Monthly Archives: December 2006

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

We have had an inflatable HAPPY BIRTHDAY giant cake in our yard for several weeks. Every time Josh sees it, we talk about how Christmas is a birthday party for Jesus… He actually sings Happy Birthday, Jesus now as we pull into the driveway. Not a major event, but for a three year old, it’s progress! (Amazing how many friends and family ask us who’s birthday we’re celebrating!!!!)



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This has been a remarkable week! God has used his people and the medical establishment to humble me… and bless me.

FIRST, on Friday (12/15) The Rev. Dick Burns, one of our Western PA UM evangelists and one of my personal heroes and mentors in the ministry, stopped into my office to see me and because he wanted to lay hands on me and pray for me. I was so humbled and in awe… He shared words of encouragement, a loving embrace of brother for brother, and, as only Dick can do, he shared laughter with me. What a blessing this man of God is!!!

SECOND, on Sunday (12/17), the Reynoldsville church family here at First UMC surprised and humbled me… and left me speechless all at the same time! (And making a preacher speechless is a pretty amazing feat!)

They presented a handmade prayer shawl to me as a constant reminder of the fact that THEY were praying for ME as I went through the medical uncertainties of my life right now… In fact, the prayer shawl itself had been prayed over before it was presented, that it would be a healing blessing every time I prayed with it. Turns out that this is one of the many ministries here at this church that go on in the background pretty silently… and yet faithfully.

Then, after the service was over, about 50 some people stayed after and waited until I was done shaking hands and stuff and came and got me and asked me to meet them at the altar rail. Led by the retired pastor we have in residence here in Reynoldsville, The Rev. Leo C. Cramer, this group gathered around and laid hands on me and prayed… for God to expose anything hidden as I was about to go for further testing and then planning for expected surgery and possible removal of my kidney if things were as bad as they seemed to be. And then they prayed that God would just bring about healing and surprise everyone.

Finally, it turns out that as I was in Pittsburgh all day today (12/19) for the testing and the consults, they were having a prayer vigil throughout the day here at home. They had divided up the day into half-hour increments and there was at least one person praying for every minute of this day. WOW!!!

THIRD, today, we actually went for the tests and the surgical consult. When all was said and done (and we’re talking leaving home at 7:00 am and returning at 9:30 pm) the tests exposed that there wasn’t one mass, but rather two. One mass is about 2 centimeters and the other one is about 4-5 centimeters. But, both were diagnosed as cysts… benign cysts is all they are! So the hidden has been exposed and all that had looked to require surgery and removal has either been healed or they made a big mistake to start with!

With this diagnosis, they don’t have to do anything! They’ll have me redo the tests in six months and then, if the tests are clear, we’ll repeat it again in another six months… but that’s it!

I probably need a lot of time to completely process all of this… but WOW! What a week!


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Three of today’s lectionary readings talk about JOY.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 is a prophetic reminder that even in times of chastisement, like the exile that would soon come upon the people of ancient Judah, God still has a hope for them to hang on to. He reminds them that even in the tough times He is in their midst… He is with them through it all. therefore, they can “Sing… Shout… Be glad and rejoice!”

Isaiah 12:2-6 is one of those psalms that isn’t located in the book of Psalms… but it also is a prophetic hymn of praise because it is the song that they will sing “in that day…” I noticed the theme of joy again in verse 3 where it says “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” And then prophetically announces that “in that day you will… Praise… call upon… Declare… Make mention… Sing… Cry out and shout…”

Philippians 4:4-7 is Paul’s famous reminder that Christians should rejoice… “and again I say rejoice!”

To top it all off, today was our children’s Christmas ‘program.’ It seems they haven’t done one during church in a long time, but after a hymn, the offering, and the prayer time, we ‘changed gears’ and focused on Christmas through the kids’ eyes. It was a lot of work, especially since we did a themed presentation with a painted backdrop, props, parts, and the whole 9 yards. (We were on a tropical island for Christmas and it started with some of the teens complaining about no snow… no sledding… no skiing… etc. And that led us to what does it REALLY mean to celebrate Christmas… we had a skit with some 20 kids participating and several musical numbers and a time of prayer & dedication over prayer cloths and Christmas cards we’re sending to some of our troops who’ll be celebrating Christmas without snow).

