December 22, 2013

In the Spirit of Christmas

Many years ago, at the annual Children’s Party at church, the children had just finished reciting their poems when Santa made an appearance dressed in a beautiful red and white suit, Ho Ho-ing loudly as he walked to the front of the sanctuary 

After greeting everyone and leading the children in a rousing chorus of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” Santa sat down and pulled from his bag the first of the gifts for the children. Santa kept quite a good list that year for as he spoke to each child, he had something personal to say about each one.

When all the gifts had been distributed, Santa was just about ready to lead everyone in a chorus of “Silent Night” when someone pointed out one little girl had not received a gift.

Santa’s face went from red to deep scarlet as he turned his bag inside out in a failed attempt to find one more gift.

Then a voice broke the awkward silence when little Emily Burdick, who had already received a gift from Santa, said, “She can have my present.”

Santa was suddenly speechless. When he recovered, he choked a bit with emotion, then suggested that everyone there had just witnessed an act of love that represented the very spirit of Christmas _ a gift given without hesitation or reservation to someone in need.

I vividly remember the incident that Christmas, because I was Santa Claus that memorable night.

December 16, 2013

Who Needs Christ during Christmas?

Residents and visitors to New York City during the Christmas Holidays are greeted by a new sign in Times Square displayed by the American Atheists. A 40x40 digital billboard proclaims, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A hand crosses out the word “Christ” and the word “Nobody” appears. 

Despite the atheists’ proclamation that Christmas is irrelevant and obsolete, over two billion Christians around the world continue to celebrate the greatest event in human history, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

American Atheists Public Relations Director Dave Muscato suggests “people don’t care about church and religion any longer. They only care about presents, fun and food.”

While everyone enjoys the tapestry that surrounds the holidays, Christians preserve and cherish the celebration of the birth of the Holy Child of Bethlehem who reaffirms the presence of God in their lives.

How ironic that atheists say Christ isn’t needed at Christmas when it was the Prophet who taught people to love their neighbors ___ even those who deny that God exists. 

May the Prince of Peace continue to bless those who believe in Christmas and those who do not.

December 9, 2013

Corpsman Up!

On April 19,1968 on a bridge in South Vietnam, nineteen year old United States Marine, Craig Belknap was severely wounded by enemy small arms fire. The shot blew out the ball and socket in the Marine’s hip, and as his life slipped away and darkness descended, he shouted out, “Corpsman up!” 

Doc Eric Hefright, the Navy paramedic attached to the wounded Marine’s unit, heard the call, and despite the danger from enemy fire, the corpsman answered Belknap’s plea. Soon the darkness that had descended on the wounded Marine vanished revealing the light once more.

The wounded Marine was hit again while Hefright treated him. Then Hefright was also hit in the hand and foot, but because the faithful corpsman stood by his post, the Marine survived. For his gallantry in action that day, Hefright was awarded the Silver Star, but his real reward was the life he saved.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth announced: 
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness  but will have the light of life."
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior this Christmas, may we embrace the light that Jesus offers to those who believe in him. It is a light that warms and comforts us and dispels the darkness of sin as it guides us safely through life. 

Thanks to my good friend Foster Ulrich for providing the inspiration for this Parable. 

December 2, 2013

What’s in Your Joy Bank?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is causing a stir with his recent observation that  “Most of mankind has believed in the devil for all of history.” (USA Today, November 25, 2013).

Additional comments by Scalia have led some people to think the Judge believes the devil is not just a symbol of evil but literally real.

Symbol, real or both, how can anyone doubt that evil exists? I believe there is an evil force in the world that attempts to have us focus on our own pleasures and turns us aways from others and from God. That force is constantly trying to steal our joy.

Pastor Judy White, who inspires our congregation each week with her thoughtful sermons, recently suggested we all need a “Joy Bank” where we deposit all the blissful moments in our life. “If we don’t regularly deposit our joy moments,” said Judy, "there will be times when life is difficult, and we need to focus on our blessings, but our Joy Bank will be empty.” 

I love the idea that we stay constantly alert for the bliss in our lives, and we remain forever alert to the devil’s attempt’s to steal joy from us.

There are many references to joy in the Bible, but the most succinct is probably the third verse of Psalm 126 which reads:
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.”

