September 8, 2011

Comments on a Call to Worship

The following is the first line of our Call to Worship during a Sunday morning church service not long ago:

“Almighty God, when you formed us lovingly out of the dust of the earth, you breathed into us the breath of life and gave us work and purpose for living.”

The phrase prompted me to remember articles I have read about creation and the conflict among those who believe Darwin’s theory of evolution, those who support the idea of intelligent design (ID) or those who espouse some form of creationism.

Darwinians think all species of organisms developed through their inherited abilities to survive and reproduce. Scientists have gathered fossils for about a quarter of a million different species, and not one specimen has been found that proves the complexity of biological structures occurred through mutations over time.

Proponents of ID think the diversity and complexity of life is best explained by an intelligent cause, not natural selection; however, they do not conclude the “intelligent cause” is God. They describe themselves as agnostics.

Finally, creationists believe an omnipotent God gave birth to all life, especially as the story appears in the first chapter of Genesis.

I am not a scholar or a scientist, but I am a person of faith, and I believe the delicate beauty of a columbine or the immensity and bulk of a great blue whale are not merely accidental structures that in some inexplicable manner and without purpose or direction from some creative power just happen to come together.

As for me, I believe the wonder and majesty of our natural world and the heavens above point to a deliberate Designer who not only created us and the world in which we live, but sustains it as well.

Needless to say, I responded to the Call to Worship with conviction.

July 25, 2011

What a Smile Reveals

Recently, when I picked up a newspaper at a local service station, the clerk at the register smiled and wished me a good day. I left with a smile on my own face.

Much is revealed in a person’s smile.

On the front page of our local Penn Yan Chronicle Express a short time ago, was the story of 14-year old Erma Zimmerman who lost her left leg and a portion of her right leg below the knee in a farming accident. Erma was interviewed in her home by Gwen Chaberlain, the editor of the paper who wrote, “Looking at Erma’s beaming smile, it’s hard to believe she nearly perished in a farm accident just a few weeks ago.”

Much is revealed in a person’s smile.

According to author and speaker, Christine Whelan, who teaches courses on the social psychology of self improvement, “a smile is the universal language of welcome, of happiness, of pleasure.” I would add that a smile is also a reflection of a person’s courage, self confidence and positive attitude.

None of us is in control of the future. As Erma Zimmerman discovered, our life can change in an instant. But we are all in control of our attitude toward our circumstance, whatever they may be. And though our lives may be turned upside down in a moment, if we have faith in God, then, to paraphrase St. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, “. . . There is nothing in death or life — nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Now that’s a reason for confidence and courage. That’s a reason to smile.

July 11, 2011

Sowers of Seeds

This spring, Nancy and I bought seven tomato plants, including a new variety called Tomaccito, a raisin tomato, bred to dry naturally into a healthy, portable snack.

As of today, one plant is so tall, I recently added a seven foot stake. Another, a tomaccito, has seventy tomatoes on it and forty blossoms. Another variety has blossoms but no tomatoes, and one of the initial seven died a month after it was planted.

I was reminded of our tomatoes, when Babs Steinert, our pastor while Judy White is on sabbatical leave, spoke of Jesus’ parable of the sower who planted seeds on a path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. The results were varied, just as the yield of the plants in our tomato patch vary.

Of course, the four types of soil in Jesus’ parable represent the different responses to God’s word as recorded in the Scriptures and revealed to us in sermons, in song and in writings. Recently, I found an inspirational sower in Through My Eyes, the autobiography and testimony of professional football quarterback, Tim Tebow.

Tebow, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football, not only led The University of Florida to two national championships, but he was also the first college sophomore to be awarded the Heisman Trophy. Today, Tebow plays for the Denver Broncos.

In addition to being an an inspirational leader and a talented athlete, Tim Tebow is a committed Christian, and he speaks often and eloquently about his love for Jesus. How refreshing it is to have this highly visible, outstanding athlete speak out so fervently about his faith in God. Tim Tebow is an inspirational winner and an able enthusiastic sower of God’s Word.

This remarkable young man ends his book, Through My Eyes, with this sentence:

I simply pray that I will continue to have the humbling privilege to touch others and lift them up through His Word — all for His glory.

I say, “Amen” to that prayer.

