Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Toast . . .

The Spirits had shown Ebenezer that it was wrong to cheat and steal. But I say the Spirits were mistaken!

We must cheat!
We must steal!
We must drink!

We must cheat death!
We must steal time to be with our loved ones!
And we must drink in the happiness and warmth of this holiday season!

Friday, December 23, 2011

In a One Horse Open Sleigh

It was a cold, wintry Wednesday afternoon in December, 1980. After class at William Jewell in Liberty, I headed my old Dodge north to Nettleton, Missouri, to the little country church where a handful of kindly folks first called me "Pastor". This was to be a very special evening, taking a break from the normal routine of a little Bible study and a long prayer list. This was a night for Christmas caroling, hot chocolate, and family fellowship.

As I pulled off the interstate and headed east on Highway 36, the gray skies seem to open and big flakes began to fall. By the time I pulled off the old highway on the gravel road, a fresh blanket of white had brightened the bleak December landscape. I wondered if my people would still want to get out in this sudden winter storm, but I soon learned that these were not soft city dwellers, quick to cancel any plans at the first sign of snow. The good people of Nettleton Baptist Church were hale and hearty country folks who faced nature's surprises without hesitation or fear. Snow and slick roads never put them off.

As we gathered and huddled in the warmth of the church, I learned that a new plan was already in place. Our neighbors just across the road from the church raised a few horses and were also the proud owners of a large antique sleigh. Sure enough, in just a little while we were skimming along the snowy roads, stopping to sing all the songs of the season on frigid front porches and around warm wood stoves. I remember the almost mystical quiet of the countryside, just the sound of the horse's hooves plodding through the snow. What a beautiful, magical evening it was. I stayed over that night with Bill and Linda, sleeping on the couch near the fireplace. The folks were not willing to send me off in the snowstorm alone.

As I reflect on that wonderful Wednesday evening, it occurs to me that our Nettleton folks fit into the Christmas story rather well - common, country folks out in the weather going from place to place celebrating the birth of the Savior. Those original shepherds had nothing on us. The Good News of great joy is for all people. Go tell it on the mountain and in the valley, in the factory and on the farm, in the city streets and across the countryside, in the sunshine and in the snow storm - Jesus Christ is born.           

Friday, December 9, 2011

My "Immanuel" Moments

This Advent season I've been thinking about those very special, even sacred moments of my life - call them "Immanuel" moments - when God came near to me. When in the midst of crisis or pain or on a wave of great joy or in times of surprising epiphany, God shows up. Immanuel - God with me. Of course, God's always around, everywhere, all the time, but sometimes, much to our amazement the dark night suddenly lights up, angels sing, shepherds watch, kings bow. God shows up, unmistakable and unforgettable. May I share a few of my "Immanuel" moments with you?
  • As a little boy and the youngest of eight kids, it was a big moment for me when on Christmas Eve as we gathered around our tree, it was finally my turn to read the Christmas story from Luke's Gospel. As I read the words I could imagine the Christ Child smiling at me.
  • Once on the back porch of our home, as a sixteen year old boy I sat under a starlit sky and heard Him whisper my name. My life would never be the same.
  • Late at night lying awake on my bunk at college after my first date with Suzanne. I was just beginning to learn how to love from the Original Lover who seemed to be whispering, "Don't blow this, you dope."
  • In my little blue VW, stuck in a snowstorm and in a storm of heart-breaking circumstances, I suddenly realized I was not alone. Bethlehem's Boy was there in the bucket seat beside me.
  • The nurse in labor and delivery just said, "Here, hold your daughter," and introduced me to my new owner, a baby girl who along with her brothers, staked a claim on my heart and would teach me more about God's love than all of the colleges and seminaries put together. 
  • I remember a rental house just a few blocks from our church, as I was delivering all of the Christmas that we had collected for a struggling family. A young nursing student and mother of three thanked me as I carried in each load and assured her, "There's more, there's more." I'm pretty sure that Christ came with me, but He decided to stay awhile after I moved on.
  • It was an intensive care unit, as I held tightly to the hand of a precious friend and partner in ministry and assured her of our love and God's care. Someone with scars of His own came near and in a little while He took her home.
I call them "Immanuel" moments, when the God who came near long ago comes near to us, right in the middle of our lives. Tis the season to remember and reflect on your own "Immanuel" moments. How about telling your story? Maybe that's part of your "Good news of great joy" that is just too good to keep yourself.

And whether we laugh or cry, sing or sob, we know the Gift has been given, the Promise has been kept, a Savior has been born to us. Call His name Immanuel.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Practicing My Thanksgiving Scales

It's time once again to pause and give thanks, to reflect on the abundance of blessing in our lives. As I think about it, it seems to me that our gratitude is usually expressed on kind of a sliding scale, depending on our present life situation, of course, but also based on our own maturing faith. What have we learned along the way and what have we come to appreciate about life that never used to show up on our radar? Even more, what have we learned to value that we used to whine about? Hopefully, we are still growing and learning to be grateful not just for the simple pleasures and basic needs which God provides, but also for the tough stuff, the struggles, the difficulties, even the painful life lessons almost always learned the hard way. It's a grown up gratitude that I think pleases God most.

