December 30, 2009

Where Has Everyone Gone?

Time has passed since Jesus was born. The wise men have traveled on. The shepherds have returned to their sheep, and the cattle are grazing in a meadow outside Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus are alone.

And Joseph wonders, “Where has everybody gone?”

Most Christian Churches are filled with worshippers on Christmas Eve, but at Sunday morning services after Christmas, ministers and those in attendance must wonder, “Where has everybody gone?”

There are approximately 235 million Americans who consider themselves Christians, but less than forty percent attend church regularly. Pollsters suggest the actual percent is probably less, because many people answer questionnaires according to what they think they should be doing rather than what they are doing.

If you haven’t attended a worship service recently, I invite you to acknowledge God’s presence in your life this Sunday. 

Each one of us needs to be reminded often of God’s love in a culture that increasingly ignores God, and your faith will be strengthened and enhanced when you worship with others.

Next Sunday, will you take a break from work and self interests to concentrate on the Lord?  Will you “remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy?”

December 21, 2009

There Was Room in the Inn

Wallace Purling, a second grader who had trouble keeping up in the classroom, was chosen to be the innkeeper in the church Christmas Pageant. Wally was big for his age, so his refusal of lodging for Joseph and Mary would be convincing. Besides, he only had a few lines to learn.

On the night of the pageant, Joseph appeared, slowly guiding Mary to the door of the inn where Wally waited.

When he heard Joseph knocking, Wally opened the door and asked brusquely, “What do you want?”

“We seek lodging for the night,” Joseph answered.

“There is no room in the inn,” said Wally loudly.

“Sir, we are weary and my wife is heavy with child.”

Now Wally looked down at Mary, and there was an embarrassing pause until the prompter whispered his cue from the wings.

“No, be gone,” said Wally. 

As Joseph and Mary began to walk away, this Pageant suddenly took a turn that made it unlike any other.

“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally ad libbed. “You and Mary can have my room.”

A few people in church that evening thought the Christmas Pageant was ruined. Others considered it the best Christmas Pageant they had ever seen.

December 12, 2009

Fishers of Men

Morehead City, on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, is well known for its hospitality, excellent seafood and charter boat fishing. 

One summer afternoon on a boat docked in Morehead City, two fishermen were cleaning their catch of Spanish Mackerel and Bluefish when a stranger approached. When the fishermen looked up and saw the man staring down on them, they heard the stranger say, ”Pete and Andy, I’ve been looking for you. I have an important job for you to do, and no one else can do it. Follow me.”

Without hesitating, the fishermen immediately put their knives away and walked off with the stranger.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is what happened two thousand years ago when Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow him. The story is moved into the Twenty-first Century to demonstrate more clearly what a daring and courageous act it was for Peter and Andrew to turn their backs on everything they knew to follow Jesus.

Peter and Andrew were not men of great faith when they first met Jesus, but when they decided to follow him their lives were changed forever.

When we accept an invitation to follow Jesus, our lives are also changed, and our doubt becomes faith, our fear becomes courage and our greed turns to deeds of righteousness.

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

December 2, 2009

Taking Christ Seriously

Taking Christ Seriously

During World War II, an American airman was shot down near an island in the South Pacific known for its  cannibals. He made his way to land, crept into the bushes and hid, fearful for his life, but the natives found him, treated his injuries and nursed him back to health.

When the airman recovered, he spoke with the chief on the island who told him there had not been a murder in his life time. There was no jail, no poverty,  no drunkenness, no divorce, no brothels and no disease. There was one doctor, and he spent his time fishing.

When the airman asked the chief how he accounted for this wonderful state of affairs, he looked reproachfully at his guest and said:

“You ought to know. Your ancestors sent us missionaries.  

  We are Christians and we take Christ seriously.”

People have tried to find peace in science, politics, education, government and law, but nothing we have done in these and other fields of human endeavor has given us the satisfaction we seek.

Friends, isn’t it time we, in this frightened, selfish, materialistic world, take Christ seriously?

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

November 24, 2009

Is There a God?

