Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's How The World Works ...

Life is interesting. Eternity? Even more so.

Have you ever noticed that life on planet earth begins with our growing up in a desperate attempt to leave home, live on our own, and govern our lives as we see fit? I remember saying "I do" to a 19 year old blonde girl that had captured my 22 year old heart. We are still doing life together and loving it. We began putting together our own place and haven't lived under any other persons roof since that day back in 1977.

I have spent much of today dwelling on the realization that the day comes when this trend reverses itself. Sometimes I long to "grow down." I hunger for the guiding touch of a loving father. And ultimately, I long to go home. Our real home. The one that we will never have to leave.

It has been an amazing couple of days. Our kids, our grandkids, extended family, and many friends have made a revolving door out of the front of our home. And we so love it that way! These are the kinds of days that we dream of on the overly quiet evenings when a little noise might be welcome. I cannot think of one minute that I would change. And at the end of each of these days everybody goes home. This is as it should be and we are pleased with it. But I cannot help thinking about that day ... just over the horizon ... when "Home" will be under one roof for all of us. When the Father welcomes His kids into His door and tears well up in His Eyes as He welcomes each and every one of us, shows us to our rooms (or however that works!) and tells us when supper will be served.

Indeed, as life goes on it switches directions entirely. It isn't a death wish! Not at all! It is simply a desire to experience the fulfillment of all you have dreamed of and longed for.




And most of all ... Father.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Strange Thoughts That Today Brought To My Attention

-Maybe when we drown the fish will be our friends.
-Someday, someone will be unearthing my bones.
-In twenty years your favorite song will be played in an elevator.
-My subconscious is smarter than I will ever be.
-You cannot unscramble scrambled eggs.
-Solid theology is deeper than a bruised ego.
-Wrinkles are symptoms of deeper flaws. If you listen closely your skull is cracking.
-You can judge even the finest restaurant quickly by the waiters reaction to being asked, "So how is the grilled cheese?"
-In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is King.
-If your doctor played the game "Operation" as a child it would be fun to wear a buzzer in your pocket when you go for your next check-up.

That is all. You may now resume your regularly scheduled day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Top 10 Oddest Things I've Done To Others In Ministry Or Had Done To Me In Ministry (that I will admit to)

10. The first church I ever served on staff at no longer exists. Therefore, for all practical purposes, I never served there.

09. The pastor of the second church I ever served on staff at literally used a "Sharpie" to cross my name from their church history because they got mad when I resigned and went to another church. Therefore, for all practical purposes, I never served there either. (Although they ordained me.)

08. A deacon yelled at me in a deacon's meeting once because I would not let his son go on a youth trip as an adult chaperone because he had just taught some of our teenagers to play drinking games. The pastor defended me by purchasing a "Sharpie." (See #9)

07. A teenage boy decided to "get clean" and gave me his marijuana cache to get rid of for him. I dumped it out my office window. In a few weeks I noticed an odd crop growing on the church lawn. I slid a "Sharpie" under the pastor's door knowing that he might want it. (See #9)

06. I did a funeral once where the entire middle row of the congregation were bikers drinking from long neck bottles of beer ... in unison.

05. While pulling a cross from Marion to Springfield, Illinois, a guy named Chuck stopped and said he wanted to contribute to our cause. (Revival!) He had just been laid-off from his job and was on the way home to tell his wife. We reluctantly accepted the last dollar he had in his wallet and promised to put it in the offering plate. We called it "Chuck's Buck." Every night in youth rallies one of our team took the dollar, held it up, and told the story of Chuck's sacrifice. On the day they gave me the dollar I forgot ... and spent it on Chiclets. I replaced it with another dollar and didn't tell anybody for a year.

04. I raided a boys luggage and sent all of his underwear to our pastor's office by UPS because he raided other people's luggage and put their underwear on the ceiling fans of a church we were sleeping in on a mission trip to Iowa.

03. I tricked my Sr. Pastor into believing that a black velvet picture of "The Lord's Supper" had been given to him by the widow of a man he had buried, that the deceased man had painted it for him, and that she would be by later in the week to see how it looked on his office wall. (It hung over his desk for a week.)

02. I crazy-glued my Sr.Pastor's pens to his desk. All of them.

01. I dated a girl from my first youth group. Then I married her. Then we had kids. Then we had grand kids. Now we don't even want a dog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

R.I.P. Old Friend

"I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam" says it well. You see, I lost a dear friend today. We shared many, many moments. Most of them very good. Some a bit tenuous. Yet generally we loved well and today, well today I lost this friend.

I could tell you stories. We go back about 10 years together. Few were the days that we did not share moments of reflection, relaxation, and sometimes .... tears. I suppose that good friends share all of those things. My friend seemed to understand my moods and actually shaped his own attitude to echo mine. This allowed us to have a "hand in glove" kind of relationship. My family knew my friend and loved him as well. Even my "pets of old" knew him and could not get enough of his comforting presence. He was a shared friend. I would introduce him to my friends and they would inevitably say later on that they wish they had a friend like mine. I was blessed ... richer for having had this relationship. I miss him so much. We always did supper together on Sunday nights after church. Tonight I had to eat with a new friend. It was not an altogether unpleasant experience. Neither did it rival Sunday nights gone by.

The end came today around 2PM. I can't say it was unexpected. I had helped make arrangements for the inevitable. One never enjoys that kind of duty. And yet someone must do it. These things don't just take care of themselves. And so today I drug my friend out to the garage and lay him on the floor. He was, for all practical purposes, gone. Less than a mere shadow of himself. I don't have a picture close by of his good days. But today ... toward the end ... we hugged. And I took one last photo. And I lay him to rest.

R.I.P. old friend.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bozo to Cronkite ... the view from my own grassy knoll

I remember being 8 years old and sitting in the elementary school gym eating my lunch and watching "Bozo the Clown" on an old black and white television. 3rd grade. 1963. As far as I knew it was a good time to be alive. I knew little about the recent "Cuban Missile Crises" or the brewing war in a southeastern Asian country named Vietnam. I just knew that Tuna + Twinkies + Bozo = a rollicking good time. And little did I know that this impending seat in history was provided for me by the mere fact that it was a rainy Friday and we couldn't go out for our post-lunch recess. Thus the noisy gym, plenty of bouncing balls, and a handful of Bozo fans.

Then this guy name Cronkite screwed it all up. He invaded our convex vacuum tube and, pulling his glasses from his mustached face, told us that the President of the United States had just been shot in Dallas. I remember thinking, "Dallas. That's in Texas. There's lots of guns in Texas." And then the teachers were ushering us out the door, whispering in hushed tones that we should go to our class rooms, sit at our desks, fold our little not-yet-wrinkled hands, and wait for our teachers.

In a few minutes Mrs. Schilling showed up. She was the best 3rd grade teacher e.v.e.r. She "got" my jokes. She even allowed herself to laugh at them on occasion. Mrs. Schilling began teaching us something. I have no idea what it was. I was thinking of presidents and Texas and guns. And then there was a man standing at our door. His name was Mr. Reeves and he was an individual of epic personality in our little school. Everyone loved and respected Mr. Reeves. He stepped inside of our class room and reverently told us that our President was dead. I was too young to really get a handle on the concept of "dead." Today I am a pastor and I've been one for the last gazillion years. And I've buried a gazillion dead guys. And death doesn't really bother me anymore even when I realize that someday I'm going to be the guy in the box and maybe some 3rd grader will be wondering what it means that his pastor is dead. I truly hope it doesn't bother him too much. I don't expect that it will bother me.

But on that day I was bothered. I went home after school and my mom was crying. My dad came home and he seemed empty. Shell shocked. That didn't happen often to my dad, a grizzly veteran of a fighting "half track" in WWII. Nothing shook my dad. He single handedly destroyed the Nazi machine and even captured one of their nasty flags and brought it home as a little bit of memorabilia. (You ROCK "2nd Armored!") But today he was off his game. He was shaken.

And now it's been 47 years. I've been to Dallas a few times. I've walked around the streets where my president was murdered. I've stood on the exact, precise spot where he sat in the back of his open-air limousine when the assassins bullet took his young life. I've reclined on "the grassy knoll" and contemplated what it all meant, vacillating between images of Bozo the Clown and a flag draped casket. I've climbed to the 6th floor of the old "Texas School Book Depository," to the snipers perch where the rifle spit out death and robbed us of innocence and a sense of invincible glory. I don't know why but I'm drawn to that spot. I'll be back in Dallas to do a wedding on New Years Eve. I imagine I'll conjure up a good excuse to at least drive down that road while I'm there. I know. It makes no sense. But something in my heart knows that my country began to change nearly as quickly as that speeding piece of lead. I don't understand it at all. But you will never convince me that that was not the point at which we crested the hill and began a downward coast.

