Monday, December 31, 2007
Yesterday I visited the Strand book store in Manhattan. I couldn't believe the variety of titles that were available there. They specialize in used books and they have quite a collection of everything from sports, to religion to history and the classics. They are not a discounter like some book stores I have been in. Their prices tend to be a little high but they have the widest assortment that I have ever seen.
I found Ty Cobb's autobiography (I already have it) and lots of books on each of the U. S. Presidents. They had a whole section devoted to the arts and that was cool. I could have spent a fortune if I had it.
What struck me the most was the number of people that were there on a Sunday night. I never realized how many people love books. Everyone had an armful as they walked through the store. I have always been an avid reader but walking in the Strand opened my eyes. I was not alone.
I think the same thing happens for us sometimes when we go into church. There are times when we feel isolated and alone on our faith journey. Even if we are pretty self sufficient, there are moments when the world seems to be pressing in on us. What I like about church is the fact that I can find others who understand. We can talk about our faith journeys and the way God has touched us. We can encourage one another and when we tell how God has been with us, we don't get the blank stare that says, "Are you crazy?"
The church is a safe place to rest and be renewed as you journey through life. If you haven't stopped in lately, do it in the new year. You'll be amazed at how many of us there are who love and worship God.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Today is our annual youth recognition Sunday and one of our college students is giving the message and our high school and college youth are leading the service. My role is to give them all parts to play and then step back and let them run the show. I do have a bit more to do than usual because many of our college students have graduated and we do not have a big contingent of high school students. Still, it came at a good time for me.
Melissa Hauser will be our student preacher today. She is the fourteenth to be honored in this way. The tradition dates back to 1994 but actually is a tribute to my pastor. He encouraged a whole group of us to get involved in the church as teenagers. We were Sunday School teachers, choir members, speakers, organists and soloists. He saw the kids as the future of the church and instead of just talking about it, he made it happen.
The truth is that these kids are our future. If there is any hope for the church it will come from their enthusiasm and ideas. The Holy Spirit will use their gifts and talents to reach the world. I like to say that today we will get a glimpse of the future. Well, say a prayer for me that I get over this bug and a prayer for the kids that they will know how much we love and appreciate them.
Friday, December 28, 2007
In case you can't think of anything to be thankful for (ha ha!) this might help.
As I was thinking about this I opened an e-mail from a friend. She sent this along and it touched me. It isn't a political statement. It is simply a way to remember those who are called to keep the peace even in these perilous times. It is another reason to say thank you.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I stood in awe as I realized that no one culture has the market on blogging. People from every society, writing in a multitude of languages, share bits and pieces of that which makes life important for them. Even though I can't always understand the written language, I can giggle along with a Japanese girl who shares her favorite music and presents photos of her and her girl friends dancing. I can get serious with a middle aged politician from the mid-west who shares his opinion on global warming and the state of the economy. I can fall in love all over again as I read the journal a young man in France who posts pictures of his bride to be and flash back to my own first days of love or laugh alongside an expectant mother in Italy who shows photos of her baby shower where someone painted a smiling face on her belly.
Yes there is pornography out there too, but I usually just skip right over that or file an Internet complaint. But don't let that stop you. You might miss a site where they speak about writing or one that gives tips on photography. You could happen upon a blog where a Christian mom talks about teaching her children about God or a fan club of Michael W. Smith or Third Day with a bunch of their songs to listen to.
Blogs are fun. Every time I go surfing I am reminded of how much more we have in common with other folks around the world than we think. Maybe this is where world peace can begin. It can begin by listening to the hearts of others.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
by Dorisanne Cooper
Whether it be the answer to a problem,
or the solution to a difficult situation.
I use the word often and rather casually, too;
but even so,
I still feel I must pad my hopes
With all kinds of alternative outcomes:
"I hope this will work out... but something might interfere."
"I hope this is right... but I'm not really sure."
I pack in all the possibilities so airtight
That I don't leave room for surprise.
I think I do this partly for protection,
Protection from being disappointed or embarrassed or wrong.
I say I'm just being realistic.
But realism can only take me so far.
Surely mysticism can play a part as well.
But it's harder to plan for that.
Thinking realistically... how believable is it
that the birth of a child in a stable
could change the world?
Well, I believe it now: but
I can't help wondering, if I had lived then,
whether that would have been on my list of possibilities.
Somehow I doubt it.
This season reminds me...
It reminds me that if i hold too tightly to my list of possibilities,
I may overlook an answer that's staring me in the face.
It reminds me of the many ways
In which hope is fulfilled.
It reminds me to relax...
Not relax my hopes,
But the packing around them.
I need to leave room for God in my hopes.
Not just now, but all through the year.
I might even witness a miracle.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Too often we get caught up in trying to hang onto what we have. No wonder we are miserable. Real living needs to include a generous spirit. So let's make a deal. Let's make Christmas the first day of a new way of being. Let's see if we can give of ourselves every day in the new year. It might begin with sharing a smile or pat on the back. It might evolve into something even more precious.
You want to give God a gift? Then give your love away. That will make him smile.
Friday, December 21, 2007
The first one features a great song and some video from several Christian movies.
This is a classic. Linus, who I am especially fond of since I played him on stage a few years ago, shares the true meaning of Christmas.
I saw the Celtic Women on PBS a few weeks ago for the first time and was in awe. Here they are singing my favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy."
One of the Christmas classics is "O Holy Night." I found this version with Carrie Underwood singing it last year in Washington D.C.