So here's my Thanksgiving list on a sliding scale, from the simple and obvious blessings to the difficult and disguised ways in which God works for my good:

I am thankful for...
  • unexpected hugs.
  • cards that have more handwritten words than printed.
  • the wonderful smell and taste of Old Testament cooking - throw the meat on the fire.
  • my sister Judy's chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • the last bright red leaf on the sidewalk.
  • hearing the guitar actually making music in my own hands.
  • the grace of two-man scramble, not having to play all of my hooks and shanks and slices.
  • my wife, Suzanne, a one-man woman and a one-woman man on the long journey together, nearly 30 years and many more miles to go.
  • my favorite word, "Dad", and three wonderful children, pretty much adults now, who light up my life and fill me with pride and hope.
  • the big wet smile and bright eyes of each new believer I baptize. I know God smiles, too.
  • a chance each year to deliver Christmas and put presents under someone else's tree.
  • how it feels to light a candle on Christmas Eve.
And, I am learning to be thankful for...
  • insights gained.
  • lessons learned.
  • obstacles overcome.
  • pain endured.
  • more reasons to be humble.
  • help received in time of need.
  • strength to persevere.
  • opportunities to serve others.
  • prayer without words.
  • songs I cannot sing without tears.
  • God's stubborn and persistent love.
  • the amazing way that Christ puts His hands inside mine and lets me touch others with His love.
  • a lonely path, a skull-shaped hill, and an empty tomb.
And, gratefully, I am finally learning that what I already possess is a thousand times more precious than anything I may lack.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Being a Force of Nature

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." - George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

"There are vast tracts of undeveloped life in most of us. We have capacities for creativity, for love and for accomplishment that lie fallow. We are dormant in our personal relationships and get pushed around unconscionably. We are timid in our work and get passed over for promotions. We are intimidated in our marriages and get used. We feel futile in our communities, fated to shabby and shoddy service from government and business.

Then, from time to time, a person stands up among us and announces how marvelous it is to simply be human." - Eugene Peterson, Earth and Altar

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"It Ain't for Sissies"

Here's a little gift we all need today - encouragement. Whatever you face this day, whatever burden you must carry, whatever pain or loss you have absorbed, whatever taunting giant blocks your path, let me call out the courage that lies deep within you, in every child of God. 

Let me encourage you to stand up, keep going, and face the fight. Don't cry or complain, don't run and hide, don't give up and quit. Take heart and move forward, and if you go down swinging, get back up swinging. If you lose a battle, remember you and your fearless Leader will one day win the war. "Followin' Jesus? It ain't for sissies."

I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I've bought a big bat.  I'm all ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!

~Dr. Seuss

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

One Step Forward

I came across this little excerpt from a Frederick Buechner novel yesterday, and it stayed on my mind all day. A godly woman is teaching the faith to a group of children.

"May the shadow of Christ fall on thee. May the garment of Christ cover thee. May the breath of Christ breathe in thee," she told them each morning at sun-up. Winters they'd sit there with blue noses and frozen fingers and the way their breath came out of them in white puffs you could almost believe it was Christ's indeed.

True faith. A simple life. A helping hand. She said those was the three things prized most in Heaven. On earth it was a fair wife, a stout ox, a swift hound.

Beg not, refuse not, she said. One step forward each day was the way to the Land of the Blessed. Don't eat till your stomach cries out. Don't sleep till you can't stay awake. Don't open your mouth till it's the truth opens it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do It Anyway

The verses below reportedly were written on the wall of Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, India, and are widely attributed to her.

Some sources say that the words below were written on the wall in Mother Teresa's own room. In any case, their association with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity has made them popular worldwide, expressing as they do, the spirit in which they lived their lives.

These words seem to be based on a composition originally by Kent Keith, but much of the second half has been re-written in a more spiritual way.

Mother Teresa's "Anyway" Poem

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Better Dress for Success

Here's a great blog post from Skye Jethani of Leadership Journal. I think he's got some real practical wisdom for all of us who strive to lead well and to understand those we seek to lead.  

Leadership Lessons from Superman's Underpants

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What's a Pastor To Do?

What is the authentic role of the pastor? Eugene Peterson gives us a sobering and humbling answer.

"My task as pastor was to show how the Bible got lived. Of course it's important to show that the Bible is true, but we have theologians and apologists for that. I just accepted the fact it was true and didn't bother much about that. I needed to be a witness to people in my congregation that everything in the Bible is livable and to try to avoid abstractions about big truths, big doctrines. I wanted to know how these ideas got lived in the immediate circumstances of people's lives at work, in the town, and in the family. . . . The role of the pastor is to embody the gospel."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Unwrapping Grace

After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody's much interested any more. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even the derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of rasberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I entered the universe. I love you.

There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift, too.

- Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Almost a Fatality on the Fourth

Seems like every year at this time many of my clan reflect upon one of their favorite family stories - the Fourth of July when Dad almost killed Drew.

I think I was about twelve years old, back in my Windsor years, and back when local and state governments were seriously considering banning the sale and use of fireworks. So I decided, thinking of course about my future kids and grandkids, to use all of my lawn mowing money to buy enough fireworks to last for several generations. This I accomplished, but then came the challenge of trying to find a place where I could blow up a year's worth of fireworks without getting arrested.

On the Fourth there was going to be a big community celebration at Farrington Park with a big fireworks display at the end, and not being a real sharp boy, I felt sure they would let me shoot my fireworks as part of the finale. Mom and Dad were going to the park, but I begged and pleaded, "Please let me go on my own, not with you guys. Please, please don't make me go with my parents. I'll walk down to the park by myself." (This way I could carry a big sack of fireworks.) Mom said no at first but eventually she caved with one strict condition. After the fireworks display, I must meet them at the main shelter house and ride home with them. I said okay, and Mom repeated her instructions. "As soon as the fireworks display ends, you meet us at the main shelter house." "Okay, Mom, I'll meet you right after the fireworks."

