Sunday, August 30, 2009

He will be there when you call

I was flying down the highway toward the Mall listening to the Red Sox game on the radio totally oblivious to anything else. As I passed the last exit before the Mall I glanced down at the dashboard and noticed that the gas tank was a quarter inch below empty and the yellow light was so bright that I thought it was a falling star. I panicked. All I could think about was running out of gas on the highway and being stuck for hours. That's when I began to pray.

I made it to the next exit and kept praying through the light and all the way down that last stretch of road leading to the gas station. As I pulled up to the gas pump I said my "thank you" to Jesus and filled up the car.

I had to laugh as I pulled away from the station and continued on to the Mall. I had done what so many people do when they get into trouble. They call on God to save them. They go their merry way without thinking of the consequences of their actions and then look for Superman to fly in and save the day. Only we know that Superman isn't real but God is. Even if we don't go to church or profess our faith to anyone, we tend to call on God in those moments when nothing else can save us.

We do it for silly things like I did and for more serious things like a diagnosis of cancer or on hearing of an accident involving a loved one. WE live life without ever thinking much about GOD but we expect HIM to be there when we need Him.

Well here is the Good News: HE is always there when we need him. He loves us. He may not solve all our problems or our save us and our loved ones from pain, but he has promised to be there to hold us up when the world has got us down. God was there for me today. I know that not because I made it to the gas station. I know it because He reminded me to check the gas gauge before I get on the road next time. You can bet I will do so the next time.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Who are you trying to kid?

I was putting the groceries in the car when I noticed the Klondike Bars sitting on top. I thought about how long I had been in the store and decided I better check them out to see if they had melted. I opened the package up right there in the parking lot and forced myself to eat one of them. It turned out they were fine.

I almost made myself believe that. That's what we do isn't it? We tell ourselves stories and try to convince ourselves that something is true when it isn't. It might be alright if we are talking about an ice cream but when it comes to a lot of others things we end up hurting ourselves and putting a kink in our relationship with God.

We need to practice being honest with ourselves and the best way to do that is by walking with Jesus every day. When we check in with him, he doesn't allow us to fudge on things. He forces us to be honest and to make accurate assessments of our motives. I can't think of a better way to be true to God and a better person to spend time with than the Lord.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The power of our imperfect testimony

Did you ever notice that the best sermon illustrations are drawn out of the bad decisions we make. Maybe it is because there is so much to learn from them. The apostle Paul wrote that he couldn't understand why he did the things he didn't want to do. He noted that he knew what he was supposed to do and he did the opposite.

I've talked about that a lot in sermons and used my struggle with food, junk food, as an example. I grab that cookie, that bowl of ice cream, that hand full of chips even though I know I don't need them. I can't seem to help myself. When I do this I get a lot of people shaking their heads because they understand.

The truth is that we are all human. We are prey to the same kind of temptations and failings. So when we share the results of the bad decisions or wrong choices we have made, we are usually in good company.

The job of the preacher is to use the illustration and then help people figure out a way to make the right decision next time using the power of Christ to stand strong. In that way we can avoid the pitfalls of those bad decisions and bring glory to God.

Of course you don't have to be in the pulpit to do this. Every one of us can do that as we interact with the people we know. We can tell our stories and be conduits of God's grace and healing power with our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

After all, we are ambassadors for Christ. So don't let the fact that you aren't perfect stop you from sharing your testimony. It will only make it more real and believable to the person you are talking to and show the power of God's grace to heal and bring forgiveness.

So go to it.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Singing the Blues for Christ

This morning at church Cliff Vanase, one of our members, shared two songs with us as special music. With our Praise team playing back up, he sang the Christian blues tunes, "A Change is Gonna' Come" and "Guess Who." It isn't our usual style but it was great and it spoke to the heart in such a way that I felt moved to change the order of service around and jump right into my sermon which spoke about making a decision to follow the God who loves us.

A lot of church experts say that "blended worship" doesn't work. Blended worship is where you try to have a choir and organ music with a praise team and chorus in the same service. The gurus say that it leaves everyone dissatisfied. I disagree especially when you are doing it with a traditional congregation. Our church loves the choir. They wouldn't give it up for anything. They also have come to appreciate the praise team because they understand how much the young people love it and how much it appeals to folks who haven't grown up in the church.