June 21, 2011

Never Give In

On Thursday, June 9, Nancy and I drove to Cortland, New York where I was registered to participate in the 2011 Empire State Senior Games with 1100 other contestants. For the first time in sixty-one years, I planned to compete in the high jump, only this time it would be with men over eighty rather than teenagers.

Watching men and women in their sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties compete against others in their age group in events like the dashes and distance races was quite the inspirational experience. Though some struggled to finish their races, we saw no one quit.

Despite advanced age and declining health, Senior Games participants are people who refuse to quit being active. One of the most inspirational contestants we met was ninety-six years old who ran in the 100, 200 and 400 meter races.

Don Learman’s story was also inspirational. Despite a heart attack a year ago which resulted in four by passes, four valve replacements, a couple of stents and a pacemaker, Don picked up a silver medal in the 100 meter dash and high jump for contestants in the eighty to eighty-four age group. I was awarded a bronze medal in that age group for a jump of 3 feet-2 inches.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during World War II, made many inspirational speaches leading his country to victory against Hitler’s armed forces. The quote below is my favorite. It is from a short speech at Harrow School on October 29, 1941 when the mood in Britain regarding the outcome of the war had become increasingly determined and optimistic.

"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

One more inspirational story. You will find it in this uTube video of Derek Redmond finishing the 400 meter race in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

May 26, 2011

Are You Holding a Grudge

I recently read passages from The Forgiveness Solutions by Dr. Philllip Friedman. It is a practical book focused on providing the reader with techniques for learning how to forgive those who have disappointed, offended or betrayed you.

Among the numerous stories Friedman offers is one about a client who went to see a therapist about his inability to forgive someone who had injured him. When the session ended, the therapist told his client he should leave the office through one of two white doors.

The client, however, insisted he wanted to leave through a pink door. Despite being told there was no pink door, the client walked to what he believed was a door and crashed into a pink wall.

Finally, the therapist pointed out his client’s problem was like the imaginary door. The client could hold on to his resentments, pain and his grudges and continue to suffer (knock his head against the wall), or he could forgive, let go and seek a better past and future.

One of my favorite bits of advice regarding forgiveness suggests that we should never hold a grudge. While we fret and fume over some disservice done to us, the other person is . . . enjoying a round of golf.

Included In the Lord’s Prayer are the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If you find it difficult to forgive someone, perhaps it’s time to view this phrase as both a command and a prescription from the Master Physician for our emotional well being.

May 2, 2011

The Transforming Power of the Resurrection

Among the many books that defend Christianity and the Resurrection, few are equal to Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, who was an agnostic before entering college where he set out to write a paper that would discredit those who believe in Jesus Christ.

His plan was to sift through all the available historical evidence, collect his arguments, and ultimately, he believed he would prove that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. At the very least, he hoped to convince himself and others that if Jesus had lived, his bones were in some forgotten grave in Jerusalem.

But something happened along the way. The overwhelming evidence Josh McDowell studied convinced him that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected.

One of the most compelling reasons to believe in the Christian faith is this: Following the crucifixion, the demoralized and terrified disciples huddled together in the Upper Room, fearful that they might also be arrested and executed.

But after Jesus’ Resurrection, they were changed. Their panic and fear turned to joy, and with the power of the Holy Spirit upon them, that small band of followers created a church with over two billion members today.

Josh McDowell’s conversion is the story of change. And that is the story of the Resurrection as well. People are changed. Skeptics become believers, the fearful find confidence, love triumphs over hate, and those who believe in the promises of Jesus conquer death.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

April 20, 2011

My Wild Irish Rose

George and Rosie were married for forty years, and they loved each other deeply, so much so that they did everything together. They were inseparable in all areas of life, except one. Every Sunday morning, George drove Rosie to church, but while she attended the service, he sat in the car and read the paper.

In time, Rosie died, and for many Sundays after that, church members looked to the parking lot hoping to see George's car, but he was never there.

Several months passed until Easter morning when everyone was pleased to see George join the congregation.The minister delivered a stirring and passionate message on the Resurrection, and then, as was his custom, invited members of the congregation to respond. At that moment, George stood up and with deep emotion, shouted out, "Rosie lives!" Then he began to sing, “My wild Irish rose, the sweetwest flower that grows.”