Well, to spare you some of the detail, I was really mad and disappointed later on when the guys at the park told me that I absolutely could not light up so much as a sparkler in that crowded park. "Get lost, kid. Gotta go out of town if you want to shoot those off." While I was stomping back around the lake who should I spot but my big brother, John, who was just leaving with some of his friends to go shoot their own fireworks over at the golf course. He didn't know anything about the bargain I had struck with Mom. "Let me go, too, John. Look at all this stuff I got." He took one look in my sack and said, "C'mon!"

It was nearly midnight when I walked in the front door of our house. My parents had looked everywhere for me as had several other friends and neighbors and yes, even the local police had been searching for me. Mom was worried sick with all these terrible scenarios playing in her mind. When I came through the front door, Mom was in her bedroom and she had been crying.

Now, there was an unwritten rule in our house among the eight of us siblings. Our dad could be counted upon to be pretty calm and fair when disciplining his children, with one noted exception. Never, never, never do anything that pushes Mom to tears. Something about the sight of Mom weeping had a transforming affect upon our father. To sum it up, "Make Mom cry, you will die." 

John had dropped me off at the house first so that he could take his girlfriend home without his kid brother tagging along. When I came through the door I was feeling fine. I had had tons of fun, blown up everything I had, and it had never even entered my poorly wired mind that I was supposed to meet my parents or that I might be in some kind of trouble.

Dad had another unique quality when thoroughly enraged. He didn't get loud or shout or scream. In fact, his voice would get lower and slower, kind of like Clint Eastwood just before he fires his 44 magnum. He met me at the door and said simply and softly, "Do you know what time it is?" (He probably wanted to add, "Well, do ya, punk?") Later I figured out why he asked that question since I'm pretty sure he already knew what time it was. There was a clock to my right as I came in the door and when he asked, I turned my head to the right giving him a much better angle for the kill shot.

I never saw it coming, but Dad hit me on the side of my face with his open hand and immediately I found myself back out on the front porch. I was stunned and bewildered, not yet able to figure out why he was so upset. I heard my sister-in-law say, "Dad!" She had never seen her father-in-law like this before. Dad turned and said, "You get on downstairs, right now." Oh great, I thought, no witnesses. I opened the broken storm door and started back in the house. Dad hadn't moved or come up with a new question. "Do you know what time it is?" This time I saw it coming, but the result was exactly the same, back out on the porch. As I bent over holding my ringing ears in my hands, all of a sudden my faulty memory reconnected, I remembered all about the park, I knew now why Dad was so angry, and I realized that I was probably going to see Jesus real soon.

When I stepped through the door the third time, I was relieved to see that the artillery has ceased firing and a more detailed interrogation began. Never had the words, "I'm sorry, I forgot," sounded so pitiful and inadequate. I apologized to my mother, who chose to hug me rather than wring my neck, and I headed down the basement stairs. Some of my siblings were looking up the stairs wondering if I was still alive. Jerry seemed disappointed.

I had a big red hand print on my face when I went to bed late that night, my ears still ringing. I know it all sounds pretty brutal by today's standards. Near as I can recall, that was the last time my dad ever laid his hand on me for discipline's sake. Funny thing, my memory problem must have somehow been corrected that night, because I never forgot my dad's instructions after that, and I sure never did anything to make my mother cry again. No thank you. Bad idea.

So, a safe and happy Independence Day to all my family and friends. I'll see you at the main shelter house, right after the fireworks. I'll be there, Mom.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bob Goldsmith: Tribute to a Tail Gunner

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8 NIV)

There are some important words that are slipping away from us. We just don’t use them much anymore, I think, because we no longer see many good examples. No one seems to live up to these words, and so we may grow skeptical and decide that these words are antique, out of fashion, out of date, even extinct.  

But for me, Bob Goldsmith has been that example, a constant reminder that some of these words still hold value and can still be lived out by people today. Here are some of those nearly forgotten words that Bob Goldsmith defines for me.

The first word is Gentleman. Some rare men have an intangible quality. I’m not sure whether to call it a bearing or a style or a persona. I think it is a special grace and when they enter a room or a meeting these gracious people change the whole atmosphere of the room. You know almost instinctively that this is person of sincerity and truth, love and gentleness, and great strength of character. A true gentleman can raises the moral tone and climate of any meeting or conversation. Bob was like that for me. He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word.  

“A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” –Theodore Roosevelt

We know that there is such a thing as a true gentleman, because we have known Bob Goldsmith.

Here’s another old word, Hero. Bob Goldsmith is one of a remarkable generation of men who accepted enormous challenges, carried heavy responsibilities, accomplished unbelievable things, and did it all with no thought of recognition or reward.

Could there be a more dangerous and frightening assignment in World War II than to be a tail gunner in a B-17? Here’s a little background. One third of all B-17s were shot down, nearly 5,000 planes. The average life expectancy of a B-17 crew was 12 to 14 missions. When enemy fighters attacked a B-17, they almost always attacked from the rear, and their first goal was to take out the tail gunner. Tail gunners averaged 20 years of age and two thirds of all B-17 tail gunners did not survive the war.

