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FLASH BACK: Half-Full or Half-Empty

On this Halloween 2016, a FLASH BACK to one of my classic posts: “Half-Full or Half-Empty from October 2006… and the essence of last week’s Sunday morning sermon…

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waterFor this week’s sermon, I started with an object in hand: Half a glass of water. My question to the congregation was simply, “Is it half-full or half-empty?”

The answer of course, depends on your perspective… the way you choose to view the glass.

Are you an optimist? Then it looks half-full to you, doesn’t it?

Are you a pessimist? Then it looks half-empty, doesn’t it?

It all depends on your perspective!

There is only one glass, only one quantity of water, yet there are two different views you could have regarding that glass and that water. You could believe it to be half-full or you could believe it to be half-empty. And both answers seem to be acceptable answers and both seem to be right. It all depends on your perspective.

During this next couple of weeks, everyone around us will be focusing on the fun and festivities of Halloween, and many of us here in this sanctuary right now have already made plans for what our family will be doing that evening.

Halloween can be a lot of fun. If you are allowing your children to go trick or treating or to a Halloween party or whatever, I hope it is a fun event. It ought to be.

Throughout my adult life I have run the gammet on what I believe with Halloween as a Christian. When I worked at the Olean General Hospital as an orderly, I guess I still didn’t think about it too much. Somehow I would always end up working on October 31st, and the tradition was to dress up as a character of some sort. The only one I remember was that I spent one Halloween night (3:00 to 11:00) dressed as a modern prince. You know, three piece suit, cape, sash, crown, rings, dress shoes. Trying to do my job in that get up was a royal pain, to say the least. Especially when a patient died and, as the orderly, I had to take her to the morgue… dressed up in a suit… on Halloween night… and there was a full moon to boot.

Other years, as I’ve come to understand some of the realities of what all happens on Halloween night, like the razor blades, the drugs, the occult practices, I’ve refused to participate in the day at all. I had more of a fear of all the occultic stuff I guess.

Bit by bit, though, I have come to understand that it’s my perspective that makes the difference. Just like that glass of water… half-full or half-empty… it depends on your perspective.

I COULD look at Halloween as an evil holiday, originally instituted as a druid festival with heavy emphasis on the occult. I COULD focus on the druid “Lord Of Death” that supposedly sent evil spirits out on the night before ALL HALLOW’S DAY to roam the earth in search of food which, if not given, would cast an evil spell on the person who would not help. I COULD focus on the masks and costumes the Celts wore to try and convince the Lord of Death that they were just one of his spirits, so he should leave them alone.

And all of those things are true. They are the reason behind our “give us a treat or we’ll play a trick on you” attitude of trick or treat and our dressing up in costumes. But I think that just might be the wrong perspective. That’s fear speaking.

We have been taught as Christians that we are in the world but not of it. We have to be a part of the world. We’ve been called to be in the world… rubbing shoulders with the everyday people, with sinners, with mean people, and yes, even with those who don’t understand us or our Lord. We, as Christians, will continue to encounter those people every day, because we are IN the world. But we don’t have to be LIKE the world. Because we’re the ones who know the HOPE that there is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, that we are to be salt. (Matthew 5:13) Salt is never very good on its own, but it always changes the taste of the food it is put on. And the salt itself never gets to really choose what food it will affect…it has the same effect on every piece of food it touches… it makes it more salty. It gives it a new taste.

I guess that’s where I am now with my understanding of my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to Halloween. I must be salt and help change its flavor. I need to help redeem this holiday like Christians in the past helped to redeem midwinter pagan rituals and gave rise to our current birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

What does that mean, in practical terms, for me as a Christian then? I have discovered two practical ways that I can help redeem this holiday as a salty Christian. I’ll take the good of this holiday and focus on that and draw people’s attention to the truth.

First of all, I can emphasize the good things, while taking a stand against the evil. As our children have grown, we have deliberately allowed them to dress up for the Halloween parties at school, and let them go to select neighbors’ houses for trick or treat… but never were they allowed to hide their faces behind a Freddy mask or dress as a goblin, a witch, or a vampire. We reject that part of the ancient traditions of Halloween of trying to convince the evil one that we are just another demon spirit so that hopefully he’ll leave us alone. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is greater than any other spirit. And followers of Christ have nothing to fear.

