THE FRIENDLY WHITE CHURCH ON THE HILL


Topinabee Community Church has been faithful all winter, building God’s church on the five Pillars of the Christian Faith.* 

We gathered for worship and fellowship regularly, knowing God was joining where two or more are gathered, singing His praises and laughing joyously.

We shared the Good News of God’s love and His promise of salvation to our friends, our neighbors, and we continue to share through our Outreach efforts.  We see the fruit of this Sunday mornings, especially as new friends join our services.

In following God’s will, we studied and grew spiritually, striving to become more and more the church and the people Christ died for.

Our active Mission Program helps us make a positive impact on our community.  10% of our regular offering goes to Missions, both local and beyond.

We look forward to seeing you in church.
Have Faith, it All Comes Right. 
Pastor Mike


Letter to the editor:



A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper
 and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday.
He wrote: "I've gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard

something like 3,000 sermons, but for the life of me, I can't remember
a single one of them.  So, I think I'm wasting my time,  the preachers and priests are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all".   


Another writer responded:        
"I've been married for 30 years now.  In that time my wife has cooked
 some 32,000 meals.  But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals.
But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength needed to do my work.  If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today.
Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment,
I would be spiritually dead today!"




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THIS WEEKS DEVOTIONS
by Pastor Mike

On Every Corner
 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” Luke 5.37 NRSV
 April 27, 2016
 Some years ago, I heard that Starbucks once put coffee shops across the street from each other. The rationale for this unusual business decision was that the traffic flow in that busy part of Seattle was such that those folks coming from one direction found it very difficult to cross over and get their coffee. So Starbucks made the unprecedented move of putting a coffee shop on the other side of the street to better serve those customers.
Turns out not to be an urban myth. On our vacation, we traveled through that part of Seattle. We stopped at a traffic light and I saw on my left a Starbucks and on my right another. Apparently they both have prospered for years.
Just because an idea doesn’t sound logical to some or even goes against all common sense doesn’t mean it won’t work. By the way, we pulled into another Starbucks only half a dozen blocks from these two. And it was prosperous also. Apparently it is hard to overestimate our desire for our caffeine fix in the morning, noon and night.
The next best way of doing business, writing or publishing a book or doing church may look wrong, but work wonderfully well.
 Prayer: Lord, remind us that the next great thing is waiting for us to give it a try.


A Taste of Lilacs
“Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” Revelation 10.9b  NRSV

 April 26, 2016
 After eating a small lunch at the Cheese Cake Café (still no cheese cake there), we boarded the ferry and crossed over to San Juan Island. It’s located in the northwestern waterway in the state of Washington.
Once on the island, we found a lilac farm in the midst of the rolling hills.  Once in, we found all sorts of lilac delights. Perfumes, soaps, oils paintings and gift cards. It was the eatable lilac treats that caught me by surprise.
The very nice lady there said that I should try the lilac ice cream. I demurred. It didn’t sound right to me. Kathy did buy some lilac shortbread as a small gift for her parents. On our way home, we stopped at their home to refresh, say hi and get some breakfast. Once the good breakfast ended, the lilac shortbread was passed around.
         I took a bite. It tasted like…lilacs. I was expecting, or maybe hoping, that there would be much sugar to moderate the lilac flavor into something wonderful. Or at least edible. Nope. Tasted like lilacs. It was some minutes before I rid myself of that taste. Fortunately, there was much coffee.
         Apparently some people like this lilac edible. Well, good for them! We don’t all have to like the same food, flowers, books or songs. It’s all a matter of taste. Eh, sorry about that.
 Prayer: Lord, it always seems a challenge for us to allow others to like what we don’t. Might need some help with this one. 
The Cheesecake Café
 
“And also their neighbors, from as far away as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing… abundant provisions of meal and cakes of figs...” 1 Chronicles 12.40 NRSV
 April 25, 2016
 
During our vacation, we stopped at a small restaurant with a big sign proclaiming itself to be The Cheesecake Café.
But we found no cheesecakes, no cupcakes, no cakes at all!
I wonder how many times tourists and visitors stopped and, thinking their sweet tooth would be satisfied, discovered a place of soup, sandwiches and potato chips?
         “You're Richard’s boy, aren’t you?” Growing up, I hear that from time to time. My father was well known in our community. And each time I heard that, I became just a little more circumspect in my behavior. I bore his name and he expected me to live up to it.
         When people meet us, work with us and travel with us, is the Name we proclaim reflected in our actions and attitudes?
 