I will share some more later.
Each December, I vowed to make a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations - extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending.. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments and, of course, the true meaning of Christmas. My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's Winter Pageant. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production.
Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher and she assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song.
Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as "," I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment songs of reindeer, , snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love," I was slightly taken aback by its bold title. Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row- centerstage - held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song.
As the class would sing "C is for ," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love."
The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W". The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W". Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together.
A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:
"C H R I S T W A S L O V E" And I believe He still is.
Someone sent me this in an e-mail and I thought I would pass it on. Christmas is coming. Please don't forget why we celebrate on this special day. It is to remember the birth of our Lord, the hope of our salvation.
'Twas the month before Christmas when all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying nor taking a stand.
Why the PC Police had taken away,
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing,
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a "
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets are hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate "Winter Break" under your "Dream Tree"
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday !
The problem this year will be getting to the meetings. A little over a month ago the Weight Watchers Center moved. They didn't just move across the street or across town, they moved out of Norwich. You would think a city of 40,000 people could find enough of us who are overweight to support a meeting. I guess not. So this January I am going to have to do it on my own.
I'm glad God never leaves town. His promise is that he will be with us always. When we have to work through disappointments, trials and the ups and downs of life, God promised to be with us. Hey, that's what Christmas is all about. God so loved the world that he entered it in the incarnation. He moved to our town, our planet and promised he would never leave us. That's love and that is a blessing to hold onto in the new year.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
As we were talking about life and the challenges we were facing, I mentioned that Lori and I hoped to buy our own home some day. We chatted about this and many other things and then Doris came back to it and said, "I think you should buy a house in Norwich and plan to stay a while." Sallie Pierce, Esther and Paul Lorraine, and a few others all agreed. Over the next several months they became the biggest advocates for the idea and greased the way for us to do just that. It has been 19 years since we bought that first house and we owe it all to Doris.
I think the church is happy with the way things turn out. I know we are. It's funny how a small thing can reap big results. Jesus seemed to understand this when he talked about faith. He said "faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain." You never know when your words, your suggestion, your encouragement, your stepping out in faith will be a blessing.
So don't be afraid to offer yourself and your ideas to others. When you do it in good faith, God may use it to bless others in ways you never imagine.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I heard someone ask the other day, "Why do we bother? No one gets what they really want. All this stress just leads to disappointment."
Maybe it is time to step back and rethink our Christmas traditions. Maybe it isn't about overextending ourselves on the credit card and trying to buy our children's love. Maybe the best gift we can give the people we care about is our undivided attention. Maybe if we showed them we loved them by giving ourselves it would end the anxiety and make Christmas magical again.
I found this clip while surfing the next. It speaks volumes to what I am saying. Enjoy.
Monday, December 17, 2007
1. I have three beautiful daughters who are all healthy and doing well.
2. I have my health.
3. I am in a warm house and have plenty of food in the cupboards.
4. I have some good friends.
5. God loves me!
6. The Christmas tree is right side up again.
7. There is stability in my life, and although I know the world could shift and turn upside down any moment, I know that God will not let me fall very far.
8. The Detroit Tigers are going to be the team to beat next summer :-)
9. A new Star Trek movie is coming out in 2008.
10. No matter how silly I get, my parents will still let me come home for a visit.
I went to a seminar at the Crystal Cathedral a few years ago and was impressed by Dr. Schuler's "Rule of ten." He specifically mentioned it in terms of possibility thinking and looking for solutions to problems but I believe it has wider implications. If you search for ten things you can be thankful for you will begin to realize that even in the worst of times you have reason to give thanks. So count your blessings today and name them. You will find you are blessed in more ways than you thought.
When Lori and I hosted her work party, the tree was the center of attention. It filled the space and was the perfect backdrop for an evening of fun.
That was Saturday night. This morning I came down the stairs and was blown away when I noticed that the tree had toppled over. It lay prostrate on the floor amid the shards of broken glass and ruined ornaments. The strand of lights lay in a tangled web at its base. Humpty Dumpty couldn't have taken a bigger fall.
We were in a hurry and we had to leave it but I vowed to come back and start over again. After Rachel got home from school we prepared to resurrect the tree. It took a few minutes but we did. Although we couldn't replace the broken bulbs, we did a pretty good job of making it look good again.
It got me thinking about the disappointments we have in life. Too often life comes crashing down around us. We think that it is the end of the world. The truth is that although it may be difficult, and it might not be the same as before, we can overcome anything with faith and a little help from our friends.
So don't lose hope. Just pick yourself up and start over again. You'll be surprised at what you can do.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The next decision would be more difficult. I hate to cancel church. You never know when someone really needs to come in and pray. The forecast called for it to stop before 10:00 a.m. and turn to rain so I decided to go ahead with services.
I think it was a good decision. Although we only had about 25 people, it was one of the nicest services of the year. There was something intimate and heartwarming about it as we sang carols and read the story of the angel visitation to the shepherds. Rachel Lord sang a beautiful solo that sounded angelic. It set the tone for the morning. It was a great service and my worries about people feeling cheated by a shorter service without lots of bells and whistles were all for nought. Simple sometimes is better.
After church we talked about the Christmas Party and Pageant and made the decision to cancel our evening program. There was a chance for falling temperatures to make for icy conditions and it was decided to be safe instead of sorry.