November 24, 2013

Broken Road, The Redemption of Tony Collins

During my regular visit to the non-fiction, new book shelves in the Penn Yan Public Library, I discovered Broken Road, a book written by local football celebrity Tony Collins and Bethany Bradsher.

Tony’s exceptional power and speed as a running back thrilled fans at Penn Yan Academy, East Carolina University and the New England Patriots. In each venue, he established records that still stand today.

Tony’s occupational hazard throughout his remarkable career was pain, but painkillers upset his stomach, so when he played for the Patriots, he chose to use marijuana for his nausea. That decision ultimately led to more hardcore substances and the dark abyss of drug addiction. Today, Tony blames no one but himself for his own bad choices.

After eight years of destructive addictions, Tony found the courage to escape the nightmare he created for himself. The power to turn his life around came from Trudy, the woman who gave him unconditional love and support, and God who gave him the opportunity, self confidence and peace of mind to change. 

Today, Tony speaks to high school athletes about making good choices. In Broken Road, where he records the mountains and valleys in his life, Tony writes:
"I truly believe that nothing is wasted in God's economy, and He intends for me to use the struggles of my life to help others make better choices."
May God be with Tony in that enterprise. 

November 17, 2013

There Is a War on Christmas!

Daniel Mach, director of ACLU’s program on freedom of religion and belief, is quoted in a recent USA Today article about Sarah Palin’s new book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas:
“Culture warriors have spread the myth of a fanciful ‘war on Christmas’ for years. This is largely a manufactured controversy. Christmas celebrations in this country are alive and well.”
Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia adds,
“There is no war on Christmas.”
I have lived through 82 Christmases, and the celebration of Christ’s birth has changed substantially since the Thirties when:
  • “Merry Christmas,” not “Happy Holidays” was the standard greeting.
  • Schools offered Christmas Concerts, not Winter Concerts. 
  • Christmas carols were sung in schools. 
  • Christmas cards outnumbered Holiday cards.
  • People decorated Christmas trees, not Holiday Trees.
  • Store clerks were permitted to wish customers a "Merry Christmas."
There are many theories about how December 25 was chosen as the date to observe Jesus’ birth, but the tradition is at least 1,700 years old.

In the past 100 years, Christmas practices have changed dramatically, but the fact remains December 25 is not simply a “holiday.” It continues to be a celebration of the birth of Christ, and no amount of semantic manipulation can change that fact!

November 12, 2013

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.

November 4, 2013

So Help Me God

On Friday, October 25, 2013, officials at the Air Force Academy announced that Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “So help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath. That phrase is now optional.

“So help me God” is an expression added to an oath as a call to a moral authority to guarantee someone’s honesty. So who will guarantee the oath taker’s integrity now? 

The decision to make the Academy oath optional was the result of accusations that the reference to God was a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

There are five references to God in the Declaration of Independence. If our Founding Fathers often referred to a Creator in that revered document, which clearly did not establish a religion, how can a reference to God in an Air Force Academy Oath now be considered a violation of the Establishment Clause?

Atheists believe references to God in official documents constitute the establishment of a church or a religion. It’s time for the ninety percent of us who believe in God to “man up,” and assert strongly and publicly, “No it doesn’t!  That position is not logical or defensible! ”

October 27, 2013

He Met an Angel in a Bar

Branden is a very hardworking and proud 26 year old man who, earlier this year, was diagnosed with Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma, a very rare, slow growing cancer found in 80 or fewer people in the United States.  

Branden is currently part of a clinical trial with doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan which he visits every two or three weeks. He gets up at 4:00 a.m. to make the 700 mile round trip by car, commercial airline and taxi. Sometimes, he is required to stay overnight.

Branden and his wife, Carrie, have a beautiful baby girl, Hadley Grace, who was born in the summer of 2013.

Recently, Branden’s father, Todd, attended a Buffalo Bills football game, and on his way home, he stopped at a tavern where he and a stranger began to talk at the bar. Todd learned his new acquaintance is a retired business owner who flies cancer patients to New York City for treatment at no cost to them.

The following day, Branden called the Good Samaritan and learned the plane’s location is convenient, and in New York City the retired businessman has a car to drive him directly to Sloan-Kettering where he will wait to bring Branden home. 

A recent poll suggests that 77 percent of adults believe in angels. Branden’s story will undoubtedly increase that percentage.
“There are no coincidences in God’s providence”  Cindy Woodsmall

October 21, 2013

Duck Dynasty and Creativity

I often check the non-fiction, new book shelves at the Penn Yan Library, and almost every time I do, I find something I enjoy reading. My current discovery is Happy, Happy, Happy, My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander.