They used to talk about the music wars in churches. I just don't get it. Maybe I've been lucky. I think the more variety you have in music the wider the appeal you have to those coming to worship God. I think the apostle Paul would understand this since he wrote the book on the variety of gifts in the church used to glorify God and build up the body.

I thank God for the music Cliff offered today. It blessed us and even if you don't usually listen to the blues, it certainly spoke to those who were in our church today.

I've included it here for those who weren't there. Enjoy it and I pray God will bless you as you listen to it.


You don't have to be 17 again to start over

I watched the movie "17 Again" and couldn't help getting sentimental. It is based on an old premise but it was a good reminder of what is most precious in life. The lead character is in his thirties and disappointed with how things turned out. as a result he blames everything on everyone else including his wife and kids.

A strange twist of fate allows him a second chance and he is 17 again. Very quickly he learns that it is the people in his life that are the most important things to love and cherish. He gets a second chance to make a difference in his kids lives and in the end he gets to make it up to his wife.

It struck me that too many of us get so caught up in our careers and making a living that we lose our lives. I think that is what Jesus was talking about when he asked, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his life?" He was talking about putting first things first.

St. Augustine's fervent prayer was that God would help him order the loves (priorities) in his life. That way, with God first, everything else would fall into place. That should be our prayer as well. Jesus was right. When we put God first everything else seems to turn out alright.

The good news is that we don't need to be 17 again or to start over again to make that happen. All we need to do is ask God for a fresh start and we can begin right now. Before you know it the blessings will start to flow.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Some things never change

I stepped outside and heard the beat of the drum. I suddenly realized it was marching band season again. My daughter graduated from NFA six years ago. All of her friends have now graduated from high school and college. Yet that sound brought me right back again to the days when I followed her around with other dads in the marching band's pit crew.

At every football game and competition we loaded and unloaded the equipment into the truck. We carted it onto the field and helped set it up for the show and then raced in and loaded up the carts and dragged it off again. It was a lot of fun. We got to know the kids and felt like we were part of the band.

I wouldn't know any of the kids today but I can tell you that they are probably running the same drills and working the dots just the same. There are dads and moms working in the pit crew and raising money for the trips. Time passes and the faces change but there is something important that remains the same.

The same is true of the church. Our church is 210 years old and there have been many people who have served and worshiped here. Yet the essence of the message has not changed and the Christian love and service have remained the same. A few years ago the daughter of a former minister dropped by and she shared the feeling that nothing had really changed since her father had served here in the 1940's .

The truth is that there have been lots of changes but the spirit and the worship have remained from generation to generation. That's the good news we have to share. Although the world changes, God does not. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The God who created the world is the same God who watches over us and reaches out to us with love and forgiveness.

So be blessed and know that God loves you.



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dumping the past

If you peek into the door of the office at church you might think there had been a break in or burglary. The place is a disaster area. Books are strewn all over the floor. The shelves are half empty and papers are everywhere.

I have been cleaning this week. The garbage man is going to earn his pay when he comes on Friday. It struck me that I've seen a lot of dumpsters around lately so I am not the only one who has been busy. One of my neighbors is having her roof replaced and the dumpster is there to collect the old shingles as the new roof is put on.

Across from the church the new Putnam bank is getting ready to open their doors. A dumpster sits outside as the used lumber and other debris is cleaned up. There is a dumpster or two at Three Rivers Community College as the construction continues at the school. The place looks great even as the work continues in certain areas.

As I was thinking about this it struck me that there is always some cleaning up to do before anything new can come about. The old either has to be taken down or the mess has to be cleaned up. The same thing is true in our lives. If we want to change we need to get rid of the old and yucky stuff before we can start over and begin again. That's what repentance is all about.

Repentance is asking God to take away the junk so that we can begin again with a clean slate. The good news is that God loves this part and jumps right in because he loves us so much. He wants us to have that fresh start so we can truly enjoy the depths of his love.

So look around and see if you can find all the dumpsters in your neighborhood. Then see if God can't do something for you as you get ready to embrace the future he has for you.


Monday, August 17, 2009


The alarm went off at 8:30 a.m. this morning at church. Not the alarm clock, the burglar alarm. My daughter called to tell me and I headed for the church to see what was up. I met a police officer at the door and we entered the building.