Everyone left and I packed up and to get ready for the next part of the day. There was a question whether or not the Community Meals were held on snowy days. The answer we received was a definitive "yes, because the hungry still need to eat." I set out for St. Mark's Lutheran Church to meet up with Lee and Hilary who were scheduled to cook. Their friend Denise came along and the four of us feed a couple of dozen hungry people who came out of the cold. While they dished out the food, I waited tables. It was so much fun. I have never felt so useful in my life as I served up trays of pork chops and fancy desserts. And it seemed the people were especially grateful on this blustery day. One man even brought a Christmas card and shared his heartfelt thanks with the kitchen crew. There was a loving spirit in the air and I have to confess that I left there feeling like a rich man.
I was blessed today. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the fact that I had to slow down. Whatever it was, today felt like Christmas more than any other day during this advent season. So I thank God for a day which looked so bad in the morning that turned into a special day of walking with the Lord.
You never know what you are going to get when you turn a day over to God. But He guarantees it will be a good day if you make sure to include him in it. I don't know what the weatherman is forecasting for tomorrow but I'm going to invite God along anyway. How about you?
Saturday, December 15, 2007
A friend of mine said that the cinder box should be cleaned out regularly. The former owners of our home let it go. I don't know if it was dangerous or not, but because it hadn't been cleaned for a while, it was much messier than it needed to be.
The same thing is true with many things in life. If we let problems or issues fester and ignore them hoping they will go away, we are asking for trouble. It is better to take care of things when they arise. It will never be as messy and the cost of cleaning it up will never be cheaper.
So look around. Do you need to take care of some business. Say a prayer. Ask God to help you and get to it. Who knows? You may even find a blessing in it.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
This time of year presents a different kid of challenge for me. It snowed today and there is a mess outside. Since my angioplasty in 2003 I have been given strict orders by my wife not to shovel snow. To be fair about it, my cardiologist was the first one to give the order. He said that shoveling snow is the worst thing a cardiac patient can do.
Now most people would probably love to get a pass on this. Not me. I used to enjoy shoveling. I looked forward to it as a calorie burning exercise during the winter months. I also look at it, and you might laugh at this sexist remark, as one of the things that the husband is supposed to do. Now I feel a bit like a slacker because I can't do it.
In our old home we had a long driveway that needed to be cleared after a snow storm. After my cardiac episode, a friend began plowing it for us. All I needed to do was sneak out and clear the steps. In the new house we have a sidewalk that is going to demand our attention. I picked up a snow blower at a yard sale this summer but tonight I faced a real dilemma. Drag it out, put it together and try to move the heavy snow with the snowblower or quickly shovel it myself.
Guess what I did? Most of us know better but we still do things we shouldn't. It is almost as if we want to tempt fate. We push the envelope. We see what we can get away with. The apostle Paul expresses his frustration by confessing, "I do what I do not want to do." In our weakness we fall to temptation even though we know better.
Snows coming again on Saturday. Tomorrow I am going to get the snow blower out and do it right. That is the good news. Even if we stumble and fall, God often gives us a second chance.
Praise God because some of us need it more than others.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
As the holidays draw near I hope you will take time to be with your family. As I look at my girls I can't help but wonder where the time went. They have grown up before my eyes. Enjoy each day you have and cherish the people who come your way. They are as gift from God.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
As I was thinking about this for the one hundredth time, I picked up a book I bought on Ebay earlier this summer. It is written by Mark Fidrych, the 1976 Major League Rookie of the Year. He is a former Detroit Tiger player and it is entitled "No Big Deal." As I opened the book and began reading it I quickly discovered that this has to be the most poorly written book I have ever come across. Fidrych can't put two sentences together that make sense. It is simply a terrible book. I am sure the only reason anyone ever bought it was because the author was famous.
That is bad news for me. At least Mark Fidrych, with his name recognition, got people to nibble and buy his book. An unknown like me may never get his foot in the door. Who is going to read my story?
The truth is that a lot of us think that what we have to say isn't noteworthy. That isn't true. Some of the best stories ever told were from people like you and me who had experienced a slice of life that touched a chord in the audience. As we share our experiences we validate the triumphs and struggles of those who hear them. We remind each other that we are not alone.
So go ahead and tell your story. Write it down if you must, but don't be afraid to share. Be like the unnamed woman at the well or the man born blind. Their names never became famous but we still share their stories two thousand years later.
Monday, December 10, 2007
What's more is the fact that we went there on Saturday to watch a live nativity play on the grounds that featured actors from a local church and livestock from the farm. Mary came riding in on the donkey. The shepherds came in to see Mary and Joseph along with their sheep and goats. It was cool. They even had a camel there (although no one rode him. He was just there for the photo op!)
We don't normally support Heifer International in the church I serve. That is we haven't supported them recently. We will now. Having first hand knowledge of how the love is shared makes a difference. I guess that is why it is so important for us to live what we preach. When we live a faith filled life, we show the world what the love of God is all about. Our example will lead people to God. So live it and watch God's kingdom grow.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
During the evening we were treated to first class entertainment direct from New York City. Men and women gushed as they accepted awards and shared their gratitude for what the artistic Director Brett Bernardini and the playwrites had done for them. We got a preview of next season's shows and enjoyed a fabulous meal and great fellowship around the tables. It truly was a memorable evening, one that I gladly repeat again.
The truth is that we all have the opportunity to do something quite similar every week. We receive a golden invitation to join God in a grand celebration of his grace and glory. He invite us to dress up and join him at a party that rolls around each week at the church .There is singing and story telling. There are testimonies and fellowship and a table set for you and me.