The book is written by Phil Robertson, the creator of the popular “Duck Commander,” a tool hunters use to emulate the sound of a duck. The stunning success from Robertson’s creative mind ultimately led to the Duck Dynasty Reality TV show which rapidly became the number one, non-fiction series in cable TV history. The show, a cultural phenomenon, is about Robertson’s family, faith and fame which he lists in that order.

I am so impressed with people who use their God-given aptitudes, talents and skills, as well as their common sense and experience to be creators. God calls us to use our minds and creative abilities to solve problems wherever we find them ___ at work, at home, or like Robertson, in a duck call.

When someone uses his or her creative talent and experience to glorify the Creator, the result can be inspiring. That is why I have become a fan of Sam  Robson. a multi-track YouTube performer whose nine-part a cappella rendition of How Great Thou Art is unlike anything I have ever seen or heard. I urge you to take a minute to watch this phenomenal performance by a very talented young man.

October 14, 2013

Our "Liminal" Space

A recent sermon by Rev. Mark Longhurst, the Designated Pastor Of First Congregational Church in Williamstown, Massachusetts, made quite an impression on me.  

In his homily, Rev. Mark referred to churches that are in “liminal” space, that is on the “threshold” between traditional ways of doing things and new paths of service. Unexpectedly, I found in his sermon a message for each of us.

It occurred to me, as we greet each new day, we stand on a threshold between old routines and new opportunities to be more selfless, more considerate and more loving. Typically, we cross that threshold every day with the same old routines and habits, rarely challenging our attitudes or assumptions about life. 

Rev. Mark spoke about a new kind of “rummage sale” for churches in which  congregations dispose of traditional activities that no longer represent a church’s mission. Perhaps it’s time for each of us to schedule a personal rummage sale to rid us of those habits that no longer reflect the kind of person we want to be.  

Rev. Mark suggests there is transformative potential in “liminal” space.  I suggest that for each of us our “liminal” space is filled with promise, potential and awesome possibilities. Can people change? St. Paul thought so:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 21:5

October 7, 2013

Don't Let the Devil Steal Your Joy Revisited

A 2013 World Happiness Report released September 2013 by Columbia University’s Earth Institute ranked the United States 17 for overall happiness. Another 2013 poll reported that 207 million Americans, or approximately two-thirds of our population, say they are not very 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 deprive us of 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. 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, for one, will not let the Evil One win this battle.

September 29, 2013

Laughing Jesus

Laughing Jesus

Our United Methodist Church In Bluff Point, New York, now displays a banner in the sanctuary featuring a portrait of the Laughing Jesus, a constant reminder that the Son of God was also a man.  And laughing is a human activity. 

We rarely picture Jesus as a historical figure involved in human activities like laughing, smiling, singing, shouting, eating, drinking, swimming, running or working as a carpenter. Yet these are the activities that filled his daily life

Though people have been searching for the Jesus of history for centuries, none of us can know what he was really like. We depend on our own imagination based on the accounts of his life and death as recorded in the Gospels.  When we do that, it’s important that we not neglect Jesus’ human characteristics for without them the gulf between us is insurmountable.

But pull Christ off the stained glass window and consider him having flesh and blood like yours and mine, and you will believe in him as a living historical figure who laughed, felt pain, cried and bled, and the gap between us and God is bridged.

German theologian, Heinz Zahrnt, in a book titled The Historical Jesus, makes the point this way: 
“From the very beginning right until the present day the Church has been tempted to stress the “divinity” of Christ so one-sidedly that his manhood threatened to become a mere semblance. God offered Himself in an earthen vessel, but men down the ages have made it into a golden monstrance.”
Accepting the Son of God in an earthen vessel should not be difficult. After all, his life began in a stable.

September 23, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

I was ten years old on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and our family was eating dinner when the music on our radio was interrupted to report the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. The flight commander for the Japanese attack that killed 2,403 lives was Mitsuo Fuchida.

Four months later, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led sixteen B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier for the first air strike by the United States against Japan. Jake DeShazer was a bombardier in a plane that successfully attacked Nagoya but later ran out of gas. He baled out over an area of China held by the Japanese and was immediately captured and imprisoned. 

