Friday, June 30, 2017


Back when I was growing up, you went to the barber shop for a hair cut.  No one made an appointment.  You just went, sat, and waited your turn.  There were no stylist, just barbers.  No televisions were perched at every corner.  Men and boys passed the time while reading old magazines and listening to the old guys talk men talk.  It was the kind of place Jayber Crow had in Port William.  When Wendell Berry wrote "Jayber Crow"  he set such a place right in the middle of the community.   
One night after working hours, Matt Feltner came to sit a spell.  Matt's son, Virgil, had been reported missing and was now presumed dead in the war.  The two men talked about everything but the loss and grief the father brought into the shop.  Finally, they came to a place of having talked in general terms about the war which caused Jayber to offer an attempt at comfort.  "Well, along with all else, there's goodness and beauty too.  I guess that's the mercy of the world."  Then, out of the mouth of the grief stricken father came the words I had to underline before closing the book for a spell, "The mercy of the world is you don't know what's going to happen."
We often talk about wanting to know how some story which is a part of our life is going to play out.  "If only I could see into the future..." we say.  Most of us never think of the unknown part of our life as a gift of mercy.  Imagine if we knew ahead of time some of the tragedy and hard times which touched our life.  Imagine if we knew a certain thing was going to fall heavy upon us tomorrow at noon.  Do we really want to know all the future that is before us?  Is not living the present moment really all we really want to do?  God knows what is around the bend.  We cannot see, nor can we know.  Surely, if we think about it for a time, we will come to the same place as the old man in the barber shop.   The fact that we cannot know what is ahead does not speak of an uncaring God, but one who gives mercy.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Life in the Fog

Wendell Berry brought Jayber Crow to life in his book back in the year 2000.  Only in these more recent years of retirement have I found him.  I have read the book not once, but several times.  Back then I was too busy with things which Jayber Crow would have determined to be a waste of good time.  My reading was more about "how to do" than how to live which Jayber Crow figured out more quickly and better than I did.  I have offered numerous introductions to others since I met Jayber, but I am not sure how those relationships have gone.
One of my favorite underlinings from the book is a simple statement about faith.  "But faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a little boat, as in the fog, in the dark."  The River is a central part of the story Wendell Berry tells.  Since Jayber spends his whole life in contact with the river, the line about faith are obviously words experienced in the heart.  We too often think that our faith will land us on some destination shoreline when it is actually a word which speaks of the way we are journeying toward that shore. 
We like to think of faith as a comforting thing.  Yet, the truth is that those who really live by faith are those who have learned to live in the frightening world of uncertainty with a confidence that all is well.  Being in a little boat on wide river is surely frightening.  Throw in the fog and the dark and it is terrifying.  Such is where God is calling us live.  Faith is trusting that Someone can handle what we cannot handle.  Faith is believing that He will get us through even though it seems impossible.  Faith is not about staying in the present, but moving into the future which has no boundaries and unknown possibilities.  Faith is believing that God is out there somewhere and knowing that no more is needed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Early Rising

Some time ago, though not as long ago as I would like to report, I came to a place of realizing that I needed to start rising early in the morning to spend time in prayer with God.  Not being one who thought of himself as an early riser, I had put off this decision for some time.  As is the case with anything we want to do, or want to avoid doing, justification is easy.  So, I told myself that there was nothing which could not be done at some time other than in the early morning hours.  And while such may not be true for everyone, it was a poor choice for me.  I was wrong.  Prayer and time alone with God works better for me in the morning, more so than any other time of the day.
I have often wondered why it works this way for me.  Maybe it is the fact that early prayers require an intentional commitment.  It is not a matter of convenience.  There is only one reason which is getting me up at some ungodly hour.  The early rising speaks of some sacrifice.  Maybe it is not the kind of sacrifice which goes with martyrdom, but still it speaks of some in my life.  But, most of all it enables me to come before the Father with the awareness that He is the reason I have chosen not to sleep an extra hour. 
So, my underlining what E.M. Bounds wrote in his book, "Prayer" should be no surprise. "More time and early hours devoted to prayer would revive and invigorate many a decayed spiritual lifeMore time  and early hours for prayer would be manifest in holy living.  A holy life would not be so rare or difficult a thing if our devotions were not short and hurried....We live shabbily because we pray meagerly."  One thing I have come to desire is meaningful time alone with God.  Getting to it first thing has proven to be the best way to accomplish this spiritual goal.  Anyone struggling might find it worth their time to experiment with early rising for prayer.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Different Direction

