating on them in the forms of emotions and new teachings and new experiences and action…lots of action. A moving target is hard to hit, a life in perpetual motion is a life not likely to stand still under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. The teaching I exposed myself to was designed to make me feel good, the music and lyrics were geared to make me feel good; I had little, if any, awareness of my narcissism, a narcissism nurtured and unchallenged by my popular Christian environment.

Another way to state the above discipline is to say that one of the great disciplines of life is to allow the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to examine our hearts and minds on an ongoing basis, to submit to Christ in repentance to the conviction of sin and unrighteousness and character defects that God’s Word and the Holy Spirit reveal in us. To say with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139:23 – 24).  

We need to know who we are in Christ, we need to know our identity in Him and to know that the Trinity lives within us – but we also need to know that the Trinity does not come to us in order to gloss over sin, for Christ Jesus came to atone for our sins and became the object of Divine judgment on our behalf, bearing our sins on the Cross. To gloss over my sin is to gloss over the death of Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of sealcoating messages in the church world, promising us a good price today if we will only avail ourselves of today’s “special” – they lead to eventual ruin.

Is there something in my life today that I am glossing over? 

What about you? 

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account,” (Hebrews 4:12 – 13). 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Warranty and Salvation Scams

Today I received an envelope that proclaimed, above my name and address: WARNING: $2000 FINE, 5 YEARS IMPRISONMENT, OR BOTH FOR ANY PERSON INTERFERING OR OBSTRUCTING WITH DELIVERY OF THIS LETTER. U.S. MAIL, TTT.18 US. CODE.

It also had the make, model, and year of one of our cars. When I opened the envelope I was greeted with: IMPORTANT VEHICEL PROTECTION INFORMATION – PLEASE CALL IMMEDIATELY (and then a phone number).

I was then informed that my vehicle’s warranty had expired and that unless I wanted to take the risk of significant out-of-pocket expenses that I had better call the number and purchase protection. I wonder how many consumers call the number. I wonder how many owners of my particular make and model and year vehicle call the number. I hope none do because my vehicle has a 100,000 mile warranty and it would be a waste of money to purchase protection for a car that is already protected. Plus, why would I care to do business with a firm that uses deceptive business practices? But people must buy into the scam – otherwise why would they send these mailings?

I see the same thing in the church world, people think they have to add something to the Gospel, add something to the word of Jesus Christ, add something to secure their salvation. They seem to think that the warranty that comes with Jesus Christ is going to expire, that God’s grace and mercy in Christ is not good for the long haul.

The Galatians thought they needed to add religious works to secure God’s warranty, and Paul writes, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3).

The Colossians seemed to want to cover all the bases, they were into keeping the Law, and dabbling with pseudo angels; if legalism wasn’t the trick then there was always Gnosticism (New Age). (See Colossians Chapter Two).

And the Corinthians! From sectarianism to false apostles to undue emphasis given to certain gifts, they were all over the board.

Why isn’t Jesus enough for us? Why do we insist on adding something to His Person and work? Why do we let people convince us that they have something to add to what Jesus has done? Why do Christians buy into religious scams that claim to make their heavenly warranty secure?

I knew the mailing I received was bogus because I’ve read the warranty on my car. Oh I wish Christians would read their Bibles and talk to one another about the Scriptures – we would be a lot less likely to buy into the next spiritual warranty that comes in the mailbox of life, that seeks to replace or supplement our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mom says, “Don’t Play with the Toys; Just Watch Me.”

I’ve never watched Breaking Bad, a series about a drug-dealing chemistry teacher, so I didn’t know what the fuss was about when Toys R Us started selling Breaking Bad figurines complete with fake drugs. Once I learned what the show was about it seemed straight forward that a store catering to children is no place to promote drugs. (Even as I write this I realize that Toys R Us probably sells video games with content not fit for humans – be they children or adults).

Then I read an article about the mother who launched the online petition requesting that the store pull the items from its shelves – which it did, at least temporarily. Toys R Us said in a statement, “Let’s just say the action figures have taken an ‘indefinite sabbatical’.”

The mother, it turns out, is a fan of the show. She told television station WFTX of Fort Meyers, FL that she likes Breaking Bad, but seeing the action figures in Toys R Us was just too much. She is quoted as saying, “Kids mimic their action figures, if you will…do you want your child in an orange jumpsuit?”

Doesn’t the woman think that kids mimic their parents too? What are they going to think when they see their mother or other trusted adult watching a teacher dealing drugs?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ebola and Service – III

One of the challenging elements of the Ebola crisis has been the sacrificial service of caregivers – it is challenging in that it prompts the question, “Would I go and serve in Ebola affected areas if asked to do so? Would I go if I had medical qualifications to serve?”