Despite being beaten and starved, DeShazer turned to Christ while still in prison and forgave those whom he had hated and despised. Following the war, DeShazer entered the ministry, then he returned to the country he had bombed in 1942 and was a missionary there for thirty years. 

In 1948, Mitsuo Fuchida read I Was a Prisoner of Japan, the story of DeShazer’s Christian awakening while in captivity. Inspired and transformed by the irresistible power of Christ’s love in DeShazer’s story, Fuchida became a dedicated Christian evangelist in Japan and the United States.

In 1950, the two men, who once were hated enemies, met for the first time and became close friends spreading Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness the rest of their lives. 

September 15, 2013


When our Mennonite neighbors’ house was destroyed by fire last year, Nancy and I assisted the family by providing transportation and food. One day at noon, we were invited to join the men who were constructing the new house and the women who were providing the meals.

When I sat down to eat, I found myself sitting with three elderly Mennonite gentlemen.  Most of the older Mennonite population in our area came from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and because Nancy and I lived there for many years, I had more than a few experiences to share with those with whom I was eating.

After twenty minutes, one of the men looked at me and said, “You like to talk, don’t you? Are you a salesman?”  Apparently, I was doing what I often do in a conversation with others . . . talking too much.

It’s time I concentrate on these three simple rules for participating in a conversation with others:
  • Subdue the I. The world is not always interested in my experiences.
  • Be “you” centered. Focus the conversation on others.
  • Do not interrupt.  It is insulting and degrading to the speaker.

According to Confucius, humility is the solid foundation of all virtues, and Jesus said, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  
"I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps."                        Mahatma Gandhi

September 8, 2013

This Is My Father’s World

With Gettysburg National Military Park as our playground growing up and after visiting many of our country’s National Parks when we retired, the Ken Burns’ series on National Parks was of special interest to Nancy and me.

The series features John Muir, the most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist of the Twentieth Century. Without Muir, it is quite possible the National Park System would not exist today.

One of the most striking things about the series is the numerous quotations by park visitors expressing the notion that God reveals himself through nature. John Muir, for example, spoke often of the spirituality of Yosemite, and Bonnie Gisel, author of several books on Muir, said this about Yosemite: Here was the absolute manifestation of the divine.”

Visitors to Yosemite, Yellowstone and other National Parks frequently report that the majestic and exhilarating vistas they experience create a sense of awe and wonder that is genuinely indescribable. 

Naturalist, author and wildlife biologist, Adolph Murie described Denali National Park in Alaska like this, “It was just like being in Heaven...” Perhaps, the feeling of insignificance and the exhilaration we experience when we visit our National Parks is God’s way of describing Heaven for us. 

The beloved hymn, This Is My Father’s World, is constantly played throughout the Burns’ series. That reality is obvious in our National Parks.

September 2, 2013

Family, Faith and Morality

When I was a child under ten, living in Newark, New Jersey, I got into a fight with a neighbor boy my age.  I don’t remember where I hit him, but it must have been a pretty good wallop, because he went home crying.

Shortly after, my mother called me into the house and asked if I had a fight with our neighbor. When I lied and said I didn’t, the door to an adjoining room opened and the boy I hit and his mother appeared having heard my lie. I don’t remember how I was punished, but I’m certain I was.

Long before we set foot in church, many of us were taught right from wrong from mom and dad, sometimes with painful consequences.    

Dr. W Frank Harrington, former Pastor of the Peachtree Church in Atlanta, Georgia said this about family:
“Family is the place where children learn about honesty, truth, responsibility, right and wrong, about God, how we relate in love to the other members of the family, to our siblings and to our parents and grandparents.”
Dr Harrington also added that “The most natural way to come to faith is to grow up in a family of faith.”

In addition, I believe the most natural way for children to learn about character and morality is to grow up in a family where those concepts are practiced. 

August 26, 2013

Walking with Awareness

Americans have been walking for exercise for decades. They walk to lose weight, to exercise their heart, to strengthen their bones and to improve their balance. Over 12,000 books are available on the subject of walking for exercise, and most of them suggest that the faster we walk the greater the benefit. 

Alexandra Horowitz’s new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, is not another treatise about how to walk for exercise. Instead, this is a book describing the benefits and of walking slowly with awareness.