So we could allow our girls to play dressup, and still take a stand against the false belief that we must fear the evil spirit lord. In fact, for this next weekend’s costume party out at the church camp, thrown by the youth group for ALL of the church, my kids will have the option to be dressed up if they want, without a mask, without the evil disguises. And without the fear.

One year one of the girls decided to be an angel and the other was Sleeping Beauty. One time Michele was Pocahontas and Sarah was a skunk. They dressed up and had fun. And they can again this year as well.

And yes, if kids come to our door this year for trick or treating, we’ll have a treat for them… not because we’re scared of the repercussions if we don’t, but because my Bible speaks of generosity, and “suffering the little children.”

The other aspect of what I need to be doing as a Christian when it comes to Halloween is to recognize the underlying spiritual message of this holiday.

The message of today’s modern Halloween is still spiritual, and I don’t just mean the occultic influences…. it is a pre-occupation with death… and what comes after we die. Just take a look at the decorations in the stores, on homes, and on the TV… We have ghosts and skeletons and gravestones and the un-dead (whatever that’s supposed to be). We hear of evil spirits and witches and “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.” And Hollywood always seems to have a new thriller/horror movie out that packs the movie theatres.

Halloween, and the time leading up to it, is the one time of year that our society says it’s OK to deal with death. And seemingly everyone becomes fascinated with it. My responsibility as a Christian, trying to be salt and redeem some of this holiday, is to recognize the spiritual hunger that I see during this Halloween season.

Because we all hunger for a reality in the spiritual world. We long for there to be forces at work on our behalf in the spiritual dimension. We have a society that literally cries out in abandon at Halloween for there to be an answer to death… to spiritual life. And they fall back on “ancient wisdoms”. They try to control the spirit world on demand, they try to conjur and channel and image. They look for spiritual truth.

And so often, we Christians deny there’s any spiritual dimension to the day (or we go the other extreme and refuse to even acknowledge it). I believe we have a responsibility to acknowledge the spiritual hunger… because we are the ones who have the bread of life… Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

And we are the ones who know the most about death… because Jesus came back from there and said,

 

I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

We have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus defeated death. All death has left, is fear.

Knowing that we would have trouble understanding this, Jesus, just before he went to Calvary, took the disciples aside and spent some time with them explaining what was on the other side of death and how to face it on this side during our lives. He didn’t say we had to wear evil disguises and hide our faces. No treats or offerings to demon spirits were needed. He simply said that we shouldn’t be afraid… and then went on to tell us about the other side of death, for those who allow Jesus to be both their Lord and their Savior. He simply said:

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Because I live, you also will live.
Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

When Jesus spoke of us as salt, he never expected us Christians to just act like Christians when we are at church. He spoke of us as salt so that we would get a clear picture of our role in this world. We help even the bad stuff seem better. Not by sugar coating evil nor by compromising our standards, but by recognizing spiritual hunger and offering spiritual bread… a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because, when all is said and done, and the final analysis is in, it is JESUS that this Halloween minded society is looking for. The questions concerning spiritual forces are answered when Jesus proclaims I AM THE WAY. And in all our uncertainty, Jesus answers even our unspoken, unuttered questions, by declaring I AM THE TRUTH. And our questions concerning death and the afterlife are answered when Jesus reveals: I AM THE LIFE.

I have a mission this Halloween… to redeem what I can of the good, take a stand against that which is evil, and to lift up the truth of Jesus Christ.

Because you see… the glass really is… half-full.

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Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

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This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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Learning to be a Better Parent… from my Kids?

I was the speaker for the Spring Banquet for one of the other Protestant churches in DuBois in 2006. Here are my notes:

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My kids have been teaching me how to be a parent. I thought I knew, but bit by bit and day by day I encounter situations that I just have to learn some new parenting skill… whereas before I had any kids I was pretty sure I knew how children ought to be raised… Now I just hope that we all live through it. And we look for the memorable moments along the way. And I’m not alone in this either, am I?

Chuck Swindoll tells a story of when his son Curtis was 6 and his daughter Charissa was 4 when he found himself in one of those memorable moments. He says that he suggested before supper that Curtis serve his little sister before he served himself. Chuck says:

Naturally, [Curtis]wondered why, since the platter of chicken sat directly in front of him… and he was hungry as a lion. I explained it is polite for fellas to serve girls before they serve themselves. The rule sounded weird, but he was willing… as long as she didn’t take too long.