One American caregiver was asked prior to leaving for Africa why she was putting her life at risk; in fact her family was opposed to her going. Her reply was that she had been raised to serve others and she had been medically trained to serve others – how could she not go? To not go would be to betray her life.

Whether it is the Ebola outbreak in Africa or health care workers in Asia administering polio vaccine at great risk to their lives from terrorists, the sacrificial nature of these men and women should challenge all of us – especially those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus – what we consider “risk” and what these brave women and men consider “risk” are often worlds apart. We think it risky to get to know our neighbors; we consider it a risk to extend ourselves to those less fortunate who live within a thirty-minute drive of our homes; we think it risky to share the Good News of Jesus with a coworker. Sad to say, but we often think it risky when we try to get to know someone within our own church.

The early Christians were known for serving those with plague and disease when they were abandoned by others…at great risk to their own lives. But isn’t that at the heart of the Gospel, isn’t that at the heart of a life lived in Christ? There is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friend…or for his enemy. After all, when we were enemies of God Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-11).

If we will follow Jesus then we must know that we are called to serve others holistically – spirit, soul, heart, mind, and body. To eliminate the body from this equation is to make ourselves more spiritual than God for it is to spiritualize away the many Biblical commands to serve others with healing, with deliverance from demons, and with food and shelter. If we will follow Jesus then we must acknowledge that we are called to lay our lives down and that not to do so is to betray the life of Christ within us. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola and Sin - II

Despite the best efforts of well-meaning people in the areas of protection, Ebola has spread. Perhaps some of those so confident that the virus would not spread trusted uncritically in protocol; maybe there was even the occasional smug person in the group that assured us that Ebola would not spread in the United States. Maybe some of our medical leaders told us what they thought they needed to tell us to calm us – or even to preserve their own positions.

In my own life, whenever I’m become smug and complacent toward sin I’ve been taken aback by the force of sin. Whenever I’ve thought that I was impervious to sin I’ve been laid low by sin. No pastor or brother in Christ has ever done me a favor by ignoring or downplaying the reality of sin. And yet I’ve been in Christian churches where I seldom heard about sin, instead the focus has been on making me feel good. That is like care givers telling an Ebola patient that all he needs to do is eat ice cream and pizza and then he’ll feel better and because he feels better all will be well. An accurate diagnosis, no matter how terrible it may be, sure beats a panacea. Sugar pills, whether dispensed by doctors or preachers, constitute malpractice.

I note that the “buddy system” has been implemented among health care workers dealing with Ebola. They help each other suit up, disinfect, and remove their protective gear – it’s a team effort. They look out for one another. Isn’t that the way it ought to be among God’s people? We need one another for encouragement, for grace, and for diagnostics. We are to confess our faults to one another, we are to pray for one another, and we are to forgive one another. We are to make sure that our brother or sister isn’t exposed to spiritual toxins, and if we see that they are in danger we are to graciously serve them – not browbeat them, but protect them.

To be continued…

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola and Sin - I

I’m sure many are making comparisons between Ebola and sin; not that those who have Ebola have it because they have engaged in a particular sin or are the particular focus of some divine judgment, but rather that our responses to Ebola and sin have much in common.

There is the “that is them and they aren’t us” attitude. West African isn’t North America and we aren’t going to get involved…at least we’re aren’t getting involved until Ebola becomes a threat to us. How often do we see others mired in sin and hopelessness and think, “They deserve it,” or “There’s nothing I can do to help,” or “I have nothing in common with them”? Our sin is respectable sin and the sin of others is coarse – they might at least have the common sense to engage in socially acceptable sin.

It appears that our government has known about Ebola in West Africa since March, it’s now October; it is only when it has become a threat to us that we’ve responded. Now we’re told that we need to go to war against Ebola. Would that the church would go to war against sin in its midst, against sin and uncleanness in our hearts and minds and checkbooks and economics and entertainment and language. Would that the church would go to war against the sin of self-preservation and selfishness and shoddy self-centered theology and cold heartedness toward our neighbors.

To be continued…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Two Seasons

Two seasons are drawing to a close. One is gardening and the other is baseball. We are still harvesting from the garden, there are still green beans and squash and peppers and even a couple green tomatoes. I say "still" because it's mid-October and this is all a bonus from God.

There is something about working the soil, preparing it, planting, nurturing the plants, keeping a watchful eye out for disease and harmful bugs; and then there is the firstfruit - it is an event - that first tomato or bean or eggplant. I can see how ancient Israel was encouraged to offer its firstfruits to God as an acknowledgement that it all comes from Him and that He is able to provide for us throughout the seasons of life. 