Sometimes I think we fail to realize just how important we are to God. Going to church can seem so commonplace. It is not. Maybe we need to do something to remind ourselves that going to worship means entering the presence of the king of kings. So roll out the imaginary red carpet, lift up your head and walk tall. You are going to guests of the Lord of hosts.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
So almost immediately after I started I decided I was only going to go for ten minutes. I rationalized that I was going to have a busy day and I would probably burn off a bunch of calories on the fly. When I got close to the ten minute mark I decided I would go a little longer. Maybe I could make 15 minutes. And so it went until I finally had convinced myself to go the whole 25 minutes.
Then I decided I would do five minutes on the treadmill. With that same philosophy, I ended up going twenty minutes and I had completed my normal routine. I don't think I could have done it if I had forced myself about going the whole distance at the3 beginning. By breaking it down, by "tricking myself" I was able to do a little bit more and keep going.
I think the same principle is true for living the life of faith. We need to take it one day at a time. We need to look at the short haul in order to last for the long haul. We need to look to God for strength for today, especially when life is being difficult. When we do this, it is amazing what can happen.
So if you are having a tough time right now, hold on a little bit longer. It will get better. You will get through it with God's help. god bless.
Friday, December 7, 2007
I assured her that I had been making the decisions on the phone for the last twenty years and that's when the stone walling began. She told me she didn't have my name or social security number on her list and she couldn't talk to me. I explained to her that I was the one in the office who always made these decisions. As a matter of fact, I ordered the DSL. I explained to her that we had a treasurer who paid the bills and maybe his name was on the account. When I gave her Bob's name and social security number, she blew me away by saying, "Sorry, his name is not on the account either."
I asked her what I needed to do and she told me there wasn't anything I could do. Only the authorized name on the account could ask questions and make changes. I immediately thought of Jesus' saying that some will get to the gates of heaven and say "Lord, Lord" and he would say "Who are you? I never knew you."
To make a long story a bit shorter, I eventually hung up and called again and got another lady who was very cordial. She told what to do to rectify the situation. Now I am back in business again. After I hung up Bob said to me, "You just got to talk to the right person."
That's how it is with our faith. You can try to get into heaven by good works. You can read all the philosophers and explore every theology. You can know the Bible inside and out. Unless you know Jesus, you are not going to get through the gate. You got to talk to him and he's got to have your name. So why wait? Dial him up now and get started.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
The truth is I had thought about tossing them but I didn't want to admit that winter was here. Even with the Christmas tree standing in our living room, I wanted to hang on to Autumn as long as I could. I wanted to believe that as long as I had those cute pumpkins on the porch, winter couldn't come.
Wishing something happens doesn't make it so. Life moves on whether we want it to or not. The best way to handle change is to manage it. We do that by looking ahead and being prepared. Do you have some things looming in your future? Is your job unsettled? Are you having problems in your relationship? Are your debts mounting and threatening to get out of control? Then do something about it now. Don't wait.
You can begin by praying about it. Give your problems to God and see if you can find a solution in in what he says to you. Open up the scriptures and seek his counsel. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask their advice. Than take what you get and see if you can do something to manage your situation.
Winter is coming no matter if I have pumpkins on the porch or not. Today I got out my gloves and tomorrow I am planning on getting the snow blower up and running. When it comes, I'll be prepared. Will you? I hope so.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
It is funny but when I think of the work we do in the church, the same kind of enthusiasm emerges when a person decides to step up and volunteer for one of the ministries. This past week I had someone speak to me about working with our teens and doing youth ministry. They have just the right gifts to make some great things happen.
So don't be afraid to step up and offer to help. The splash you make might even surprise you.
Monday, December 3, 2007
The Lebanon Community Chorus ushered in the Christmas Season with a concert at the Congregational Church last night. It was like a blast from the past. Many old friends came back together for a 35th Anniversary event and they sang excerpts from some of the sacred concerts they performed over the years. The concert ended with the different members of the chorus singing solos, duets and trios on the verses of "The First Noel" and a rousing rendition of "The Hallelujah Chorus." It was great.
It was great to see the group together again with their director, Berti Hawkins. The thing I remember about my time singing with the group is how much civic pride they had. It was fun to be part of the group but it was extra special because they were always present at special events in the town. Last night was no exception. They came together to help light the Christmas tree in town.
After the concert the group went outside to join hundreds of town residents to sing and light the tree. Up and down the Green there were all kinds of special events to enjoy. Even a bit of snow and freezing rain couldn't stop the fun.
As I left the scene last night, I couldn't help but think how nice it was to be connected to a group that not only impacted the community but also had historic roots. Then it dawned on me that most of us can say the same thing about the church.
We take our churches for granted but they are at the heart of community life. They touch people and change lives. Maybe it is time to celebrate that? There is no better time to do it than Christmas when we celebrate the entrance of God into the world. So what do you say? Let's get together at church this year and kick off the Christmas season in style.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
For the first time in as many years as I can remember I did not have trouble finding a parking spot to watch the Norwich Winter Festival Parade. I just pulled into my driveway and proceeded to walk across Chelsea Parade. You see now we live right where all the action is. We don't have to fight the crowds and worry about getting a parking ticket or face an angry homeowner. It is almost like having a front row seat.