There was also no heat in a B-17 and in the high altitude, the temperature plunged far below zero. The crew kept warm by wearing electric suits and boots to help them survive the frigid temperatures on those long bombing runs. On one mission, Bob’s electric boots failed and his feet froze, because he could not leave the tail of the plane undefended, even for a few minutes. When he got back to base he had to be carried off the plane and hospitalized to treat his severe frostbite. But soon, just a few weeks later, he was back in sky, back in his B-17.

Bob said that it was not uncommon, returning from a bombing mission, to see the lights of England through the bullet holes in the fuselage.

Bob Goldsmith flew twenty-four missions as a B-17 tail gunner. He didn’t get his 25th mission, and always said his 25th mission would be his final flight to Heaven.

A day before his final mission aboard a B-17 bomber another young tail gunner, Norbert Swierz, sat down on his bunk and jotted down a poem for his mother back in Michigan.

I go so gladly to my fate, whatever it may be.
That I would have you shed no tears for me,
Some men must die, that others must be free.
And only God can say whom these shall be.

Bob believed that God had seen him through the ordeal of war and preserved his life for a purpose. It was by the grace of God that he did what he did and was able to come home and marry Francis and raise a family. The word is Hero.

And here’s another forgotten word, Integrity. Integrity means that there is no disconnect between faith and practice, no hypocrisy. Someone once put it like this: “A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.”

Bob was always scrupulously honest and true. That’s the way he did business, and that’s how he handled the store and all of his work. I think that’s why our church asked him to serve as treasurer and kept him at the task for 35 years. Here was a man of integrity, a man you could trust without hesitation or question.

Beth has been helping Francis with their bill paying since Bob has been so ill. She was telling me that Bob has maintained a detailed ledger of every dollar he has spent since 1957, even down to the tips he left in restaurants. And he has not only been a meticulous and faithful tither, he has instilled this discipline of faithful stewardship in his children and grandchildren.

We were laughing the other day, that it wouldn’t surprise us if the Lord decided now to put Bob in charge of the Lamb’s Book of Life. He couldn’t find a better man for the job. A man of integrity.

One final word, certainly one of God’s favorites, Faithful. Bob was a man of great faith and faithfulness. He was a man of the Book, a daily student of the Bible. Bob believed in prayer and made it the pattern of his life and faith. He served as a deacon, faithfully and well for so many years.

Bob kept faith with his family, as a loving husband and father, and he kept faith with His God. These verses from Proverbs set the compass and course for all of his life:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
   and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

I guess every little girl begins her life thinking that her father is the biggest and strongest, the wisest and kindest man in the world. Little girls always believe their dad is special, their dad is the best man in all the world.

Then, as little girls grow up, they begin to notice the weaknesses and shortcomings and limitations of their father. He’s not quite the hero he used to be in their eyes.

But for Janet and Melody it was different. Janet and Melody started off that way and amazingly, they never had to change their opinion. They never had to reappraise their father. He is still the best man they have ever known. And Natalie feels the same way. What a blessing!

Now I know that Bob would not be entirely comfortable being remembered and eulogized like this. Bob would want me to remind you all, that he was the kind of man he was because of the Savior he loved and served.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life, all the difference in the world. It was God who forged this man, reaching down deep into his willing heart to shape and create a gentleman, a hero, a man of integrity and faithfulness, a wonderful husband and a loving father.

Christ made the difference in Bob’s life and he can make a difference in yours as well. All it takes is step of faith, turn to God, confess your need, claim Christ and His cross for your salvation, and God will begin to do His wonderful work of grace in your life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV)

And now the time for his departure has come. Bob Goldsmith has taken flight once more, flying his 25th and final mission, this time landing in Heaven, in the presence of God and all those who have gone before.

Do you remember these words of Charles Wesley from the old Easter hymn?

“Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

Bob Goldsmith has taken his ultimate honor flight, arriving to a hero’s welcome, a victor’s crown, and his Savior’s words – “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Only One Thing That Counted

What does it mean to be a human being? In The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, the hero, or nonhero, is a seedy, alcoholic Catholic priest who after months as a fugitive is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot. On the evening before his execution, he sits in his cell with a flask of brandy to keep his courage up and thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life.

"Tears poured down his face," Greene writes, "He was not at the moment afraid of damnation - even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Daily Prayer

I have this prayer taped to my monitor as a daily reminder. It is a morning prayer taken from an old classic, "A Diary of Private Prayer," by John Baillie. I hope it blesses you as it has blessed me.

"O Holy Spirit of God, visit now this soul of mine, and tarry within until eventide. Inspire all my thoughts. Pervade all my imaginations. Suggest all my decisions. Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings. Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my haste and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening, and give me grace at all times to rejoice in Thy mysterious companionship. My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Baccalaureate 2011: "Wings or Worms?"

Two pictures to begin with today – one on the screen and the other in your mind. The other day I was doing some of my spring yard work and I noticed a new addition to our own wildlife population. I noticed a bird nest wedged in between the gutter downspout and the house under the eave. And there was the mother sitting on her nest, warming her eggs, and waiting for the big day. I’ve been watching all week, but nobody has hatched so far.

It was kind of a sweet picture for a Mother’s Day weekend and it’s not a bad reminder for us as we think about graduation. It might even sum up some of the thoughts and feelings of your moms and dads as you graduate and head off into your future.

Some of us thought you never would hatch. We were worried you might turn out to be a bad egg. For the first part of your life, all you did was eat and chirp for more. We wondered if you would ever be able to fly, and now, like it or not, we’re just about ready to shove you over the edge. Enough worms already, it’s time to fly. I guess only you really know if you are ready to fly.