… After prayer, he picked up the huge platter, held it for his sister, and asked which piece of chicken she wanted.

She relished all this attention. Being quite young, however, she had no idea which piece to take. So, very seriously, she replied, “I’d like the foot.”

He glanced in my direction, frowned as the hunger pains shot through his stomach, then looked at her and said, “Uh… Charissa, Mother doesn’t cook the foot!”

To which she replied, “Where is it?”

With increased anxiety he answered ( a bit louder), “I don’t know! The foot is somewhere else, not on this platter. Look, choose a piece. Hurry up!”

She studied the platter and said, “OK, just give me the hand.”

By now their mother and father were biting their lips to refrain from laughing out loud. We would have intervened, but decided to let them work it out alone. That’s part of the training process.

“A chicken doesn’t have a hand, it has a wing, Charissa.”

“I hate the wing, Curtis… Oh, go ahead and give me the head.”

By then I was headed toward the bathroom. I couldn’t hold my laughter any longer. Curtis was beside himself. His sister was totally frustrated, not being able to get the piece she wanted.

Realizing his irritation with her and the absence of a foot or a hand or head, she finally said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, all right! I’ll take the belly button!”

That did it. He reached in, grabbed a piece, and said, “That’s the best I can do!” He gave her the breast, which was about as close to the belly button as he could get.”

We laugh… and Chuck Swindoll laughed. But it illustrates a really important point. Kids will try their best to face new situations, but they’ll still only understand as much as they’ve been able to see and hear. Little Charissa didn’t know much about anatomy… of a chicken, at least. But she knew a little bit about her own anatomy. There were feet, hands, head, and belly button.

She started with what knowledge she already had…

That’s part of what I think Jesus had in mind when he was talking to the disciples in Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

The children that day started with the knowledge that Mommy or Daddy brought them to the nice preacher… and they learned that he was nice… Gently, and kindly, he held them and blessed them.

Can you imagine as the years went by and those parents talked to that child about that day?

When I’m in the middle of a frustrating parent/child lesson, sometimes it’s hard for me to hear Jesus’ words that I’m to learn from these kids… and if I want to even enter the kingdom of Heaven I have to do it like the little children. So what can my kids, and your kids, teach us about approaching God, approaching Christ, and entering into the kingdom of God?

I think they have two ways.

First, they listen and observe and watch and hear…

Our little children are always watching and listening aren’t they?

They are learning by watching and listening to us… their parents… their mentors… their Sunday School teachers…

A child cannot learn to do something new unless they have first heard what is expected… they need an example. They watch for what we do so that they can make sense out of what is being asked of them in the new situation.

My daughter Michele is in the process of getting ready for her learner’s permit for driving. But she had to start with watching her mother and I drive first… And a decision on her part that she, too, wanted to learn this new skill. She had to learn the basics and the rules from the driver’s manual before she even had the right to TRY to get the permission to learn to actually drive the car.

And that brings us to the second way that children learn. First they witness what ought to be, by watching, listening, reading, and questioning… and then they learn by doing.

I learned a whole lot more about driving the day my mother let me drive the family vehicle the one mile from our house to the high school… I had watched my grandparents and parents drive our standard shift cars for years… I knew one foot went on the pedal on the far left and one foot went on the pedal to the far right.

Except the truck I was driving that morning was an automatic… and there I was with one foot pushing on the brake and one foot pushing on the gas… Almost thirty years later and my mother still talks of the fear and panic I brought into her life that day. She never rode with me again until years and years later.

In the process of doing, I learned something new about driving…

I saw this again the other night at Gabbie’s birthday party over at Playtime Pizza. Gay was at IUP for classes and I was the parent on duty. Gabbie had invited Josh to the party so off the two of us went.

I watched him as he played… Alone at first, but trying everything. He played a little bit with some of the other smaller children in the toddler play section… but he saw the bigger kids playing on the jungle gym (or whatever that thing was called). He watched… he listened… he started to try and follow their example.  He tried to actually do what those other kids were doing… climbing the rope ramps and burrowing through the sea of little balls, crossing the webbed bridges and getting around the obstacles. He wasn’t as fast… but he was determined. He watched and listened and got a picture in his mind of what he ought to do… but then he did it!

But then he saw some of the bigger kids sliding down this huge tunnel. He followed them over to the top and looked… and ran away… then he climbed around some and went and looked again… and then ran away again. He finally got to the top alone and just looked. And at that point I got down on my hands and knees at the bottom so that he could see me and said Come on down, Buddy!