Prayer: Lord, let my words and actions be sweet to those who meet me this week.  

Vacation
“I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81.16 NRSV
April 7, 2016
       This devotion is scheduled to be the last one sent your way for a couple of weeks. Why? We’re taking a vacation! And the crowd goes wild!  OK, maybe that’s just me. We plan to see some places we’ve never seen, meet folks we’ve never met before and basically change our routine and recharge ourselves.
But some of the best moments of joy come when we enjoy what we have at the moment. Sometimes we get so concerned about the next “big thing” in our lives that the little wonders slip by.
      We are being thankful to our Creator when we celebrate all the good in our lives. Dancing to a long forgotten “oldie but goldie” that comes unexpected on the radio. When we find a favorite book and quietly thumb through the pages while remembering the joy it once brought us. Or simply taking pleasure in the taste of a new recipe. In all these things and a thousand more, we are living a life of gratitude.
       So we plan to relax after this weekend. Enjoy the small things of the moment and maybe, just maybe our plans will come to fruition in a marvelous way. In this way, we will honor our God with the gift of appreciation.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for the little joys and pleasures of this day and tomorrow
Never Really Over

“For I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Philippians 4.11b  NRSV 
April 6, 2016
I recently wrote about working my way through college and much of seminary as a custodian, and how much the people I worked with made it a great memory. One of the other things I appreciated about that kind of work was that at the end of the work shift the job was clearly done. The floor shone from waxing and buffing while desks, tables and counters gleamed. There was satisfaction with a job done and done well.
As a pastor, that sense of a job done is rarely there. Some projects are years in the completion and the interpersonal “projects” seem never fully resolved. When I say “Amen” at the end of the funeral service, the process of grieving isn’t over. As I walk back to the hearse, I know the family and friends will always be dealing with the loss for the rest of their lives to one degree or another.
Our relationships are often in a state of transition and adjustment, no matter how much we love and care for each other.  It is the nature of being human.
So let’s live the best lives we can and then choose, at the end of our day, to leave the rest in the hands of Someone far better equipped than ourselves.
Prayer: “And Lord, the things undone I leave in Your hands. You do not sleep and You never tire of working all these together for good for those who love You. Amen.”

Hi Friends,
The Internet, it seems, is forever. Time and again, I’ve been reminded by various people and organizations that this devotion had spoken to them. I wrote this fifteen years ago. I was thinking of a friend that I knew I would probably never see again. Seems like a good time to take it off the shelf again and share.
The Shelf of Memory
“These things I remember, as I pour out my soul.” Psalm 42.4a NRSV
April 5, 2016
       I have come to know that we never really lose people out of our life.  We only set them on the Shelf of Memory.
       God placed in my life folks that made my experience rich and full.  The world might say some are lost to me by death. But they are not lost.  I can still hear their voices and laughter.  I can see their smiles and feel the wetness of their tears. Their friendship, their counsel is always with me.  
       That I cannot call them on the phone or feel their warm embrace does bring a sadness.  But still they remain part of me.  They have lavished on me the richness of who they are.  They have given me the honor of friendship or the camaraderie of someone who labored with me.  And for that, I am most thankful.  
       When I need them, I go to the Shelf of Memory.  I sometimes find a tear and a smile all at the same time. And it is good.

Prayer: Thank You for all the love and joy your children have brought me.  Let me do the same for them.
As It Snows Tonight
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Luke 18.22 NRSV

April 4, 2016
         As I write tonight, snow is falling on snow. The light snow forecast for tonight has been upgraded to a winter storm warning.
         I’m good with that.
         Yes, it will be an inconvenience. And yes, our plans for tomorrow may be modified. But Kathy and I made the decision that we wanted to live in northern Michigan.
Unless you’ve experienced autumn and summer here, you have experienced those seasons through a glass dimly. The price for the wonder of those seasons is winter and April snowstorms. But we are content to pay that price.
         Have you noticed that all truly important things in our lives come with a price? A good marriage, the ability to do a job right, the skill to work with wood or grow a garden, all come with a price.
Prayer: Lord, whatever it costs to follow You is nothing compared to the joy and purpose You give.
No for the Moment
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5.3-4 NRSV
March 31, 2016
Below is part of a rejection of a devotion I had submitted  some time back:
Dear Friend:
“I want this to be the most encouraging rejection letter you have ever received. We have decided to not run your piece, however, we believe you have promise, and we want you to try again.  We do not say this to everyone. Please try again. – Marilyn”
While it was, indeed, one of the most encouraging rejections I’ve ever received, it did not encourage me. At least not for a while. What I had written was good and I honestly thought it better than most of what that magazine had published.(If you don’t believe in yourself and what you’re doing, why should anyone else?)
We all know that rejections are a part of life. Whether it’s for a promotion, a relationship or a devotion, we all go through them. Some rejections are an annoyance while others devastate us.
So we lie down, cry, and bleed some. Then we get up a little smarter and maybe a little stronger. Have faith. It all comes right.
PS They took the next one.
Prayer: Lord, everything hasn’t gone my way this year. But it is still young and You are with me. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Thought for the Week:

“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists' ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”
Which One Will We Use?
 “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6.13 NRSV

March 30, 2016 
         Herman: “Timing is everything”
         Seymour: “There’s never a perfect time.”
         Herman: “Then again, haste makes waste.”
         Seymour: “He who hesitates is lost.”
         Herman: “OK. Which cliché are we going to use this time?
         Seymour: “Let’s just use the one we like best and ignore the others.”
         Herman: “Will that work?”
         Seymour: “People do it all the time, especially with Bible verses. They find one they like, underline it in their Bible and then they ignore the harder verses.”
         Herman: “Let’s try that!”
Prayer: Lord, Your word is true and faithful, even when we don’t like it.

A Living Gift
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12.1 NRSV
 March 29, 2016
         Oft times, when I pray over the offering on Sunday, I pray these words, “From our abundance and from our lack, we bring our offering to You today. But we know that it is our hearts You want the most.”
         Each of us has gifts to give.  Sometimes it’s a couple of thin, copper coins.  Sometimes it is a couple of loaves of bread and some fish.  Other times it is far more substantial, as the world calls things substantial.
One of the lessons I have learned from scripture is to give what I have.  It may be small, but I have learned that to someone it is often greater than I dared hope.
But the greatest gift we give to God is our very selves to be used as He wishes.
Prayer: Lord, here I am. Take me.
Same Old Story
 “Then (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 8.31 NRSV
March 28, 2016
There is an old story told at Easter. Bob (or John or Mary or Beth) wandered into worship Easter morning. The pastor only saw him in church at Easter. After the service, the pastor was shaking Bob’s hand and asked, “Well, what did you think of the service?”
         Bob looked around and said, “Yep, just like last year. Same old story.”
         Awesome! That is what it should be and I hope it was that way for you yesterday and you heard the same old story. The story of God’s love, the sacrifice of Christ and the glory of His resurrection bringing us forgiveness and salvation. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Prayer: Lord, Amen and Amen.

Where We Are Now
 “A sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground, but that our Father is mindful of it.” Matthew 10.29
March 24, 2016
         At this time of year, I always stand amazed at the sacrifice my Savior made. I cannot bear to look at Him on the cross too long because makes all my complaints seem so petty in comparison.
         Case in point: I watched as a group with which I was associated poured thousands of dollars into starting new churches, and watched as the fair-haired pastors were given the job of starting the new churches while others were passed over. I watched, as within four years, most of the church starts failed. I could see it coming. I had shared with the “powers that be” that their approach was wrong and would come crashing down, but politics won out.
         Why were the more suited and talented left out while the political climbers given the chance and failed?
         I don’t know. But in that time, I read these words by Oswald Chambers: “Notice God’s unutterable waste of saints in the most useless places... God puts His saints where they will glorify Him and we are no judges at all of where that is.”
As hard as it was for me, I have come to fully embrace the fact that we are not wasted wherever we are, but we can miss some wonderful opportunities because we are unhappy, bitter and not looking at what is right in front of us.
Prayer: Lord, teach how I can serve where I am.

Amazing Grace This Week
 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2.8 NRSV

March 22, 2016
It was this week in 1747 that John Newton made peace with God. Later he would write the lyrics to one of the few hymns everyone seems to know, Amazing Grace.
         I have a friend who is a musical entertainer. He tells me no matter what kind of crowd he is playing to, Amazing Grace is not only accepted, but welcomed and they sing along.
         There is great consolation in singing the words that confess we all need forgiveness. Most of us understand, somewhere in our souls, that we need a way to make things right, but our fragile efforts can never quite make up for the damage we’ve done.  And there we stand, condemned in our hearts. No matter how we struggle, deny and try to create our own forgiveness, that sense of something not being right finds its way into our hearts and thoughts.
         So we sing with joy and sometimes tears:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for doing what I could not.
Copyright 2016 R. Michael Sanders  
It’s the People
 “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Mark 5.19b NRSV