Horowitz’s book is about human perception and small adventures that await us when we slow down and allow our senses to observe the beauty and simplicity of the world around us. “Our culture fosters inattention: we are creatures of that culture,” the author notes.
  • We see but we do not consciously observe. 
  • We hear but we do not consciously listen.
  • We touch but we do not consciously feel. 
I believe Jesus walked with awareness of the world around him, sensing the color, form and texture of simple things from everyday life like lilies, birds, weeds, wine, bread, fruit and water. These were all things that people knew well, and Jesus used them in parables to teach lessons about life and God. 

Alexandra Horowitz ends her book with this statement: “The unbelievable strata of trifling, tremendous things to observe are there for the looking. Look!”

August 19, 2013

The Gift of Peace

Our granddaughter, Jamie, recently texted to us a photo of a secret garden on Kanuga Lake, part of a 1400 acre retreat and conference center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The garden which is sculpted from the pine forest on the grounds, features a large cross, the revered symbol of Christianity.

The tranquil scene recalls to mind the gift of peace that Jesus bequethed to us in his last will and testament recorded in the Gospel of John:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
The serenity of mind and soul the Prince of Peace willed to us is the peace the host of angels sang of when they joyfully announced to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

Unlike the peace the world offers which is superficial and will ultimately perish, the peace that Jesus accorded us is true, boundless and everlasting.

In the words “ peace I give to you,” Jesus promised that the tranquility of mind and soul and heart that we observe in him, can be ours if we simply believe in him and accept the gift he has freely given to us.

Without a doubt, the garden on Kanona Lake is a calm and tranquil scene that enriches our senses. Accepting Christ’s gift stimulates perfect peace within.   

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

August 12, 2013

The Devil's Workshop

Satan called a meeting of his fallen angels to ask for suggestions for demoralizing and discouraging people of faith.
“Tell them there is no God,” proposed the first fallen angel. 
“That will never work,” said Beelzebub.” All Christians know there is a God.”  
A second fallen angel suggested: “Tell those Christians that because they are evil, God will never accept them.” 
“No good,” said the Prince of Darkness impatiently. “They know they can go to God regardless of their sins. Jesus paid the price for their evil deeds.” 
A third fallen angel proposed, “Tell them there is a God, and they may approach the Father regardless of their sins, but also tell them they have plenty of time to go to him. There is no rush!” 
“Brilliant!” said Lucifer. “Now go forth and spread the word there is no hurry to follow Jesus' lessons and commands, especially that one about loving their neighbors.”
Clare De Graaf, author of The Ten-Second Rule, suggests when God prompts us to demonstrate our love for others, we have ten seconds to act before Satan and his fallen angels do their best to dissuade us by convincing us there is no need to hurry.

The next time God tugs at your heart, the clock will begin to tick. Then what will you decide?

August 5, 2013

Thus Saith the Lord

In July of 2013, members of the Bluff Point United Methodist Church visited the Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to witness the biblical epic, Noah. In this Old Testament story, God speaks at length to Noah, describing in great detail the ark he must build before a great flood destroys every living thing. 

Carolyn Ruth Chapman posted an article on the internet where she records the number of times God spoke in an audible voice to people in the Old Testament. According to Chapman, there are 898 occasions when God spoke aloud to prophets and others. 

The audible voice of God may not shepherd us as it once did, but Scriptures and the Holy Spirit guide us now, and most people of faith will get a spiritual nudge when they recognize opportunities for acts of love. 

In his book, The 10-Second Rule, Clare De Graaf suggests we have just 10 seconds to respond to a prompt from God. After that, we begin to think of all the reasons we are reluctant, or too busy to do a service for someone who may need or appreciate our help.

How will you respond the next time God tugs at your heart? 

July 27, 2013

No Laughing in Church

One Sunday morning, a two year old boy was standing on a church pew facing the congregation when something he saw made him giggle. His mother turned the boy around and made him sit down saying, “Stop it! There’s no laughing in church!”

Perhaps it’s time people start laughing in church, for according to, since 1970, those who attend religious services several times a year or weekly decreased by 29 and 26 percent, respectively.

On a website titled Christianity, readers tell why they don’t attend church. Here’s a sample:

  • I don’t go because those people think they’re better than me.
  • As a single gay man I find that churches are not very welcoming.
  • One church asked me not to come back if I couldn’t wear a dress.
  • The pastors elevate those who sing the best and give the most.
  • I gave up because of politics, cliques, ostracizing and misuse of money.
  • Nobody ever notices if I’m there or not.