I've never written about history before. And now propped up here in my bed late at night I realize that I have witnessed my fair share of it. If I lived in a typical 3rd world country I would probably be dead by this ripe old age. But, by virtue of being a resident of the United States of America, I might well have a decade or two left in me. Who knows what's left to see? I mean how do you follow up 3 huge assassinations, hippies, anti-war riots in downtown Chicago (25 miles from my sandlot baseball diamond,) guys getting hurled into outer space, other guys landing on and walking around on the moon (I was only 14 and we haven't done anything that impressive since,) the creation of Pop Tarts, "shock and awe," and let's not forget crumbling burning collapsing skyscrapers. I could go on but suddenly I don't want to. You see, I'm typing words without ink onto a glass screen and I'm going to hit a button that doesn't really exist that says "Publish Post" in a minute and then people in Trinidad and Beijing, and Poughkeepsie will be able to read this on their own glass screens if the want to.

But you know what I really want? What I think might really make me happy?

A tuna sandwich. A black and white television. Bozo the Clown. The entire show this time. And then I want to go back to class and listen to Mrs. Schilling teach me something. But that is not going to happen. Truth is, there's just not much "shock and awe" left in me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stupid Picture Chronicles #52

Hair. Wigs. Cell Phones. One of these things is not like the others ....

Monday, November 08, 2010

This Is A God I Want To Worship

Tonight afforded one of those honors that are so special that you feel required to call them "Holy." A 92 year old gentleman named Ray, a long time member of Towerview Baptist Church, stepped out of his body of flesh, blood, and all of its DNA trappings and into the presence of the King of Glory, Jesus Christ.

I did not know Ray as well as most of the people in our church. Having only been the pastor of Towerview for twenty-one months placed me at a disadvantage. Ray spent all of those months living in a very nice "assisted living" center several blocks from my home. He was at church most Sunday mornings. I have had multiple opportunities to visit him in his home. I honestly do not think he remembered me from one visit to the next. Oh, I am quite certain that he always knew when he answered my knock on his door that I was his pastor. But I was never quite certain that he remembered that I had visited him before. He delighted in talking about his children and grandchildren. Seldom did he mention his life before assisted living became a needed part of it.

And then the weekend came. Ray went to climb out of bed and wound up on the floor with a broken hip. He was taken to the hospital and by the time I got the call the next day he was quite medicated and very unaware of his surroundings. Truth is, he never spoke again.

It became evident last night that life on this planet was winding down for Ray. Still, life begins on God's timetable and it ends on God's timetable. We often forget that. But God doesn't. Psalm 139:16 says it quite succinctly, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." Doctors do what they can but God makes the final call. God writes down the number of our days before we are even born. Humbling, huh?

And then tonight. Family and friends abounded. The hallways of the hospital buzzed with talk but Rays room was a quiet haven. The mood was nearly worshipful. I met with the three brothers and one sister in a conference room and, as we discussed options, they decided that it was time to remove the oxygen mask. Nobody really knew if it was doing any good. Nobody could really say if it was making him more comfortable. The decision was made to remove the mask, allow him to breath on his own, and let God do what God wanted to do. (As if we could stop Him.)

The entire family gathered around his bed. A prayer was prayed. I asked a granddaughter if she knew what his favorite hymn was. Through tear filled eyes she replied, 'The Old Rugged Cross.' And I sing that to my kids every night before they go to sleep." I asked if she thought she could manage to lead us through it one time. Sometimes it is just evident that God is calling a child home. Holiness is in the air. Tonight was one of those times. Hands were clasped, tears ran down cheeks, and Amanda began, "On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame. And I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain. So I'll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown." The words which began slowly and worshipfully suddenly built to a mild crescendo toward the end. A nurse stood just out of our circle, between the foot of Rays bed and the doorway, tears streaming down her cheeks. As the singing subsided she approached Ray, stethoscope in hand. She checked him twice and quietly said two simple words. "He's gone." She told me later, "You guys did it right. I've seen it both ways and this is the way to go." High praise coming from someone in her profession.

So tonight we sang a saint of God through the gates of heaven. When the song began he was trapped in a body of decay and pain. When the song ended he was gazing into the eyes of the one who defeated death on his behalf. The Man ... Jesus Christ.

How does it work that God performs miracles like this? Before Psalm 139: 16 was penned ... when Rays days were yet to be formed for him ... the King of Glory determined to bring his earthly life to an quiet conclusion as his entire family sang a song of victory beside his nearly lifeless body. How does it work that God chooses to orchestrate our life so that even our death brings Him glory? How does it work that though we may live to be 92 years of age, the same song that sings our great grandchildren to sleep each night is sufficient to sing us through gates of splendor and leave us gazing upon the beauty of the one who hung on that old rugged cross. I have no idea how many death beds I have stood by in my 36 years of being a pastor but I do know this. There is somebody behind it all. There is no chance. There is no "probable cause." There is sovereignty.

This ... this is a God I want to worship.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

God Bless The Candy

God works in such cool and awesome ways. Sunday I was offering to "allow" people to dump their left over halloween candy on me if they had a problem getting rid of it. I didn't really expect anybody to do so. We had zero "trick-or-treaters" at our house this year. Or maybe we have 300. I have no way of knowing. We were at church. But if some came and found no answer at my door (or perhaps they simply ran after reading my "Go Away!" welcome mat) at least they didn't egg my house! Any way the challenge was out there. Got candy? Dump it here!

Enter Peggy.

Peggy came into our church sanctuary last night following evening bible study and promptly hit me with a HUGE zip lock back of left over candy. And this was quality stuff! There was actually real chocolate in that bag! She seemed quite pleased with herself. All I could think of was how that candy was going to look under my belt. To paraphrase an old friend of mine, I might as well just tape it to my tummy.

This morning came and I stopped into a local quick mart for a hit of caffeine. On most mornings a young mom is behind the cash register. She is single and I would expect that money is rather tight for her. I paid for my liquid habit, leaned against the counter and engaged in a few moments of run-of-the-mill small talk. It seems she had to work all day and then was heading to a halloween party with her months old son. They were both going to be dressing up as devils. Yuk. But okay. I mean, the primary purpose of my engaging this young woman in conversations over the past months has been with the intent of "relationship building." I am doing my best to get to know her and allow her to get to know me casually. My prayer ... which I pray frequently ... is that sooner or later God is going to nudge my heart and give me the "go ahead" to share my faith in Christ with her. For now I'm just trying to win the right to be heard. At Towerview we call it "Walking Across The Room."

As we were wrapping up the two minute long chat she mentioned that she was suppose to bring goodies to the party but really didn't know what she was going to do about that. She was out of candy. And since she was working all day, making something was out of the question.

Hmmmm. I told her to hang tight and I'd be right back. I think you know where I was going.

I drove the short mile to my office, grabbed the mega-bag of "Peggy Poisen" off of my desk and headed back out the door. When I walked back in to the quick mart I dropped the bag on the counter and said, "Problem solved." She looked at it, a startled expression on her face. "What is this for?" she asked. I told her it was hers to take to tonights party. And then she asked the key question. "Why would you do this?" I just smiled. "Because you need it. And I certainly don't!" And I was back out the door.

No sharing of scripture. No mention of Jesus. No invitation to church. Yet. (She's already asked what I do for a living and when I told her she looked like I'd strangled her pet cat.) But it occurs to me that maybe a simple gift of candy, a gift that cost me nothing but a few spare minutes, will help solidify the fact in her mind that I really don't want anything from her. I'm not just being a creepy old guy. I have no agenda other than friendship.

But I'm clearly aware ... and become more aware every day ... that friends don't let friends enter eternity without Jesus.

God bless the candy. Literally, please.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Stupid Picture Chronicles #51

All I can assume is that some church is now serving crepes instead of communion wafers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Study In Contrasts

I was thinking today. No, seriously. I was. I actually rose before the sun this morning. I'd like to tell you that I did so because I decided that it was a wonderfully righteous thing to do and I decided to be righteous. Alas, it is not so. I needed to be at the hospital a good part of this Friday to visit with two friends from my church having surgery. I needed to be there early and so I found myself backing out of my driveway, glancing to the east, and actually seeing a rising sun peeking through the clouds. Now, I've seen sun rises before. I'm just wired to enjoy sunsets more. They look the same. Just backward.