The high pitched screech of the alarm greeted us and I slowly walked up the steps of the back entry and circled around the corner of the chapel. Sitting in a chair was one of the homeless men I met at the Interfaith luncheon for the hungry the day before. He was oblivious to the alarm. I quickly deactivated it and he said, "I'm here."

I almost laughed out loud. "You told me to come and I'm here. I knew you would be along in good time," he said. That alarm didn't bother him. He was as calm as could be. Most of us would have run or lost our nerve if we had walked into that situation.

It made me think about God. There is no situation that worries him. Nothing can startle or scare him. When he says he will be somewhere, you can depend on him. He will be there to meet and greet you.

Praise God for that. He is unflappable and we are the ones who have been blessed by it when we get into trouble and call on his name.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

It is easy to driftc away

I was walking by the Benny's on New London Turnpike tonight when a memory from the distant past came rushing back to me. I used to love going to Benny's as a kid. I would save up my money to go to Benny's to buy the snazziest parts for my bicycle. I bought a banana seat, fancy handlebars and all kinds of decorations. I'd buy tire tubes and all the bells and whistles they had in stock. It was like Disney World to me because they had so much neat stuff. They had toys to play with like G. I. Joes and hardware to work on the tree fort. When I turned fifteen and got my first car Benny's had all the hot accessories. After I got my license, Benny's was the local go to store. Then one day I just stopped going there.

I don't know what happened. Maybe I just grew out of it. I began going other places. I became interested in other things. That's what happens to so many of us. I think that's why people drift away from Church. When the kids are little it is a place for friendships and good fun. Pageants and parties and exciting worship celebrations. Then life gets busy and things change and we drift away. Or maybe it was fun as a pre-teen and all your friends were there. There was youth group, trips and over nights. It was fun and everything made sense. But then life began to get complicated. You changed schools, got new friends and it just didn't seem cool any more.

So many people drift away from church not because something bad happened but because life changes. Church is still fun and great friendships and meaningful worship can still be found there. If you have drifted away, I want to invite you to come back. You may even find you can appreciate it more now that you are older.

God bless. Cal

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Perfect timing. How many of us have it? We work real hard at trying to make sure everything works out but usually there is one little thing that goes haywire. That's what is so amazing about this video. Everything came together perfectly.

Our faith tells us that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord. It may not be as pretty as this but when God is involved amazing things happen.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Who do people associate you with?

I was very sad to see the Jimmy Carter has decided to leave his home church over theological differences. He had been a faithful member for many years. As a matter of fact, his home church had become known as Jimmy Carter's church. He taught Sunday School there for years and several folks visit the church just to see him when thy are in the Atlanta area.

"We had 12,739 visitors last year," says Dan Ariail, former pastor of the 131-member Maranatha Baptist Church where Carter was its most famous member. "We're a small church with a worldwide outreach," said Ariail. He is, of course, referring to the global draw of his most famous yet eminently accessible member, former President Jimmy Carter. Despite a grueling travel and work schedule, Carter somehow managed to teach Sunday school at the small country church 35 to 40 weeks out of the year.

Most people never even knew the name of the church. That's what happens when a congregation has a member who is well known in the community. Do you know the name of the church Rick Warren serves. Can you name the congregation served by T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyers? Congratulations if you knew one of them.

This doesn't just happen to big celebrities. Having served my congregation in Norwich for many years, I often hear people call the congregation I serve, "Cal's Church." I try to correct them by saying, "It's really Jesus' church but he let's me play there."

I only bring this up to note that if you faithfully serve in one place for a while people will notice you and begin to identify you with your place of service or what you do. It happens in every walk of life. What comes to mind when you hear "Got to make the donuts." or "Don't squeeze the Charmin." When you think of the New York Yankees you think of Derek Jeter if you are a current fan or Mickey Mantle if you are a little older. If you are a Boston Red Sox you think of Youkelis or Pedroia today or a few years ago you might have named Jim Rice, Yaz or Dwight Evans.

I think of it as an honor to be so closely connected to something that I have become synonymous with it. The truth is that all of us are called to walk so closely with Christ that we would become identified with him. We are called to be disciples. Did you know that the name Christian was originally meant to be a derogatory term for the followers of Christ. It mean little Christs. It was an insult. Yet today it is the highest form of compliment because it is reserved for those who are most Christ like.