He smiled when he saw me, he laughed and down he came!

And he loved it! For 20 more minutes, he climbed and crossed, and crawled, so that he could slide down… to the point where I had to make him stop and get a drink because he was so hot and winded and sweat was rolling down his head.

Josh learned by watching… and then by doing…

That’s why we have toy refrigerators and toy stoves, toy building blocks and toy hammers and saws, toy cars and toy trucks, and even toy babies and toy children… So that our children can watch us and learn how to use those things and then, with their toy versions, they can learn by doing.

That’s how I think we’re to learn when it comes to the kingdom of God as well… we come like children, little children in fact, and we watch & listen, to the word that was written and the Word that was born and lived with us… and then, after seeing his example and hearing his call, we learn to be his disciples by doing… trying out the things we saw him do in the gospels and he told us in his word… Sometimes hesitatingly and sometimes not doing such a great job… but we learn to be his disciples as members of His kingdom just like little kids learn anything: we watch & listen… then we try to do on our own.

I think that’s part of what James is talking about when he says that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Yes, we’re learning to follow Christ more completely, but it’s not enough to just read and study and listen and attend… there comes a point where we have to get around to the trying and doing… or else we are guilty of just being hearers only…

It would be like Josh at the top of that slide and watching how other kids do it and yet, him choosing not to ever try to slide down.

What an experience he would have missed… what fun he would have lost… and never even known what he was missing.

Folks, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ have watched our pastors and Sunday school leaders, our youth group directors and our small group mentors for years. We’ve read the Bible, we’ve heard the sermons and the lessons, and we’ve watched men and women of faith show us how to be a man or woman of integrity… being a follower of Jesus Christ.

And yet the church, especially in the United States, is still full of people who sit back and just watch and listen… but never try to put into practice what they’ve seen and heard. The American church is full of hearers… but not full of doers. Our churches are full of childish people… who cry when they don’t get their own way… but they’re not childlike… willing to be hearers and doers approaching God with an open, childlike, teachable spirit.

I don’t attend your church, I only know a few of the people who attend your church, I’ve only known your pastor for a couple of years and then only seen and talked to him a couple times a month…

But I know that God Almighty has tried to use the men and women of faith around you, including your pastor, to show you and teach you what God Himself wants in your lives…

I don’t know what He’s asking you for… I don’t know what He’s asking you to do… But I know that with so many rich examples and teaching and preaching, the Holy Spirit has been trying to get you to do something…

Now, will we just be hearers? Or like little children, will we be the hearer who then, with as mush gusto as they can muster, step into the trying and doing part of learning?

If we can trust that Jesus really knew what he was talking about, then our answer to that question determines our place in the kingdom of God.

What’s God trying to teach you? Have you seen His people give you the examples to follow? Are you listening to how His Word relates to Your own personal life situation? Or does Harold just preach to someone else?

And if you HAVE heard what God wants to teach you, are you stepping into it? Are you learning by doing?

How do you learn to worship? By starting to worship…

How do you learn to pray? By starting to pray…

For many of us, it’s how do we serve in the role of the mentor… giving our children and the new Christians in our life an example of what a Christian is like… Sometimes when I realize my kids are watching me, it scares me to death.

I’ve had the lessons and the teaching, the preaching and men and women of God showing me how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ… Now, as I step out and try to do that which I’ve seen and heard, and do what I’ve been shown, now I learn even more…

How about you?

Little children learn by hearing and doing… and Jesus says we come into the kingdom of God that same way.

Are we doers? Or just hearers only?

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Times and Seasons

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

This past couple of years, and especially this past month, has seemed like we, the Mix family, were shooting a video to be used to illustrate this Scripture passage. It seems like our lives have been a blur of changes and traveling and trying to keep up.

It started last April when we got our first chance to start having visits with our granddaughter Elizabeth in foster care 300 miles from here in Berks County, PA. Then the next week Gay’s Mom, Grandma Sherry died… three days before Holy Week. She had lived with us for five years and became an integral part of our family. She had been so excited for the chance to eventually meet and hold her great-granddaughter.