Another underlined and penetrating word of E. M. Bounds in his book entitled, "Prayer," reads "Where are the Christlike leaders who can teach the modern saints how to pray?  Where are the leaders who will put them to the task?  Do our leaders know we are raising up a prayerless set off saints?  Where are the apostolic leaders who can put God's people to praying?  Let them come to the front and do the work, and it will be the greatest work that can be done.  An increase of educational facilities and a great increase of financial support will be the most disastrous curse to religion, if these things are not sanctified by more and better praying than we are doing."
I am always amazed when reading the words of this man born in 1835.  It would seem he was writing for the church of this present day.  Over and over this comes to mind as I read the pages he wrote so long ago.  Sometimes we long for "do-overs."  If such were possible, I would put less focus on the physical signs of success and work to direct the churches entrusted to me more toward the cultivation of the spiritual life.  It is not that I did not see myself as being concerned about the spiritual growth of those souls entrusted to me, but sometimes I wonder if I was walking in leadership as I should have been.  The temptation for bigger building and more people in the pews was always present. And, I must confess the temptation was not always pushed aside.
Edward McKendree Bounds points the church of our day in a different direction than it often seems to be going and he does it from over a hundred years ago.  If the ship of the church is ever going to be righted, it will not be because it has achieved the kind of success the world around it declares to be important, but because it has learned that being in the presence of the Almighty is the most important thing.  If we work, worship, serve, and lead in His presence, He can be trusted to do the rest. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Old Word

If all my books were taken away except three, the one I would hold the longest would be that well worn, marked up Bible that has been my companion in the pulpit and study for many a year.  The second most important book is one I have carried along the journey now for nearly fifty years.  It is Oswald Chamber's daily devotional guide, "My Utmost for His Highest."   The third to which I would cling is one written by E.M. Bounds entitled "Prayer."   Actually, "Prayer" is a compilation of the seven books this great man of prayer wrote prior to his death in 1913.
While I have many books on prayer, if I could only have one, it would be this volume written by E,M. Bounds.  So many pages are marked with underlinings, but the one I have gone to the most and the one which speaks volumes to me is one about the church.  It reads, "What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods.  She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use--men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.  The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men.  He does not come on machinery, but on men.  He does not anoint plans, but men--men of prayer."
It is such an old word.  Over a hundred years old.  But, such a powerful word for the present age.  The church and its servants, male and female, depend too much on things other than prayer.  If there is anything missing in the church today it is a strong and determined commitment to pray.  Have a fellowship meal and draw a crowd.  Have a prayer meeting and have no worries about filling a room. What Bounds wrote over a hundred years ago speaks a powerful penetrating word to the church of our day. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Why Mrs. Evans, my high school English and Literature teacher, recruited me for the debate team is beyond me.  Had a vote been taken I would have easily won the award for being the one least likely to succeed in earning a living as a public speaker.  As an introvert, I was always more comfortable with a book, or secluded in my bedroom with ham radio equipment.  But, there is an even greater mystery in my life.  Why God chose to call me as a preacher of the gospel makes no sense at all.  I have always figured He was scraping the bottom of the barrel the night He called me to preach.
As one called from the bottom of the barrel, I am deeply grateful for a life time of preaching.  I have been privileged to preach a sermon lifting up Christ at least once or twice every Sunday for most of my life.  I have enjoyed the preaching, all of it, the praying over it, the study and preparation, the being in the pulpit, and the every now and again the report of the Spirit's work through it in someone's life.  It is one of those life activities which has given meaning and purpose.  For whatever the reason, I am grateful God dared to take a chance on me and called me to preach.

No doubt this is part of why I underlined some words of Charles Spurgeon from "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon."  He was writing about his initial experience of coming to know Christ as Savior through the preaching of lay person in a Primitive Methodist Church.  "The books were good, but the man was better.  The revealed Word awakened me, but it was the preached Word that saved me, and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the Word, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights."   I pray my preaching has brought such to some of those who heard it.  And, even more, I pray that those who stand to preach today will be humbled and inspired by the God given moment being given to them.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Sin of Accomodation

"By degrees we get familiar with sin.  I am fearful that even preaching against sin may have an injurious effect upon the preacher.  I frankly confess that there is a tendency with those of us who have to speak upon these themes, to treat the m professionally rather to make application of them to ourselves, and thus we lose our dread of evil in some degree just as young doctors soon lose their tender nervousness in the dissecting room."   These words of that 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, still resonate as words of truth.  And, while he is talking about preachers in this sermon from "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon" it is a word which transcends the type of work we do to the lives we live.  
There was more than one reason I underlined it.  Chief among them was the way it reminded me of how easy it has become for us to sleep with our sin.  Instead of finding ourselves under conviction, as the old timers used to talk about it, we have learned to live with our sin without allowing it to bother us too much.  No one seems to take sin seriously these days.  Seldom do we use the word and when we do, it is usually with the disclaimer, "Everyone does it!" which supposedly makes it all right, or at least provides some personal excusing justification.