On the baseball season...well it was nice to see both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles in the playoffs. Having grown up in the D.C. area I continue to keep an eye on the forlorn hope that a Washington baseball team will win the World Series in my lifetime. In the 1960s it was cruel to see the Senators move to Minnesota and then shortly thereafter play in the Word Series; even though they lost to the Dodgers it would have been sweet to see the Senators in the World Series; the Minnesota Twins would later win the Series in 1987 and 1991. Alas this year neither the O's or the Nats could make it happen much beyond the regular season - but they did have very good seasons. I guess just like continuing to harvest tomatoes and beans and peppers in mid-October is a bonus, so it's a bonus to continue to win baseball games well into October. In both instances it's good to still be in the game as the leaves are changing color. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Amazing Comfort

Yesterday Vickie and I went to a memorial service; it was in memory of a son a friend of ours lost - he died two weeks ago. During the service Patrick's mother, Sarah, came to the front to address those gathered; among them were Patrick's brother, his sister, his father, and friends from childhood to the present day. 

Sarah began by saying, "I want you all to be comforted." She proceeded to talk of the love and grace of our Lord Jesus and of Christ being with Patrick through his many struggles. Her words no doubt prepared the way for Dulany Washington, a long-time pastoral friend, to bring a message of hope and challenge in Jesus Christ. 

It was amazing to hear our friend Sarah, in the midst of her own pain and shock, concerned that those gathered before her would be comforted and would come to know Jesus Christ. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

You Could Have Had a Nice Time

I was talking to my friend Stan who just got back with his wife from visiting his son’s family in Croatia. Just before they left his wife accepted a new job that required a move, just before they left they sold their home and purchased another. The new job and the move were both scheduled to occur just days after their return.

Stan said, “Judy had a great time in Croatia. I had a good time too but I kept thinking about both houses closing and the move – so I worried while we were gone. When we got back everything fell into place, God can make it all so easy – my worry was for nothing.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I worry about things too, always have. I think when I get to heaven that Jesus might say, “You know Bob, you could have had a really nice time down there. You didn’t have to worry.”

Matthew 6:25 – 34.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Jeremiah 6:22, “Thus says Yahweh: Behold a people comes from the north country, and a great nation will be raised from the farthest parts of the earth. They will lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy…”

I think of Biblical images of cruelty when I think of conflicts across the world; cruelty that shocks many, cruelty that propagates fear, cruelty that produces paralysis. Is there so much cruelty and violence in our own entertainment and manner of life, is there such a degree of callousness, that we no longer possess the collective will to respond when cruelty is perpetrated on others…whether at home or abroad?

We speak of “national interest”, but if the defense of the defenseless is not in our moral and ethical national interest then what is? To acquiesce in evil is moral suicide.

Disable a ship’s rudder and it is at the mercy of the ocean’s currents; destroy a nation’s morality and it is at the mercy of current events. We have no strategy, we have no vision, for we have no morals, no character, no virtue. We cannot resist cruelty for we have no foundation for courage.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some…[will have] their own conscience seared with a hot iron,” 1 Timothy 4. While the context of this verse is “departing from the faith”, if those associated with faith fall away and have such consciences, what about the rest of society? And as Peter writes in his first letter, if judgment begins with the house of God, what of those who reject the Gospel?

Cruelty is frightening when it ceases to stir courage. A nation without a moral backbone can no longer stand up straight. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Victoria Osteen

Did Victoria Osteen say something we didn’t already know and practice? Or was her misstep the fact that she was blatant about the fact that we attend church for our own benefit, in order to have our needs and wants satisfied?

Where are the churches that preach and practice the self-denial of the Cross of Christ and the laying down of one’s life for others?

Yes, in Jesus Christ we can have fullness and fulfillment – but we find that when we obey His commandments, we find that when He is the center of our lives.

Let’s give Mrs. Osteen an “A” for honesty. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Stock Market as a Measure of Society?

Turn on the news and you’re sure to get an update on the financial markets. At the end of the day you are guaranteed to be told how the DOW finished the day, how many winners and losers there were, and how many shares were traded.

I’d like to know how many hungry people were fed, how many homeless were sheltered, how many unemployed found jobs with wages that can support their families, and how many uninsured found medical treatment. I’d also like to know how many abandoned elderly were visited and cared for, how many families escaped abortion, and how many children found safe homes.

When economics becomes the measure by which all other things are measured, everything is for sale: government, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, education, ethics, morality, heath care…life. Indeed, when economics becomes the benchmark then the entire nation and its people are for sale.

Monday, September 1, 2014

World War I and the Middle East Today, and other Observations

It is ironic that in August 1914 World War I began and in August 2014 we are reaping the fruit of post-World War I decision making by the Allies at Versailles. Britain and France wanted parts of the Ottoman Empire so they created artificial nations over whom they planned to exert influence. So much for influence; short-term gain often results in long-term pain.

The American founding fathers avoided dealing with slavery; they took the expedient way out. Their gift was not only untold suffering by African-Americans, it was also the gift of the Civil War. Short-term gain, in this case avoidance, often results in long-term pain (pain which we are still suffering).