Throughout that time of grieving and mourning, we were also beginning to understand that there was a chance that Elizabeth might be able to come live with us through a foster care program called “kinship care” and with that in mind we continued monthly, then weekly, visits in Reading, PA. In the Fall we realized we would need to hire a lawyer in Berks County to help us navigate the legal roller coaster involved with trying to get Elizabeth, but how on earth could we afford such a thing? That week we received a reimbursement for $1,000 we had been overcharged in co-pays and such with our insurance! Then, with the lawyer’s help, in November, we went to court and were granted physical custody following a transition period of a few weeks. Finally, on December 19th, Elizabeth “came home” to her new home.

Meanwhile, the caseworker who had done our home study that spring noticed that Joshua had an empty bunk in his room. Thus it was that this year, on Easter weekend, we became foster parents to David, a teen who needed a home and a family. Last month the McKean County Court granted us permanent guardianship. As Gay worded it: “We are now parents of a bouncing baby 17 year old!”

Which brings me to this past month of October. My Dad was lifeflighted to Hamot Hospital from where he was living in Potter County at the  tail end of September with an aortic dissection. While we initially thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, he did. In fact, over the next two weeks he  got better and I got to see him and talk with him and just spend time with him 10 of those 13 days. I hadn’t had a chance to live with my Dad since I was 11 years old, so this was such a gift. AND my children got to know Grandpa Don better and he just soaked in their loving. The night before he was to be discharged, he died quietly and peacefully in his sleep. And amidst the grief, we celebrated that he was ready for death and we had been given the gift of time during that last couple of weeks.

As we step into November, we anticipate one more major change: the adoption of Elizabeth as our daughter is probably going to be around Thanksgiving or early December. We appreciate your continued prayers.

In the middle of all these ups and downs, the mourning and the dancing, the anxieties and the expectations, the weeping and the laughing, we have sensed God’s presence with us through it all. Every time we unexpectedly  needed something extra, God has provided through His people: a check in a card, a reservation with extra “points” someone had with a hotel, a baby blanket (or quilt!), extra diapers, and even food!

In the book of Romans, Paul describes how we as Christians live out this Old Testament passage from Ecclesiastes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.(Romans 12:15, NIV)

As we continue on in this journey of life, we thank God for YOU, our friends and our family, for walking with us, rejoicing with us, and mourning with us. Praise God! And Thank You!

(This originally appeared in the monthly newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church).

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Peek-A-Boo!

10807874_970886759595242_690679972_n“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.    —Jeremiah 29:13-14 (NLT)

   Our granddaughter has been in a foster home this past year. Neither our daughter nor her husband are able to provide the home she needs, so she’s been a foster child. As grandparents we have repeatedly tried to make ourselves available to care for her, but whenever you try to work with the legal system it usually takes a while to make progress. Early last month, at the conclusion of a three-hour court hearing, the judge decided that the most appropriate placement for our granddaughter would be with us. So all of the sudden my wife and I are parenting a toddler.

I’ve been reminded again of a few things I had forgotten since the last toddler in our home.

  • ¨ Toddlers eat everything, yet never gain much weight. (They graze: a tiny bit now & more later…)
  • ¨ Even though toddlers graze, they do it consistently, so they have enormous amounts of energy. (I eat larger amounts all at once and have gained more weight and have less energy. Hmmm….)
  • ¨ Toddlers learn more by watching what we do, than by being lectured on what to do. (Turns out most of us learn better that way… so why are most of our Sunday school classes lectures?)
  • ¨ Toddlers keep going until they need a nap. (I’m on board with this one!)
  • ¨ Toddlers want to keep going even after they really do need to sleep. (How many of us put off sleep until one more show is off, or one more chapter is read, or one more post is written?)
  • ¨ Toddlers are grumpy when they need food or sleep (or a change). (Maybe that’s the problem some of us old grumpy people have too??)
  • ¨ Toddlers love to play pretend… with dolls, cars, houses, and remotes. (Our toys and games are bigger and more expensive, but we still love to play and pretend… Even if it’s that we pretend we’re more important than everybody else!)
  • ¨ Toddlers think they’re the only ones that need attention. (Some things never seem to change…)

I could probably learn a few things from our granddaughter (if I had enough energy!). But one thing I DO know, is I have reconnected with an old game, “Peek-a-Boo.” She loves playing it, and I LOVE seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. There’s no danger in me not knowing where she went… and she has no fear of not knowing where I am. But we play. We pretend to not see each other. And so we look. And PEEK-A-BOO, there we are!