A famous potter, while walking along a lonely stream, discovered a bank of the purest clay he had ever seen. He immediately ran home for a bucket, returned to the stream and dug a large quantity of the clay which he placed securely in his studio.

After a brief vacation, he returned to his home and discovered the clay was gone, but in it’s place the workroom was filled with the most  colorful, beautifully shaped and intricately designed pottery he had ever seen.

The potter was confused because the workroom was locked securely. The dust on the floor was undisturbed and the kiln was not used.

Logic and common sense will not permit us to believe the pottery  made itself.  It could not have just happened. Someone was responsible.

Yet there are those who believe the delicate beauty of a Columbine, the power and bulk of a Blue Whale and all the wonders of nature are merely happenings ___ accidental structures that in some inexplicable manner without purpose or direction from some creative power just happen to come together.

The beauty and the complexity of the plant, animal and human life we see around us points to a deliberate Designer who not only created us and the world  in which we live, but sustains it as well.

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

November 15, 2009

Are You Alert to BLISS?

Our son, Doug, recently wrote:

Every morning when I wake up, I let the dogs out the front door and then let them in as soon as I get out of the shower.  This morning, Lola came back but Beckham was missing.   Last night was a clear cold night here in western NY and we had a heavy frost.  When I walked outside to look for Beckham, there he was running to me as soon as I called for him.  The sun was rising over the pond, frost covering the ground, and Beckham running towards me over that frost covered ground as happy as any living thing could possibly be ...... BLISS!

In a recent internet column, eCouragement, author and motivational speaker, Gary Schwantz, suggests that we stay alert to BLISS for it often captures us unaware. 

If you remain alert to moments of joy in your life, you may discover they are more common than you might expect. And there is an unexpected dividend.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama suggests that our BLISS, our moments of supreme joy and happiness, are contagious and “can expand from an individual to one’s family, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s community, and so on.”  Who knew one person’s BLISS could have such an impact on others?

Are you BLISS vigilant? Are you alert to those moments of  joy and contentment when they occur in your life? 

November 6, 2009

Have You Changed?

There is an old story that tells how Satan summoned his top aides to plan a strategy against those who worshipped Jesus. As the Satanical pep talk concluded, the Angel of Darkness made this emotional speech:

“Now get out there and lie, steal and cheat. Do anything to stop these Christians from winning the lost. But be careful. If those Christians ever start to act like they talk, all Heaven will break loose!”

An estimate 123 million people attend church in the United States every Sunday, but I wonder how many of us are changed? How many hear God’s word and act on it?

Some people think that it’s only what we don’t do that identifies us as Christians. . . don’t gamble, don’t swear, don’t lie, don’t steal, etc. 

But Jesus was action oriented as well. He was a doer and a healer who spoke often about what is required of those who choose to follow Him:

Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Bless those who curse you.”

Follow me.”

Love your enemies.”

Go in peace.”

The next time you hear a sermon consider these words from the first chapter of James who wrote,  “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.”  

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

October 26, 2009

Taking Yourself Apart

I recently heard stand-up comedian Jeanne Roberts say to her audience, “I have looked each one of you in the eyes at least once, and some of you need to make changes or I won’t look your way again.”  Then she added, “You need to take yourself apart and leave some pieces out when you put yourself back together.”

Apparently, some people in her audience didn’t think her jokes were funny.

Jeanne Roberts raises an intriguing question.  If we could take ourselves apart like a giant Leggo construction, what would we leave out when we put ourselves back together?

Among the personality traits I would leave out would be the tendancy to talk too much and listen too poorly. And surely, I would omit my tendency to feel sorry for myself when my life doesn’t go exactly the way I hoped or planned. 

As with most things we don’t appreciate about ourselves, these character flaws can be fixed, and admitting them is the first step in changing. I think I just did that.

Among the characteristics I would be certain to leave in when I put myself back together would be my enduring love and appreciation for my family and my firm and unwavering belief and faith in my Lord Jesus Christ.

What would you leave out? What would you leave in?