How sad that people give up worshipping with a congregation of believers when there are churches and synagogs where people are inspired, laugh, pray for those who need healing, welcome all visitors and feed the Lord’s sheep as Jesus commanded.

Nancy and I found a church like that:  Bluff Point United Methodist Church

You can too!

July 21, 2013

Founding Fathers Were Men of Faith

On June 29, 2013, in Bradford County Florida, 200 nonbelievers unveiled a monument to atheism. Etched on one side of the six-ton granite stone is an obscure phrase from the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, “. . .the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . .”

Certainly, the creators of the atheism pillar would have preferred a quote suggesting the United States was not created by men who believed in God, but the evidence suggests the Founding Fathers were, in fact, men of faith.

Dr. Harold Pease, a history and political science instructor at Taft College, who has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers, points out there are five references to God in the Declaration of Independence, a document which ends with these words:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” 
The Declaration is signed by fifty-six representatives and ratified by all the states in the union.

The fact is the Founding Fathers were spiritual men who believed in God. Most, if not all, were Christians. Certainly, that does not make the United States a Christian Nation, but it does make us a country founded by men of God, a fact that atheists would prefer that we forget.

July 14, 2013

Faith and Works

A man fell in a deep pit, and he couldn’t climb out:
  • A subjective person came by and said, “I feel sorry for you.”
  • An objective person said, “You are in trouble. That’s a fact.”
  • An EPA agent asked the man if he had a permit to dig the pit.
  • An IRS agent asked the man if he was paying taxes on the pit.
  • A miserable person complained, “You should see my pit!”
  • An optimist told the man, “Things could be worse.”
  • A pessimist told the man, “Things will get worse.”
  • A practical person observed, “Now that is a pit!”
  • A “fire and brimstone” preacher said, “You deserve the pit.”
  • A therapist said, “Believe in yourself and you can get out of the pit.”
  • A psychiatrist said, “Tell me about your childhood.”
  • A mathematician calculated the depth of the pit.
  • A reporter took notes to write a story about the man in the pit.
  • A Christian who believed that faith and works are linked, took the man by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.

Everyone who found the man in the pit had an opinion about his plight, but none of them did anything about his dilemma.

In a letter considered to be a how-to book on Christian living, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:
“Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”
Most Christians have the belief part down.  The question is, “Have they broken a sweat doing something about it?”

July 7, 2013

Acting on God’s Prompt

 In the 1990s, many Christians wore a wristband featuring the letters WWJD which represented the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The phrase was a reminder that when faced with a moral problem, or the opportunity to help someone in need, the wearer should ask, “What does Jesus tell me I should do?”

If there are prophets in the twenty-first century to whom God speaks directly, I am not aware of them, but I do believe when faced with a moral dilemma or an opportunity to help someone in need, most believers do get a Spiritual nudge. 

In his new book, The 10-Second Rule, Clare De Graaf suggests that when we are nudged, we should act on God’s prompt immediately before other voices begin to suggest all the reasons we should not submit to his will.

De Graaf admits The 10-Second Rule is intended to give us practice for what he calls, “Entry-level obedience.” He refers to it as “a clever memory device to help us tweak our obedience skills.”
The Ten-Second Rule is best reserved for resisting every temptation and for acting on Godlike impressions to be kind, encouraging and generous.”
In the movie, Full Metal Jacket, a weary combat veteran tells an enthusiastic replacement who can’t wait to get into the war, “You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” The Ten-Second Rule encourages us to be attentive to the voice of God, and to “walk the walk” when he nudges our heart.

Many thanks to DR Gary Schwantz who introduced me to The Ten-Second Rule.  

June 30, 2013

Human Cloning and the Human Spirit

Earlier this year (2013), researchers reported they have cloned human embryos to produce stem cells. The accomplishment is a huge step toward the possibility of treating human diseases; however, the news also raises the obvious question: will it ever be possible to clone a person?

Scientists have already cloned frogs, mice, cats, sheep, pigs and cows; however, in each case researchers had to overcome many problems. For example, Dr. Robert Lanza, scientist, theoretician and author of Biocentrism, cloned a species of cattle called banteng, and it was twice the size of a normal banteng when it was born.  

“The extremely high rate of death, and the risk of developmental abnormalities from cloning makes cloning people unethical,” Lanza said.