Afterwards I thought about how the same is true for us when we accept Christ. Life still has its ups and downs but the road becomes a lot easier to navigate. It is like having preferred parking. You can get up close to the Lord and He gives you strength and courage to face your trials.
The good thing is you don't have to sell your house to do it. You just need to get on your knees and ask him to make a place for you. The Bible says "ask and it will be given." So do it and start enjoying the benefits that come with your new diggs.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Then Becky went off to college and even though I suggested getting a "freshly cut tree," the remaining tow girls were adamant that I chop one down. It was tradition. Last year Sarah flew from the coup and Rachel and her friends accompanied me on our trek. They watched and took pictures as I cut down the largest tree on the farm. I still don't know how we got it home, never mind in the house.
Today seemed like the perfect occasion to get the tree. Sarah was home and Rachel was free. I warned them that today was the day before they went to bed. Alas, this morning both girls agreed that I could handle the job alone. They gave me instructions and sent me on my way. I was determined to get a pre-cut tree this year in light of the circumstances. When I arrived I was out of luck. All the big trees were gone Although I tried to get out of it, wouldn't you know it, one of the boys suggested I go out and cut down my own, just for the fun of it.
So that's what I did. He went with me and I gave him $5.00 to chop one down for me. It was fun and I think my girls had the right idea all along. Watching someone else cut down a fresh tree is a wonderful experience!
Seriously though, sometimes we feel like we are alone when it comes to doing the right thing with our faith. We may have been surrounded by others at some point. They encouraged us and helped us see how important what we were doing was. Things do change. Life goes in different direction. Nevber forget that there is still value in doing the right thing, even if no one else is there to see it. God bless you.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Over the next few weeks I hope to provide links to some of these blogs and a few of the web sites I have discovered as well. If you know of any that you feel I should include, please email me or put it in a comment at the end of this blog entry. I will check it out and include it if it seems appropriate. Meanwhile keep surfing and let's see what we can find that glorifies God.
I don't usually use the blog for ranting but I am reminded of Jesus' saying that "if the people don't cry out, then the stones would." I had 150 gallons of oil delivered to the house on Wednesday and we paid $463.50 and that was at the best price I could find.
The prices for home heating oil are insane and I can't believe that no one is doing anything about it. Where are our elected officials? I keep hearing that the oil companies are making billions of dollars in profit for their stock holders each year. There should be regulation involved to keep the prices reasonable. Didn't we elect them to look out for the welfare of their constituents?
This isn't an economic issue. It is a justice issue. How many people can afford to pay these prices? There are going to be a lot of hard working people who will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter. Good people are being robbed by the profiteers. These prices will mean that many will go without food and other basic necessities in order to have heat in their homes. I am pretty fortunate. There are a lot of others who are not. Every Senator (Dodd and Lieberman) and Representative (Courtney)should be doing something about it. Instead we hear about the fluff in their lives. The governor and all of our state elected officials should be making a lot of noise about this. But there is silence in the halls of our Capitols.
Every church leader should be standing up to speak to the issue and demand that this be addressed. Well I am ready to speak for the people. Count me in. If anyone has any ideas, contact me and let's see if we get something done.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
What do you like to do? What is your passion? Has anyone ever asked you that? Has anyone in the church asked you that? Probably not. It is funny but we talk about everyone having a gift from God but too often we don't try to uncover them in the church and put them to work. When we do use them for the glory of God, they create opportunities for blessing.
For example I love sports. When I came to First Baptist in 1985 I was immediately signed up to play softball for Century 21 in Colchester. The following year I played for Phelps Dodge in Norwich. In the third year one of our younger members noticed I played softball and asked why we didn't have a team in the church league. He pointed out this would be a great way to reach younger members and get them involved in the church.
He didn't have to ask twice. Before long we had a team and the rest is history. I parlayed my love of sports into a church bowling league, a youth basketball program and several other special sports ministries. I was joined by like minded people who came on board and now we are known in some circles as "the sports church."
The truth is that if you have an interest or hobby, it can be used for ministry. Sometimes it can be used for outreach to get people together. sometimes it can be used to glorify God in worship, education or in stewardship of the property.
So what is your gift? Let's find a way to glorify God with it. Need some ideas, let me know.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
This weekend I will be appearing in a production at the Donald Oat Theater. I only have a bit part but I am excited to be appearing in the show with so many talented young people. The cast is made up of children from the Luis Pabon Dance Arts Center. They sing and dance their way through the show with so much enthusiasm. They make me wish I were young again.
You see they enjoy what they are doing. They love to dance and it shows. Fortunately you will not see me doing any dancing, but you will see me get caught up in their excitement. As they perform for their families, they give it all they have. I wish more of us adults gave everything we did as much as these kids do.
I think this is what Jesus was talking about when he said we needed to be like children if we wanted to see the kingdom of heaven. As we grow up we often lose that sense of excitement and wonder. Everything becomes a chore. We end up just going through the motions. Well, I have an extra kick in my step this week and I have the children to thank for it.
So as you gear up for the holidays, take a hint from the children you know. Look around and enjoy the wonder of God's love. In doing so you will find a blessing.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I was down in Waterford and decided to take a stroll down memory lane. My grandparents used to live on Pleasure Beach. I have many fond memories of going to their house when I was a little boy. I would fish off the rocks. I would catch crabs in the shallow water inlet. I would walk up to the little market and buy candy and gum. I enjoyed sitting out on their porch in the large swing.
