Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Pilgrim Candles

 "I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them down to you." 1 Cor. 11:2


For those traveling tomorrow...an early edition....

I don't know what kids do for Thanksgiving in school these days but I grew up in the cool era of the 1960's where we made Pilgrim hats or Indian head bands (I know...First Nation head bands...I'm sorry, it just doesn't have the same ring to it.) I grew up making turkeys from your hand print and bringing in Indian Corn (is there another socially acceptable word for that?) and making pictures on construction paper with Elmer glue - the real stuff not that sissy glue stick stuff.

It was the time to dust off the fall leaf garland and find William Bradford and what I have always believed was his dear wife in miniature candle forms. You can't put out the one without the other. We're not for dividing families at this time of the year. I know that there are complete sets with Will and Becky, the little ones, and a turkey as big as the kids but we were poor or we burnt down the bird and the kiddos. I can't remember. 

Upon further research I may have to revise my table setting this year. It appears that the first Thanksgiving was not celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts but rather in Florida with the Spanish and the Timucuan people. It also lasted a week. We are heading to my youngest daughter's home this year. I'm sure she'll be thrilled with the extended stay and the following menu. I'm bringing out the floral shorts, the T and my boat shoes. 

Instead of turkey, which was rare to find, they ate venison, duck medallions in a seasoned brown gravy paired with steamed carrots and broccolini, seafood - fish, mussels, lobster dipped in hot butter sauce, and their famous crab cakes lightly breaded with Toll House Butter Cracker crust slightly dusted with original Old Bay seasoning. Added to that was ground corn mush with sweet molasses (now don't be turning your nose up at that - my cows loved it) and fresh pumpkin bars with powdered sugar or a creamy white glaze, all kinds of local nuts and even those that come from trees, puddings and pies...oh my goodness...blueberry, raspberry, gooseberry (with feathers removed), and of course, apple with lattice strips on top and crow feet marks around the edges literally done with crows feet. 

Sorry to burst your Thanksgiving bubble but no whipped white potatoes with grandma's dollop of sour cream and a half a pound of butter. It was probably turnips. White potatoes didn't arrive in the country until much later. Not even sweet potatoes? Nope. Put the casserole dish and the marshmallows away.  Green bean casserole with dried onions? I am almost certain of it. They had green beans. They had onions. I think we can take the next level assumption. Thank you, Lord. 

More importantly there was friendship and family and a spirit of true thankfulness to Creator God after a year of tragedy. Out of 102 passengers on the Mayflower, almost half of them died the first year. More would have if it weren't for the kindness of the Native People in the area. 

I have a feeling that there will be many this year who will give thanks with an empty seat at the table. Recipes will frantically be recalled and written down, some without success (nobody can make those homemade hand rolled egg noodles like grandma did). Old stories revisited for a new generation to hopefully carry with them. 

But my prayer is that our faith in a Sovereign God who is Good and who is Faithful even when things are hard will be shared around the table as well. Some may have to search hard to find Him but He's there - just like Will and Becky. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Kitchen Table

 "Give thanks in all circumstance for this is the will of God..." (1 Thess. 5:18). 


After a week of being homeless and living with the in-laws, we finally made it to Logansport and our new old home. The day the movers were unloading boxes in our basement we had a toilet ring break...water flowing down through the basement ceiling through a light panel onto the floor. Welcome home! Baptized again. 

It's also the smallest house that we have lived in outside of the little 800 square foot 100-year-old farmstead house when we first were married. We had to put straw bales all around that place and wrap the house in visqueen plastic just to keep from freezing to death...the house never able to get up to 60 degrees. An early mummifcation process as Halloween pointed us to cooler temps. Remember the plastic that you put on the inside of the windows and then used a hair dryer to tighten it up? I've been trying to do that with my face wrinkles as of late but to know avail. But when your young and in love, freezing to death doesn't really matter. You just cuddle a little more. I lied. It does. But we had some wonderful memories in that house. We were young. We were poor. But it was our home. Lots of good memories at that little kitchen table where our girls learned to eat like animals with their hands and throw things on the floor in amusement. Figuring out how to control mom and dad early on in life. Go fetch. 