Despite the risks, humans will likely be cloned someday, but Catholic Priest Father Saunders refers to the end result of that process as “soulless replicas of human beings.”  

Human cloning disregards the prevailing conviction that we are more than the sum of our biological functions. It overlooks that part of us we know as the human spirit or soul, and fails to account for what humans can accomplish through ambition, love, determination, faith and willpower.

One of the best films of the nineties was Gattaca, the story of a future society where someone’s station in life is determined by manipulating the genes in a fetus. The tagline for the movie is an astute comment on human cloning: 
“There is no gene for the human spirit.”  

June 23, 2013

Learning to Forgive

During our recent Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration, our granddaughter, Jamie and I discussed the need to forgive those who offend us. When she returned to her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, Jamie forwarded this quote by Norman Vincent Peale apropos of our conversation:
Resentment or grudges do no harm to the person against whom you hold   these feelings but every day and every night of your life, they are eating at you. 
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who offended us, “As many as seven?” And Jesus answers, “I tell you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven.”

These are the words of the Great Physician, a Mighty Counselor, who understood that forgiving someone’s offense against us relieves the emotional pain we experience when we are bitter and resentful.

But what if that bitterness and resentment is directed to God? For example, in times of tragedy, adversity and injustice, we sometimes blame God for our pain and disappointments.   

In her new book Conflict-Free Living, Joyce Meyer, charismatic Christian author and speaker, suggests that blaming God is a trap that Satan sets for us:
“God is not the trouble maker __the devil is. It is the world, the flesh and the devil that give us trouble __ not God.”
God doesn’t need forgiveness but If you are bitter toward Him, a condition Meyer refers to as a “spiritual roadblock,” release yourself from your resentment and forgive Him.

Relieve yourself of unnecessary pain and bitterness. Release unwanted hurts and ill will. Learn to forgive.  

June 17, 2013

Family Love

I recently learned on Facebook that Kelsey Rainey, a distant relative, received high marks and praise for her school science fair project. I sent a note to Kelsey’s Dad saying, “Please tell Kelsey that her first cousin twice removed [that’s me] says that’s “awesome.” It was an opportunity to remind Kelsey she is part of an extended family. 

On Saturday, June 15, 2013, Nancy and I celebrated our Sixtieth Wedding Anniversary with all of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren plus their spouses, in-laws, boyfriends and significant others. The festivities reminded everyone present that he or she is part of our extended family.

On joyful occasions, family members gather to show their love for each other, and in times of grief and sorrow, family members lean on the promises of God, but also find great strength in each other. Family is where people learn that they are part of a circle of life which gives them stability and a sense of permanence.

Dr. Frank Harrington, former pastor of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, said this about family:
“Family is the place where children learn honesty, truth, responsibility, right and wrong, about God and our relationship with God, how we relate in love to the members of the family, to our siblings and to our parents and grandparents.”
We may not all be privileged to know our first cousin twice removed, but let us give thanks to God for caring families whose love and faithfulness help sustain us and give us a sense of who we are.

June 6, 2013

Happily Married for Sixty Years

Most family members and many friends know that Nancy and I had a first date in 1947 when we were juniors at Gettysburg High School. Nancy invited me to go with her to a party, and according to her diary, I said, "Sure."  

Nancy's 1948 diary suggests limited interaction between us until February 27 at the Teen Canteen in Gettysburg. We danced together three times that evening, until Nancy prepared to leave with friends. Before she disappeared, I asked her to dance again, and on that Enchanted Evening, I fell in love with the woman I would marry five years later.  

Here are just a few reasons our sixty year marriage has succeeded. We are:
  • Polite - Courteous, never sarcastic, never rude; 
  • Sincere -  Candid and truthful, no silent treatment ever; 
  • Considerate - Respectful of each other’s needs; 
  • Patient - Accepting each other’s habits and idiosyncrasies;
  • Compatible - Well suited, love the same activities; 
  • Forgiving - Always prepared to forgive and forget; 
  • Spiritual - Devoted to our church and our God;
  • Committed - Forever faithful to each other.
When Nancy and I exchanged our high school graduation pictures in 1949, she wrote on hers, "I'm always happiest when I am with you." That simple emotion is so meaningful, because it expresses what we both still feel about being together.