The second picture is in your mind. I want you to reach into your future, and imagine the year 2036. By then my kids will have wheeled me off to some nursing home, but you, you’ll be right back here in Sedalia at Smith Cotton High for your 25 year class reunion. Now promise me you will come, no matter how much weight you have gained or how much hair you have lost. You better come, because you will learn more about life at your 25 year reunion than you ever did in school.

So picture yourself at your 25th class reunion, sitting around the tables catching up with your old friends from high school days. You can bet, each one of you will have a story. Some of you will want to brag about it, while others will keep quiet. A few of you may be tempted to make up a story or two. What will your story be? How will your life be going? What will you have accomplished?

The reason I ask is simple enough. You are beginning your story today. Right now, you are writing the introduction and you have many chapters ahead of you. What will your story be?

I came across an old story a few weeks ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It’s an old parable that I think might have something important to say to us on this occasion.

One day long ago, over the hot sands of a Middle Eastern country, a white skylark flew in joyous loops about the sky. As she swooped near the earth, she heard a merchant cry out, “Worms! Worms! Worms for feathers! Delicious worms!” The skylark circled about the merchant, hungry at the mention of worms, but puzzled about what the merchant meant. Little did the skylark know that the merchant was the devil. And seeing that the skylark was interested, the devil motioned her nearer. “Come here, my little friend. Come! See the lovely worms I have!”

Cautiously, the skylark landed and cocked her head to the merchant. “Come! Taste the juicy worms!” The skylark became aware that she was indeed, quite hungry. And these worms looked bigger and tastier than any she had ever dug for herself out of the hardscrabble ground of the desert. The skylark hopped closer and put her beak up close to the worm. “Two worms for a feather, my friend. Two worms for merely one!”

The skylark was unable to resist. And she had, after all, so many feathers. So, with a swift motion she pulled out a feather – just a small one – from beneath her wing and gave it to the merchant. “Take your pick, my little friend . . . any two, your heart’s desire!” The skylark quickly snatched up two of the plumpest worms and swallowed her meal with delight. Never before had she tasted such wonderful worms. With a loud chirp, she leapt into the air and resumed her joyful flight.

Day after day the skylark returned. And always the merchant had wonderful worms to offer: black ones and blue ones, red ones and green ones, all fat and shiny and iridescent. But one day, after eating her fill, the skylark leapt again into the air – and to her horror, she fell to the ground with a thud. She was unable to fly!

All at once with a shock she realized what had happened. From eating the delicious worms she had grown fatter and fatter; and she had plucked her feathers one by one, first her body, then her tail, and finally her very wings had grown balder and balder. Horrified, she remembered how, slowly, imperceptibly, day by day, it had been getting harder and harder to fly, and how she had told herself it was no matter. She could always stop before it was too late. Now suddenly here she was, trapped on the ground. She looked up and saw the merchant looking at her. Was that a sly grin spreading across his face? He grabbed the now helpless bird, put her in a cage, and walked away laughing.

It’s a sad story, don’t you think? But maybe it’s a good story for us to ponder for a few minutes this afternoon.

One thing I know for certain. All of you, at one time or another, will be tempted to trade your wings for worms.

You were handed a feather a few moments ago, just a little reminder for you to keep, maybe stick on your mirror or the dash of your car or in your purse. Let it be a friendly reminder.

You were made for the skies, you know. You were made to rise on the wings of your remarkable gifts and talents and skills. You were made by God with awesome capacities and amazing abilities. You are one big bundle of undeveloped potential and boundless possibilities.

Possibilities – that’s the word for you guys, alright. Unlimited possibilities – that’s what God has given to you. You were made by His plan and for His purposes.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

My word for you this afternoon is this: As you seek to fulfill your God-given potential, be wise, be careful, and never trade your wings for worms.

Anything else we can learn from this old story? A few other truths stand out to me.

First, choose your mentors and models carefully. You have probably already noticed that not everyone has your best interest in mind. Not everyone that calls you friend is your friend.

Second, live by your aptitude, not your appetites. Don’t just live by your empty stomach, your craving for attention, your sexual desires, your greed for more money, more stuff, more spotlight. Live by your aptitude, not like an animal.  

Remember that compromises lead to cages. Even little compromises can lead to big problems. So guard your heart. Live by your convictions. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t be easily led to compromise your character, your values. Compromises always lead to cages.

And don’t forget, the higher you fly, the farther you can see. If you want to find God’s plan, if you want to see the path God has prepared for you, than fly high. Earthbound people can only see the ground right in front of them. Fly high, up where you can connect with God and soar in His presence day by day, and you will begin to see the path that leads to a distant horizon of blessing and usefulness.

Here’s one last truth for you: Your faith in God will be the wind beneath your wings. Not mine, not your pastor’s or youth minister’s faith. And not even your parent’s faith or your grandparent’s faith will do you any good from now on. Only your own faith in God will carry you to the skies. Do you remember the old promise from scripture?

But those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:31 NIV)

Never forget how to fly, how to dream, how to soar high enough to see new lands and far horizons.

Don’t let anyone bring you down to the ground. Don’t let anything tie you too tightly to this earth. Spread your wings. Take to the skies.

Don’t forfeit the future God has prepared for you. And never, never trade your wings for worms.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Easter Prayer for a Very Special Lady

"Lord, if you had been here, my church would not have died. And even now . . ."