One person joined in, then another, and finally, the entire congregation was singing what someone described as, “the most beautiful Easter hymn ever sung in our church.”

Of course, there are those who view God’s promise of eternal life with skepticism. My heart goes out to them, for they miss the joyous good news of our faith. Life makes no sense. The Christian faith makes no sense, and belief in God makes no sense without belief in a world after this one. Belief in a loving God demands completion of an incomplete universe.

I believe the words of St, Paul who wrote:

“God has prepared for us things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him.”

April 9, 2011

Strength to Face our Fears

One of my favorite books is David Lederer’s Crazy English, described by Simon and Schuster as a “frolic through the logic-boggling byways of the English language in which . . . a nose can run and feet can smell.”

Included in this dazzling collection of anagrams, alliterations, idioms and oxymora is a list of 125 phobias including such unfamiliar fears as spectrophobia, fear of mirrors; homilophobia, fear of sermons; and ergasophobia, fear of work. Long ago, one of our granddaughters had a boyfriend with the latter aversion.

Most of us will never be the victims of such exotic phobias as Lederer describes in Crazy English, but fears like job security, health, finances, aging, relationships and loneliness are common concerns for each of us at sometime in our lives.

Where do most people find the courage to face their fears in life? Where do they find the hope and self confidence to face the storms of life? Where do they go when all around is sinking sand?

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus refers to himself as a “Rock,” the cornerstone of a new building, the church, and it is to this solid Rock that believers have turned for strength, solace and hope for two thousand years.

For me, the words of the hymn Solid Rock express so well what it means to look to Jesus as he described himself. Here is the refrain from that beautiful gospel hymn:

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

March 29, 2011

Do You Walk the Walk?

Recently, Nancy and I wasted nearly two hours watching the movie The American starring George Clooney. We know others watching the same film might think it deserves an Academy Award, but we wish we had used the time more productively.

I have always had difficulty managing my time at work and especially in my private life. Experts suggest the secret to managing our time is to set long term goals according to what is important to us, then devote eighty percent of our time each day at work or at home to accomplish our goals. “Work smarter, not harder” is the mantra we should adopt.

Back in 1977, I prepared a list of long term goals I hoped to accomplish before I die. As I review that list today, I find it embarrassing that the only goal involving my faith in God was a commitment to attend church every Sunday. I certainly knew then, and I’m even more convinced now, that discipleship requires much more than regular church attendance.

Discipleship is reflected in everything we do, every decision we make, every opinion we hold, every amusement we seek and every action we take. Most important, a lifetime goal of discipleship should reflect our commitment to the teachings of Jesus through our devotion to God and our service to others.

In Stanley Kubrick’s award winning film, Full Metal Jacket, a battle tested veteran chastises a pompous new arrival to the Viet Nam War with this candid inquiry: “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”

Jesus challenges each of us who love him to “walk the walk” of action-oriented discipleship.

March 5, 2011

A Magic Moment

One summer vacation when our grandchildren were teenagers, they created a game they called Bucket of Words. It involved describing a word to your teammates which was contributed by the opposing team. You were given only thirty seconds to accomplish that task, and of course, you couldn’t say the word or any part of it.

Grandson Ryan was an English major and an experienced Scrabble player, so his team won often by stumping the opposition with words like zeolite and zoon.

I didn't play, but if I had, my contribution would have been Selah, a word that appears seventy-four times in the Bible, seventy-one times in Psalms alone. Selah is a difficult Hebrew word to translate, so I suspect it would have stumped everyone.

The definition I like best is that Selah is a prompt for a pause . . . a suggestion to stop for a moment, to think, to meditate, to reflect and to sense God's presence.

Margaret Alexander was an accomplished poet and artist who devoted many hours to capturing the awesome beauty of the hills and valleys of the Finger Lakes. When she sold her home overlooking Keuka Lake to Nancy and me in 1974, Margaret gave us several of her paintings. On the back of one she called Mellow Autumn Haze, Margaret wrote:

"Mellow autumn haze brings peace after turbulence. There is an instant just before sunset when all is enhanced . . . ordinary things are jeweled. We call it, The Magic Moment."