But despite all of the work, when all was said and done, it was the joy of the kids that energized me. One little girl, who didn’t want to be away from her mommy by being up on the platform, stood two feet away from the altar rail facing the rest of the kids and she literally jumped up and down with joy while we were singing. That kid radiated joy.

Christmas is a time of joy, but it’s also the time when people find themselves feeling lonely and sometimes depressed after the loss of a loved one, or a job, or a health concern. Obviously, joy is not always synonymous with Christmas.

That’s where these three scripture passages jump out at me… We, like those ancient ones who followed God and yet were facing tough times, need to deliberately learn to trust in and hang on to our God in the midst of whatever is happening. Like He says in Jeremiah 29, He has a “future and a hope” for those who trust in Him. Like Zephaniah reminded them back then, God is in their, and our, midst, even in the middle of the craziest and most confusing and trying of times. Like Isaiah and Philippians tell us, we need to make choices to grab a hold of the hope… and make our requests and needs made known to God… because then we can look forward to the answer from our God and the joy that comes with it!


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Strange Way To Save The World

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose… ” –Romans 8:28, NKJV

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. ” –Romans 8:28, The Message

In the early 1990’s I worked part-time as a DJ at a Christian radio station near Erie, PA. I was finishing college, working as a part-time youth director at a local church, and even pumped gas as well for a time… and spent two to three nights a week DJ-ing. Oh, and got married during that time as well. (Let’s just say I wasn’t bored.)

In any case, while I was working at WCTL-FM, I encountered a music group called 4Him. Phenomenal music, great harmony, awesome writing. When the radio station brought them into the area a couple of different times, I actually got to meet them and be back stage some. I really appreciate their music… A LOT.

Well, over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange way God seems to work in our lives… Even when everything seems to be falling apart, He’s there…

Well, this one particular 4Him Christmas song came on the radio the other day and the words (along with the GREAT tune) have just been resonating with me ever since. It’s off their 1993 Christmas album “Christmas: The Season Of Love” and is titled: “A Strange Way To Save the World.”

The lyrics go like this:

I’m sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
Cause never in a million lives
Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem

And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said

Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save theWorld

To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth

But Joseph knew theReason
love had to reach so far
And as he held the Savior in his arms
He must have thought

Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now, I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strangeWay to save the world
Such a strange way, this is Such a strange way
A strange way to save the world
A strange way to save the world

Dave Clark, Mark Harris, & Don Koch / Copyright © 1993 John T. Benson Publishing Co./First Verse Music/Paragon Music Corp./Point Clear Music/A-Knack-For-This Music/ASCAP. All rights reserved.
Lyrics from:

Anyways, as I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange way that God seems to work in our lives. What seems like a calamity (like my having a kidney stone acouple of weeks ago) was in fact, also a blessing… it exposed a hidden problem within my body. What seemed like an offense, a king being born in a stable, was in fact, a well-planned strategy of a very meticulous God who wanted to offer a gift to EVERYONE, not just for nobility and such.

God had a strange way in which He chose to save the world… and God has ways of working in our everyday lives today that seem to be strange as well.

But I wouldn’t change a thing… His ways are ALWAYS the BEST!

My prayer is that I begin to be flexible enough to allow God to do whatever He wants in my life, in whatever way He chooses, to accomplish HIS will in me and through me! AMEN!

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Followup with the doctor

OK… Yesterday, I went to Pittsburgh and saw the urology specialist. He looked at my CT scan and ultrasound from DuBois and agrees that there is SOMETHING there. Maybe a cyst, maybe a benign tumor kind of thing, maybe a full-blown kidney cancer on my left kidney.

The thing is, the DuBois testing was all centered around finding out about a kidney stone in the right kidney and they ‘just happened’ to notice this other thing. But for the specialist to really hone in and explore the options and possibilities, he needs some more specifically focused testing on the actual left kidney now. Makes sense. The various testing offices at Allegheny General were all closed by the time I got done with my appointment, so we can’t even try to schedule these tests until later today.

He did say that whatever it is, it LOOKS like it’s pretty deep into the kidney, so if it is something that needs to be removed, we probably need to take the whole kidney.