Our current kitchen is pretty small. It provoked us to remember the kitchens of our childhood homes. Mine...a two story farm house where to do dishes you had to pray that no one wanted to go from the kitchen table to the stairway. There was barely enough room for two. The stove out in the dining area as well as the frig. Deb's galley kitchen was much the same. But there were good memories in those places. You didn't realize what you didn't have and were thankful for what you did have. 

I can still see my Grandma Lute in her small farm kitchen, white flour spread out all over the yellow marbled Formica table, preparing to make those wonderful homemade Thanksgiving egg noodles. I can still see my Grandma Cains bending over with her baster to coat, one more time, the honey ham with pineapple slices (which she saved just for me). Houses. Homes. Memories. Love. 

Jesus didn't have a home to lay his head. Paul traveled all over the place getting beat up and thrown in prison. Freezing to death on cold stone floors. Hungry. Probably remembering his mother cooking in his childhood kitchen. Both men were thankful. Not because of what they lacked but for what could not be taken from them. Citizens of another country. Renters in this world. Houses. Homes. Memories. Love. 

As we downsize in life, I am praying that our kitchen not be a complaint of want of size, but will be another memory for us, for our girls, our grandkids, and for anyone that the Lord will allow us to share life with. Not just a house - but a home. Not just a kitchen table where we eat - but a place to be nourished. 

Thankful memories. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Boo!

 "Amid disquieting dreams in the night when deep sleep falls on men, fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was. A form stood before my eyes, and I heard a hushed voice:  'Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If God places not trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth!'" (Job 4:13-21)


Okay. I began reading this and expected, "Boo!" 

As a child I grew up reading "Ripley's Believe It or Not - Ghost Stories." (See June 3rd posting). I also grew up with the movies Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III, the Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, all kinds of B-horror movies at the Drive-in Theater that my older cousin snuck me into in the trunk of his car - I mean legitimately paid for (no worries - I ate my movie ticket price in over priced hot dogs and pop/soda). And then...the last movie of this genre watched...The Shining with Jack Nicholson. No blood and guts...just shear terror. As it would happen, I had a beautiful alpine luncheon at the top of Mount Hood in Oregon (Timberline Lodge) where they filmed some of this. Quite delightful. Except for those darn twins that kept showing up in the hallway. (Inside fright). 

I say this so that reader knows that I am well-versed and an expert in all things scary. Actually, I stopped watching this stuff when I entered into ministry. I found that the real stuff was much more frightening than any Hollywood director could come up with. 

As "All Hollows Eve" or "All Saints Eve" or "Allhallowtide" approaches I thought I would ejukate those of you who haven't researched this. Scholars are torn between two origins: Celtic or Christian. 

In the Celtic tradition, this day was thought to be the time when the space between this world and the nether world was at its thinnest - where the spirits of the departed could easily cross over for a brief time. The idea of wearing a costume was so that the spirits would not recognize you and take vengeance against you. And...so that you could get free food from your neighbor to appease the "spirits." Bobbing for apples, roasting nuts, etc...were part of the fun. Except that they were intended as divination objects. So sorry for ruining that for everyone. Drench those apples in some caramel and nuts and it will be sanctified as God-honoring. Just say a prayer over it first. 

In the Christian tradition, "All Saints Eve" can be traced to the 8th century under the rule of Pope Gregory III. Most scholars believe that it was a Christianization of pagan tradition (like several of our traditions, e.g. Christmas trees, Mistletoe, decorations, etc...) Instead of inviting the spirits of the dead, the tradition changed into a remembrance of the dead, especially those martyred for their faith. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Go eat some soul cakes with little crosses painted on them. 

Most Protestants reject those religious traditions as unbiblical. But there is no denying the spirit realm and the respect one needs to have for it. As I read through Job this week, I was reminded once again that the scariest thing in this world is not a spirit that might show up in my dreams or...in my bedroom, but to stand before a righteous God with my unworthy works. 

Boo!