As I drove down the street I was alive with anticipation. I hadn't been by the house in nearly twenty years. As I turned the corner and came down Valley Street, I was quite disappointed. Everything seemed much smaller than I had remembered. The house was not nearly as stately as the image in my head. It was not as well kept as when my grandparents lived there. I headed away with the realization that you really can't go back.
It is funny but a lot of people have memories of church from when they were young. Some are good and some are bad. These memories either disappoint us when we return or they keep us from coming back. The truth is that church today is going to be different than it was back then. Life has changed and we are different people today.
The good news is that God doesn't change. He still loves you and me and God wants to walk with us through life. Whether God reconnects with us through contemporary music or the long used rituals of our faith, through something remembered or something totally new, it is the same God who was there at your birth. He has watched your every moment with the joy of a loving parent. The important thing is not what you remember but what it means to you today.
I hope you will come home this Christmas. Let God love you and bless you. In doing so you can make new memories for you and your loved ones to carry forward.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I don't care what people think about me taking the dance lessons. I am the worst one in the class but believe me, it doesn't take any of the fun away from the experience. As a matter of fact, last night I watched the movie Hair Spray and watched John Travolta and Christopher Walken dance. It inspired me to try harder.
The same is true of the Spanish class I am taking. It is hard to remember all the words and phrases. The other night I impressed my self when my daughter was trying to talk with one of her students parents. I kept feeding her Spanish words and suddenly I felt incredibly smart.
I don't think we were created to grow old and stagnant. God created us to live and to try new things. He created us with an incredible capacity to learn and to grow. I think this is what makes life meaningful. Too many of us wither and fade away as we get older. We are paralyzed by fear and we never venture out of our comfort zones.
Yet God is always calling us to step out in faith. He did it with Abraham. He called him to follow him and leave the security of Ur. He did it with Moses. He asked him to challenge Pharaoh and lead the people out to the Promised Land. He did it Peter, James and John. He called them from the security of their fishing boats and asked them to follow him.
So don't get caught up in a rut. Step out and let God challenge you to take bold steps of faith. You will be blessed and before long you will be dancing a new step or two.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Out of nowhere a voice came into my head that said, "pay for their breakfast." Now if you know anything about me, you know that I am stingy with a buck. I like to get a good value for my dollar. Oh I give generously to charitable causes but I don't throw my money away. As I turned my attention back to the newspaper a vision of a $20 bill jumped into my head.
I asked myself where this was coming from. I didn't even know the people. Why would I pay for their breakfast? I ordered the special for myself cause it was cheap. So why would I spend my money on someone else? Who knows what they would order. As I sat there a voice said, "Pay for their breakfast. It won't cost more than $20."
I rationalized that I could drop a ten by their feet and walk away. Even that sounded crazy. I decided I was going to ignore this voice. I paid my bill and was ready to go, but I couldn't go. I couldn't ignore the voice. I kept thinking about all the stories I read about God speaking to people and using them to meet a need or answer prayer. So I went up to the register and told the waitress I wanted to pay for their bill. Wouldn't you know it. Their order and a nice tip came to exactly $20. I paid and walked out the door.
Now I can't tell you what happened, if a prayer was answered, if their lives were changed or if they just had a good laugh. But I believe that sometimes God asks us to do something that seems crazy and we need to trust him and do it. You see I have been blessed plenty of times by the generosity of others. I know that God prompted them to act. So on Thanksgiving Day I was just passing on that blessing and giving a nice couple one more reason to thank God.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
It has been nice to have my girls home over the Thanksgiving break. Last night we went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. What transpired was eerily similar to what I experienced a few days ago in Kentucky when I visited my parents. Only this time, in true Twilight Zone fashion, I was the parent watching my three children reminisce and joke about their experiences growing up. It was great.
Now comes the difficult part. One of the girls is leaving tonight. Another is sleeping over a friend's house. The third daughter will be heading off tomorrow after church. I hate it. They are growing up and developing lives of their own. I guess I can take consolation in he fact that Lori and I have done a good job as parents. We have fostered their development into capable young women. And they always come home.
As I was working off some of the Sweet and Sour Chicken on the elliptical trainer at the gym this morning, it hit me that our heavenly Father must have similar feelings. He gave us free will, the ability to think and choose and he sends us out into the world. Some of us relish that freedom, we take off and rarely ever come home. We never think about how that affects God.
Maybe it is about time we begin thinking about God and make it a point to visit Him regularly. Worship is not an obligation. It is something you do to express your love for God. Whenever we come home, we touch his heart and make him glad. I can tell you as a father, I love it when my kids come home. So do the same for God. Go home this Christmas and make his heart glad.
Friday, November 23, 2007
I have to confess that I have never gone shopping on Black Friday before so I thought all the hype was exaggerated. I heard how one guy shot another one over a video game system last year. I wrote that off as one lunatic going crazy and not a snapshot of what happens when thousands of people fight over a very limited supply of super sale items.
This year Staples promised laptop computers listed at ridiculously insane prices for all who shopped the day after Thanksgiving. My daughter was among a group of people who lined up at 4:00 a.m. to get one. She was number eleven and just before six, when the police arrived, they were told there were only ten available. no wonder people get angry. It just wasn't fair.
Of course no one said life was fair. Too often the world promises us all kinds of sweet deals and more often than not we are disappointed. Things don't turn out as we plan. There is an old poem by Annie Johnson Flint that goes,
"God has not promised
Skies always blue,
All our lives thro’;
God has not promised
Sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.