As for feelings and such, I’ve had a pretty calm sense of presence through this whole thing thus far. As I’ve already posted, I’m pretty convinced that God’s got his hand in all this… even to the point of drawing people’s attention to this hidden disease that grows without visible symptoms.

But I confess there are moments when I wonder ‘What If…?’ If this were the absolute worst news what would happen? I’d die. OK, for me that’s not so bad… Heaven, Christ, Eternity. I guess that means I win! (Not that I am in a hurry to get there! And I sure hope God hasn’t finished with me here on earth yet… It’s hard to believe I’ve already accomplished all he had in mind for me!)

But two things sort of stick in my throat, if you will, about what if I were to die. First, at three years old, my son wouldn’t even remember who I was. That’s a tough thought to swallow.

Secondly, my family would be homeless. As a pastor, my living arrangements (and my family’s of course) are provided for as a part of my job. If I were to die, then they have no place to live and their source of financial support is gone. I have not done a good job of providing for my family in this area. I (currently) have no will, no guardian set up for my kids if something happened to both my wife and I, no savings set up for them to be able to buy a place to live… nothing.

I was especially convicted about this when I got to the Bible this morning and stumbled on Proverbs 13:22 which says: “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

What have I left for my children? Let alone their children?

I suspect I’m not alone on this. As pastors, we need to get ALL the details of ministering to our families into the IMPORTANT TO DO list as much as reports and parishioner visitation and church budgets.

I continue to covet your prayers and will continue to post as we continue on in this journey…


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Mixed thoughts… and do I really exist?

I just spent much of an hour in mortal combat with billions of aliens (OK… so it was really a few billion snowflakes that tried to hide my car and my van and my house and etc.)
To warm up, I decided to check out some friends’ blogs… and finally found my friend Brett’s blog. And the first thing I see is his LOVE for SNOW! Argh! I’ve decided I really like the song “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas!” because it actually tells you what day is most appropriate for snow… Christmas Day… 1/365th of the year. That’s it!!!! BRRRR!!!!

Anyways, I got to reading through some of Brett’s other entries and found one where you can see how check someone’s directory to see how many people have your name in the US. So I went to the site and this is what I found:

Logo There are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

So either I don’t exist… or big brother hasn’t found me yet! Talk about PRIVACY!!!

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Thank You God… For Kidney Stones!?!?!?!?

OK… Saturday evening, around 8:30, my kidney stone passed! I’m sure friends of mine in far off places could hear the strains of HALLELUJAH! on the wind!

In any case… It was just a couple of weeks ago that I preached that we should be “Thankful in ALL things.” Now I’ve been challenged, how am I giving thanks for this past week? Specifically, how do I give thanks for a kidney stone?

Well, after my recent doctor’s appointment, I have a found a way to do that very thing. It seems that when the doctors were running all their tests, particularly a CAT Scan, they noticed something like a cyst or something over on the other kidney. I didn’t think much of it (as you may recall I was entirely focused on the 2 mm. kidney stone in the right kidney).

I have met with the urologists and my own physician since then and it turns out that kidney cancer starts out like that. It seems that kidney cancer is not easily spotted in its early stages. And by the time actual noticeable symptoms of kidney cancer appear, it’s usually far too late to do anything. The only way the docs can successfully treat kidney cancer is IF they HAPPEN to notice a cyst or such while doing some other procedure or test. So there I was with a kidney stone and they did the appropriate tests and saw this cyst-looking thing on the other kidney! And they noticed it only because I had a stone! So… THANK GOD FOR A KIDNEY STONE!!!

Now, before we go any further, nobody says I have kidney cancer… I might… I might not. It might be just a cyst (in which case they do nothing) or a benign tumor kind of thing or perhaps cancer itself.

But now, at least, we know that there is a chance… which gives us the information we need in order to follow up and go through other tests. The point here isn’t do I or don’t I have it. The point is that God Almighty can use any situation for his glory and I believe this recent experience with a kidney stone is further proof of that.

I see a urology specialist next week in Pittsburgh to decide how to proceed and to see how they interpret the tests. I imagine we’ll have more tests to do.

I invite you to keep me in your prayers…


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