The Apostle Paul spoke of being dead to sin.  He used some harsh and definite language which he used the image of crucifixion of the sin in us.  Nothing vague about his view of the seriousness of sin.  According to his Spirit inspired writing, what we rightfully deserve for our sin is death.  Thus, our only hope of handling sin is not within us, but on the cross where the Savior died.  It is no wonder there is little cross preaching in our day.  No one senses any need for it.  Listening to the popular common consensus is dangerous.  It is a dead end street, but the cross of God takes us beyond the death we deserve to the life given by grace. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Being Disrespectful

Most of us can own up to the fact that knowing what God wants us to do in most situations is not a difficult thing.  The difficulty is not usually in the knowing, but in the doing.  One of my favorite real life stories is told by a preacher friend who went through the racial struggles of this region back in another day and was told by a parishioner, "Preacher, I know what to do.  I just ain't ready to do it yet."  Who among us has not stood in the midst of some issue of our own life and knew those words to be words guiding us in the moment.  Sometimes we simply do not pay attention to what we know.

In that book of sermons, "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon," I took my underlining pen to some Spurgeon words, "God has given us His commands...but we do not pay any attention to them...When we realize we have been disrespecting God all the time, we are covered with shame and humiliation because we have not heeded Him."  His words take us into a different way of thinking about doing what we know is right to do.  When we choose to do not what we know to do, it is not only disobedient, but it is also disrespectful.  One thing taught by my elders was to be respectful of others.
To think that I would be disrespectful of Jesus is something which grieves the heart. It is one thing for someone to choose to disregard what we say, but to be ignored is an even worse thing.  When we know the right thing to do and choose it not, we are living as if Jesus was not even in the room.  While He stands present with us, we pay Him no attention at all.  It is no wonder Spurgeon spoke of shame and humiliation for such is what we have felt in those moments of disobeying and disrespecting Jesus.  "Lord, forgive me...and have mercy."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Dog and a Bone

Like a dog thrown a bone, I have been gnawing on a Word from the scripture all day.  Now, it may not be an orthodox or traditional way to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit and it may seem a bit too irreverent for some, but all day long it has seemed like the Spirit threw me a bone this morning during those quiet moments when I was seeking His presence.  What I do know is that I have quietly been chewing on it all day.  Each time my mind went to neutral, there it was.  I felt like my old dog who takes a bone, holds it with his front feet as if they are hands, and then pulls at it one way and then another with his teeth.  So has it been with me.
The Word was in the form of I Peter 1:13.  "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when He is revealed."  I remembered an early teaching about the word "Therefore..." so I recognized it as an important word of transition and looked to see what came in the early verses.  I was also struck by those three words directing personal action:  "prepare...discipline...set..."  But, what really captivated my attention was the image created by the Words, "set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring to you when He is revealed."  Not "set your hope," but "set all your hope." 
The difference between those two phrases is the thing on which I have chewed all day.  Like a dog with a bone.  It would seem that Peter is saying it is not enough to just hope which might be something done in a sporadic way, but that we should cast all our hope on the grace of Jesus Christ in such a manner that it speaks of being abandoned totally to it.  Maybe the word "all" is calling me to put all my eggs in one basket without any fear or reservation. Maybe there is only one thing worthy of all my hope and that is the unexplainable, unmatchable, unexpected favor and mercy offered without any divine accounting to see if I am a worthy recipient.  Such is surely where the Word is calling you and me to put all our hope.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Key

While reading sermons in "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon" it becomes obvious that the preacher has a gift for words and a great ability to craft a sentence.  But, the truths he proclaim are not really difficult to grasp.  His sermons were to common folks who shared 19th century life with him in London.  Practical is one way I would describe much of his preaching.  One such word which I underlined was."And let me tell you a little secret.  Whenever you cannot understand a text, open your Bible, bend your knee, and pray over that text.  And if it does not split into atoms and open itself, try again.  If prayer does not explain it, it is one of the things God did not intend you to know and you may be content to be ignorant of it.  Prayer is the key that opens the cabinet of mystery."

While the scriptural context for these words has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit, Spurgeon reminds of something often forgotten.  Understanding the Word is not just about us, it is also about the way the Holy Spirit is able to work in our hearts.  Thus, an attitude of prayer is something which is both desirable and necessary if we are to truly hear the Word of God within the Sacred Word.  Too many times we jump into our reading without making our heart ready to receive it.  When we do this, it simply makes the reading a mental exercise which was never intended.
Prayer and the Word are to be partners.  While we can pray without reading the Word, our reading of the Word is best done when prayer precedes it and accompanies it.  One of the primary prayers needed for understanding is the simple prayer, "Lord, what is it that You want to say to me through Your Word today?"  If we do not know and believe that He can be expected to speak so directly to us through the reading of the Holy Scripture, then we have missed an important reason for reading it in the first place. 