God has not promised
We shall not know
Toil and temptation,
Trouble and woe;
He has not told us
We shall not bear
Many a burden,
Many a care.
But God has promised
Strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer,
Light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
Help from above,
You can't depend on the Mall shops or chain stores to give you what you want but you can depend on God. He keeps his promises. He will not disappoint you if you simply trust him.
Have a great day.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Thanksgiving is still hours away but I can already tell you that this will be my best Thanksgiving ever. I just spent two days with my parents and two brothers in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. It is the first time that we have all been together in eleven years. It may very well be the last time we can celebrate with Mom. You see, she has stage 4 cancer and was not given long to live by her doctors.
For the last two days we joked, reminisced, got caught up and ate together. We shared pictures and told stories. My youngest brother lives in E-town. He moved there in 1998 and bought a house across town from my parents. This was a tough holiday for him but our presence made it better. Let me explain. He received a blow just over a month ago when his wife told him she was leaving him for another man. He was still reeling a bit. We had a chance to chat about how unfair life can be at times. It was good for him. His two boys got to be around family and they really shined with the attention they received.
My middle brother lives in Des Moines, IA. He is a truck driver. Well, he was a truck driver. About three months ago he had an accident and although he came away with only minor injuries, it really messed up his head. He's out on disability right now but he is having a hard time thinking about going back. It has put a tremendous financial strain on him and his family. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his home, he doesn't know what tomorrow will bring. For a couple of days we got to talk about the future and even how faith plays into everything.
My mom had two good days and we had a big family dinner today. Meanwhile I got to talk with both of my parents separately. We talked about faith and sickness and how my brothers were doing. We also had some laughs over some stories from the past. Most importantly I got a chance to thank them both for all they have done and tell them how much I loved them.
It struck me that although this could have been a difficult Thanksgiving with all that was going on in our family, it turned out to be a blessed one. No matter what the world was doing to the family, we were strengthen by being together. I thank God for that. I pray that your day will be a blessed one. I pray that as you gather with family and friends you will feel the presence of God with you and no matter what is going on in your life, you will know that you are not alone.
Happy Thanksgiving! Cal
It made me think about the way some of us live life. We run hard and fast and always go as if there was a breakdown lane if we get into trouble . Unfortunately for us, too often we run so fast that we lose control and end up in the ditch, or in some sort of trouble. It's not a pretty scene when that happens. Maybe we need to slow down and pace ourselves. We can't control what others do, but we can rein in our own actions.
Thanksgiving allows us to do that for a day. We pause and get together with family and friends. We take a break from work and all the distractions and focus on the important things. I know the rush will start again the day after with some of us running down to the mall for crazy early bird specials. But as we enter this special time of year, take the time to slow down and check out what God is doing. Count your blessings and enjoy them. You only go down this road one and you don't want to spend it sitting in the ditch.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As I walked up the runway and out to the main concourse I realized that I never even asked her name. We sat together for over two hours on a flight from Providence to Cleveland. We talked about travel, work, our families and the upcoming plans for Thanksgiving. She was a girl in her late twenties. I learned she lives just outside of Providence and was flying to Cleveland for a presentation at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. With any luck she hoped to catch dinner, go back to her hotel room and get a good night's sleep and then fly home early in the morning.
I told her about my three girls and a bit about their latest adventures. I mentioned that I was going to Kentucky to visit my parents and how it was going to be a complete surprise for them. In between snippets of conversation she returned to her book and I caught a few zzz's.
We were like strangers passing on a flight. We connected but as I deplaned I realized I would never see her again. I didn't even know her name. As I turned to catch her, I looked around and she was gone. It was almost as if I had never met her. It got me thinking about all the people who come in and out of our lives. We bump into them as we make our journey through life. Sometimes they walk with us for a summer or a year or two. Sometimes we dance with them for a song and then they are gone.
The truth is that we are always changed by the people we meet. They make us think. They force us to pause. They remind us of what is important. They frustrate us and send us looking for answers. John Donne once said, "No man is an island..." and he was saying that we are all connected. Think about it. We were created for community. God knew what he was doing when he made us.
The next time I meet someone new I am going to ask their name before the conversation begins. Then I will know the name of the angel God sent to cheer me that day.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The work area is thoughtfully designed so that the workers can access the chicken from two sides. The guys and gals working the drive through can reach in and pluck the crispy chicken from the back and quickly fill an order for the vehicular traffic. The folks working the counter can pick and choose the wings and popcorn chicken with ease from the front side. Back and forth the tongs quickly dart in and out from each side. It was an art form.
Then one plucker decided to grab when another picker decided to poke and they both reached for the same piece of meat. All you could hear was metal on metal as the tongs engaged in a battle for supremacy. In the end the plucker won and the picker moved on to another piece right beside it. It was like something out of the wild.
It got me thinking that sometimes our will and God's will seem to coincide. When it happens, it is a beautiful sight to behold. At other times we seem to clash and only one of us comes away a winner. We end up settling for less than the best. So why not work with God and let his Spirit guide us? Then we can crow about what God has done until the sun comes up.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This week's newspaper column didn't make the Norwich Bulletin but you can read it here. Just cut and paste the following link (http://www.fbcnorwich.org/Epistles.html) and you can read about my drive through the country and how I came away with a thankful heart.
Today I want talk about my weekly "epistles" for a minute or two. I began writing a regular e-mail to members of my church and a few friends in the community about seven years ago. I included all kinds of thoughts and offered suggestions on how to find God in every day life.