But obviously that's not my point. My point is "rest." Rest vs. rush. I'm going to be talking about that a little bit this coming Sunday morning when I speak at our church. Rest is a rare commodity in 2010. Not because it's not avaiable so much as because, well, nobody really wants it. But rest is important. Very important Without it ... you'll eventually run into "The Wall" and maybe even die. Don't argue with me on this. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I know what I'm talking about when I mention that Wall. It's real. And it hurts to hit it. So don't do it, okay? We were designed by our maker to need "down time."

As a matter-of-fact, God actually initiated the idea of rest. You didn’t know that? It’s called “Sabbath.” It’s about slowing down the pace of life, relaxing, and allowing your system to replenish and refresh. So do some of that! Maybe it’s time to turn on some quiet music, dim the lights, put your feet up, and simply exist for an hour or so. The truth is, many of us don’t find that restful anymore. We’ve rewired our systems and instead of “rest” we search for “rush.” You know the rush I mean. The adrenaline rush! I admit that there’s nothing like that experience of feeling totally alive when that little chemical goes sprinting through my bloodstream. I just wrapped up a two week vacation and, honestly, I tried to avoid adrenaline. As I've mentioned Debbie and I slipped up to northern Michigan for a few days and soaked in the fall colors as the leaves peaked along the shores of a cobalt blue Lake Superior. We walked around Mackinac Island, admiring the Victorian architecture, horse drawn carriages, and a healthy (or maybe NOT so healthy) ice cream cone. (Yum.) And then we did something I had never done before. We drove down to Chicago and watched our son, Scott, compete in the Chicago Marathon. I cannot imagine running 26.2 miles on purpose! I have a hard time focusing long enough to drive 26.2 miles. We were very proud of our son as he ran for “Team World Vision” to raise money to feed hungry people world wide. But I couldn’t help contrasting the two ends of that trip. What a stark difference between gentle waves lapping up on a Great Lakes beach while leaves fell silently around us and one million screaming people gathered in downtown Chicago to watch forty-three thousand runners focusing on the finish line.

As I drove away from Chicago the next day I let Debbie do most of the driving. That's a major milestone for me. I always subscribed to the theory that "real men drive." But I pushed the passenger seat back, grabbed a book, smiled at her as she enjoyed holding the wheel for a while, and simply ... rested. And then I took the second week of my vacation and did nothing. I mean a serous amount of nothing. I had planned on power-washing and re-staining my deck. I decided not to. My body was saying that there is this long stretch looming down the road called "The Holidays." This was the last rest stop before the tree goes up. So I jumped on the chance.

I'm not sorry that I did. The two weeks turned out to be a study in contrasts. Falling leaves and deep breaths. Gentle waves and long, luxurious stretches, I like it. It gets addictive. And then all of the cheering people. Fast paced runners. Deep dish pizza and Chicago hot dogs. There is room for both. But right now ... I'm learning to re-appreciate simple, God ordained ... rest. I truly hope maybe you'll consider doing the same.

Gosh. That sounded like a sermon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today's Guest Blogger ... Mrs. Laura Woods

Call me a sucker for my new grandson, Judah. Call me in love with my son, his wife, and the family they are creating. You'd be correct on both counts. I plead guilty. Laura is a prolific writer. I am her biggest fan. She posted the following blog last night on her on corner of the web. I asked for, and received, permission to repost. If you are a mom, a dad, or a grandparent ... you'll "get it."

Take it away, Laura....

Dear Judah,

Two months little man. Two months you’ve been breathing oxygen with your lungs and stealing my heart with your eyes. And what an eventful two months it has been. I know you won’t remember a second of it, but I’ll never forget one. I’ve filled up my camera a hundred times over with pictures of you smiling and drooling and eating and crying and sneezing. I post them on Facebook and Twitter daily, much to the annoyance, I’m sure, of everyone who has bothered to friend or follow me (I love how by the time you read this, NONE of that will make sense…try to reference Google if it still exists….if it doesn’t, God help us all).

Last week, in order to celebrate our anniversary appropriately (without a squirmy baby at the dinner table), your dad made me get an overnight babysitter so we could go out and be normal people again for an evening. It’s amazing how in such a short amount of time you have totally changed the face of who we are as humans. For example, we have been attempting to go grocery shopping for well over a week now. There is just no easy way to accomplish this effectively now that you live with us. In part because your car seat takes up 99% of the shopping cart, leaving little room for more than a day’s worth of groceries. And also because who wants to go shopping when they can stay in their pajamas and stare at a brilliant and beautiful baby from the comforts of their living room? I’d rather starve in most instances than leave you for more than one second longer than I have to.

That being said, I should tell you that I had to go back to work this month. Doing this has easily been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I knew when I got pregnant that there was no conceivable way that we could manage for me to be a stay at home mom. Despite my desire to be at home with you 29 hours a day, our current situation dictates that I must daily put on tall shoes and head out into the gritty world of office politics and potlucks. It’s not ideal, but it’s a blessing. One that God has provided for us so that we can pay the bills and still afford to let your dad stay home with you most days. It’s unconventional for sure, but you so far seem to still be functioning as a normal infant, so I try not to beat myself up about it too much. Although, I have let the convictions of other moms in more conventional situations get the best of me from time to time, your dad is an amazing encourager and never lets a day go by without reminding me that not only are you happy and healthy, but that it in large part has to do with the fact that I am actually a good mom. So…if today as you read this, you are harboring some deep rooted resentment at me for not being around for you when you got home from school all those years, please know that I would rather be with you in our home more than any other place on the face of the planet. And I would sacrifice anything to ensure you always find joy in this life, despite our non conventional situation. So I didn’t write it, but please remember this always….

i carry your heart with me
i carry it in my heart
i am never without it
anywhere i go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me
is your doing, my darling….

-e. e. cummings

On a less serious note, your diapers are generally very disgusting. There are times when I’m nervous to lay you on the couch or to pick you up with bare hands. You just never know what colorful goop is going to be seeping out of your clothing at any given moment. I have a feeling that this is representative of your future love of fart jokes and immature behavior. Which to be honest, I couldn’t be more thrilled about. I’ve dreamt for years that I could live with someone who understood my sense of humor. Your father has NEVER appreciated my ability to burp on command with great zeal. In fact, he finds it offensive at times. Mostly when we are in public places, like church for example. I say, God created these escape hatches for digestive gasses, you might as well embrace the beautify of His genius. Please remind me of this when you are older and I scold you for the very thing I enjoy so much. You deserve the same freedoms as me (mostly).

I have very little to add from here. I am sure that by the next time I write, you will have accomplished some small feat of wonder that your dad and I brag about for weeks on end, despite its mundane, every day, run of the mill, infant-like behavior. We just still can’t believe you are real. It’s hard to believe how much you’ve grown and developed just over the last 8 weeks. And to think about the man I am writing to now, almost puts a crack in my brain. Do me a favor and take your time getting there.

I hope as you read this you are doing well. Saved by grace and deeply rooted in the love of your family and Creator. I also hope you still like fart jokes.

So much love that there aren’t sufficient words,
Your Sassy Momma

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I do love me some vacation.

I have a job that I love. It isn't really a "job" job. It's ministry. It's serving God and being paid by a church so that I don't have to make a living in other ways which frees me up to spend my time being their pastor. (aka: serving God.) Sometimes it is a lot easier than a "job" job because I feel "called" to it. "Called" by God. When you are doing what you are convinced God wants you to do ... what you were created to do ... it makes it a lot more palatable, even on the tough days. And history has caused me to see some pretty tough days.

But I do love me some vacation. I am about 3/4 of the way through a two-weeker. And last week was just in-cred-ible. I grabbed my bride and drug her up to "Da U.P." Better known as the "upper peninsula" of Michigan. Those in the U.P. call themselves "Yoopers." I think that is suppose to be a good thing but I'm not sure. Anyway, let me be a "Yooper" for a minute. Here's what life looks like right about now if you are one of those ...

That, my friends, is a nice view to wake up to!

And this is what a very much in love couple of Yoopers looks like. Cool, huh?

And in Yooper-ville they have waterfalls that appear to be made of root beer! Way to go, Michigan!