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Something in the middle

"I'm torn between two desires:  I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live." (Philip. 1:23-24) 



Life is always full of choices. When you say, "yes" to something it often means having to say, "no" to another. When you say, "yes," to something if often means having to stop something else. But there is always something in the middle. There is that awkward or often stressful time of the in between. 

Trying to keep myself positive I began thinking of things in the middle. The white creamy part between an Oreo or a Whoopie Pie or a Twinkie. The marshmallow and chocolate between two graham crackers in a S'more. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun - a.k.a. - yes, I know your singing it now - the theme song for my favorite show - the Big Mac. I can't believe I still remembered that. I haven't had a Big Mac in years. 

If you think about it there are numerous opportunities to celebrate that which is in the middle. 

I don't know the future of my life but if I should live to 120, I'm just shy of the middle. My life is in transition. I'm still pastoring a church in Bernville but hired to pastor a church in Indiana. It's a bit taxing. Not to mention having to pack up the house at present. Longing to go but needing to stay focused for the  good of the flock. Longing to savor the deep relationships made here but longing to start something new. 

You can almost hear that same sentiment in the voice of the Apostle Paul. Tired of the prison cells, the beatings, the travel, the cold - how he longed to go home to be with Jesus. Yet, here he writes to his crown, his joy, his motivation for getting that stiff body around every morning to go out and do it again - to share the good news of Jesus, to see people saved from hell and to a vibrant life with God. Just one more, Lord. Just one more. Yet, I'm torn between the two. Perhaps Paul felt like he was a bit in the middle. 

At the time of this writing we have 5 baptisms coming up this Sunday and a potential to bring in 9 new members. It brings us such great joy to think that God would allow us to have some sort of eternal impact on the lives of the people that we serve. It brings us great joy to know that God is adding to the church not because we were there (perhaps that was the initial reason) but because God is doing something supernatural at St. Thomas. 

All I know is that sometimes it good to get to the middle. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Master Piece

"One thing I ask of the Lord, this only do I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple." Psalm 27:4


This past weekend was our second twelve hour trip to Indiana within a month. Grueling - even for a young and vibrant man like myself. But it wasn't long before Deb and I were sighing a bit as we drove through the Pennsylvania scenery. We will miss the mountains -although our new home sits on a hill. Well...our backyard slopes. But we will really miss the Turnpike and State College views that we've grown to anticipate over the last few years of our travels. 

There is nothing more breathtaking than to view the fall colors of the mountain sides and the valleys. Stunning. I'm a fall color guy by natural palate so I enjoyed the burnt oranges, reds, fading greens, and umbers. If you aren't familiar with the color "umber," its similar to ochre and sienna. (I know your laughing right now in your color palate ignorance). Paint section. Home Depot. Widen your horizon. Plus they make really great book marks. 

I'm so glad that God is not boring. I'm so glad He loves diversity. I'm glad He loves color. 

I once asked one of my students in a "Studies in Genesis" class, "Why did God create color?" (Gen. 1:30, "every green plant). It's a speculative question at best but it was designed to help us understand that God is not simply pragmatic but an artist.(Yes, I do understand chlorophyll and sunlight and photosyth...photosin...photocopying).  

He could have created things like our old 1960's television set: black, white, and shades of grey. It functioned. We could use our imagination. But the thing is, our imagination can only be based on some sense of reality (Dr. Seuss excluded). I can imaging a blue suit and brown shoes because I have seen blue and brown. God has given me a color palate to work with. He could have also created with such beauty and yet made man blind or fully color-blind. But with healthy human eyes He graces us with the beauty of this world. It is nothing more than a gift to bring us joy. It has very little, if any, practical use. You might be saying, "Well, what about stop lights?" Answer: Stop signs. And it wouldn't matter if it was red, turquoise, mauve, or...umber. It's the word, "stop" that gives it away. We would just have to be patient as we go one at a time or thankfulness for the traffic officer. 

Now, if this fallen world is filled with such beauty, how much more will heaven be? It will be the perfect place of enjoyment reflecting the beauty of the Lord. Can you imagine? Only in similes. As the Apostle John tells us in Revelation, "It's like..." And the psalm tells us that we will "gaze." Isn't that a lovely word? God is so beautiful that we can't take our eyes off of Him. Wow!