March 17, 2016
I worked my way through college mostly working with maintenance and janitorial jobs. My favorite was working with a cleaning crew at SIU. 
The job itself wasn’t all that wonderful. After all, we cleaned other people’s messes. What made it enjoyable was the crew. David, Mark and the rest were from different backgrounds and we talked about everything. School, faith, music, politics and I don’t remember ever getting angry. We enjoyed the dialogue.
Then one semester I noticed most of that crew was gone. Graduation, better jobs or perhaps some had experienced enough of our boss.  With most of my buddies gone, the job became a grind. It was the camaraderie of that first crew that made it a good and memorable time in my life.
So it is with most jobs, churches and anywhere people come together for a purpose.  It’s not that we are the same. It’s always the respect for each other and a common purpose that makes hard tasks bearable and even enjoyable.
Prayer: Lord, wherever I am, whatever group I work with, let me be respectful and kind even as I firmly stand my ground.
A Small Step

“...Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves...” Matthew 14.19b  NRSV


March 16, 2016

       Have you ever noticed that in some of his miracles, Jesus expected people to bring something to the table other than their appetites?
      
        When Jesus fed the five thousand, his first question was, “What do you have?” The disciples scrambled around and came up with a small boy’s box lunch. Then Jesus blessed it and multiplied what was brought.
      
When he turned the water to wine, he said, “Fill the jars with water.” To enjoy the new wine, someone had to take that first step and provide the raw materials that Jesus would bless.
Each time it was a small act. Nothing earth shaking, just a small step forward. There is much I don’t know, but one thing I remember, I never got anywhere without that first step.
      
Prayer: Lord, teach me that even a little is much in Your hands.
Waiting for the Perfect Moment

“Trust in the Lord and do good.” Psalms 37.3a NRSV
March 15, 2016
There’s something I’ve been considering and praying about for some time. I believe in this project. But when is the right moment to move? When is it the perfect time to start and call others to the work?
Am I waiting until all my doubts and concerns are covered and I’m certain I’ll succeed? Well, good luck with that!
      My experience has taught me that some things cannot be solved ahead of time and can only be handled in the moment they’re encountered.
There comes a time to move forward and trust God with the rest.    
Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to move forward this week. And some help in deflecting the critics would be most appreciated.
Someone Who Knows
“He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” Matthew 14.19 ESV
March 14, 2016
          That night I was unable to cut and paste from my writing program to email. This made it impossible to send out the devotions.  I contacted, after some futile efforts on my own, a computer-savvy fellow I knew. He pointed me to the F11 key on the top row. I pressed it and all became well. Other than that, I don’t know what any of the other keys do in that top row, even today. I’ve never needed to find out.
          I had to go to someone who knew what he was doing and, within a moment of examination, he had it right as rain.
          I didn’t call my doctor, although she was a very capable physician. I didn’t get an appointment with our financial planner even though he seems to know what he’s doing. I didn’t contact animal control. I went to the one I knew who could help.
          If we’re are looking for answers as to why we’re are here, why our lives are the way they are and if is there something more to life than we’re experiencing, we need ask the One who truly knows.
 Prayer: Lord, there are some pretty smart folks out there, but in the end, they will let us down. You will not.

March 10, 2016
         Many, many years ago, a person I knew mailed  this verse to me. Yes, mailed. Paper, pen and a stamp. This person explained what the verse meant and then wrote that if I saw my adversity in the right light, I could grow spiritually from that time of refinement.
         All quite true, but I had real trouble hearing it from that person. Why? Because that individual was a significant reason I was going through the adversity.  There’s nothing like someone smacking you and then telling you to put ice on it. And then this same person explains why the ice would help after delivering yet another smack.
         I tore the note into very small pieces.
         No matter how good the advice or help we give, the way it is presented sometimes outweighs any good it might do.
 Prayer: Lord, let my words be gentle and my actions even more so.

The Power of Faithfulness
“The highways are deserted, travelers have quit the road.” Isaiah 33.8 NRSV
March 9, 2016
“Nothing I wrote today was inspired,” the novice writer emailed me. “I was just being faithful to the work.”
I quickly emailed back, “There is only faithfulness or something less.”
One of the great secrets of success is that faithfulness has more power to convince and win through than academic brilliance, brute strength or riches.  
         