There are places up there where you can leave notes for God to read. I left lots of notes. This was the first one. Just making sure He remembered that I was up there.

Their bridges are really long...

...and really tall ...

... and they even let you play underneath them! (I am a graduate of Trinity Christian College. Our school mascot is the "Trolls." I felt right at home under the bridge.)

In the U.P. you can drive down beautiful roads.

In the U.P. you can watch beautiful sunsets over pristine lakes.

In the U.P. you can watch your wonderfully wacky wife pour popcorn into her Tomato Bisque Soup. On purpose.

And perhaps the best of all, in the U.P. you can fall asleep on a piece of driftwood and nobody will steal your wallet.

In the U.P. we looked at stuff from sunken ships and we ate deep fried White Fish. We walked through indian cemeteries and we ate deep fried White Fish. We relaxed in a swirling hot tub and we ate deep fried White Fish. We watched Clydesdale horses pull their carriages on an island in Lake Huron and we ate deep fried White Fish.

I ate four consecutive meals of deep fried White Fish. White Fish that were swimming in Lake Superior when I woke up in the morning were coursing through my digestive system when I went to bed at night. If there are White Fish in the Sea of Galilee I am pretty sure Jesus cooked them up.

I have never been to the Sea of Galilee. But I could get use to being a Yooper.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stupid Picture Chronicles #50

For our special "50th Edition" of the "Stupid Picture Chronicles" we have ... well ... a stupid picture. We discovered this on the way up to vacation in Michigan's beautiful U.P. I guess they have a lot of steeples needing a good home ...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hair Washing VS. Scalping. A Formal Discussion

So today I got a hair cut. It was no big deal. I go to this place that specializes in men. The reason I go there is because I need constant reassurance that I am, indeed, a man. It's not that I'm afraid that I've become a woman. No, I just keep forgetting that I'm old enough to drive cars, vote, and buy a house. I do all three. But I still need that booster shot of going to a guys hair place.

I have selected my personal hair cutter lady, Jane, based on the fact that she is the oldest person working there. Her clock has ticked 32 times. And while that isn't exactly old, I really don't think anybody else that works there remembers life before the year 2,000. So at least we can talk about more than "Glee" or which celebrity is wearing the best cuts of beef to publicity events.

Today Jane finished trimming me up and it was time for the obligatory "washing of the hair." This isn't really necessary. I shower every morning and that includes a sincere "washing of the hair." So the obligatory "washing of the hair" is just that. A ritual. It's singular purpose is NOT to get the little hair trimmings out of the way so they don't fall down your shirt and make you itch al day long. Although that is what they tell you. It's purpose is to get you to tip more because you are suddenly feeling a burst if fresh cleanliness. They even end the deal with a nice wet hot towel and a mint. Nice.

But I digress.

So Jane leans the old chair back by pressing on some pedal with her foot and ... WHAMMO! The back of my head crashes into the edge of the sink. Decidedly unpleasant. She apologizes, asks me to stand up (I was woozy with pain) and she uses all of her 110 pounds to push the barber chair closer to the sink. I settle back into it and she eeeeeases it back and proceeds with a proper hair washing. She washed. And she washed. And she kept washing. We were past the five minute mark when she said, "You are probably wondering why I'm taking so long washing your hair." I asked her if it was to rinse the blood out of it. She laughed and said, "No, it's just my way of saying I'm sorry for hitting your head on the sink." I invited her to hit my head on the sink any time she feels like it if this is the pay back.

It feels really nice when someone else washes your hair. I don't have any idea why that is. Because I've noticed that hair doesn't actually feel anything. I suppose it's a scalp issue. This is probably why the Indians made such a big deal out of scalping the "pale faces" back in the days of the wild west. It was kind of a "reverse hair washing" mentality. If you want to make somebody happy wash their hair and their scalp will smile. If you want to make somebody unhappy scalp them. With an axe. It you think about it, it makes total sense.

All I know is that Jane got a really good tip and I didn't itch at all for the rest of the day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Nameless Streets of Heaven

Not sure why but I've been thinking a lot about heaven lately. I think it all started when I was watching a U2 video. Bono was singing, "Where The Streets Have No Name." He is one of those guys who can actually make me think by simply singing a song. I love worship music but they don't make me think very often. I love the theology of the old hymns too. Some of them cause my brain to start turning but it usually shuts down before too many verses sneak by. Still, every now and then I listen to some rock-n-roller singing from the soul and it stops me dead in my tracks. When that happens it takes a while to recover. The old "Mike and the Mechanics" use to do that with "Silent Running." Incredible stuff.

But back to the topic at hand. That being ... heaven.

Do the streets have names in heaven? Perhaps you just have an inherent knowledge of your precise locations. No green street signs or exit signs needed in the celestial city. Maybe. Every body wants to know if their favorite pet will be there. I am of the belief that we are the favorite pet. Please know that I mean that with just a tinge of a smile. For we are far more than a pet to our God. We are His children. And we are His beloved Bride. I might come across my old Golden Retriever, Bear, up there. But it's going to be tough to tear my eyes away from Jesus long enough to do a thorough job of petting him when he trots up, tail wagging.

I looked at my arm today. I was driving my car with the top down coming home from a rather distant visit of a church family that lives maybe twenty-five miles from me. I put my left hand on the outside mirror and I noticed that my skin doesn't look like it did when I was half my age. And you know what my first thought was? I find this hard to believe myself and I was the one thinking it. I whispered to God, "Thank you that I'm growing older." Isn't that unusual? It is. But I meant it. I still do. The farther I travel on this space ship we call "earth" the more I'm inclined to look forward to, well, to getting Home.

Now let me make it clear. I don't have a death wish. I plan on eeking every possible day out of this body God's given me. It's been a good body. No surgeries. No major illnesses. No nights in the hospital except to be born and that doesn't really count. It's not been a "throw the football long" kind of body. It's not been a "run like the wind" kind of body. It's been more like, well, a long distance runner. Nothing too fancy but it has been getting the job done faithfully for many years. I am grateful for this.

Will I be able to ski better in heaven because I want to beat Scott and Chris down the mountain again. I use to do that when they were kids. Literally skiing circles around them. Not any more. They are jets. I'm a Cessna. Slow but reliable. Will there be time to sit and reflect in heaven? At this point in life there are a lot of things I would like explanations for. I have heard it said that once we get there we won't need the answers any more. Just being there will be enough. That may just be true. But somehow I am hoping that there will be plenty of time to sit, soak in the beauty, and breath in the answers to the questions that boggle my mind and trouble my soul. I want to talk to the one who "gets it" and be able to ask what ever I want to ask knowing that He will be patient with me and speak slowly while He spells things out. Do you think maybe it will be like that?

There are a lot of people on this globe that I want to thank and I hope I will get to do it there. There are also a fair amount that I want to slap and I'm sure there are more than a few that want to slap me. So I'm hoping that this particular part just passes away and that we have no inclination to act on any of it. I can see this degrading into a "b grade" 3 Stooges skit of the eternal variety if we aren't careful.

How about sleep? And afternoon naps? Games maybe? Real competition? How will that work if we are all perfect with splendid bodies? What will the music be like? Because I agree with Rich Mullins who agreed with Martin Luther that music is the finest thing that I have ever found. Will I be able to play an instrument? Because I cannot. And I would really like to. We shall see.

Heaven holds no fear. The crossing of the boundary between this place and heaven holds less fear each and every day. That's good because the skin is going to get worse before it gets better.

I suppose that for now I'll just sing along with Bono and wonder about the place where the streets have no name.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Peace. it is a gift given by God. I have looked around a bit and have come to the conclusion that it really cannot be found anyplace else. You can be in the fiercest battle of your life and have peace if the Spirit of God reigns within you. You can be laying on the beach in Cancun and experience inner turmoil if the Spirit of God does not reign within you. It is that simple.

True, sometimes God reigns within and you still feel anything but peace. Many have said that you will know the will of God if you have peace about a situation. I have to take issue with that. There has been an abundane of times that God has directed me to do something and I have felt anything but peace. I have felt pain, grief, sadness, and a variety of other emotions. The picture the scripture paints of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His execution is anything but peaceful. He sweat drops of blood. That does not sound peaceful to me. Yet He went through with His assignment and came out on top. Way on top. This teaches me that God calls me to do the difficult thing at times. Peace is not always the hallmark "check point" for being in the will of God.