One difference between Vladimir Putin and the West is that Putin believes in something, whether we call it a Greater Russia, or self-deification; the West doesn’t believe in anything worth dying for – or perhaps anything worth jeopardizing its economy for. The Russians have a high threshold for pain, the mantra of the West is to avoid pain – we are a culture of self-medication (no wonder we have a therapeutic church!)

One society may be in authoritarian shackles; another society may be in the shackles of pleasure and hedonism – I think it might be easier to find God through pain than pleasure.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Selling Jesus, Marketing Sheep and Doves

I wanted a Biblically-oriented greeting card so I went to the Jesus merchandise store, part of a national chain. Why do I do this? Maybe I’ve learned my lesson.

As I browsed the cards I overhead an interchange between a cashier and a customer.

Cashier, “Would you like to purchase this CD with excerpts from Christopher Christian’s ten top-selling books?”

Customer, “No thanks.”

Cashier, “We also have this great CD on sale with music inspired by Christine Christian’s latest speaking tour?”

Customer, “No thanks.”

Cashier, “And then there is this CD, available today, of inspirational thoughts to draw you closer to God recorded by well-known preachers, teachers, and vocal artists.”

Customer, “No thanks.”

Cashier, “Can we put you on our email list?”

Customer, “Sure.”

I thought about leaving the store without purchasing a card. “Am I at McDonald’s?” I wondered. Talk about selling. I expect the folks at the Hallmark store to offer me one item on “special” when I checkout, but three items? That’s over the top.

I made it through the sales transaction, knowing what to expect and saying “no” to everything – other than a pitch to purchase a Bible for a prison ministry, I did do that after I read about the ministry.

I realize that stores have to make money to stay in business, but really, pitching numerous “special” items at a checkout register at a Christian bookstore is one of the many things that turns such a bookstore into a Jesus merchandise shop.

Is there much difference between a Jesus merchandise shop and an NFL store? They are both about logos, favorite players (popular Christian authors, preachers, singers, etc.), excitement, and what’s trendy.

Trend with the world, die with the world. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

German Johnson Tomatoes

About a week ago I saw a large pink tomato at the bottom of one of our plants; its size was perfect for BLTs, just perfect. Since it wasn’t red I was afraid to pick it – better to let it fully ripen. A couple of days ago I asked Vickie to check it to see what she thought. She looked at it, noticed it was beginning to rot on the bottom, and went online to see what German Johnson tomatoes look like when they are ripe…they look pink.

I harvested the tomato and after cutting away the rotten part we had enough for two BLTs. Now we know to look for pink and not red on our German Johnson tomato plants.

How often do we expect people to look the same as they mature? How often do we fail to appreciate the nuances and differences in people and thereby fail to appreciate the gifts and graces and insights that others may bring to our congregations, communities, and business organizations? Had Vickie not checked to see what German Johnson tomatoes look like when ripe we would have allowed much fruit to rot on the vine. How much fruit do we allow to rot in the lives of others because we expect everyone to look the same, act the same, respond the same? How much fruit does God produce in the lives of others that we disregard? 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fruit and Blossoms

We’ve been picking pole beans the past few weeks, along with squash, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. Hopefully we’ll soon be harvesting various varieties of full-sized tomatoes.

As I was picking pole beans yesterday I was mindful not to disturb the blossoms adjacent to the mature fruit, something easy to do. Rough handling when picking fruit can dislodge blossoms and falling blossoms represent lost fruit.

I thought about caring for people. Just as a tower of pole beans (we use rectangular towers to grow our pole beans) contains fruit in various stages of maturation, so congregations, small groups, and Sunday schools contain people in various stages of growth. A wise gardener is aware of mature fruit, blossoms, and every stage of growth in-between. A foolish gardener only pays attention to mature fruit, by doing so he or she forfeits future fruit. The firstfruit of a plant is exactly that, the firstfruit; it is not the full harvest. Yet, how many times do we settle for immediate fruit, take what we can get, damage blossoms in the process, and then wonder why there isn’t greater result in ministry?

I need to pay attention to the blossoms, I need to pay attention to areas of the plant that have yet to blossom, I need to harvest the mature fruit (harvesting encourages growth) and I need to be aware of maturing fruit – not picking it too early and not picking it too late. A healthy tower of pole beans will have, at some point, parts of the plant in each area of growth.   

Friday, June 27, 2014

Prayer Request for Harry and Elaine

Yesterday was a bittersweet birthday for me; it was sweet in that I enjoyed another day of life with Vickie and received kind wishes from friends and coworkers; it was bitter in that I learned that my friend Harry Hanger was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. When I read Harry’s email around 10:00 AM it took my breath away. Yet another reminder of how fragile life is.