Perhaps we are considering quitting something.  If not today, then perhaps tomorrow.  It could be a job or a relationship. Or maybe it’s that discipline we set for ourselves and now we are long past the fun stage and are into the grinding it out phase. My novel has been in that stage several times this year!         
         
Unless our health or life is on the line, let’s stay the course we knew was right when we started.  It’s OK to be weary and dry and uninspired at times.  Pray and trust that God will let you know when it’s time to let go.  Me?  I just keep typing!
  

Prayer: Lord, help me remember

Advise in Adversity
“See, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity.” Isaiah 48.10
March 10, 2016
         Many, many years ago, a person I knew mailed  this verse to me. Yes, mailed. Paper, pen and a stamp. This person explained what the verse meant and then wrote that if I saw my adversity in the right light, I could grow spiritually from that time of refinement.
         All quite true, but I had real trouble hearing it from that person. Why? Because that individual was a significant reason I was going through the adversity.  There’s nothing like someone smacking you and then telling you to put ice on it. And then this same person explains why the ice would help after delivering yet another smack.
         I tore the note into very small pieces.
         No matter how good the advice or help we give, the way it is presented sometimes outweighs any good it might do.
 Prayer: Lord, let my words be gentle and my actions even more so.

The Power of Faithfulness
“The highways are deserted, travelers have quit the road.” Isaiah 33.8 NRSV
March 9, 2016
“Nothing I wrote today was inspired,” the novice writer emailed me. “I was just being faithful to the work.”
I quickly emailed back, “There is only faithfulness or something less.”
One of the great secrets of success is that faithfulness has more power to convince and win through than academic brilliance, brute strength or riches.  
         
Perhaps we are considering quitting something.  If not today, then perhaps tomorrow.  It could be a job or a relationship. Or maybe it’s that discipline we set for ourselves and now we are long past the fun stage and are into the grinding it out phase. My novel has been in that stage several times this year!         
         
Unless our health or life is on the line, let’s stay the course we knew was right when we started.  It’s OK to be weary and dry and uninspired at times.  Pray and trust that God will let you know when it’s time to let go.  Me?  I just keep typing!
  

Prayer: Lord, help me remember
Forgiveness Is Not
“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.” Colossians. 3.13a KJV
March 8, 2016  
       There was a slightly defiant edge in her tone and pain on her face. She said, “ Do you really think I need to forgive her?”
       It was a hard moment. What had happened was serious and her pain was real.
       “Yes,” I answered and then we began to walk through the steps of forgiving.
Taking up the Christian life it is not like buying a new car and choosing options like tinted windows or back-up cameras if we want them. God expects us to grow and cultivate specific virtues. Forgiveness is one of them.   
       Forgiveness is not about memory. The fact that we still remember does not mean we can’t forgive. And even though we remember the pain, that does not mean we haven’t forgiven. Forgiveness is not about memory.
       Forgiveness is not about feelings. We don’t wait to forgive until we feel good about a person. Feelings usually came later. Forgiveness often comes long before the feeling.
       Forgiveness is first and foremost about how we treat people. We act toward them as if there were nothing between us. Forgiveness is what we do, not what we remember, not what we feel. Forgiveness, like love, is an action.
Prayer: Lord, I really need help with this one.           
 A Penny For Your House
“There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14.12 NRSV
March 7, 2016


         
In my childhood, most homes had fuses instead of circuit breakers.  When a circuit would overload, the fuse would blow, stopping the flow of electricity.
When folks ran out of fuses or simply got tired of replacing them, some made the dangerous decision to jam a penny into the spot where the fuse was supposed to go. It worked, but only at great peril. The danger was if that circuit overloaded – and it already had because it blew the fuse – the penny would allow an overload of electricity to continue flowing with the possibility of melting the wires and a fire.
How many times have we read God’s word and thought those words a little archaic for our modern way of living? Or determined that the teachings of Jesus were more of a guideline, especially for others who were not in our special circumstance?
The thing is that a penny in the fuse box often works for a while, but eventually there comes a fire and a great loss.
Prayer: Lord, I was taught to respect the power of electricity for my safety. Remind me to respect the power of moral living instead of trying to skirt the edges.
A Cat Is a Cat
“For You have made us a little lower than the angels, and have crowned us with glory and honor.” Psalm 8.5