Paul says that we are called to be ambassadors for Christ. That means we are sent out to serve and honor him. We are sent to build relationships and bring peace to his enemies. I can't think of any better calling in the world. Thank you Lord for having so much faith in us to carry out this calling. I pray a lot of us will be so successful that we will be linked with you in the minds of the people we meet along the way and it brings you honor and glory.


Friday, August 7, 2009

We are agents of the Lord

I bought a couple of books at the Dollar Store on Saturday. I actually didn't expect much but I've read two of them and they were pretty good. I guess the old adage "You can't judge a book by its cover" is true. You can't judge it by its price either.

The big difference between these books and their non famous authors and the ones you find at Walden Books is that they haven't been as heavily promoted or advertised. No one knows about them. It's a real shame and a missed opportunity for those of us who like to read.

The truth is that some people miss out on Jesus because he hangs out in common places. He can be found at the mall or at the park. Jesus is found at the ballpark and at the library. Even though of us in the church tend to think of Jesus only in terms of Sunday morning. But Jesus is out there in the world where we are. He wants us to introduce him to the people we meet.

Think about it. Jesus met a woman at a well, a man in a crowd, a tax collector at his booth, a woman at a feast. He was out there where the people were and that's where he is today. So make sure you make the introduction when he enters the room. He's counting on you to be his agent. If he is to become a household name, it will depend on you and me.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Missed opportunity

I had to laugh when I opened the letter. It was from the State of Connecticut Department of Transportation. It was an official notice that due to budget constraints they were no longer going to plow the sidewalks in front of the church during the winter months. It informed us that a notice was going to the city of Norwich alerting them to the change in status. .

The letter went on to explain that after the West Main Street road project was completed in 1984 they should have transferred responsibility for clearing the snow off the sidewalk to property owners. Instead, out of the goodness of their heart, they kept on plowing and clearing snow all these years. Now it was proving to be too expensive to continue this practice and they were going to do what should have been done 24 years ago.

I took my letter and called the man whose name was on the letter. He wasn't in so I spoke with a man who was going to relay my message.

I told him I wanted to know two things. First, I wanted to know if they were going to reimburse us for all the money we spent on shoveling the sidewalk for the last two dozen years since they had been taking responsibility for it. No one ever told us and we either did it ourselves or paid someone. Actually the city of Norwich already thought we were responsible for it. I'll never forget the morning that a police officer dropped in and warned us we were going to get fined if we didn't get out there and shovel. (I wish I knew the State was responsible then!) Obviously they were negligent in their responsibility and we were paying the price for this neglect. I told him I could probably research it and get back to them. (I did laugh as I said this.)

Then, since he didn't hang up on me, I told him that if they expected to reap any savings from this cut in services, they had better investigate whoever was telling them that the sidewalks were being plowed all these years. Obviously it was ending up in someone's pocket who wasn't doing the work. Even he laughed at this. Then he went on to say that there were a few spots that had been plowed and by law they had to notify everyone in writing so there wouldn't be any misunderstanding.

This whole mess got me thinking. It reminded me of the grace that Christ brings into our lives. It comes to us whether we accept it or not. When the Bible says that God gave his only begotten son so that the world might be saved, it implies that this is a benefit that we all can claim if we want it. We don't have to do anything. It is part of the covenant that God made with David long ago and Abraham, Moses and Noah before them. It is a gift that comes to us simply because our address is planet earth.

A lot of people live their whole life not knowing the gift is there for them. They try to earn their own salvation. They live life as if the blessings were not theirs to receive. Then one day they come face to face with God and learn that his love was there for the taking from the very start. All they had to do was claim it.

I hope and pray that you won't wait for an official notice to begin enjoying the benefits of a life with God at your side. Embrace him today and be blessed.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tell your story

My daughter Sarah called from South Africa this morning. She was all excited and couldn't wait to tell us that she had been chased by an African Wild Buffalo. Of course it was a good story only because she hadn't been hurt and had survived a very scary moment.

That's how it is with the good stories we tell. We know, as Paul Harvey always said, the rest of the story. We know how it turned out and that's why the stories are so powerful, so riveting. There is an element of danger but everything turns out well.

The truth is that our testimony has that same power. Every one of us has faced adversity, trouble, pain and suffering in life. Today we can look back and declare that God's grace carried us through. That testimony is powerful and it can change lives. Don't ever be afraid to share your story. God wants to use it to draw people closer to him.