Monday, June 19, 2017


I have never been a fan of books filled with sermons.  I always figured my book money could be put to better use.  I started out with some books of sermons by some of the more well known preachers of an earlier day, but never enlarged that section of my personal library.  I guess I heard enough sermons when I preached on Sunday morning to last a life time.  However, when I retired, I kept running into references to Charles Spurgeon, a prominent English preacher of the 19th century.  Since he was spoken of as the "Prince of Preachers," I figured I might break my rule, spend a little money, and read some of his sermons. 

The book I bought is entitled "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon."  I have been reading it now and again for the last two years.  At 1400 pages it would make a long read for one sitting!  I can see why he is so highly regarded as a preacher.  Even his written sermons preach.  One of my underlinings from his sermons reads, "You are not allowed to halve the scriptures and to believe what you please.  You are not allowed to believe the scriptures with halfheartedness, for if you do this willfully, you have not the faith that looks alone to Christ.  True faith gives its full assent to the scriptures.  It takes a page and says, 'No matter what is in the page, I believe it.' "

The truth is that we live in a "pick and choose" day.  We pick what we want to read from the sacred Word and then decide whether we will accept it or not.  Many of our day read the Bible not as an authoritative Word from God because they read it with the false idea that their own value system determines the authority it has for our living.  If it agrees with the common consensus of the day, then it has value, and if not, then it is disregarded as irrelevant and out-of-date.  What an idea!  The Word of God that has stood for all generations is now out-of-date.  How important some folks must regard themselves as being!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Fixed Point

If we live more than a day or two, we are going to be overwhelmed and nearly devastated by some of the things thrown at folks like you and me.  Death of a loved one.  Divorce.  Cancer.  Losing a job.  Disability.  Tornado, earthquake, or whatever you want to name it, but live long enough and it will come.  At some point in life, we all walk through what we know as deep darkness.  There is nothing we can do to avoid the darkness, it just happens.  Not to some, but to everyone.
And if you are anything like me, when it does you will rant and rail against it.  If you are even a bit like me, you may shake your fist in the air at God and tell Him that He can take a hike for all the good He is doing.  If like me, you may even feel that the darkness means that God has lifted His love from you.  In the book, "Moving Mountains," John Eldredge wrote a word that sent me scurrying for my pen.  "You should not, must not, please, please do not evaluate the loving kindness of God toward you by the swirling tornado of events--especially by whether or not He seems to be answering the prayer at hand."
I have, of course, done exactly what he says not do.  Maybe you have as well.  The author goes on to tell those who read his words to evaluate God's love, not according to circumstances, but only according to the cross.  No matter the darkness, look to the Man hanging on the cross to see the love and the heart of God.  If we look anywhere else but Calvary, we look in the wrong place.  Like the North Star, it is the constant of the universe that always keeps us focused and moving toward the true love that God has for each one of us.

Friday, June 16, 2017


In "Falling Upward"  Richard Rohr wrote and I underlined, ""Sooner or later, if you are on any classic "spiritual schedule," some event,, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower.  Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources...This is the only way that Life...God...can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey."   Like a baby bird in the nest, we have to be pushed out to fly, to experience the new that is coming toward us. 
Our first choice is to stay put.  God's first choice is to lead us into a life where dependence on Him is necessary and required.  Where we will always choose to stay is inside what we have come to call our comfort zone.  Our comfort zone is the place where we can handle stuff.  It is the place where we have control.  We know what to expect and how to handle all the contingences.  We really do not need God to help us because inside our comfort zone we have complete control of our life. 
So, if God wants to do something new in us, or take us down a different path from the one we are walking. it may take something akin to a push.  It may take some hard moment to make us move from where we are.  It is not that God is going to send some personal storm to dislodge us, but He may surely use one that is about to blow us down.  In the midst of life's difficult and unthinkable moments, it is always wise to listen for the voice of the Spirit.  It is a voice which may lead us down a road we never would have chosen, but if the choice is of God, we can go like Abraham or Moses who walked into an unknown future armed only with faith that God was dependable.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Wrong Wall

In "Falling Forward" Richard Rohr writes, "Thomas Merton, the American monk, pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall."  Hardly had the eye finished the sentence before the hand reached for the pen to underline.  I wanted to be sure a later flipping of the pages would cause me to pause on that page again.  I knew when I read the words that I was that guy.

In his book Rohr writes of the first half of life and the second half.  It is not a chronological thing which evenly divides our years, but an attitude thing which determines how we live the years given.  Getting to the top of whatever ladder we are climbing is what consumes the first half and the second is consumed by the awareness that there is more to life than what is at the top of that ladder.  Some may enter into the second half awareness much earlier than others while some may never get there.