And yet outside of the will of God any peace you experience is a mere counterfiet. Life is odd. It is seldom pleasing in a geometric sort of way. It is about hard corners, difficult angels, and wicked curve balls thrown your way. But if you trust ... the Lord is always with you. Always.

And it is enough.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


In less than two hours a milestone will be reached. To her it is intimidating. Perhaps even sad. To me it is cause for celebration. At 12:08 tomorrow morning "Bubba" will turn 30. She was born to her mother and I on a cool September evening in HInsdale, Illinois. The middle of the night. Little did I know that she would be keeping me up into the middle of the night many times. A few of them were due to the tears and wailings of an infant. Most of them were caused by the wanderings of a lovely teenage girl on the arm of boys that could not be trusted.

Her real name is Kelli. She didn't look like a Kelli when she arrived. She looked like a Bubba ... a midget truck driver. All wrinkley and gooey. She smoothed out over the first few days of life but she remained my Bubba. She didn't complain. When she got old enough to understand what I was saying I wisely switched her nickname to "Honey Bear." She never knew but that was the name of the Chicago Bears cheerleaders back in the 1980's. It really wasn't fair to the squad. Kelli was far more beautiful than any one of them.

Over the years I watched as my one and only daughter ....

-became a "cherry tart" for her preschool play
-told me that boys were yucky ... except for me
-developed the courage to actually feed the dear at the Wisconsin Dells after I bribed her with "Mother Goose Land"
-grew teeth
-lost teeth
-grew teeth
-got braces on her teeth
-actually play softball
-get her drivers license
-get her first "road kill" ... a skunk ... with MY car
-fall in love
-get dumped
-fall in love
-stay in love
-marry her love
-grant me two incredible granddaughters that totally remind me of her

I know. It doesn't sound like much when you read the list. But it was an incredible ride. Did I mention that when she went to college I drove the route she would take when she made her occasional trips back and forth to our house and I prayed over every single square inch? Oh, and that on the way home one day in the rain while driving WAY over the speed limit in a little blue Dodge Neon a very stern state trooper gave her a ticket (for less than she deserved?) And did I mention that I wrote that state trooper a letter and thanked him because his actions just might slow her down and save her life someday? Hey. She's still alive. So it just might have worked.

One of the high lights of my life came one evening when she wore a white gown and was positively radiant. She left her bouquet of flowers at the table where she had dined. My left hand grabbed her right. My other hand slipped gently behind her back. And she and I danced to Nat and Natalie King Cole singing "Unforgettable."

Kelli. Happy birthday. Don't worry about turning 30. You aren't even half way "Home" yet. And I just want you to know that to me ... you will always be unforgettable.

Monday, August 30, 2010

But today it just hurts ...

It does not happen frequently but every now and then something happens and I just don't know how to respond. Today is one of those days. Today I shouldn't even be writing but I have to. I have to let this out. I have to say what I have to say.

I have had a particular friend on my mind for about a week. Memories of days spent together and events co-organized have been flittering around my brain like a butterfly on crack. They wouldn't land or go away. So today I decided to call my friend. He lives in the high country on a mountain in a far away state. I've always been more than a little jealous of that. The perfect place, the perfect climate, the perfect situation. We only get to see each other about once a year and the anniversary of our last visit had come and gone. So I dialed the number.

His wife answered. I greeted her and, after showing showing appropriate respectfulness, I asked if my friend was available.

The silence lasted so long that I honestly thought my phone had dropped the signal. She found her voice and told me that her husband had divorced her just over a year ago. Very shortly after our last meeting. The week after their 49th wedding anniversary. It was my turn for silence. Okay, understand that this is not just another blog posting for me. This is real, bloody, and not at all fun to write. I feel like a truck just drove through my heart and left a gaping wound big enough for the next disaster. This is a friendship of more than thirty years. And I had no idea ... absolutely no idea ... that this was coming. The last time we met we sat together in a booth at a St. Louis Bread Company and we reminisced, dreamed, and talked about our individual realities.

And not one word was said about what was really going on in his life. Not. One. Word.

This man knows all of my dirty laundry. We've worked together, prayed together, sweat together. We were part of a team that pulled a cross from Marion, Illinois to Springfield, Illinois to draw attention to the love of Jesus for every man. Each evening we (and five other friends) held a youth rally at a local church or high school auditorium where we shared the love of Christ. We worked together for over a decade on a yearly youth event that had a typical attendance of about 5,000 teenagers. Hundreds came to Christ over those years.

And now I wonder ... was any of it real? Was he just churning out another day at the office? Was I just a part of making his life successful? I do not know. I will never know. I want to talk to him. I will talk to him. But I can't just yet. I don't know what to say. I don't have words. I only have this gaping hole where, earlier this morning, I thought there existed a life-long friendship.

I am somewhat of an idealist. For a long time I really believed that the older you get the more friends you accumulate along the way. As you tack on the years I just assumed that your base of deep friendships grows. Gets wider. A natural result of shared experiences and heart felt commitment to what matters in life. To what is true. And I have been reminded today of a painful lesson. My assumption was not accurate. At the very least you can't count on it being accurate. Sometimes the base shrinks. Sometimes you count on someone and they choose to dive head-long over a moral and ethical cliff. They, in their woundedness, are not to be shot. They are to be prayed for, loved, and yet held accountable. I'm not at all sure where the balance is in that process. This is way too fresh to even begin to think about that.

The bible has a lot to say about "finishing well." It has a lot to say about being very careful that we don't help others only to be disqualified ourselves at the finish line. I don't know that I can help my friend. I have great reason to doubt that our conversation will go well. I suspect (and I deeply, most sincerely hope I am wrong,) that it will at best be a sham. And I am trying today to wrap my head around the fact that I cannot fix that.

But here is what I can do.

I can finish well. I can commit myself in a fresh way to my call. I can say to those who count on me that I will be worthy of their trust or die trying. I can do no less. There may be those whom I have disappointed or let down in the past. Those who have questioned my motivations or actions over 55 years of living surely exist. To those I say "I am sorry." I say, "I am not perfect." Maybe you are right. Maybe you are wrong. I must answer to my God. But I can also say that I am in hot pursuit of following the only truly Holy One and I will not give up. The finish line may come today, it may come in decades, or any moment in between. But I will cross it and I will live for that moment of hearing from The One I do count on the most as He says ... "Nice job. Welcome home, son. I think you'll like the place I've got ready for you."

But today it just hurts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why I Am Crazy About Paisley

This face ... this face could melt the heart of a grandfather. If he was not so strong and burly. This face could actually cause a grandfather to dole out an extra afternoon treat. If he was not so wise to the ways of women folk.

Okay. I admit it. We ate gold fish crackers till we nearly puked. And then I took a nap while she stayed up and watched cartoons.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Our Little Man

Debbie and I spent the evening with Christopher, Laura, and Judah. Oh, and Sydney the dog. It was just a wonderfully great night. So relaxed, laid back, and just comfortable. I got to watch MY son hold HIS son. I crawled across the living room floor shortly before we left to where Chris was holding his infant son. He was trying to wake him up so that he would eat and they could (hopefully) go to bed and get some sleep. They are both so very sleep deprived. But when I got over to Chris he asked me if I wanted to hold Judah. I said no. No, I didn't. What I wanted was to watch the two of them. And as I watched them I realized something again. It had occurred to me on the day of Judah's birth, one week ago tomorrow. On that day it hit me square in the middle of whatever part of my brain entertains creative thoughts. Here it is ...

Now ... finally ... Christopher knows how much I love him. Because I love him as much as he loves Judah. It takes the love of a father to understand the love of a father.

I am so proud of Christopher and Laura. Not because they made a baby. Nearly any man and woman could do that. No, I am proud of them because they are already, just six days into this thing called "parenthood", totally sold out to the one that they call "Our Little Man."

It takes something totally sacrificial to be a real parent. It takes a willingness to put yourself and all of your needs on the back burner for the sake of the little life God has used you to create. That is an amazing thought. Through creating a child, God allows us to participate in the act of creation with Him! God is good!

And Christopher and Laura are pretty amazing themselves.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Judah's first story time

Welcome to the world, Judah Barrett Woods! Last Friday the trumpets of heaven blew announcing the entrance on planet earth of my very first grandson! That makes me want to shout all sorts of things. I have noticed that words come to mind in a particular sequence. Words that did not come to mind with the birth of The Amazing Elle and The Precious Paisley. But Joyful Judah has worked his magic on my mind. As a result I'm finding words formulating themselves in the following order ...