March 2, 2016


         
I entered the laundry room unaware that the hot water heater had sprung a leak. Then my feet went out from under me and I experienced a moment of enlightenment.
I lay there for a moment taking stock. Nothing seemed to be wrong. As I considered how best to stand up, my cat Roxy jumped up on my stomach and lay down.
I don’t remember my exact words, but they went something like, “If you were a dog like Lassie, you would run and bark that Timmy had fallen into a well and needed help.” Yes, I talk to my pets.
Roxy responded by settling more comfortably and began to purr.
Roxy was a fine cat, adept at keeping vermin out of the parsonage. But she was a cat and did what cats do. Her concern for me was quite limited. She had already been fed and I was now offering her a cozy place to sleep. Time to nap.
It is good to remember who we really are. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are not merely highly evolved mammals for we have the mark of the Devine. We have the capacity to change and grow to be more than we are now, to be better. Do we make excuses by muttering to ourselves, “But I’m only human.”? Being human is, in fact, an amazing thing!
Prayer: Lord, to be human is to be Your child. Not a small thing.

As We Go to Work


“Six days you shall labor...” Exodus 20.9  NRSV


February 29th, 2016


         
Father, let us rise each morning, not groaning and complaining, “I have to go to work now.” Instead let us rise with thankfulness that we have a place to work. So many do not.
Let us give thanks for a life of work and not idleness. It is through work we can mature into the high virtue of responsibility.


Let us be a credit in the place where we labor. Let our efforts help that place prosper and grow, adding more jobs for our friends and neighbors.        
Help us fully realize the true nobility of work.
Whatever our job, wherever we work, let all we do be an offering to You. And let our diligence and good humor be an example for those who work with us this day. Amen.
The Bright Side

It is not enemies who taunt me, I could bear that. 
It is not adversaries who deal insolently with me. I could hide from them. 
But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.” Psalm 55.12,13 NRSV


 February 25, 2016


          Bessie’s friend had turned out to be less than trustworthy. Her friend had repeated a confidence that Bessie had shared and now there were hard feelings in the work place and Bessie had lost a friend.


         When Bessie came home from work, her eleven-year –old daughter could see that her mother was unhappy and asked why. Eventually, her mother shared the story.


         “Well, Mom, you always tell me to look on the bright side. At least it's one less Christmas card we have to send out next month!” And they laughed.


         Sometimes, all people need is for their burdens to be lightened, if just for a moment.


Prayer: Lord, I can’t fix many big problems, perhaps not a single one, but I can score “big” with small acts of kindness, love and a joke or two.




Just Roll With It



“My days are past, my plans are broken off.” Job 17.11a NRSV

February 24, 2016


          For years I had a bag in my office. Over time, it grew to contain many interesting items one might not connect to a marriage ceremony, but each one was helpful in a getting through a marriage service.


         In that bag were aspirins, antacids, smelling salts and various other legal pharmaceuticals. There was a small a cassette player with  a tape of Pachelbel’s Canon in D looped to run for 30 minutes. There was also a hammer, pliers, a spare set of cuff links, needle with thread, regular tape but especially duct tape. The latter proved invaluable more than a few times.

At every wedding rehearsal, I take a moment and say to the prospective bride and groom something like this, “No matter if someone passes out, or the power goes off or the caterer messes up, tomorrow at 4:30 you will be married. So let’s just roll with it.” And, more often than not, I see everyone relax just a little.


         It’s important to plan and work at making things as perfect as we can, but despite our best efforts, things happen. Just the way it is. So, as the Steve Winwood song goes,


When life is too much, roll with it, baby.


Don’t stop and lose your touch…


Get on through it, roll with it, baby.”


 Lord, a lot of things happen on the way to a wedding, a new job, or church and house renovations and on and on. Help me relax and go with the flow.



It’s In the Preparation



“Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Proverbs 24.27 ESV


 February 23, 2016


          For four summers I worked for Russell Laur. He owned a number of rental properties and I became his painter, roofer and fixer of whatever else that needed fixing.

I had helped paint our home and my grandmother’s, but my father did the prep work while I did the actual painting. Working for Russell, I also did the prep. There I made the discovery that the prep work was the hardest and sometimes the most time-consuming part of any process. The actual laying of paint on wood was a pleasure compared to the cleaning and scraping. And it was the most satisfying.


         In almost all of our enterprises, success is determined by our preparation. That time taken to train, to learn and to work our way through the drudgery is priceless and necessary.


          So, in the midst of that hard time when the rewards seem slim and the work unending, stay the course and never give up on yourself. There is a reward on the other side.