We should all look for the Magic Moments in our lives, and when they occur, may we pause to think, to meditate, to reflect and to appreciate God’s presence in our lives. Selah

February 22, 2011

Infinity and Outer Space

You don’t have to be a scientist or philosopher to be fascinated by infinity. I suspect most of us have looked up to the stars on a clear night and wondered how the universe can go on forever, if in fact, it does.

Recently, I borrowed a book on infinity from our local library, and after struggling to understand the first two pages without success, I promptly returned it. Unfortunately, the author focused on the concept of infinity as it relates to mathematics which was not my strong suit in high school or college,

What intrigues me is the apparent infinity of space, and after reading on-line about the big bang theory, time warps, string theories, and the fourth dimension, I am convinced there are an infinite number of theories on the subject of infinity.

I will continue to search for an explanation of what may lie beyond the stars, but for now, I freely admit that the infinity of space is simply . . . incomprehensible.

There are people who believe the existence of a Creator God is also impossible to understand. They believe the delicate beauty of a Columbine or the power and bulk of a Blue Whale are merely accidental structures that in some inexplicable manner and without purpose or direction from some creative power just happen to come together.

As for me, I believe the wonder and majesty of our natural world and the heavens above point to a deliberate Designer who not only created us and the world in which we live, but sustains it as well.

February 5, 2011

Healing Hands

When I was in our Penn Yan Library last week, I checked the nonfiction new book section as I often do for subjects that might be of interest to me. I don't know why I picked up Manifesting Michelangelo, because the title and cover art didn’t hint at what was on the inside.

When I read the inner flyleaf of the book by Joseph Pierce Farrell, I knew immediately, I had a remote connection to the writer. In 2001, Farrell made the remarkable discovery that he is able to heal and transform people simply with intention and with a profound connection to a higher source. My tie with Farrell is the fact that both my father and my aunt claimed that my grandfather, a minister in the Swedish Baptist Church, had "healing hands."

In Manifesting Michelangelo, Farrell reports in a very convincing way that he, as the instrument of a higher source, restored the facial features of a severely disfigured young man, mended the broken bones of an accident victim and virtually erased an inoperable brain cancer in a woman. These healings were accomplished with his hands, meditation and the spiritual source to which he refers. Farrell suggests it’s the same “Source” that Michelangelo credited for his remarkable achievements.

Dr. Isaam Nemeh, a recent guest on the popular Dr. Oz show, is a physician and a Catholic who also heals patients through prayer and faith. Dr. Nemeh is a short, portly, middle aged man who simply sees himself as an instrument of God. He reports that he has no ego and claims his mind is completely at peace when he quietly begins treating someone with the prayer, “Come Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.”

On several occasions, I observed faith healers at work in large gatherings, and frankly, I came away thinking the process was intended to impress the congregation rather than heal those who were ill. After reading Farrell’s book and learning of Dr. Nemeh’s methods, I am convinced that they are legitimate healers.

In Manifesting Michelangelo, Farrell suggests we are all born with a “sacred potential to manifest change.” If we accept his premise, then each of us should ask ourselves, “What is my sacred potential, and how is it being used?

January 28, 2011

Get out of the Boat

For most of my career, I was a college admissions officer, the school administrator charged with the responsibility for determining which applicants were qualified to study at my institution.

Because of my work in admission, I was more than a little interested in a conversation I had with the chairman of a church committee appointed to determine the attributes and personality traits a person should possess to qualify for the ministry.

Pardon me, but I always thought people were "called" to the ministry. I didn't realize there were specific qualifications, or, as Max Lucado puts it in his most recent book, Outlive Your Life, "God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called."

Recently, the Reverend Judy White , pastor of the Bluff Point Methodist Church, reminded her congregation of Jesus’ call to Peter to get out of his boat and, “Follow me.” With that simple overture, Peter was invited to leave his family, his friends and his way of life to walk with Jesus.

And who was this impulsive fisherman Jesus chose to be a disciple and his Rock? The New Testament describes Peter as a blundering, impetuous, hypocrite whose vocabulary was unpolished and coarse. But Jesus didn’t choose Peter because he was brilliant, well educated, sophisticated or because he scored well on a psychological test or personality inventory. Peter was not called because of what he was but what he could become.