So many of us do the same thing with God. We pretend He can’t see us, and we try to do our own thing and play like we don’t know where He is. But just like that Scripture from Jeremiah says, as soon as we look for Him, He makes sure that we WILL find Him!

As Fall turns into Winter, and Thanksgiving gives way to Advent and then to Christmas, let’s remember the lesson of the Toddler’s Peek-a-boo game. Even when we feel far from God, and can’t figure out which way to go next, as soon as we begin to seek God, we WILL find Him. He’ll make sure of it!

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Babies crying during the sermon: A response

Earlier today, I ran across a blog post by Jon Acuff regarding babies crying during the sermon. The link is here.
Babies crying during the sermon. | Stuff Christians Like – Jon Acuff
I was so disturbed, I actually left a comment. (Not something I would normally do, by the way.)

This is what I wrote:

The gospels DO seem to record that some parents took kids with them when they went to listen to Jesus. And when Jesus recognized that there were adults (disciples) who were trying to keep them out of the way, Jesus SCOLDED them!
As a pastor, I LOVE that there are kids in church. The church I’m in right now does have a kids church about 1/2 way through the service, but not everyone sends their kids. And yes, there has been a crying baby a time or two. And my response is always “I believe the church assembled NEEDS to be able to hear the sounds of life! It is a pity to have a church that cannot hear them!’
If the message we are sharing is really all that important to real life, then that message better be able to withstand normal sounds of life. Including a baby crying.

Now that my blood is boiling, I’d like to know what some others do and what you thought after reading his blog posting.

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God & Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a pastor’s letter I wrote in 2002 for the Trinity Highlights monthly newsletter of the Trinity UMC, in Patton, PA. This is especially an important year for my mom and me as we both played the hospital game at the same time… While I was having my kidney out in Pittsburgh, she was in the Bradford hospital diagnosed with pneumonia and suspected lung cancer. We’re both home now and reestablishing our strength until we find out what the next steps are for each of us. We have a sort of daily telephone support group going on most days.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!
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“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” Isaiah 66:13

Recognizing and honoring mothers has been a long-standing tradition of Methodism. In fact, it was a Methodist woman in West Virginia just about a hundred years ago that rallied the church, and the country, around the idea of setting aside one day a year just to honor moms.

John Wesley himself, the founder of Methodism, was quick to tell how his spiritual nurture and Christian training went back to his mother Susanna who personally modelled and taught what it meant to follow Jesus Christ.

In the past few years, my own mother has moved back North after a couple of decades of living in Alabama, and I’ve had a chance again to get to know my mom all over again. Within the past few months, she’s re-introduced me to some of the more mature relatives on her side of my family tree… folks I hadn’t seen since I was fourteen. And I’m learning something about my family and my mom, about me, and about our God.

You see, as I grew up, my Mom didn’t always attend church, so I picked up an attitude that she wasn’t a “real” Christian and I, of course, believed I was! So I copped an attitude that I didn’t have to listen to her… How wrong I was!

What I’ve begun to learn in the past few years is that, even in my mom’s lowest moments, on her most “down” days, God was still using her in my life… and in the lives of my brother John and my sister Laura. Of course, God was working through her as she cared for us, like we expect a parent would, but God also used her quite often to speak words of truth and guidance to me… even as an obnoxious self-centered teenager who thought he knew it all. And imagine my surprise, as a college kid some twenty years ago, when I began to realize that my Mom was also a great dispenser of spiritual truths as well! And SHE was praying for ME! She actually knew this God I thought I exclusively called Lord!

God has used my mom to teach me so much… about life, about dealing with hard times and lean times as well, about loyalty to those you love… even when they might seem unlovable. But God has used my Mom to teach me about Him as well.

For you see, I’ve come to recognize that our God is loyal to loved ones, even when they make wrong choices, just like my Mom. God is always concerned about the best choices and opportunities for his children, just like my Mom was for us kids. God, and my Mom, finds staying angry difficult because of the love within. And in the same way that I still go to my mom for a listening ear, I can always go to God, who has that same caring and compassion that my does.

And I now understand that in the same way that I so arrogantly thought I knew more and knew better than my mom, that’s the way I quite often have approached God… But the truth is they both have much to teach me… if I can simply learn to listen.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this month, let’s thank God for them and, if they’re still alive, let’s remind them of how much God has used them in our lives. And how we have learned about the nurturing, mother-like heart of God Himself.

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