I know, in a measure, how much Harry looked forward to many years of enjoying his children and grandchildren with Elaine. I know how he cherishes his life with Elaine.

I hope you will pray for Harry and Elaine as they walk through this season of life together in our Lord Jesus. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Expecting the King

Last Sunday in church, prior to the start of the service, the pastor came up to Vickie and me and said, “You’re always here early.” After he left us I said to Vickie, “If people thought that Queen Elizabeth was going to be here everyone would be early.”

Do we believe that when we gather we gather before the King? 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weeds, Roots, and Sun

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been weeding raised beds in our vegetable garden in preparation for planting. After weeding we need to add new soil to bring soil levels up to where we want them for planting. I use a nifty little tool with a razor-sharp blade for cutting the roots of weeds - you've got to get to the roots to deal with weeds.

There were two types of weeds growing in the beds, some with deep roots and others with smaller roots. Using my weeding tool I got to the bottom of the deep-rooted weeds and pulled them out of the beds, discarding them on the walkway where the sun would kill them. The smaller weeds with shallow roots were so numerous that I couldn't pick them out individually; I used my blade to cut a swath of roots and bring them above ground - leaving them on top of the beds for the sun to kill. Had I not allowed the sun to do its work, had I immediately put new soil on top of the weeds, many of weeds would have had soil to reestablish their roots - the sun had to do its work before I put new soil in the beds. 

As I weeded I pondered sin. Just as the sun was needed to kill the roots of weeds, so the roots of sin need exposure to the light of the Son of God to be killed and rendered ineffective in our lives. A passing acknowledgement of sin is not enough, that is akin to throwing soil with nutrients on top of the roots of weeds, it covers up the problem, it spares sin and sinners from the sentence of death. To hide sin is to nurture sin, to hide ourselves from the light of Jesus Christ is to allow the deceptive roots of darkness to entwine themselves in and around our hearts and minds. Our lives were not created to be gardens with weeds and thorns; most of us don't realize that. We're often taught that weeds are the norm, that thorns "are what they are" and we have to accept them and make the best of life. We are taught (metaphorically) to celebrate weeds and thorns and vines that choke the life out of our lives and destroy relationships with others.

If our raised beds could talk they would say, "Weed us! Thank you for weeding us!" And they would tell us that they know that as a result of weeding that they will bear much fruit - life will be so much easier for the good plants with the weeds gone. A garden who cares for his or her garden is a gardener who weeds. 

Our heavenly Gardener loves His creation, He loves the men and women and children He created - even though they prefer weeds, even though His original garden was not good enough for them. We don't like to see Him coming, we don't like His weeding, we don't appreciate Him telling us the difference between a weed and a life-giving fruitful plant. We so often prefer that He keep His hands to Himself - if He must work in a garden let it be someone else's. 

Perhaps this is, in a measure, why the Bible is a foreign book to many professing Christians. Perhaps this is why our culture endorses weeds rather than righteousness.

"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12 - 13).  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Poison Ivy and Sin

Yesterday Vickie and I were working in our vegetable garden. As I was weeding raised beds in preparation for planting Vickie said, "Before I go let me show you something." At first I was mildly irritated that I had to stop what I was doing and walk over to where she was - I was just getting into my work groove and when I get like that I don't want to stop...but hey...she's Eve and I'm Adam and we're in this together so I stopped and went over to the bed where she was standing.

"I wanted to show you this," she said, pointing down to two small plants. "This is poison ivy, I didn't want you to get over here weeding and not see them."

"Thanks," I replied, knowing that if she hadn't pointed them out I would have not have seen them.  I am highly allergic to poison ivy.

Why is it I'm thankful when someone points out poison ivy but not particularly thankful when someone points out sin in my life? Why am I grateful when someone spares me poison-ivy misery but can be resentful when someone suggests I reconsider an attitude or action? 

Only a fool would ignore a poison-ivy warning; the book of Proverbs (in the Bible) teaches again and again that the wise person heeds correction, reproof, and advice and that the foolish person rejects wisdom and correction - going on his or her merry and foolish way. I am aware that some folks are immune to poison ivy, I am also aware that other folks think they are immune from the results of sin - the Bible is clear on that point, "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). As a Christian there have been times I thought I was immune from sin...what a fool I was. 

As much as I want to avoid poison ivy, I want to avoid sin even more. I want to live in union with God in Jesus Christ, in harmony with His people, and I want to be a blessing to all those around me. I can hardly do that if the poison of sin has infected my life.

"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one anther, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." [1 John 1:7 - 9].

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Daisy Mae

I looked out the window this morning, holding my piece of toast, ready for the last couple of bites before going upstairs to shower and dress for work. The creek bordering our rear property line was high with a strong current flowing from three days of rain. Something caught my eye on the lip of the embankment, it was at a crook in the creek just before the downed tree spanning the south and north banks. It was a dog desperately trying to crawl out of the water onto dry land, it was in distress and it couldn’t make it.