Chasing all the things we have been taught we have to have to be a success make it difficult to come to terms with the truth that real living is more about being than doing, more about caring than accumulating, and more about giving than taking.  Jesus' call to be Kingdom seekers speaks of the place to put the ladder, but most of us figure we can seek the Kingdom with the ladder leaning against another wall.  Some folks long ago tried to worship Yahweh and Baal.  Two altar worship still plagues us and robs us of the abundant life offered by Jesus.  Any place other than the way of Jesus is the wrong wall.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blessed Are the Thinkers

Anyone uncomfortable with thinking about the tried and true stuff of life in new ways should probably not read the stuff Richard Rohr writes.  He is certainly no status quo dweller and neither does he encourage others to pitch a tent in such a land.  In one of his books with the strange title, "Falling Upward," he explores the difference in what he speaks of as the two halves of life.  One of my earlier underlinings in this book reads, "The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a big push--usually a big one--or we will not go.  Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in--but only to be moved out from."
Without trying to speak in a geographic context, it has been my experience that a big push has often been necessary to get me to move from one place, or one season, in my life to the next one.  I have always seemed to be one of those who likes it where I am.  Such an approach to living our spiritual life is "counter Kingdom," meaning that it is not really the way of the Kingdom of God seekers.  All the great stories found in the Word tell us about men and women being drawn by the Spirit from one faith place to another.  As sure as we start feeling secure and comfortable where we are in our journey of faith, God will beckon us forward to a place where comfort and control is no longer the standard of normal.
Screaming and kicking is how I have often gone.  Wondering why life has to be like it is has been the attitude to which I often cling in moments of change.  Avoiding the hard and painful has always seemed to make the most sense.  Yet, getting me from where I choose to be to where I have come to understand God is calling me to be has often required me to stand in such moments.  Most of us do not easily slip and slide forward into God's future for us; instead, we hang on to the past as if it is good for the rest of our life.  It is no wonder we experience life as such a struggle.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chasing the Moon

One night while out chasing the moon as it hovered full on the edge of the wheat field, Ann Voskamp found herself prostrate on the ground in a powerful moment of unexpected worship.  Many things stirred in her spirit.  In her book, One Thousand Gifts," she shares some of those stirrings.  One of them caused me to pull out my pen and do some underlining.  I even put a star in the margin by the words.  "Every moment I live, I live bowed to something.  And if I don't see God, I'll bow down before something else."
It is both an ancient and a contemporary problem for people who are supposedly following after God.  The Old Testament tells many stories of folks who worship Yahweh and some other god just in case Yahweh failed to deliver.  If Yahweh could not bring the rain for the harvest, maybe Baal would take care of it.  Hedging their bets is what we might call it in our day.  The same double-mindedness still afflicts folks like you and me today.  We trust in God, but we also make sure we do not get so carried away as to put our sense of security in jeopardy.  And who is it that provides that sense of security?  If not God, then it must be self and all the systems we have put in place.
We actually do too little bowing down.  It is a bit difficult to bow down when the object of our worship, the object of our final trust, is within our own self.  As hard as it is for us to grasp, it is impossible to depend on ourselves and God at the same time.  If we are worshipping at more than one altar, it is one altar too many.  And even worse, it may be at the wrong altar.  A person can really only serve one master.  Someone much wiser than any of us has taught us that lesson, but hearing and believing are always two different things. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Prayer for Today

"Father God, I want to thank You today for sending Your Son to walk and live among us.  Since He was here with us, I can be sure You know what it is to walk in some of the hard places we all end up walking.  When we feel alone and bewildered, it is reassuring to finally come back to the place of knowing You are not only alongside through Your Spirit, but have also walked this way in the flesh.  The truth is that I am not sure making it would be possible without this Presence of Yours.
You hear our prayers of desperation.  Mine included.  They come from a heart seeking what seems impossible but also from a spirit that clings to that Word of Yours telling us that with You nothing is impossible.  Everything is possible.   Hanging on to that truth is not always easy, but folks like me cling to it like it is the breath needed for life itself.
Thanks for being with me today.  Thanks for those who have cared enough to pray in my behalf.  Thanks for creating a world such as You have made.  It may have some ugly stuff in it, but the ugly stuff is never overshadowed by the marvelous beauty and goodness You have also put around me.  In the midst of the hard times, thanks for Your mercy.  Amen."