October 17, 2009

Pollution of the Heart

In Genesis, we read that God created the world and when he was done, he saw that it was good. Well, it was good, but we and generations of our ancestors have selfishly changed that. Through the ages, we have killed , burned, ravaged, abused and contaminated our lands, our waters and our air.

But there is another kind of contamination that few people other than clergy speak about.  That is pollution in our hearts.

A church congregation was looking for a new minister, and one of the requirements was that the candidates have a Ph.D..  

After nearly thirty years in higher education, I am convinced there is not an absolute correlation between degrees earned and the quality of teaching. And I wonder what the members of the pulpit committee would say if they realized their requirement would exclude the Reverend Billy Graham from consideration.

Arrogance and vanity, as well as  jealousy, lust, greed, indifference, anger or bitterness are pollutants of another kind that can affect the lives of each one of us.

Let us never forget they can kill the love in our hearts just as pollution in God’s natural world can kill your heirs and mine.

Blessings from Gp Westerdahl

October 8, 2009

Predicting Success

Many years ago, when I was a college director of admissions, I created a formula for predicting a student’s grades in the freshman year at my school. The prediction was accurate in seventy-five percent of the cases within half a letter grade, so if I predicted a 3.0 average, the chances were three out of four the student would earn a grade between 2.5 and 3.5.

The formula depended on two factors ——  high school rank in class and the results of the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Tests. 

The one factor which couldn't be measured but would more accurately estimate a candidate’s level of achievement is a student’s determination to succeed. As a matter of fact, if resolve and commitment to succeed could be measured, the other factors would be much less significant.

In almost anything we do in life, determination will often define the degree to which we are successful.

God has endowed each of us with varying abilities, but no one is limited in the desire and effort to accomplish his goals in whatever he chooses to do.

These wise words from the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda say it well: “The determination to win is the better part of winning.” 

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

October 1, 2009

Selecting Disciples

Imagine you are living 2,000 years ago, and you have been chosen as a member of a selection committee to determine who will assist Jesus in his ministry.  These are the men who will walk with Jesus, hear his sermons and witness his miracles. 

Yours is an awesome responsibility, for no one will know Jesus as well as the people you select for discipleship.

Unfortunately, none of the candidates you interview are qualified to assist Jesus.

Peter is a a blundering, clumsy and impulsive fisherman with a lurid vocabulary and a terrible temper.

James and John are impatient, ambitious and arrogant. Judas is volatile, unpredictable and dangerous.  Matthew is only interested in money.

The fact is none of these men or any of the rest of the candidates are qualified to walk with Jesus.

But these are the men Jesus chose ___ rough, crude, selfish, impulsive, quick tempered, cautious, greedy and vain. But when they became disciples of Jesus, they were changed, and they became one body in Christ.

When we walk with Jesus, we also become one body in Christ, and our guilt and shame, fears and despair, frustration and indecision are washed away and we begin a life-changing experience.

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

September 27, 2009

Landscapes from the Creator's Hand

Years ago, my wife and I traveled to Bangor, Maine to visit Wayne Glick, the former President of Keuka College with whom I worked for many years.

During our visit,  Wayne and his wife, Barbara, drove us to Acadia National Park, one of the most visited parks in the United States .  .  .  and for good reason.

All the beauty that is Maine comes together in this popular park where the mountains meet the rolling surf of the Atlantic. 

As we stood together overlooking this pristine landscape, Wayne said, “This is where God goes to take a vacation.” And I answered, “And the Finger Lakes is where he spends the rest of the year.”

Anyone who lives in Upstate New York surely would agree that when it comes to natural beauty, the Creator has certainly blessed us abundantly. 

Yet some skeptics, some I know well, suggest that the wonders of this earth are merely happenings . . . bundles of molecules that in some mysterious way, just happen to come together.

For me the natural beauty of my home in the Finger Lakes is an ever constant reminder  and proof that This Is My Father’s World.

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

September 25, 2009

Where Are You Going?

Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, was riding the train in his native state of Massachusetts when he was approached by the conductor.

Holmes fumbled around in his pockets, apparently looking for his ticket, when the conductor said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Holmes. I know who you are. When you get to your destination and you find your ticket, just put it in an envelope and mail it to us.”