That's our job as disciples. We are his witnesses in the world. We can testify to the power of his love and grace. So tell your story and let God use it to transform the hearts of people all around you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

God is good!

I saw Nichole Nordman perform when I was on sabbatical in 2005. She was a guest artist at Willow Creek. I fell in love with her and have enjoyed her songs ever since. Here is one of her songs put to video. Enjoy.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Give it your best shot

I just don't get it. My favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, lost two of the three games they played this weekend. It isn't the fact that they lost the games that is the problem. It is who they lost the games to that is stunning. They were playing a team that is not very good and was demoralized by the fact that they had traded away three of the best players prior to the series.

It is almost as if the Tigers went into town and didn't take their opponents very seriously. That is a recipe for disaster. The opponents turned around and slapped the Tigers around and punctuated the fact with an 11- 2 beating on Sunday.

It just goes to show that you can't take anyone or anything for granted in life. When you do, you often end up regretting it. It is as true in our daily living as it is in sports. When you take things lightly you usually end up regretting the outcome. We are called to give everything we do our best effort. As a matter of fact the scriptures tell us that whatever we do, we should do it as if we were doing it for God. I think that's a good policy.

The truth is that the world looks at us as people of faith and sees us as a reflection of the God we serve. When we don't give our best effort it reflects poorly on God. When we are abusive and hurtful in our actions, it speaks poorly of our Lord. When we are unsympathetic and uncaring we give the impression that God doesn't care.

Jesus said we are ambassadors for Christ and that makes it doubly important for us to give our very best effort in everything we do. Whether it is in church or in the world, people are watching and making a judgment about whether God cares or not when they see us.

So go out and give it your best shot, no matter what you do. It will be a blessing to the people you meet, to God and to yourself.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Live for today

What would you do if you found out you only had a few weeks to live? I watched a movie today with that premise. To make a long story short, this woman went out and indulged her every fantasy. She started her life over and bought all the fancy things she never could afford. She engaged in risky relationships and no longer watched what she was eating. Three months later she was still here. When she went back to her doctor, she was told that the cancer had disappeared. She was in remission.

It was a nice story but totally devoid of any faith or moral teaching. It was the story of a woman who lived for today and considered death a dead end. That's why I ask the question: What would you do as a person of faith if you found out you only had a few weeks to live?

Once you've answered the question I have another one for you. What is stopping you from living that way right now? Don't wait until it is too late. Start living for God now. Start experiencing his grace and power right now. Start loving your family and friends and giving them your time and energy now.

The Scriptures say that no one knows the day or the hour when the Son of man is coming. The same is true for the day of our returning to him. So live like there is no tomorrow and enjoy the blessings as you live with God.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

The family of God

I woke up to sunlight in my own bed this morning and the first thing I did was give God a big "thank you." As I made my way out to the street I looked at my home in a new way. I wore a smile as I greeted people at Friendly's restaurant and on my way into the Post Office. I said hello to the people I met on the street. I wore an ear to ear grin and was so happy to be home.

Each time I come home from a mission trip I gain new insights into life. This time we went to a small town in America. Northfork, West Virginia isn't much different than the town I grew up in. The people all know each other. They support each other's businesses and attended the same schools. As I looked at Norwich I saw the city as that same type of place.

Over the twenty five years I have lived in Norwich the city has changed. With the additions of the Casinos we have become a multi cultural city with many neighborhoods, many languages and many different beliefs. Everywhere you turn people are talking about our differences.

When I got up this morning I realized that it didn't matter where we've come from as much as what we are doing today. We are all from Norwich and we are all looking for the good life. This is our town and our time. I began to see people as brothers and sisters today. Before I looked at them as strangers.

When we were in Northfork our group reached out to Don, the man we were working with, as a brother in Christ. We didn't know him. Yet we had that one thing in common. The truth is that here in Norwich we are all children of God. We need to remember that we are all part of God's family. Someone once said that "A stranger is just someone in God's family that we haven't met yet."

If we were to look at everyone we met as our brother or sister, this would be a better world. There would be no poverty, no crime, no war. That is God's vision fro his creation. No wonder Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as your self. To punctuate his point he told the story of the Good Samaritan emphasizing that even the most despised person was a child of God capable of following his commandments.

I am going to keep smiling and greeting the folks I see on the streets of our city. Won't you join me. Maybe we can start a revolution?