The Girls

I call them "The Girls."  All eight of them and the one calf born a week ago live out there in the green grass across the lane from the house.  While I am no expert on cows, living, working, and watching them for the past seven years has taught me a thing or two.  So, when I saw the one I call Old Red pacing the fence line yesterday morning, I figured it was time for her to have her calf.  She was due and I had been watching.  At one point in the morning, she was laying down to rest and a couple of turkey buzzards came and started pestering her.  She was off by herself as about to deliver cows do, but being watched by the other girls.  One bellowed, charged, the others followed and drove away the unwanted turkey buzzards.  And then four of them formed a picket line circle around her as if to stand guard. 
We had to leave the farm in the early afternoon but she gave birth to her calf anyway.  I asked my wife's uncle and aunt to check on her and they arrived just in time to witness the dropping of the calf.  It was as exciting for them as it is always for me.  They reported what I knew would happen.  After the birth there was a trumpeting of cows mooing and bellowing and everyone of the girls went down to smell and give a welcome to the pasture.  Those girls would become the community for the new calf.  It belonged in the pasture and belonged in that place.  I regretted not being around for the loud moment of welcome.  It really is exciting to see.  I have learned a lot from the girls these years of working and watching them.
Oh, that every child born into this world of ours could be born into such a community....

Saturday, June 10, 2017


By the time "One Thousand Gifts" written by Ann Voskamp found its place under my reading lamp, it had already been around for three years.  No surprise.  I have always been slow about getting to a good book.  And, this one is a good one.  It is a thought provoking book that stimulates spiritual growth.  One distinctive things the author encourages is the discipline of writing and developing a gratitude journal.  After reading I started my own gratitude journal and, then, I read the book again.
While there are many personal underlinings in the book, one which still stands out is, "Thanksgiving is the evidence of acceptance of whatever He gives."  It is a powerful word for all of us.  It brings to mind the Apostle Paul writing, "...give thanks to God the Father at all time and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (Ephesians 5:20)  It is not the usual way most of us think about thanksgiving.  It takes us beyond or glib approach to an important part of our spiritual life to a place where we understand and accept the fact that not all the things which pass through the hands of God toward us are the easy things of life. 

God is a Father whose goodness far surpasses the goodness of any earthly father.  While He does not necessarily send all the hard things which come into our life, He does at the very least, allow them.  It seems that any other view means that someone out there has more power than the God revealed to us through the Word.  Even the hard things allowed through the permissive will of God are things for which we called to be thankful.  Being thankful in those moments does indeed convey an attitude of trust that enables us to say that whatever comes will not change our trust in God and neither will it change our attitude of gratitude toward Him.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The End of the Story

Standing in a dark space filled with deep grief and uncontrollable despair, Ann Voskamp looked at her brother-in-law whose five month old son had just died and blurted out that she would have written this story in a different way.  It was a word spoken in the presence of the grieving father, but one really directed angrily toward God.  The man who listened spoke out of his broken heart, "Just that maybe...maybe you don't want to change the story, because you don't know what a different ending holds."
When I read the words, I took my pen and underlined them.  Actually, there was no need to mark it on the pages of the book as the words have become marked with indelible ink in my heart.  How many times have we blurted out such a word to God?  How many have been the times when we would have changed the ending to some part of the story of our life if we could have only been given the opportunity?  There are hard things which come to us, things we would erase if possible, things we would want done over if possible.  Hard things like the too early death of a father, the loss of a job, divorce, and some life threatening illness.  Hard things have come to all of us and most of us would write different endings if only we could.
But, writing different endings is not an option for any of us because God is the One who is ultimately writing the story.  He knows all the possible scenarios and is surely leading us toward one where He can extricate some good all the while keeping us in a safe place.  Trust is about knowing that no part of our story is beyond the control of the Master Writer.  He saw our beginning and sees our end and everything in the middle.  In the midst of all our dark uncertainty, we can live with the certainty that He knows and has full control of the ending.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Merciful Heart

When Sister Bridget Haase's wrote her book,  "Generous Faith", she wrote a simple book of short stories and remembrances.   In one of those more personal notes, she tells the story of her father's death by suicide.  After writing some about his life and death, she offers some reflective words, "Daddy's suicide taught me that one act does not determine the whole of one life.  Love shown, kindness rendered, sacrifices made, pain endured, worries borne--these constitute the essence of goodness and make a difference in the lives of others.  A single act, in a moment of despair, does not take this meaning or goodness away."
How sad and unfortunate it is that we so easily define people by some single act in their life that is filled with negative connotations instead of the many positive things done along the way.  Sometimes we do so to the point that we all but substitute the single act for their name.  Their very identity becomes obscure midst an act of desperate despair.  It is not only easy to do this with someone who has taken their life, but also with those who make bad decisions and judgments along the way.  The one thing we can never precisely know with complete understanding is what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes. 
Perhaps, this is part of the reason Jesus calls us to live a life which withholds judgments of others.  While it is certainly true we are quick to call down fire on someone as a way of keeping the finger from rightly being pointed at us, it is also true that passing judgments can only cause harm to another or to another's memories.  Neither of these results speak of loving as Jesus said to love.  Neither speaks of a heart that desires only the highest good for another.  Sister Bridget Haase surely points us toward the way that speaks of God's merciful heart. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Road Leads Here