Over the years the letter became a little more focused and a few people began to ask about it. About four years ago I became friendly with the Executive Editor of the Norwich Bulletin and he asked if he might include it on occasion in the newspaper. I sent it along and the rest is history.
It has been fun. The goal continues to be finding God in everyday life. Some day I hope to put them together in a book form, but for now I just keep them on my computer and keep sending them out to cyberspace. So enjoy them. I know I do. God bless. See you in church.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Later that evening she presented me with the CD and I listened to it on the way to a meeting. As the third song came on, I was realized that she had done an excellent job picking music for me. She actually knew my taste. These were the perfect songs.
We don't think that our children pay much attention to us but they do. They hear what we say. They know what we think. Even if they don't always obey our rules and acknowledge our presence, they are keeping an eye on us.
The same is true of God. We may think that God doesn't care or that He seems too distant, but God is never far from us. He knows all about us and He wants to give us His blessings. So don't be surprised when He presents you with a gift that fits you to a Tee.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
My bubble was burst a few years ago when I heard one television executive explaining that the sitcom was celebrating the 100th episode because it now had enough shows to go into syndication and that the revenue stream could continue on into eternity. Imagine that. It was all about the money!
You will be happy to hear that my celebration tonight has nothing to do with money. I don't get paid to do this. I do it because it is fun. I do it because it helps me keep my eyes open to spot God in everyday things. I do it for you, the reader. So celebrate with me. Go have a cookie or a bagel or an ice cream Sundae on me and say thank you to God for his continuing presence in your life and let's see if we can keep finding God in the mundane things of life for another 100 blog entries.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I took the disk with me and popped it into my CD player in the car and I as transported back in time to another era. The music was wonderful. There is nothing like the big band sound.
Then I got to thinking about what I was hearing. For all the times I met Mr. Dixon, I never knew there was another side to him. He really had a gift for making music. It got me thinking about other people I know. What beautiful gifts do they have that I am not even aware of yet?
There is an old saying that goes, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." The truth is the Bible tells us that we all have gifts. Just because we don't see them doesn't mean they aren't there. Life would be much more interesting if we sought to discover the gifts of the people around us. It would be like Christmas every day.
So let's start looking and let's begin by looking at ourselves. What gift do you have that you can share with the world?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I was waiting for the football game to come on last night and decided to load the dishwasher. I stacked all the plates and cups in their appropriate places and dropped the silverware in the bin and started it up. There was still fifteen minutes to game time so I started wiping down the counters. That didn't take long so I grabbed the trash and ran it out to the bins behind the house.
When I got back into the house I saw an announcement that the game would start in thirty minutes. I had gotten the time wrong. So I moved into the living room and began straightening up. I put the throw pillows back and picked up a few cups and plates that the girls had left from the night before.
I had another twenty minutes to kill so I moved upstairs and put in a load of laundry and folded a few clothes. I carried a basket into our room and put them away and noticed the clock. The game was just beginning so I went downstairs and settled in for the night. As I thought back to the last hour I realized that I could have frittered away the time, but instead I had put it to good use.
I think that is what the Scriptures mean when they call us to redeem the time. We never now when Christ will return but we are called to make the best use of our time in the interim. We are called to be salt in the world around us, and light to those who walk in darkness. We are called to bring the Lord's blessing to the world so that when He comes, the whole world will be ready and anxiously awaiting him.
The best part is that it won't seem like work because we will be so focused on the joy to come. And believe me, it will be much better than the football game was!
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Tonight I was struck by the dedication of the organists and choir directors. Many of us in the congregation take what they do for granted. We sing along with the organ and sit back and listen to the choir. In the small membership church it isn't uncommon for them to be one and the same. They balance another job with their devotion to the music ministry of the church.
When they direct the choir, they try to get every bit of talent out of the members so that they can set the tone of the worship service. I tell my choir director that she is really the one in charge on Sunday morning. She sets the tone with her music. She prepares the congregation to meet God in the Word and sacrament.
If you haven't done so in the last month or so, make sure you tell your director that you appreciate them. They are a blessing from God.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Can you imagine thinking that $3.13 is a good price for gas? Well that was my thinking this afternoon as I pulled into the SUNOCO station. I was running late but I could not pass up the low price.
The truth is that I remember refusing to pay over $3.00 earlier this year and driving three miles to find a cheaper price. How our perspective changes over time!
I guess that is why God calls for us to set high standards and keep to them. Once we lower our standards and fall prey to temptation, we open ourselves to more and more temptations. Soon we are doing things we never thought possible.
So hold out for more and keep the faith. God will bless you.
Yet there is always a sadness for me after the funeral. I guess it is in the fact that death always signifies the end of God's glorious plan for life. There is so much hope and promise when a baby is born. The miracle of birth speaks to God's creative power. Yet due to sin, death entered the world and brought sorrow and mourning with it.
Isaiah the prophet once said "all flesh is grass. It withers and fades but the word of the Lord is forever." I guess what he was trying to remind us is that our life here on earth is temporary at best. We should enjoy it. We should celebrate God's love, the blessings of family and friends and the circumstance we find ourselves in. Meanwhile it is good to remember that in the end, it is God that we should seek out and walk through life with. For God is truly eternal and He will be with us in this life and the next.
So let's thank God for our family and my friends and thank Him for coming into our lives and blessing us for now and eternity. He is a friend we will keep forever.