Play - ball!
This - is - a - hammer.
Walk - it - off!
Don't - tell - your - mother - but - let's ... (add secret male activity here.)

There is much more for me to teach you. But let me tell you your very first story! I suspect that it is true. Here is how it goes.

Once upon a time,
in a land far away,
a handsome, independent,
self-assured Prince
happened upon a frog as he sat,
contemplating ecological issues
on the shores of an unpolluted pond
in a verdant meadow near his castle.
The frog hopped into lap of the prince.
and said: handsome Prince,
I was once a gorgeous Princess,
until an evil witch cast a spell upon me.
One kiss from you, however,
and I will turn back
into the stunning, young princess that I am
and then, my sweet, we can marry
and setup housekeeping in your castle
with my mother,
where you can work to pay our mortgage,
buy me new clothes, deliver me "carry - out" every night,
and forever
feel grateful and happy doing so.
That night,
as the prince dined sumptuously
on a repast of lightly sautéed frog legs
seasoned in a white wine
and onion cream sauce,
he chuckled and thought to himself:
I don't think so.
And they all lived happily ever after.

I'm hear for you, Judah! I love you!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So what's the deal with grass? It is a well documented fact that I hate, hate, HATE mowing it. And today I had to. I realized the truth of that statement when I got out my machete to go to the mail box. So. It was not nearly as hot today as it was when I mowed after dark last week. (Mowing after dark did not help. I still finished dehydrated, exhausted, but with less of a tan.) I got the job done but found myself in a bit of a conversation with God while decimating His handiwork. In a nutshell ...

If God made the earth as a perfect place ... Eden ... was grass originally suppose to grow? Because that requires mowing. Mowing, in turn, makes earth less than perfect. Perhaps grass was intended to stay one height forever. But that would eliminate ultimate-Frisbee and pick-up football games 'cause those wear grass down. This is, perhaps, the ultimate theological dilemma, dwarfing free will vs. election

Mowing pollutes the atmosphere therefore it cannot be a "God thing." Ticking off my neighbors by not mowing is clearly a stumbling block to others so not mowing cannot be a "God thing."

I suppose the best thing I can do at this point is sell out my theological genius and make a profit out of this thing. So as of tomorrow I'll be offering wrist bands emblazoned with "WWJM?" "What Would Jesus Mow?" You can get yours for just $9.95 plus all applicable taxes, shipping, and a 15% gratuity for the orphans in the sweat shop that I am building to mass produce them. Don't worry. I'm building the sweat shop in the good old US of A. I would never out source such an important piece of modern culture.

That's just the kind of guy I am.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A laugh and a hug

I started blogging in 2002. This little site was set-up by my favorite son-in-law, Joe. I've enjoyed it so very much. Writing, to me, is therapy. I've blogged through healthy times and not so healthy times. I've blogged after winning victories and suffering defeats. I've blogged from jets flying cross country, from the ranch home where I raised my children, from behind frozen windows in suburban Cleveland, from an office desk, and propped up in bed. And I've loved every minute of it.

Two weeks ago I posted my 800th blog. That's a lot of words. And then I ran out. It's not that I find writing a chore. Not at all. Many times I've vented on this little space. Many times I've shared cute pictures, amazing stories of God's faithfulness, and plenty of anecdotes about the best grandchildren in the world. (Mine are better than yours.)

I've watched my "hits' (the visits to this site) plummet from about 2,000 a month to around 800. And I understand why. I don't write as much anymore so why should anyone really check back? And yet about 30 people a day drop by to see what's new. Thanks for that. The "regulars" are from California and Maine. Ohio and Texas. And mainly Missouri and Illinois. There's maybe 18 or 20 other states scattered in but they seem to have neither rhyme nor reason. I have no idea who keeps reading from Maine. It must be really cold up there.

I think the the older I get the more careful I've become about what I write. I think that going from being a youth pastor of 33 years (youth pastor's are suppose to be able to say anything ... they are my favorite people) to "putting on the big pants" and taking over as a lead pastor has caused me to think twice about what I am saying. When you are the Sr. Pastor you are suppose to know what you are talking about each and every time you open your mouth. And the truth is ... I don't. I mean, ask my family. When I am around them I tend to put my brain on "auto pilot" and say whatever comes to mind. And trust me ... they let me know that it isn't always pretty. Those who love you the most are generally your harshest critics. Last week I actually called one of my daughters-in-law by the name of my other daughters-in-law. She told me I was semi-senile. I told her she was fat. But she's due to have a child in 5 days and so she is suppose to be large. I asked her which way I was leaning (since I'm only "semi" senile.) She told me that I'm teetering. That cracked me up. But it also made me think.

So anyway. I said all of that just to say that I came really close to pulling the plug on "Lost In The Woods" yesterday. I mean, nothing lasts forever. Right? My finger hovered over the "delete blog" button for a few seconds. And I couldn't do it. It felt like I was shooting an old friend. And that's just not something you do. But God's been working on me for a couple of years now. I'm not sure what He's doing. I'm not sure where the road goes. God doesn't pave His roads with yellow bricks so that you can see them far in advance. He's more of a "take the next step and wait for instructions" kind of God. So I"m taking a lot of next steps these days. And I'm spending a lot of time waiting for instructions. But I've got as many minutes as He chooses to give me and I plan on giving them all back to Him. That means He can lead where ever He wants to and I'm willing to listen and obey. I wish I could say that I'm comfortable with that. But it's been a very long time since I've been comfortable. That's probably a God thing too.

Thanks for stopping by. Sorry I couldn't make you laugh or at least bring a smile to your face. Wait. Wait. I'll tell you a joke. It's the one my oldest granddaughter, The Amazing Elle, dropped on me unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago when she said ....

Q: What do you call a dog with no legs?"

I don't know, Elle. What do you call a dog with no legs?

A: I doesn't matter, Grandpa. He's not coming anyway.

I laughed. I hugged her. Sometimes that's the medicine we all need. A laugh. A hug. It's a winning combination.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stupid Picture Chronicles #49

How much for how many?

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Congratulations to me! This is my 800th blog. I'm certain that I am the only person that cares but somehow I feel like I deserve a celebration. Therefore I have an appointment with a pizza that I plan on conquering. Did I mention that I'm on vacation? Well, I'm on vacation.

Yea, me!

Happy 800th blog, Ron! (Well, thank you! Thank you very much!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Surviving the World

So a couple of weeks ago I broke this tooth. Below the gum line. You know you are in for a good time with the dentist when you do that. I went to visit him last week and he began his torture. They draw it out for as long as possible. He got about half finished rebuilding the fang. That meant I had to go back today. And he did something really cool. I have these three HUGE canker sores where he shot me last week. And today? Today he needed to shoot me in the same places to numb the same areas. That, my friend, means that you get a shot IN the canker sore. Good times! He asked me if I wanted to wait a couple of weeks and come back when it was all healed up. Riiiiight. I put the head phones on and said, "drill me, doc."

That really wasn't the best idea I've had all day.

So now he's almost done. Friday he installs this nice shiny new cap and I dance off into the sunset. I requested one of those diamond studded caps but he told me no. Geez. And here I thought it was actually MY mouth and I got to make the decisions. El-wrong-o.

Then I went and got the oil changed on Emma the Mustang. And she had a bad belt. So Emma got a new belt. Oh, and they lied to me about checking the air pressure on the tires and I caught them so that's one for the good guys.

After that I went and visited one of my friends from church who keeled over and fell out of her pew yesterday morning during church. (Hi Arlene!) She just went ... BAM! Fortunately there were two guys sitting near her and they knew what to do. One was a fireman and one is in the air force and, when over seas, serves as a medic. So she was sitting in the right place. She was pretty much not breathing when she hit the floor but they brought her back. Today all she remembers are these two good looking guys kneeling over her. So for her it's all good. It looks like she's going to be just fine. We'll know more soon. But you know what is truly weird? When I got to the hospital to check on her (we canceled the remainder of the service) there were FOUR people in the ER that had passed out at local churches during their morning worship services yesterday. What are the odds? (I would like to point out that I was not speaking when her lights went out so you can't hang this one on me.)