“My dear man,” said Holmes. “The problem is not where is my ticket? My problem is . . . where am I going?”

And where are you going? Are you a spectator to your life, taking things pretty much as they come . . . watching it unfold without purpose or direction?  Or do you have goals and strategies to reach your objectives?

In either case, the important thing to remember is the decisions you make each day of your life will ultimately determine where your journey ends.

As you make those choices each day, these wise words from St. Paul will help guide you in your voyage through life:

Fill your minds and your meditating with things that are true, reputable, compelling and gracious. Fill your minds with the beautiful, not the ugly, things to praise, not curse. Do that and God will work you into his most excellent harmonies. 
Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

September 17, 2009

Your Source of Joy

Christian writer, Max Lacado, tells about meeting Robert Reed whose hands and feet are so twisted he can’t feed himself, brush his teeth or comb his hair. Robert’s shirts are held together by Velcro and his speech drags like a worn recording.

Robert Reed has cerebral palsy.

But cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from graduating from college. It didn’t keep him from teaching in junior college, and it didn’t keep him from becoming a missionary in Portugal.

Despite his disabilities, Reed is quoted as saying, “I have everything I need for joy.”

This real life story of one of God’s special saints clearly demonstrates that our source of joy has nothing to do with the events in our life. It has everything to do with our attitude.

The Apostle Paul wrote that we are to “rejoice in the Lord regardless of our circumstances.”

Robert Reed can’t drive a car, ride a bike or take a walk, but he discovered the joy  that comes when a life is centered in God.

What is the source of your joy?

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

September 14, 2009

Courage to Live Without Fear

In a book on faith by Norman Vincent Peale, he records the last will and testament of an old frontiersman. Here’s how it reads:

"I ain’t got no money to leave you,  just this old cabin, old Buck and my two guns. But I do leave you somethin’ worth a parcel more than money .  .  .  the belief that a man’s word is as good as his bond, a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and courage so you won’t be afraid of nothin’ or nobody."

What an inheritance  .  .  . honor, faith and courage so you won’t be afraid of nothin’ or nobody.

Friends, if you believe in God, you can find the courage to live without fear, for he has granted us the strength to cope with the stresses of life that can devour our spirit.

The next time you face situations in life which can cause anxiety and fear, remember these words from the Shepherd’s Psalm: 

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me."

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

September 7, 2009

Releasing Our Capacity for Passion

Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of all time, considered himself primarily a sculptor.

It is reported he believed every stone had an image within it, and sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away everything that was not part of the statue. 

In his lifetime, Michelangelo left many unfinished works from which he had sculpted an elbow, or a leg, or a head. The rest of the subject was still locked up inside the stone.

Many of us are incomplete works of art with unlimited possibilities locked up within us because we have never released our God-given power that comes with energy and enthusiasm.

But be assured . . . it is there . . . ready and waiting to be carved out and  used to enrich our life and the life of others.

Recognize that you and you alone are responsible for your moods, and if you release your God-given capacity to act with passion in everything you do, I assure you your life will never be dull. 

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl 

August 23, 2009

When Faced with Adversity, Be Creative

Many years ago, when I was in college, I was an assistant chef at a summer church camp. Early one morning, the chef asked me to prepare the batter to make two dozen chocolate cakes for dessert that evening. 

Through carelessness or inexperience, I added twice as much water as the recipe required. The final product in no way resembled batter, but thanks to the creative mind and experience of the master chef, we served the watered down cake mixture for hot chocolate.   

Today, there are sixty year old ex campers telling their grandchildren they never had hot chocolate as good as we served that morning. 

Making a positive from a negative happens all the time at more profound levels. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was founded by a grieving mother  following the tragic loss of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver.  

And the national network to help locate missing children was also founded in a similar manner.  

The next time you are faced with adversity, don’t complain about how life is treating you unfairly. Instead, use your God given capacity for for enthusiasm and creativity and say to yourself, “Here’s another opportunity to create something positive.” 

Blessings from Gpa Westerdahl

Labels: Creativity