Finding himself at an isolated spiritual life retreat center midst a bunch of strangers who all seemed to know one another, Robert Benson wondered why he was there. With more questions about who he was than answers, the author of "Living Prayers" wrote, "Years later I am still convinced that I heard a Voice and the Voice said to me, 'You promised to follow wherever I might take you, and this is where we go next.  You are here because the road leads here.' " 
The Word Benson heard is a Word easily forgotten as we get on the road of following Christ.  We have our own notions about where He is going to lead us and too often where He actually leads has nothing to do with those notions.  It never occurs to us in the beginning that He might lead us into difficult moments, impossible situations, and times of hardship.  And when we find ourselves in such places, we never really stop and figure this is where He wants us to be at that particular moment in our life.  It may be a moment that He has been preparing us to face all our life, but we never really seem to see it in such a way.

But, there is something about the underlining from Benson's book which answers so many of the "Why" questions of our life.  Is it too much to say that we are where we are in the present moment because the road to which we committed to go has taken us the place that fills our life with some of the hard things we would have chosen to avoid?  As we hear what Benson is saying, we come to a place where no explanation, or reason is really necessary.  To give flesh to the belief that God is in control of our life and that He leads us forward gives us no other conclusion.  If we are faithful to Christ, we know we are where we are because the road leads here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

No Entitlements

I remember a difficult time at what I had come to believe was a difficult church.  Somewhere I started hearing myself saying, "Lord, I don't deserve this.  I deserve better."  Maybe the thought just sprang from some dark place in my heart, or maybe I was listening to the same whisperer who whispered in Jesus' ear during that wilderness moment at the beginning of His ministry.  What I do know is that I allowed myself the luxury of wallowing around in my self-imposed misery until I heard another Whisperer saying, "You don't deserve any church, not even the smallest one do you deserve."
Like Job I found myself put in my place by the Almighty.  Another underlining in John Ortberg's book, "Soul Keeping," reads, "The default mode of the sinful human race is entitlement, the belief that this gift or that experience that God placed in my path is rightfully mine.  I am owed."   Most of us have had those moments when we felt that we were getting a raw deal from God.  It seemed to us that we had paid our dues, prayed our prayers, gave our gifts, and done it for a long time.  We tell ourselves it should count for something. 

It is easy to come to the place of feeling that we are entitled to better when the self within us is thought to be the center of the universe.  All the good stuff like grace and forgiveness and love comes to us as gifts from God.  And the fact that He would entrust to the likes of you and me any of His Kingdom work on this earth is truly amazing.  We are owed nothing by God, but given every good gift.  Thank God our pity parties have an ending point and we come to realize that God really is gracious and good.

Monday, June 5, 2017

No Hurry

Some things are not meant to be hurried.  Watching a sunset is one of those things.  Sharing a meal with someone is another.  Around my house while growing up, it was often said, "Haste makes waste," and it does.  Growing our spiritual life is certainly not something which happens in a hurry.  Important things are more likely than not to take some time.  Yet, we are so afflicted with our need for instant gratification and life in the fast lane that taking our foot off the pedal and slowing down is all but an impossibility.  We just hurry through life getting things done!
When retirement came a few years ago, one of the things I wanted to do with whatever time remains in this final season of my life was to slow down and know the present moment part of each day.  Even with such an intention, I have not been as successful as I could have been.  It is no wonder I would underline a word given to John Ortberg by his spiritual mentor, Dallas Willard, when he wrote his book entitled, "Soul Keeping."  Ortberg went to his mentor asking what he needed to do to stay spiritually healthy and was told, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."  As I underlined these words, I was also saying, "Wow!"
What we figure is that there is some secret program or yet to be discovered strategy for spiritual growth and all we have to do is find it, read it, and put it into practice.  Once discovered it should not take long to get it working.  As we put down the book with the secret formula, we look at the clock and allow ourselves about fifteen minutes to get in and out of whatever spiritual discipline that is required for spiritual maturity.  It is such an absurd illusion under which we live!  Growing our faith toward spiritual maturity takes slow, deliberate, and unhurried work.  Do it any other way and continue with spiritual frustration and mediocrity.  Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life and your practice of spiritual disciplines and a more satisfying life is guaranteed.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

In His Image

It is important to understand who we are in our relationship with God.  And, the beginning of that understanding is surely in scripture.  The Word tells us that we are created male and female, but still in His image.  It also tells us that from the beginning humanity was given dominion over every living thing, every animal that creeps, or flies, or moves in any other way.  A little less than the angels is how the Psalmist set it down.  So, we may be of the animal kingdom, but we are not just an animal, but something more.
One of my underlinings in "New Seeds of Contemplation"  (Thomas Merton) is, "A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.  For in being what God meant it to be is obeying Him....But, what about you?  Unlike the animals and the trees, it is not enough for us to be what our nature intends.  It is not enough for us to be individual men....God leaves us free to be whatever we like."  An animal of prey kills to eat, but it kills not because it is evil, only out of instinct to survive.  We are not like those animals over which we have dominion.  We are made with the ability to know right and wrong, good and evil.  We bring glory to God as we understand this fundamental difference and embrace it in our lifestyle in such a way that our life becomes one where the goodness of God is chosen.