Down on the kitchen counter went my toast, I went down to the garage, slipped into my gardening shoes, and out the back I went in my pajamas. The white dog with brown spots was frantically trying to pull itself out, but its hind legs kept slipping on the muddy embankment. Into the creek I went, grabbed the dog by its hind quarters, and lifted it out of what was likely certain death – the poor thing was exhausted. If it hadn’t been on the tall side it may have drowned – how long had it struggled?

I asked it to come with me up to the house, it balked until I spoke “dog” to it, then it followed. Dog people know what it is to speak “dog”, it’s a certain tone of voice that translates English, or any native language, into the universal language of dogs.

It trusted me into our storage room. I turned the light on and left it for a few minutes and then returned with bedding, food, and water.

My pajamas were cold and wet with leaves and debris from the creek on them, the water was almost up to my knees. I put them in the washer and went upstairs to get ready for work, mentioning to Vickie in passing that I’d had an adventure – which I explained to her before leaving the house. Also, before I left for work, when we prayed we prayed that the dog would be returned to her home.

The dog had a collar but no ID or dog tags, so Vickie said she’d call the county animal control people.

Around 9:30 the animal control officer showed up. On his way to our home he saw posters on trees and poles with a description of a missing dog named Daisy Mae. He asked our house guest, “Are you Daisy Mae?” Even though he spoke “dog” the dog didn’t answer him. He put the dog in his truck, drove to the end of our driveway, and was met by a lady in an SUV who stopped and got out of her vehicle.

“Do you have my dog?” she asked. “I’m looking for Daisy Mae.”

Sure enough, it was Daisy Mae I’d pulled from the creek. The lady thanked the officer and Vickie, and put Daisy Mae in her SUV where she was greeted by a Lab excited to see her dog sister back. Daisy Mae lived down the road a piece so she’d been doing some traveling during her four days on the run – I wonder if she had been up-creek and swept down by the strong current? How much longer could she have held out on the embankment?

I haven’t written anything in a while, not much blogging lately – this seemed to be a good reason to get the keyboard out.

I must say that it was a nice way to start the day and we’re thankful Daisy Mae got home. There is so much misery in the world, including the animal kingdom, that’s it nice to do a little something to help people and animals along. It's also great to see prayers answered.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Strawberries and Weeds and Stupidity

I’m told that spring is here; not really sure about that since we’re running the heat tonight, but it may be so – the flowers and trees seem to think so, though it seems they’re a bit tentative in blossoming and that they’re asking, “Who’ll take the risk?” There’s a freeze warning tonight; we’ve brought plants inside and covered others outside…yet they say it’s spring…hopefully they’re right.

We’re behind in our vegetable gardening. Finally most of the beds are prepared and we have potatoes and lettuce and radishes and even some tomatoes in the ground – we’ll see how the tomatoes do tonight. A couple of weeks ago I was preparing the raised beds, weeding and turning the soil; after finishing bed preparation I spayed the ground between the beds with weed killer – we’re going to put landscape fabric down this year but first we wanted to kill as many weeds between the beds as possible.

Last year, in the section of the garden without raised beds we planted climbing squash and cucumbers and corn and okra. In another open area we planted strawberries. It was a sad summer for our new strawberry plants – they were overtaken by weeds that we couldn’t keep up with and what fruit they did produce was eaten by critters.

As I prepared the spray mixture to kill the weeds I asked Vickie about the area where the strawberries had been, “Should I spay that area?”

“You might as well,” she replied, “I don’t think any of the strawberry plants made it.”

As I approached the strawberry area I continued to spray, assuming the strawberries had all died…but then I looked through the weeds and saw a strawberry plant, I looked again and saw another plant, and another and still yet another. Not only had the strawberry plants survived but they were growing and healthy. I put my spray tank down and got a bucket of water and poured it on the plants I had sprayed, and then another bucket, and yet another, washing the vegetation killer off the strawberry plants. I should have looked first and only then should I have sprayed, my preconceptions clouded my understanding of reality.

In Matthew Chapter 13 Jesus talks about the wheat and the tares and warns us against pulling up the tares before the harvest lest we unwittingly damage the wheat. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 Paul writes, “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

Sometimes I’m just plain stupid, really stupid. Sometimes I pull up tares and hurt wheat – I just can’t leave things in God’s hands. At other times I sit as a judge over things that I should not be judging (there are assuredly things we should be judging!)…how often I make the mistake of judging people, evaluating people like a fool, thinking that the weeds have so overwhelmed them that they will never make it, never bear fruit – pretty stupid I am. After all, all I need do is look at my own life and see periods when the weeds had so overgrown and smothered me that it’s a wonder I have any sense of Jesus Christ, any sense of eternity, any sense of holiness. I’m the best example I know of weeds overgrowing a life – and yet by God’s grace He didn’t spray me with vegetation killer…He was merciful, He removed the overgrowth without destroying me. I am so good at looking at outward appearances, at thinking that all there are are weeds – dumb, stupid and dumb.