So that was the high lights of today. And as I type them I realize that there is actually no reason to tell you about them on the world wide web. I mean, it was just a day. I didn't get to help change anybodies eternity. I didn't come up with the cure for any major world ... or even local ... problems. I barely even ate because the inside of my mouth feels like a Mexican drug cartel has been taking target practice in it.

I guess tonight a truth has occurred to me. Some days you change the world. Some days you survive it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who dis be?

I got worked over today. Not by a hustler or a con man. By God. He does that every now and then. I've learned to just let Him do what He wants to do because He's going to do it anyway. "Resistance is FU-tile..." I was simply enjoying some time in my man cave. The weather was decaying rapidly (a daily occurrence lately) and the radar was on the mini-flat screen on my desk doing it's "loop" thing. "Meteorological Armageddon" was only moments away.

Then He spoke. No, it wasn't audible. I'm not Moses, ya know. My bushes weren't burning. It was just one of those "still quiet voice" things. But it was clear. And He said ... "Who would you be if all of the titles you hold were suddenly gone?" At my deepest core God looks at me and ask "Who dis be?"


What if I was no longer the husband of Debbie? The father of Kelli, Scott, and Chris? The father-in-law of Joe, Amanda, and Laura? The grandfather of Elle, Paisley, and Judah? The brother of Jim? The pastor of Towerview Baptist Church? The friend of 2 or 3 people? If all of those titles and others were stripped away ... who would I be?

That question makes my brain hurt. The first thing I feel when I think of losing those relationships is fear. I think that is appropriate. I love the people in my life and I love thinking that in some small way I might matter to them. FDR told us that all we have to fear is fear itself. I respectfully submit that he missed that one. I think that he was trying to pump the country up. But that's a crazy idea. There is a lot to fear. Forget Bin Laden. Pay no attention to the drug cartels. The threat is much nearer to home. The thought of losing those relationships causes me to feel fear. And it occurs to me, that fear cannot be held. You can't touch it as you can touch your own face or a prized possession. You can only feel it. Tangibility is not part of its package. So fear doesn't really count. It's there but it isn't. I know that is confusing but trust me on this. The same can be said of sadness, depression, and all other emotions including the positive ones. And the question I was being asked is "Who would I BE if ..." Be. Be.

It occurs to me that if all of my physical relationships were to be swept away I would only have one title left. "Child of God." Or perhaps, "Friend of God." I like them both. And they are both accurate. They came to me by way of a gift. That makes them all the more precious.

Then "The Still Small Voice" pointed out one other truth. Someday ... if only for a brief moment ... all of those relationships will be gone. I doubt that my wife and I "expire" at the same moment. Unless, of course, we pull a "Thelma and Louise." That's not likely since she would, no doubt, make me be Thelma and I hate that name. But even if we did leave this earthly soil at the same moment, every man (or woman) crosses the line from time to timelessness all alone. You are naked. Stripped of all titles and possessions. And at that moment all you have is ... God.

And so this is what I learned today. At my very core my relationship with God is the most vital of all possessions. It is the only thing that will never cease, never fade, never fail. My other titles? Very worthwhile. Also very temporary.

But Jesus? Jesus lasts. And coming face to Face with Him will be enough. Does that take the fear away? I guess I'm one of those, "Oh ye of little faith" guys, because no it does not. Not totally. It tempers it. But it does not erase it. You can call me a weenie but deep inside you know I'm right. My titles will fail. But God is working on my biography. And my biography will last forever.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

God Works Through Dummies Too

Every now and then God just decides He's going to do something and even the dumbest of us (me) can't screw it up. Today is a perfect example.

I arrived in our outer office area about 20 minutes before morning bible study today. A friend, Diana, gave me the names of a few individuals who had visited within the last month that she did not think I had. She was right. I thanked her and dropped them on my desk, making a mental note to spend time making some contacts in the coming week. I spent the rest of the hour studying and going over the "talk" I was about to give to the church congregation.

Fast forward about 90 minutes.

Our morning worship service had come to its completion. As usual we "sang our way out." I had gathered up my stuff and was walking toward the rear entrance to the worship center when I noticed her. She was standing between rows of pews and looked a bit disturbed. I felt a clear prompting from God to go and introduce myself. We shook hands and I asked her how she was doing. Tears filled her eyes as she told me that the mornings message had been exactly what she needed. She referred to some "issues in life" that were working her over, yet did not go into any detail. After a few brief minutes of talking I asked if I could pray with her. She replied, "Yes, please." So I prayed a very typical prayer that God would cover her with grace and love, providing for her needs and walking her through her troubled areas. After the big "Amen" I gave her my card and told her to feel free to contact me if she needed to. I turned to walk away but got no more than a few steps when "that prompting" came again. It was just clear that God was not done. He was sending me back to talk some more. He wanted me to be more specific. Don't ask me how I knew. But once you receive a "prompting" from God you tend to remember what it feels like.

I turned and walked back to my new friend. She was picking up her belongings and I interrupted her seeking permission to ask her one more thing. She told me to feel free. And so I asked her what God's Spirit was telling me to ask her. "Has there ever been a time in your life when you have prayed and told God that you wanted to give Him all of yourself? You know, a time when you admitted that you have fallen short in many ways of his perfection and you want to ask Jesus to pay for your sin, forgive you, bring you into His family, and give you eternal life?" She looked down and said, "No, I don't think I have ever done that. I have prayed a lot of prayers. But I have never asked Him that before."

"Would you like to do that now?"

"Yes. I really would."

I prayed, thanking God for this holy moment and asking Him to please hear the prayer of my new friend. I squeezed her hands and asked her to tell God what ever she wanted to.

She prayed out loud. She told God that she was sorry she had messed things up and she wanted to be forgiven. She wanted to be one of His kids. She was willing to live her life doing what He wants her to do from now on. She got quiet. I whispered, "Amen."

And then I hugged her. I told her that we had a lot to talk about and that we needed to do begin that process this week. I told her about baptism and what it means. And then I realized that I really needed to pair her up with a woman from our church. I looked around and there was only one woman left in the worship center (besides my new friend.) I called her over. I told her about what had transpired over the last ten minutes and asked if she would be willing to get in touch with this new believer this week. She looked at our friend, beaming from ear to ear. She hugged her, called her by name, and said that she certainly would.

Hmmm. Strange. I asked her if she new this new Christian. She looked at me like I had three eyes and said, "Of course I know who she is. I gave you her name and address when you came in the office this morning." You see, the friend I called over was Diana. The Diana that had met me earlier in the morning giving me visitors information. I didn't remember any of the names on the card. Honestly, I didn't even remember at that moment that it was Diana who had given them to me.

Isn't that just like God? The morning had come full circle. A new child was born into The Kingdom and he used the least likely guy in the room to do it. The one with no clue as to what He was doing.

I just love it when God works through dummies.

Stupid Picture Chronicles #48

Okay, maybe this isn't a stupid picture. Because it's pretty much true. At least for me.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Reflections on my independence

I love the 4th of July. Independence Day. I mean, if you live in America you love it. Right? It's a given. Fireworks, sparklers, boom-boom, steaks on the grill. The whole nine yards. What's not to love?

But can I be honest for a second? I mean gut-level-I-think-I-must-be-a-jerk honest?

Our Independence Day does not effect me like it should. I should stop and think about what has been sacrificed for me in order for me to enjoy the life of freedom that I have and that should be enough to leave me in a puddle.

And it does not work that way.

You see ... I am spoiled. I have never lived in anything but freedom. Nobody has ever asked to see "my papers" at any border except the few times I have crossed over into Canada. I have been in most states any my license plates have never been looked upon with scorn. I have never been slapped down because of my color, my race, my nationality. It's never once happened to me.

I am enormously glad that this is true. I am grateful. I hope that I will be able to make this statement until the day I die. But I recognize that my lack of personal sacrifice and persecution causes me to simply not fully comprehend my freedom ... much less what others paid for it. My father fought for 4 long years in world war two. He was in a "half-track" with the 2nd Armored Division. "Hell on Wheels." He slept in this track or in ditches. He fought in snow and blistering heat, battling his way across north Africa and then Europe. He compiled memories that he could not talk about. Ever. He was at D-Day +3 on a beach in France named "Omaha." He took part in the Battle of the Bulge. As a result of his war time experiences he could never fully enjoy 4th of July fireworks. The "rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" remained too real to him till the day he died. Dad? He could appreciate freedom in a way that I'll never fully understand.