I am praying a prayer today, a stubborn Easter prayer. A prayer both ancient and contemporary, local and universal. A prayer of confession and petition, tinged with remorse and regret, yet pulsing with restless hope and untapped power.

I pray to the One who can roll stones and move mountains, whose hands can straighten the twisted, bind up the broken, and open blind eyes to the light of day. 

"It's about your wife, Lord." Okay, I guess technically she's your fiance, your bride to be. What she really is, Lord, is a mess. Pardon my saying so, but have you taken a good look at your bride lately? Have you listened to her, the stuff she comes out with these days? Could there be a more shallow, self-centered, judgmental dame on God's green earth? I know they say opposites attract, but Lord, this is extreme. What do you see in her, anyway?

Your church, your bride, has forgotten her new name, lost her first love, and traded her mission for a mirror. She has become the world's ultimate consumer, basking in the blessing of God while abandoning the purposes of God in the world.

And yet, in her best moments, I can see something of what you must see in her. When she turns to you, Lord, and takes your hand, tenderly tracing your scars with her fingers, and her heart warms, her passion is stirred, her love is rekindled. And how great is her beauty in those moments when she only has eyes for you. And when your bride rouses from her slumber, when she rises to serve you, when she can see the needs and hear the cries of a dying world, then, Lord, she is strong for her mission and devoted to her tasks. A grand dame indeed.

So, I pray a stubborn prayer on this Easter, a prayer carried on the fresh wind of the Spirit. It is a prayer that you, O Lord, have already begun to answer.

Call her out, Lord. Call her forth from the tomb of worn out traditions. Call her out from the cemetery of selfish consumerism. Don't let her linger any longer among the monuments of lifeless stones and steeples  Pull your bride away from the mirror of me-ness and lead her out the door of other-ness. Let her become your faithful, passionate partner in bringing in your Kingdom.

What a handsome couple!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Old Prayer for a New Day

Our Father, we are beginning to understand at last that the things that are wrong with our world are the sum total of all the things that are wrong with us as individuals. Thou hast made us after Thine image, and our hearts can find no rest until they rest in Thee.

We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right and give us the ability to do it.

In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.   - Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, 1947-1949

Monday, March 28, 2011

Too Little Joy

"Ever since there have been men, man has given himself over to too little joy. That alone, my brothers, is our original sin. I should believe only in a God who understood how to dance."  - Henri Matisse

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Promise Is a Promise

Nearly twenty years ago I was pastor of Susquehanna Baptist Church in Independence, Missouri. We lived in a friendly neighborhood with great neighbors, some of which attended our church. Mike and Carol lived just a couple of doors down from us on the other side of the street. Mike helped me build a deck for our home and Carol was Suzanne's walking buddy and close friend. Carol had two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, Michelle and Traci, who began their babysitting careers watching our rowdy boys.

Mike and Carol also had a daughter of their own, a bright, precocious little eight year old named Amy. She had long brown hair in curls and one of those smiles that can make a grown man melt. Amy was like a big sister to our little guys and was remarkably patient with two little boys who only wanted to play pirates. Even at the tender age of eight it was obvious that Amy was exceptionally bright and gifted and her teachers at school had to scramble to keep her occupied and challenged.

I remember the Sunday morning when I baptized little Amy, not much of a chore since the water was almost up to her chin. After the service she came to see me at the door. She was wearing a pretty dress for her special day and her curls were still damp as she gave me a hug. Then, much to my surprise, she popped the question. 

"When I get married, will you do my wedding?"
"Amy, you're eight years old!"
"I know, but I want you to do my ceremony."
"Well, sure I will, if you want me to, but that's a long way off, Amy, and it's okay if you change your mind."
"I won't. I want you to do my wedding. Do you promise?"
"Okay, it's a deal. If you need me and still want me to, I'll do your wedding, Amy. I promise."

Soon after, I was called away to a new place of service. We were able to get together with Mike and Carol once or twice, but it was difficult to stay close. We would catch up a little bit with Christmas cards and letters. So, fast forward eighteen years and imagine my surprise when I received this email from Amy:

Dear Drew,
The time has come for me to rekindle a conversation we had many years ago: I'm getting married, and I'd love for you to perform the ceremony!

Last Saturday I met with Amy and her fiance to make plans for a summer wedding. I was struck by two obvious realities - little Amy has grown up and I am getting old. I was touched to get another hug, this time from a poised and beautiful young woman, now finishing her Ph.D. in English Literature at Washington University. And, I was impressed with the fine young man she has chosen to be her husband. 

I'm looking forward to Amy's wedding and hope to help make it a very special day for her. After all, I promised. And, through all the years, across all the miles and memories, a promise is a promise.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The King Does Come" - Frederick Buechner

When Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his followers cried out, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord," the Pharisees went to Jesus and told him to put an end to their blasphemies, and Jesus said to them, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."

This church. The church on the other side of town, the other side of the world. All churches everywhere. The day will come when they will all lie in ruins, every last one of them. The day will come when all the voices that were ever raised in them, including our own, will be permanently stilled. But when that day comes, I believe that the tumbled stones will cry aloud of the great, deep hope that down through the centuries has been the one reason for having churches at all and is the one reason we have for coming to this one now: the hope that into the world the King does come. And in the name of the Lord. And is always coming, blessed be he. And will come afire with glory, at the end of time.