I almost killed our strawberry plants. I wonder how many relationships I’ve damaged over the years. I wonder how many opportunities for mercy and compassion I’ve squandered. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

This Was for You

Friday night Vickie and I want to Anna’s for dinner – she had a Greek salad and I had an eggplant pasta dish. Both were great, both overflowed their plate. I could have easily eaten one-half and taken the other half home – I was aware of this when I first saw the plate, I was aware of this as I was eating, I was keenly aware of this as I approached the halfway point on the plate.

As I approached the halfway point I was getting full, in fact I was getting quite full. But, I reasoned that it tasted so good and I had eaten so wisely during the week…and then there was Vickie. She was lagging behind in eating her salad and what was I to do? It wouldn’t be right for me to stop eating and watch her. Oh, I guess I could have stopped eating and talked a bit more – but would she have wanted to hear a monologue on history or theology? No, I could not do that to her. So I ate.

When I arrived at the three-quarter point of my dinner plate I thought about saving that last section, of taking it home, of having it for lunch on Saturday. But then, I was getting close to finishing it, and was there really enough for lunch? It seemed a small thing to just go ahead and finish it – after all, it was so good, so tasty…and I had eaten wisely during the week.

On the way home I complained of being full. After we arrived home I complained of being full. I also questioned my wife’s love for me, surely if she loved me she would not have let me eat the whole thing – why hadn’t she intervened?

The next morning (Saturday) I lamented that I had eaten so much. (Do you get the picture?)

This morning (Sunday), as we left the church parking lot Vickie said to me, “That message was for you.”

I looked at her, “Really, oh that’s great.”

“Yes,” she said, “I was thinking about you during the sermon.”

“Well, I was thinking about me too and about Friday night. But still, you really think the sermon was for me?”

She replied, “Well, you’ve been talking about it.”

The sermon was on a subject I’ve not ever heard preached after almost five decades of following Jesus. It was masterful, well done, and thought provoking. I’ll be thinking about the facets of the message for some time to come. For sure the next time I’m at Anna’s and order a dinner that is large enough for two meals I’ll think of this message.

The message is part of a series focused on the Seven Deadly Sins; today’s sermon title was Gluttony. It’s great having a wife who will just get it out in the open by saying, “The sermon was for you.”

Well, she said it in love, she said it somewhat amusingly…and in fact she said what I was thinking. Just another reason why Adam needs Eve.

Monday, March 17, 2014


There are nightmares that we dream and nightmares that we live. We have relief from the ones we dream when we awake; we have relief from the ones we live when we sleep. The latter, however, often invade our respite of sleep so that they envelop us in a continuum, a fog, a disoriented heaviness in which there are no bearings, no equilibrium – we grope, we feel our way, we wish that we were dreaming, we can’t believe what we’re living is real, we are numb one minute and we cry out in pain the next.

The chasm between our pain and comfort is beyond measure, the abyss is without bottom, when will we stop falling? What will be at the bottom of the crevice? The void envelops us, the darkness overwhelms us – how can this be? Why did God allow this?

Paul writes of a time when he and his friends despaired even of life. There is more than one Biblical passage in which the writer yearns for the relief of death, more than one passage in which he rues the day he was born.

In living nightmares we can but trust our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus and hope that we have friends and family who will gather around us…not with advice…but with love and comfort and presence. In living nightmares we need to know that we are not alone, that even in the darkest darkness that God is there, that friends are there – that the presence of God and others might assure the innermost recesses of our being that we are not alone.

We do not need advice, but we do desperately need prayers and intercessions – answers will not comfort us, no matter how driven we may be to seek them. Mortality and frailty are realities; while we may predict when sand castles will be washed away by tides, we cannot predict when the vicissitudes of life will sweep away those we love, we do not know which word will be our last word or which step will be our final step.

I grieve for my friend who lost his granddaughter.

The nightmare is real.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

You Can’t Know Them Unless You Read Them

“He bunted himself to first, stole second, was sacrificed to third, and scored on a wild pitch.”

“He what?”

“I said he bunted himself to first, stole second, was sacrificed to third, and scored on a wild pitch.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, not having grown up in America, is this football language?”

Bunting to get on first, stealing second, taking third on a sacrifice, and scoring on a wild pitch conjures a series of images in the minds of those familiar with baseball; even those only somewhat familiar with the game will likely have some picture of a series of events – at the very least they will visualize a baseball diamond and a player moving from home plate around the bases to score. On the other hand, someone who has not grown up in a baseball country and who has had no exposure to the game will not know what the language describes – it might be American football for all he knows.