My blessing is a curse. I am blessed to have never pulled a trigger in anger. I am blessed to have never had a trigger pulled on me in anger. I am blessed by the sacrifices of millions who have gone before me or are serving to keep me free right now. Some of my best friends are numbered among them. I have friends serving on military bases right now. I have friends risking it all on foreign soil right now. And they understand fully what I cannot. They understand the great price that has been and is being paid so that I might live on in my cursed semi-ignorance.

And to those men and women, past and present, I say from the bottom of my spoiled heart ... thank you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

385 In Dog Years

When I was born this house, the Barbagallo House," in Kimmswick, Missouri, was already 105 years old. I take comfort in that. Because I am now 385 years old in dog years. That's 55 in human years. VERY hard to believe. Staring down the barrel at 60? Not possible. Many people have expressed kindness to me today. I am grateful for the multitude of friends that God has given me. A few have been obstinate, reminding me that death is looming. Well, to them I only have one thing to say. I'll probably get to heaven before you will. And when I get there? When I get there I'm going to go mess up your room. That's IF you have a room. Uh-huh. Better think that through. Nothing worse than getting "short sheeted" in The New Jerusalem!

I've been asked what I've learned in 55 years of life. I've tried to boil it down to a few bullet points. For you young'ens ... read and learn.

-Never laugh at old guys. It's like laughing at your tomorrow. And the truth is, you might turn out uglier than the old guy you are laughing at.

-The more you learn the more you forget. It's inevitable. You can only retain so much. But as you increase in age the information you gather tends to be much more important than what you gathered in your younger days. Which means you forget what is least important. Unfortunately, you forget the very part that younger people remember. Because it isn't as important to you. This makes you an easy target for laughter or jokes. Don't let it bother you. Retain what is important and let the laughers laugh. By the time they understand you'll be dead which simply means they can't whine to you and, with any luck, will be in heaven messing up their room.

-Your relationship with God is far more important than anything else. That makes a great sermon point. But forget about that. It's just a simple fact. When your life begins to boil down to what is important NOTHING will top that. So pay attention early. You won't have to spend so much time "cramming for finals" later on.

-Right after your relationship with God you might want to consider cultivating, watering, fertilizing, feeding, your relationship with your family. Do you realize how precious ... how important they are? Who knew you from day one? Who else will be with you on your last day (hopefully?) And honestly, who else would you rather be with? Family. I have many great friends. I'd like to have many more. I'm in the market. But if my phone rings and ANY member of my family is on the other end ... family by blood or family by marriage ... you betcha I'm answering that call. I would move mountains for my family. I would rearrange cluttered schedules. I would walk across hot coals. I would die for my daughters-in-law and my son-in-law as quickly as I would my own kids. They ARE my own kids. Every Thursday night I drive two hours to spend one hour with two of my three kids and their families. MY families. Why? Because it's worth every minute of it. And not just because they might be choosing my nursing home someday. I will do it because, well, because I love them with a deep and impassioned love.

-You don't really have to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Every 5,000 will be fine unless you drive in really dirty places or you stop every block and let your engine idle. I'm not a mechanic. I've just owned a lot of cars. If I'm wrong about this remember ... never take car advice from a pastor.

-Don't take yourself so stinken seriously. You spend much time wondering what people are thinking of you? Let me give you the true answer. THEY ARE NOT THINKING OF YOU. They are thinking of themselves. So please God first and then please those you love and then please yourself. And if others give you grief for it ... laugh at them. No, not to their face because that would be rude and it might get you punched in the nose. But do laugh at them. Certainly don't pay them any undue attention.

-Everybody has an opinion. You want to make somebody angry? Make a decision. You'll hack someone off every time. Get use to it. It's an irrevocable law of the universe.

-Okay, just one last thing. I could go on all night writing this stuff but you are already bored and my 55 year old fingers are tired. So here's the last one. That person who lays next to you at night? You know. Your wife. Or your husband. They are gold. Always, always, always give them the benefit of the doubt. Always put them before yourself. Always make certain that, before they go to sleep or drive away in a car, they know you LOVE THEM. And then tell them one more time just to make sure. Contrary to popular opinion, they cannot be replaced.

"The Birthday Flag" flys at our house in my honor today. (Thank you, honey!)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vacation update...

When you get these seats at the Brewers/Twins game at Milwaukee's Miller Park...

This is the inevitable result...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

To my kids. Thanks for letting me be the dad.

I suppose the typical Father's Day blog would find a person writing to his father. Or perhaps about his father. Tonight I am blowing away all trends. I have something important that I need to say.

Kelli. From the moment they lay you in my arms in the deliver room I was a changed man. I fell into your deeply piercing eyes and my life has never been the same. With your first breath my life was altered for all eternity. You have brought things out of me that no other person could have ever brought out. I was so thrilled to have a daughter. A daughter. Those words rang in my ears when the nurse first spoke them to me. They ring to this day. I could write so much about the in-between days but I would much rather fast forward to today. You were the first one to make me a father. You were the first one to choose a mate. You were the first one to make me a grandfather. And I am so proud of you. But those are not the only reasons why. I watch you live your life, love your family, serve your God, and I can not think of one thing that I would change. You are everything that I dreamed you would be. Everything I prayed you would be. It thrills me to know that you serve God as a ministry leader in your church. But that is not what thrills me the most. It is simply who you ARE. At your core. You are a woman of integrity and honor. You are purposeful. You are loyal. Dedicated. Incredibly resourceful. Independent. Shockingly beautiful. I could go on. But let me say to you one more time what I have told you many times before. If I could have talked to God and designed my own daughter she would look exactly like you. I love you with every fiber of my being and am honored that for all eternity I will be your father. Kelli, you are wise beyond your years and gifted beyond you ability to have learned all you know on your own. God has His Hand on you. And I cannot wait to watch what He does with your life. I love you, Kelli, far more than I love my own life.

Scott. You came into my life wearing a little yellow sock hat. It quickly morphed into a blue Cubs cap. How many baseball beatings have we taken together? More than I can count. Watching you grow up in our home brought me joy I had never known. My first son. Somebody to play catch with. Somebody to teach the letters "ESPN" to. You use to cry and scream when I would get on a bus or into a van to leave on a youth trip. You just wanted your dad. Those moments ripped my heart out. But I walked on and did what God told me to do. Now I understand a little bit about why He wanted me to demonstrate that faithfulness before you. It would not be long until you would be the one climbing on a bus. You would be the one leading the charge of teenagers in a well planned attack on the gates of Hades. I remember the days we "shared a wall." I was a pastor on one side and you were the youth pastor on the other. Those were some of the best moments of my life. The day came when you sat in your room, on your bed, and stared at the walls and the memories they contained. You didn't know I was watching from a distance. You walked outside where your mother and I were waiting to pray for you as you drove off of our drive way for the last time as a resident of our home. I will forever remember you wrapping your arms around my neck and saying, "I never thought they would say yes!" I have to tell you, Scott. I knew from the first moment you began filling out applications that they would say "yes." Because I knew you were called. Scott, I am incredibly proud of you. Of the man you have become. I love you and all you ever have to do is make the call and I am on the road, heading to wherever you are. You are my son in whom I am well pleased.

Chris. I scarcely know how to say to you how much you mean to me. You completed God's gift of children to your mom and I. When you first showed up we realized that we were now complete. Until you came it always felt as though someone was missing. You were that someone. God designed you specifically to be the final puzzle piece to our family. Oh how I loved raising you! Oh the challenges you sent my way! You always did things your own way. I often had to express my displeasure (while stifling a belly laugh) but I can now be honest with you. Almost every time I found out what you had been up to deep in my heart and soul I was thinking, "This is one amazing kid. Magnificently creative. Totally independent upon his own wit and skills. Raising him is going to be a BLAST!" And none of that was wrong. And I look at you today, Christopher, and I stand thrilled and humbled by the man that I see. Overnight you went from "the learner" to "the teacher." How did you do that? I should not be surprised. It is typical Christopher. I have no idea what your future holds, my son. But I know this. It is brighter than the brightest sun. You have grown a heart after God and He is going to use you beyond your wildest dreams. Maybe it won't always be fun or easy. Maybe it will sometimes hurt. But it will be a ride that you will never regret taking. Thank you for calling me "dad." When my phone rings and I see your picture on the screen my heart smiles. And I never know what I am going to hear! I love you so deeply, Christopher. Remain faithful. I will be here for you whether you need me or not!

It is Father's Day. And I am one blessed Father.