It is astonishing to recognize that when we accept the call to “get out of the boat,” it’s not because of who we are or what we have done. When we choose to follow Jesus, we are forgiven for the sins we have committed, and we are given an opportunity to change and to live the life Christ wants us to live.

January 21, 2011

Guest Blog - Our Father, Who Art in Penn Yan

My name is Steve Westerdahl. I’m Bruce’s son. Dad was born 80 years ago today, on January 21, 1931. This “guest blog” is a way of honoring him on this very special day and is written on behalf of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who love and admire him greatly.

Nobody ever said that being a father was easy. The role requires a diverse skill set and places high demands on even the most well-grounded of men. A father is a provider, a protector, a role model, a teacher, an enforcer, a mediator and a banker. (Somebody once said a father carries pictures where his money used to be.) The job requires patience, perseverance, an infinite amount of energy and the unmitigated capacity to love.

As they dispense with their duties, even the best fathers are under-appreciated by the children they are raising. The recognition tends to come later. Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.”

And the stakes of fatherhood are high. We are in many ways reflections of our fathers. Like a garden, a man’s children reflect the amount of weeding he has done in the growing season.

It is significant that “father” is a title given to God, symbolizing His infinite power to love, protect and forgive us. The Bible contains abundant references to the importance of a father in his children’s life. In the Old Testament we are commanded to “honor our father and mother so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

On this special day we honor Bruce Westerdahl, “our father who art in Penn Yan (NY)”. His children, grand-children and great grand-children know we are very fortunate to call him Dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa. Even in our 50s, Doug, Tammy and I seek his advice and approval. Then, now and forver, we'll be guided by his shining example, steady hand and unconditional love.

In 1901 a pastor in Lockport, NY wrote a hymn titled, “This is My Father’s World.” Today, it’s Bruce Westerdahl’s world and we are all blessed to be in it.

January 19, 2011

Dealing with Stress

Rising costs, increasing debt, lower home values, unemployment, natural disasters, lives lost in two wars and the longest recession since World War II would be enough to create stress for any American. But in addition, we can all have anxious moments just dealing with health problems, the pressures of work and family life, or our relationships with each other.

Stress is a common problem in our fast-paced action-oriented society, and it’s not limited to any income, education or socio economic status. Regardless of our station in life, we all regularly face situations which cause anxiety and even fear.

How is your courage and confidence when you face stressful situations that can make our lives miserable? If you are searching for the inner strength to face your problems, perhaps it’s time to reexamine your faith in God, for if you believe in God, you have the power to face stress and adversity without fear or anxiety. And that power is available to you any time, any place and in any circumstance.

We know because it is written again and again in Scripture. Here are just a few examples:

Joshua said it:Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Timothy said it: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self discipline.

And David said it in Scripture we all know: “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

In times of stress, in days and nights of trouble, I invite you to believe the Grace of God can help you find the strength and courage to respond with confidence to every problem, every difficulty, every broken heart and every human sorrow.

January 4, 2011

Don't Let the Devil Steal Your Joy

If the cards you received from friends and loved ones at Christmas were typical, most included a wish for a Happy New Year. What about it? Will your new year be happy? According to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, over 46 million people in this country say they are not happy.

Our country is involved in a war against terrorism, but each one of us is in a private war against Satan who is determined to deprived of all our joy.

The apostle Peter said that Satan walks around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and Paul tells us that we wrestle, not against flesh and blood but the rulers of darkness.

Paul Meier, author of Happiness is a Choice, points out that the Devil cannot steal your joy if you recognize that you, not Satan, are in control of your own attitude. Or as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

In other words, your attitude toward life, toward misfortune, toward the irritants of each day is yours alone, and nobody, not the Devil, not your boss, not the Republicans or the Democrats, the liberals or the conservatives can take your attitude from you unless you let them.

One of Satan’s most effective weapons for stealing your joy is when you allow yourself to brood, stew, fret and fuss over a disservice that someone did to you. Meier suggests that forgiving others is the single most important thing we do to be happy.

People whose opinions I respect debate the existence of Satan, but for me, Paul’s command to “put on the armor of God” is an invitation to prepare for battle against an image of evil personified who exists to steal my joy. I invite you to share that image.