Prayer: Lord, help me see what is not yet there and imagine what is yet to be born.




The Wave of the Future



 “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” Psalm 81.12 NRSV


 February 22, 2016


 In defending an action recently, an individual simply said they did what they did because it was the wave of the future.


         Is that really an answer? It’s no better than saying that’s the way we’ve always done it.


         Dippin’ Dots is an ice cream snack, invented by Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate (Go Salukis!) Curt Jones in 1987. Its slogan is and has been “Ice Cream of the Future”.


         How many of us have ever tasted it or will make it part of our snack time today? That slogan is now twenty-nine years old and counting. As good as it is, it hasn’t found the future very friendly.


         When people give answers like “wave of the future” or “That’s how we’ve always done it,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t really have a good reason, but it’s what I want to do.”


         Let’s you and me do better than that.


          Prayer: Lord, when I take a stand for something, remind me to be standing on solid rock, not shifting sand.





A Friendly Church



 “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Luke 6.33NRSV



 February 18, 2016



 Over the years, I’ve delivered my workshop “How to Be a Church With an Open Door” in churches and other venues.  As is my practice, I constantly update it with current trends and information.  Yesterday I changed the first two sentences, writing the following:  



         “Why would God send people to your church? And don’t tell me how friendly you are.”

 I have never had anyone in the workshop say: “We’re a cliquish church, not much for outsiders.” But too often, that is what churches have become. How do I know this? After over forty years of pastoring and working as a consultant, I’ve discovered that a genuinely friendly, outreaching church is rarely stuck or in decline. It just doesn’t work that way. Unless, of course, the leadership has no vision and fears change. Then you're just dead in the water.



There is hope and I’ve seen churches turn and become the church Christ calls them to be. It begins with one or a handful praying. Are you being called to prayer?

Prayer: Lord, I invoke Your name and ask that You show us the way home.



More Dedicated than Jesus?



 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out (away from everyone) to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1.35 NRSV


February 17, 2016

No matter how smart or strong we are, we all need to step away from our work and responsibilities sometimes to renew ourselves. Whereas most of us would nod our heads at this obvious truth, we function as if we are truly indispensable at work or church or little league. The guiltiest people I know are pastors. One fellow was so full of himself…eh, I mean so dedicated that he never took a vacation or time off. “Better to burn out than rust out!” was his motto. Funny thing, Jesus would not agree. He used three simple techniques to renew himself.

Jesus would pray, asking for guidance and help. We can’t do everything. It’s OK to ask for help. Superman and Wonder Woman are comic book heroes (now on the big screen!), but they are not real.


Jesus would get away from the pressure for a time, going off by himself. Perhaps he would go to a deserted place. Other times he would get in a boat and sail across the tiny inland sea, leaving the crowds behind. This isn’t running from our problems, it’s creating some distance to gain perspective.


Jesus kept a Sabbath. The Bible says to “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” The key meaning of the word “holy” here is the idea that one day a week is separate or different from the others, and is special for God. Take a day and just walk away.


I haven’t written anything we don’t already know. I just wanted to remind us.  

Prayer: Jesus, when I think I don’t need emotional rest and renewal, remind me that you did when you were here. 



Bringing the Heat 



They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’”   Genesis 37.19,20 NRSV


February 16, 2016


 My friend was going through very trying times. Being a fan of the game, he often used metaphors from baseball to explain what was going on in his life. This time was no exception.


         “Pastor,” he said, “I know God never throws a curve ball, but He sure can bring the heat!”


         We can all relate.


But not all that comes our way is from a direct Devine action; indeed, much of it is not. The world is broken. We are imperfect. And those around us are prone to creating problems we must solve or, at the least, work our way through.


         I do not believe our trials are because God is checking out our mettle. God already knows what we are made of and God knows what we can yet become. I believe these challenges sometime come our way to teach us who we really are, not who we pretend to be. And they can point the way to who we may yet be

  Have faith. It all comes right.

 Prayer: Lord, I take great comfort in that when I walk, or stumble, through the valleys, You are with me.



Falling From the Sky



 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.”  Luke 5.37 NRSV


 February 15, 2016


 From time to time, people say things to me I never thought I would hear. Things like “Sir” and “Hi Grandpa!”


         But the strangest so far happened Saturday morning. The tech guy turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, but soon there won’t be any way to fix your TV reception. You satellite is falling from the sky.”