In the meantime, King Jesus, we offer all churches to you as you offer them to us. Make thyself known in them. Make thy will done in them. Make our stone hearts cry out thy kingship. Make us holy and human at last that we may do the work of thy love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Little Bit of Life on the Farm

I was always a little jealous of my boyhood buddies who lived on farms. My dad was a pastor and my grandpas were both mechanics, one worked on cars and the other one worked on trains. Since we didn't have any farmers in my family, I always looked forward to visits and overnights in the country. It always seemed like a great adventure to me, a chance to get away and get outside and have some fun.

My friend, Brent, must have had a very fun-loving father, because when they filled their big hay barn each year, they stacked the sixty pound bales around a cool series of long tunnels just big enough for little boys to squeeze through. In the deep dark middle of all that hay was a hollowed out clubhouse where we could hide out or plot secret attacks on the other boys or even sleep on the cold nights. Boy, we had some fun.

Another friend of mine, Richard, would often invite his "in town" friends out to the farm for Sunday afternoons or weekend overnights. Mr. Gray would drag us out of bed in the middle of the night and send us out to do the chores before breakfast. I learned about feeding cattle and slopping hogs and gathering eggs. Everybody had a job and everybody helped out. No goofing around until the work was done. Miss Betty always made us a big country breakfast, a real novelty for me, and then some nights we would cook "johnny cakes" over an open fire, a tasty cornmeal pancake that really hit the spot on cool autumn evenings.

But not every overnight had a happy ending. We had some strong-willed personalities with big egos that made winning at anything and everything of ultimate importance. I remember playing army one morning and having a heated argument that went something like this: "You're dead!" "No, I'm not, you missed me." "You are dead, you idiot! I got you! You're dead!" "Am not!" "Are, too!" Time to settle this like real soldiers. Hand to hand combat broke out. No blood, but enough of a fight that Mr. Gray had to break it up and give Richard a whipping right there in front of us. As I recall, we all had to go home early that day and face our own dads. Not an exciting prospect, either.

I remember painting fence posts and riding Shetland ponies and jumping out of the barn rafters into the feed corn. I remember watching the sun creep up over the cornfield in the morning and lying on my back under countless stars at night.

Every little boy and girl should get to spend a little time on a farm. I was blessed with great friends, good memories, and a life lesson or two from life in the country.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Little Book that Continues to Burn

In a 2007 edition of Newsweek magazine, author and radio personality Garrison Keillor was asked to choose what he considered to be the five most important books. Some readers were probably surprised to find that he ranked the Book of Acts at the top of his list. When describing the Book of Acts, Keillor offered this concise but potent summation: "The flames lit on their little heads and bravely and dangerously went they onward."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Memories of Snowballs Past

The nasty blizzard that is dumping a foot or two of snow on much of the country has brought everything to a standstill around here. It has also got me thinking about big snows and winter fun from days gone by.
As a little boy, my family lived in Maryville in northwest Missouri where harsh winters and heavy snow was the rule instead of the exception. We lived in a big, two-story house just a couple of blocks from the old high school. I remember one winter some of my dad's family came up for a visit and all of the older kids headed up to the school to go sledding. Later on, Mom sent me over to tell the kids it was time to come home. The snow was too deep for me, so I had to take the side walk up the street and around the corner to find the older kids. When we all headed home, everybody was taking the short way, cutting through by the elementary school. I tried to keep up with the big kids, but the snow was deeper than my legs were tall. I was ready to give up and started to cry.

That's when my uncle Jack scooped me up and put me on his shoulders. I rode his big shoulders all the way home as Jack waded through two feet of snow. My hero.

I remember snowball fights in Windsor and making one of the biggest mistakes of my young life. A couple of my buddies and I were raiding the neighborhood, chucking snowballs at every life form and moving target we could find. My brother John came home from work and was headed toward the front door. It was a rare opportunity to nail an older brother. John, in all fairness, warned me. "If you throw that snow ball at me, you'll be sorry." Well, I did and I was. I let that snowball fly and caught John in the back of the head just as he opened the door. What a shot! I was so proud.

Just about the time I finished celebrating the front door opened again and of course, it was John. No more work clothes, he was dressed for battle. Considering quickly my strategic options, I determined to run for my life, but I did not run fast enough. He grabbed me before I could get out of the yard.

My older brothers never practiced an eye for an eye, even Steven approach to getting revenge. Their plan was usually more like "hit me in the eye and I will beat you senseless, knock out my tooth and I'll knock every tooth out of your stupid head." So, I knew I was in big trouble. John grabbed me by the ankle, yanked off my coat, my sweatshirt, and my t-shirt and stuck me head first into a snow bank. Another important life lesson learned.

One more winter memory. In college days at William Jewell, I was headed back to the dorm and noticed a bunch of the guys having a big snow war on the triangle. Like my brother John, I was caught in a vulnerable position, unprepared to defend myself from a wise guy premed student determined to knock me down. I hustled to get inside and I warned the guy. "Don't do it, you'll regret it." Wouldn't you know it, he got me just above the ear with a snowball that felt more like a shot put.

Some might consider my revenge to be overkill. You see, as bright as this premed guy was, it didn't occur to him that as a resident assistant, I was privileged to have a master key for the entire dormitory including of course, his room. I waited until about 2:00 in the morning, and quietly opened the door to the offender's room. I yanked the blanket and sheets off of him and emptied a large wastebasket of snow on the stunned and sleepy victim. Justice served.