A line from a song called After All These Years, may best describe our love today. You can listen to the entire song on the link below the phrase:

      "You’re still the only one, I'll ever hold near,
        And I still love you after all these years."

June 3, 2013

What Motivates You?

A seminary professor asked her students to write a sermon, and when the assignment was completed, one of the class members received a D for his effort. A note on the document indicated the message was creative, but the title lacked appeal.

The student was given twenty-four hours to come up with a better title. The professor said, “imagine a bus load of people have stopped in front of your church, and when they see the sermon title on the bulletin board, what will motivate them to get off the bus and run into your church?”

The student’s grade was changed when he offered his new title which read, “There’s a bomb on your bus.”

Fear, ambition, money, pride, revenge and the thrill of competition may motivate some people at one time or another, but, friends, I suggest the greatest motivator of all is love.

Author Joe Vitle says, “People will scale mountains with luggage on their backs, swim upstream in a hurricane and battle armies and all odds to fulfill that hard-wired emotion in us to love and be loved. Love rules.”

It is certain that love rules in Christian living, and those who love the Lord reach out to minister, support and sustain others in need, all in a spirit of service and a desire to make a difference.

What is it that motivates you?

May 17, 2013

A Passion for Work

A Passion for Work

Tom Coughlin, Head Coach of the New York Giants of the National Football League, has written a new book with David Fisher, titled Earn the Right To Win. It is the record of how he led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories with a combination of exceptional preparation, incredible attention to detail and his total commitment to football.

Coughlin’s passion for his work defines what it means to be a workaholic, devoting minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day to football. In a chapter on scheduling, he quotes Thomas Jefferson:
“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.”
I admire Tom Coughlin’s success as a head football coach, and his devotion to his work is far beyond anything I experienced in my 82 years. But that’s probably because I never allowed my occupation to consume my life. 

Undoubtedly, I could have been more successful if I had devoted every hour of every day to my career, but I preferred to share my life, my interests, and my skills with my family, my church and my community. I also reserved time to observe and enjoy the awesome beauty of the world around me, a gift from a good and gracious Creator.

Tom Coughlin chooses to devote his life to his work. For me, making a living is not the same thing as making a life.

May 8, 2013

Faith and The Myth of Happiness

In her new book, The Myth of Happiness, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, explains how our notions about what will make us happy are often wrong. 

For example, Lyubomirsky suggests it is a myth for someone to believe that, “I’ll be happy when x, y or z happens__________ (Fill in the blank).” For example, “I’ll be happy when I get a new job; I get a bigger house; My divorce is final.” According to the author, the happiness from any such accomplishments is often fleeting.

Another myth Lyubomirsky refutes is that wealth and prosperity will lead to happiness. According to economists, as our income rises, our level of happiness appears to depend on additional needs and new spending 

I have examined The Myth of Happiness carefully for references to religion, faith, worship, or God and there are none.  While the author refers often to the joy or pain we experience in relationships, Lyubomirsky never addresses the happiness that comes from having a connection to God.

Joy is a common theme in the Holy Scriptures, and Judy White, our pastor at the Bluff Point United Methodist Church, reminds us each Sunday morning of the serenity and happiness that comes from having a relationship with Christ.

Judy is also a role model for her congregation, for despite the tragic events in her own life, her spirit still sings, and she remains one of the most joy-filled persons I know. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ has allowed her to cope with her trials and find happiness in her life. And that’s no myth!  

May 2, 2013

A Mother’s Day Parable *

As God struggled with Creation, an angel pleaded with him to take a break. 

“I can’t. I’m too close to making someone very special,” said God. “I’m calling my creation ‘mother,’ and I already have one who heals herself when sick, can feed a family of six on a pound of hamburger and can get a nine year old to take a shower.”

Inquisitive to see just what it was that had captured God’s interest, the angel began to circle the model. “She’s too soft,” said the angel.

“But she’s tough,” said the Lord. “You can’t imagine what a mother will be able to endure,” the Creator added.

The angel ran a finger across the model’s cheek. “She’s leaking. I think you are putting too much into her. 

“That’s not a leak,” said the Lord. 

“What’s that for?” asked the angel. 

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride,” the Lord answered.

“You are a genius!” the angel noted admiringly. 

Somberly, God said, “I can’t take credit for the tears. Those were her idea.”
* A paraphrase from Erma Bombeck’s When God Created Mothers 
Finally, an old Jewish Proverb:
“God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers.”