Yes, we do have trees in Indiana but the view is from below. Still pretty amazing. But nothing compares to the sites from above. I can only imagine what God sees - a Masterpiece and a piece of the Master. 


 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Von Trapp Family

 "My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word." 




I love "The Sound of Music." It's one of those seasonal films that I can watch every year and not get tired of it. Much like Charlie Brown and "The Great Pumpkin" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Elf" or "The Grinch that Stole Christmas." 

"The Sound of Music" reminds me of family, of love, of dangerous times, of saying "goodbye." 

Many of you are aware that Deb and I will be taking another ministry position in Indiana. We are looking forward to building another group of deep friendships, seeing God work in yet another context, being a part of a new larger community, and...after twenty years of being gone, closer to our children and grandchildren. Family. Love. Dangerous times. Goodbyes. New beginnings. 

But our hearts are sorrowful because we are leaving deep friendships, God's great work, a community that we have integrated into, and so much more. 

We also leave at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. The enemy is at the gates and I am looking for Mother Superior to tell me that the Hills are Alive. "Go child. Run to the hills." Wrong direction. I'm heading to Indiana where its as flat as a board. But we can hide in the corn. 

It is not bed time yet. I have a few more hours to stay up and enjoy the party but like little Marta with my bandaged finger, a time will come when I will have to say "goodbye" and head over Mount Nittany. 

"There's a sad sort of clanging 
From the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple, too. 
And up in the nursery
An absurd little bird 
Is popping out to say, "coo-coo" (coo-coo)
Regretfully they tell us
But firmly they compel us 
To say, 'good-bye' to you."

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Up to Bat

 "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord." Ps. 31:24

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."  Prov. 13:12


I watched the Franklin Graham 2020 Prayer March last Saturday. Boy, did I need that. Prayer. But more importantly, hope. It's amazing how prayer reorients you. All the negative news. All the negative speech. All the negative attitudes. All, I confess part of my life at present. It disparages. It overwhelms the good and pushes aside the positive. It's hard being positive all the time. And sometimes...just down right impossible. But hope is a very powerful antidote.

For some reason, I have been reading a lot of WWI and WWII era writings. I finished Ian Murray's biography on Archibald Brown, the successor of C. H. Spurgeon during the late 1800's up unto the beginning of WWI and then read through Banner of Truth and Trust's two volume compilation of his sermons. Wow! It was like hearing sermons written for today's struggles. I also read Ellie Wiesel's Night. My goodness...if there was ever a time to just give up and die. Some did. Many survived but were dead inside until the physical caught up with the spirit. I read it in one sitting. Captivating. Convicting. Contemplative. Man's inhumanity to man. Hope in times of absolute hopelessness. 

The great Catholic Theologian, G. K. Chesterton wrote, "Hope is hoping when  things are hopeless or it is no virtue at all. As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength." 

I saw this first hand when I worked with Hospice as a guest pastor. Those who were terminal and had no hope died very quickly. Those who had hope lived and some even recovered to the amazement of the medical community. 

Theologically, I know this. When the spirit is willing but the body is weak, it will keep pressing forward. But when the spirit is weak and gives up hope, the body will quickly follow. 

There is a story of a little boy who was hospitalized with a very serious illness, each day getting worse, each day giving up. His school, along with his parents, asked his teacher if she would be willing to go up and make sure that he kept up on some of his school work. If nothing more, it was a distraction from the seriousness of his illness. The boy made an amazing recovery and the doctors asked him what changed. He said, "Well...I was about to give up hope of getting better but then they sent my teacher up to teach me about nouns and verbs. I thought, 'If I was dying, why would I need to learn about nouns and verbs.'" 

Hope is a powerful thing. 

A man approached a little league baseball dugout and asked one of the boys what the score was. He said with a smile, "We're losing eighteen to zero." The stranger said, "How can you be so happy about that?" The boy said, "Well, pretty soon we'll be up to bat!"

Hope is a pretty power thing. 

Don't be discouraged. We'll soon be up to bat.