Ah, snowy days! What a wonderful way to learn about life and love and total war.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life in the Emergency Room

I guess I spend a lot more time in emergency rooms than most people do. I remember three or four frantic trips to the ER with our kids when they were small, for slings or shots or stitches. We've been very fortunate and blessed with relative safety and good health.

I remember as a boy my family lived across the street from St. Francis Catholic Hospital in Maryville, Missouri. My brothers and I made regular trips across the street to get patched up from injuries we had usually inflicted on each other. My parents didn't allow us to have any toy guns, and that was a big mistake. We made our own weapons, going after each other with tree limb guns and tuna can grenades, with predictable results. I remember one time when we were playing army, one of the neighbor kids hit me in the shoulder with a garden hoe. Mom and Dad took me across the street where the good Sisters knew all the Hill boys pretty well. I remember the doctor bandaging my shoulder while I asked him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm putting this on here so that when you take a drink of water, you won't leak." Well, that made sense to me. I was perfectly satisfied with that in depth, medical explanation.

But these days, my frequent trips to the emergency rooms are different. You can bet that when a pastor is called to the ER, it is no small thing, no little boo-boo that just needs a band aid or an aspirin. Someone is in crisis, someone is hurting, suddenly a big question mark is looming over someone's life. Without any warning or preparation, life has become unmanageable, unbearable for someone. I think that's why waiting in the ER is so torturous and frustrating. The rug has been yanked out from under somebody's life. Pain is screaming for attention. Fear is creeping up, clutching at our throats, and faith seems weak and frail.

I'm impressed by the special people who work in emergency rooms. To do what they do, to respond to unthinkable situations, to deal with all kinds of people, almost all of them at their worst, requires a person with a remarkable mix of grace and skill, toughness and tenderness. God bless them all.

When I am called to the ER, I want to bring support and empathy and encouragement. I try to offer whatever practical help might be needed. I can hug and hold and pray. But my main task in the ER is this - just to point out Who else is in that examination room. I know He's there, because I felt His presence in my car, across the parking lot, and walking down the hall. Now He moves silently behind the curtain, comes to each bedside, unseen, yet unmistakably real. And with His touch fear heads for the door and peace settles down like a warm blanket. Pain stops its screaming at the sight of His scars, and faith gets back on its feet again. Even death bows low to the One who is Life. Christ has come, powerfully and personally, and I marvel at His transforming touch.

A friend said to me the other day, "I couldn't handle all that hospital stuff. I don't know how you pastors do it." He doesn't know. He doesn't understand what an awesome privilege we have. Just to watch in wonder - people at their worst, Jesus at His best. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Cold Winter's Night

Home this evening as the snow falls and the wind blows and the temperature drops. No teaching tonight, no meetings or appointments, everything blown away with the winter blast. It's good to be home for a change, just home in a nice warm house with Suz and the kids safe and sound. There is no gift quite so precious as unexpected free time, just an evening to call my own. I'd build a fire if there wasn't already three inches of snow on all my firewood.

Something about this fresh blanket of snow seems to quiet the world, to silence the clatter and chatter of the neighborhood with a peaceful hush. The swirling white wind whispers, "Stop your rushing, forget your plans, take your foot off the gas and slow down. Come on in and warm yourself, put on your slippers and settle into your favorite chair. Have some hot chocolate and some conversation with one you love. Tomorrow the frantic rush will begin again. Savor this cold winter's night, a rare and wonderful gift."

Thank you, God, for this blessed blizzard.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's That Racket in the Basement?

I have a new love in my life, in addition to my wonderful wife, Suzanne, a great family, and far more friends than I deserve, a new love that has captured a part of me that I never really knew I had. I have fallen for the guitar and specifically my 1996 Ovation Standard Balladeer. Turning 50 last year, I determined to stop putting off the things I have always wanted to do, and high on my own "bucket list" was to pick up the guitar once more. You see, some twenty-five years ago, I bought a starter guitar and took a few lessons here in Sedalia while I was living just down the road in Lincoln. But I never practiced or made any real effort, so after about six months my teacher began to feel guilty about taking my money and gave up on me. I don't blame him a bit, but I always planned to pick up the guitar again "someday."

So, last March I bought some "easy guitar" books of my favorite vintage singer/guitar players from the 70's and 80's, and went down to the basement to practice on our son's long forgotten, severely neglected guitar. It was love at first "twang." Then, in April I found my Ovation on ebay and brought it home. Sweet. I love it.

Well, after six months or so of practicing almost every night, I decided to risk it and bring my guitar upstairs and play a song for Suz and Rebecca, having previously only played for our cat who never sticks around for very long. It went like this.

"Hey, can I play you guys a song?"
"Really? You're going to play for us?"
"Yeah, if that's okay."
"Are you going to sing too, Dad?"
"Well, I thought I would. It's just an old Gordon Lightfoot love song."
"Okay, I guess so. Sure, go ahead."

So I began, not real smooth, plenty nervous, and I had to start over once. Then, as I began the second verse, Suz, who had been working on her laptop said, "Do you mind if I go ahead and print this report?" I said, "No, I don't mind. That's fine, and now I'm going back down in the basement for another six months."

She didn't mean to hurt my feelings, I know, and she's asked me to try again once or twice, but for me, I'm just fine with a one cat audience for now. I have no interest or ambition to play for people or for church or anywhere else. But after a long day, I must say a little guitar time in the basement is a wonderful way to unwind and de-stress.

And, in case you are wondering why my blogging has dropped off significantly in the past few months, blame it on my Balladeer. Hopefully, I can find time for a good bit of both.