Among the many reasons to read the Bible, to have a direct experience with the Bible, is to know the paradigms, images, and (if you will) “plays” of the Bible. No matter how many books we read about the Bible, no matter how many daily devotionals we may read, no matter how many preachers we may listen to – nothing compares or substitutes for us knowing the Bible directly. Why is it that we don’t get this?

When we don’t know the Bible we succumb to frameworks of thinking that are not Biblical – we don’t think God’s thoughts. The frameworks may be religious, they may make sense, they may appeal to our intellects or emotions, they may make us feel good – but all too often they are not God’s perspectives, they are not God’s thoughts, they are not God’s ways or God’s commands. More often than not when we don’t know the Bible we eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life.

I don’t know why there is so much resistance among professing Christians to reading and knowing the Bible; I do know the sad results of us not knowing the Bible – otherwise competent men and women walk and talk as though they were blind and deaf without knowing they are blind and deaf – speaking unintelligible words and continually running into furniture and thinking nothing of it.

When baseball fans get together they have no trouble starting and sustaining a conversation because they know the game – they don’t need anyone to lead them because the game is in their blood – the game is alive in their hearts and minds. But often when professing Christians come together there is no talk of the Bible or our Lord Jesus, it is not natural for there to be such discussion, and if there is to be a discussion all too often it cannot begin unless a leader is chosen – how can this be? It can be because we know the Bible less than baseball fans know the rules of the game; it can be because others love baseball more than we love Jesus.

A baseball fan checks the scores first thing in the morning, reads box scores, checks batting and pitching statistics – many fans can quote statistics and describe games from decades ago. Would that we had a passion for Jesus and the Bible to equal the passion fans have for baseball; would that we would be as hungry for the Bible and Jesus as followers of the Red Sox are for another World Series crown.

We can’t know God’s thoughts and the flow of Biblical thought unless we read and know the Bible, unless the Bible is woven into our daily lives, unless we have a personal and direct experience and knowledge of God’s Word.

Why don’t we understand this? Why do we resist it so? Why do we make excuses?

Saturday, March 8, 2014


This is a piece written by my friend George Bowers for the Shenandoah Herald, George is pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock, VA.

            My wife and I enjoy watching the Food Network from time to time.  In addition to Iron Chef America, America’s Worst Cooks, and the Next Food Network Star, we sometimes enjoy Chopped!  For those of you that have never seen this program, it is a competition between four chefs which are progressively eliminated until only one remains, who is then dubbed, the Chopped Champion.

            The process whereby the winner is eventually selected involves 3 rounds of cooking challenges.  All contestants receive identical baskets of ingredients that have been preselected by the organizers.  Contestants do not get to choose which ingredients they will use and in order to do well, each must be used and developed to its maximum potential.  I’ve never even heard of some of the ingredients that are used much less have any clue of how to cook them. 

When told to begin, the chefs open their baskets to discover what ingredients they have been assigned.  They are all given equal amounts of time for preparation and all have identical kitchens to use that are fully equipped with utensils, stoves, ovens, and appliances.  The frantic scurrying, searing, mixing and such is quite entertaining. 

When the time is up, they must submit their cuisine to the judges who determine which contestants did the best with what they were given.  Plates are not only evaluated on taste but also on appearance and presentation.  One by one, the field is narrowed until only one chef is left for glory.  

            It occurred to me recently how much this competition parallels life.  We are each assigned a basket of ingredients which we do not choose.  These include our physical characteristics of height, weight, and health; our mental abilities of intelligence and intuition; and our social settings such as our birth families, communities, and schools. 

It is our task to make the most of the ingredients God has given us during the time He has assigned us here on earth.  Unlike the show, however, we are not all given identical baskets nor do we have equal amounts of time.  One of the harsh realities of life is that some do get better baskets and some get worse ones. 

Some have more athletic ability, some have greater intelligence, and some have wonderful family backgrounds.  On the other hand, some of our life baskets include handicaps and weaknesses, accidents and unplanned downturns, or dysfunctional families of origin.  In fact, no two people get the exact same basket, but we do have the same goal: to make the most of what we have. 

The good thing is that life is not a competition.  Our goal is not to beat out all the other folks we share our kitchens with, but to produce a life that will please our Ultimate Judge.  He considers what we were allocated in our baskets as well the varying tools we each have at our disposal. 

Some with great baskets end up squandering their blessings and others with life baskets of horrible ingredients make some of the best meals.  Our task is not to focus on either of these, but to use the ingredients we have received to prepare a life that will cause the Judge to say, “Well Done, thou good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your Lord.”  Happy cooking!  George