What we are made to be is a man or a woman rightly related to our Creator God and to our brothers and sisters as well.  Not just mere humans are we, but creations that are being made ready for eternity with God.  Anything less is to fail to understand who we are and why we were created.  We can choose God and the way of His Kingdom and bring glory to the One who brought us into being, or we can choose some other way and call attention to ourselves and what we think is important which will surely carry us as far the cemetery, but no farther. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Nothing Wasted

"Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul.  For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that comes to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men."  Thomas Merton wrote these words in "New Seeds of Contemplation."  Merton who died in 1968 entered a monastery in Kentucky in 1949.  In the earlier years of my life when I was so caught up in doing, I had no time for his message about the contemplative lifestyle.  In these later years what he wrote seems like food for a hungry soul.

We sometimes think that certain times of our life are of more value than others.  Certainly, our culture tells us that productivity and activity are the valued qualities.  This alone deems a large segment of people as those who are wasting time and using up space.  Perhaps, getting older has put me more in touch with this aspect of life.  And, of course, it is also true that we put the label of waste on certain moments of our living.  Getting stalled in a traffic jam, or getting delayed by someone's incompetence, or recovering from an injury bring us to moments that seem to have lesser value.

But, these lines from Merton send a different message.  Every single moment of our lives is useful to God.  He sees none of our minutes as waste.  It is a view that we are challenged to embrace.  Regardless of the time in our life, or the hard circumstances that time might bring, God is at work in it.  Within every single moment of my life is something I need for the living that God has created me to do.  It is as if we are constantly at the table where nurture is being offered and, yet, so often we are too busy to eat.  We are in such a hurry to get somewhere else that we fail to know the value of what is all around us.  It is no one's loss but our own.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Underlinings

I have been an avid reader since I discovered books at the Waycross, Georgia public library.  And when the downtown public library was too far away, there was always the school library which had books enough.  Back then it was not an unusual thing for me to slip a library book inside the textbook during class.  A lifetime later I am still reading.  Something is always open.  And if it is a book that has been purchased, I am likely to be underlining sentences or sections that strike me as worthy of a repeated read at a later date. 
Most of the time what I underline has to do with the circumstances of my own life, some point of interest, or maybe a word I want to ponder a little longer.  Some books require more ink than others.  Today as I was reading a book that has been a little more than average, but not one that demanded a hurried return, I came across one of those sentences which sent me searching for my pen.  In such moments I often have a sense that God is leading me into some thinking path that leads to spiritual growth or a different understanding of a poured in concrete attitude.  My pen helps me keep track of those reading points.
For a while I am going to be looking at some of these book underlinings and share them in blogs I will be posting.  I will not only share the words of the author but where those written words take me on my spiritual journey.  Do not look for anything profound unless you are expecting it from the author I will be quoting.  About all you can expect to find from me are some wanderings of the soul as it seeks to listen to the Holy Spirit.  I take no responsibility for the profound, only the verbage. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Playing the Room

As soon as I walked into the doctor's waiting room area, I heard his voice.  Apparently, there was a problem with his co-pay and he was $2 short.   He had no money and would not have any until Friday and it was Wednesday.  The staff behind the glass window were in a dither and everyone in the waiting room seemed embarrassed midst the uproar.  If it had been me, I would have tried to handle it without the whole room knowing about it.  But, this guy was working the room.  He was trying to get what he needed by shaming the office staff or by getting someone who was waiting to come forward with the money.  He was a master at playing the room and it worked.  Someone came up and gave him the money which set him off about the fact that there were still a few good people in the world.  Obviously, all the rest of us who had done nothing were not in that group.
He was a practiced manipulator.  He knew how to get what he wanted.  Recognizing the manipulators around us is not such a hard thing to do.  Most of us have at one time or another done some of it ourselves.  We know what it looks like and how it feels.  At the core of manipulative behavior is a desire to get our own way by taking advantage of someone else.  Manipulative behavior expresses a willingness to exploit another person for personal gain.  When we do it what we are declaring is that it is all about me.
Manipulative behavior is a far cry from Jesus telling us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Actually, it is an indication that we have no real regard for those who share life with us.  It always means that someone else's needs have been pushed aside for the sake of our own.  No love for another is being expressed when we enter into the manipulative mode of dealing with the people around us.   All it really does is undermind every relationship that touches our life.