         Didn’t see that one coming when I got out of bed. Never suspected that “my” satellite would soon be a flash of fire across the sky. It was a surprise that cold February morning. Not sure what we will do about it, but we will adapt. One of the positive things about surprises is that they most often make us grow in a way we would rather not. But growth is a good thing.


 Prayer: Lord, within the upheavals in our world, our coming TV change is a speck of dust, but within all changes lie the opportunity for something special. Thanks!





The Unseen Work



 “Don’t let people see you fast, except your Father and he will reward you.”   Matthew 6.18


 February 11, 2016


 I remember some years ago clearing away the webs and the debris that had accumulated under our back deck. After that, I applied a thick stain to the supporting logs and boards. It was hard work because most of it was done in a crouching position while staining over my head. There seemed to be little reward for the effort. No one has ever looked under the back deck and shouted, “My! What a wonderful job of staining!”


But I was protecting the underside of the deck we so enjoy. A place to sit in good weather, take in the natural beauty of northern Michigan and let the stress of everyday life slide away. Without this unseen work, the beams would begin to rot and the deck would become unsafe and unusable.


          So it is in life. Few people ever saw my basketball teams practice hour after hour, week after week, but many filled the stands to cheer the fruit of that effort. When I played in the band, I rarely saw people come to the rehearsals, but they came and enjoyed the concerts. And you should see the first drafts of these humble devotional efforts. Then again, never mind.


          It is the working “under the deck” that makes the finished product worthwhile. This is true in our relationships, our jobs, and in our very lives.                    


Prayer: Lord, remind me that it is the work that I do unseen that most often allows me to accomplish an acceptable outcome.





Seven Years and a Day


 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  2 Corinthians 5.17  NRSV



February 10, 2016



        The pastor invited his clergy friends over to his house to celebrate. Once there, they found a cake with a big “7” on the top.



As they munched on ice cream and cake, one of them asked what the “7” was for.



“Seven years and a day since I became a follower of Jesus!”



“So yesterday was your Christian birthday.”



“Hmm. I didn’t think of it that way. I was thinking that yesterday the statute of limitations ran out on my previous life and the poor choices I made in that life. I can breathe easier now and I invited you to come celebrate with me.”



Someone once wrote, “Every Saint has past and every sinner has a future.” Hang in there. We’ll get it right yet.




Prayer: Lord, thanks for staying with me.




We Lose to Win



 “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”    Mark 8.35 NRSV



 February 9, 2016



        The very concept of losing ourselves into the will of God and there finding our true purpose in life seems, at best, enigmatic. Many of us reject losing ourselves into a sea of self-denial and self-sacrifice as a contradiction of self-fulfillment. I tell you it is there we always find the best part of ourselves. It is there that genuine purpose and joy is to be found.



Only when we have placed our plans, our hopes, our gifts, and our future into His hands, only then are we free to be the best us we can be.



It’s not about us, but about the One Who made us, saved us and has such wonderfully high hopes for us. I choose to follow Jesus. Won’t you come with me?



 Prayer: Lord, I will follow You today.









Winter Storm Named Kayla



 “O God...in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” Psalms 57.1 NRSV


 February 3, 2016


 We’re watching the radar carefully as we plan a trip. It's a visit to my primary care doctor for my annual physical and some questions about a knee that seems determined to remind me of my age.


         If the storm keeps the track they are calling for, we can take the southern route. Going that way, we should be able to slip around it because there is nothing more predictable than the weather, right? But we will do our best and leave the rest to God.


In the same way, there is no sure way to escape the storms in life.  It really doesn’t matter how good or careful we are, we are still hit by them.  Those people who seem to sail through life without even a strong breeze to slow them down will also encounters storms, just as we will, even if we don’t see them happen.


       The great promise is there is One Who will shelter us in the midst of the storm.


       Looking out the window at the moment I’m typing this, the snow is coming down heavily. It’s good to live in Michigan!


 Prayer: Lord, sometimes we just have to travel in the storms. Thanks for going with us.

Fear of the Lord’s Prayer



 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven..” Matthew 6.10   



 February 1, 2016



 Recently I shared with you the news that in England, the powers-that-be rejected the Church of England’s attempt to buy commercial time at the Cinemas.  The church wanted to put the Lord’s Prayer on the screen for a moment. Considering all the junk that is allowed in movies today, it seemed a little odd that the Lord’s Prayer was rejected because it “might offend” some people. I think now I better appreciate their fear of this prayer from Jesus.



         Sunday I read from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Then I shared that each time we speak this prayer, we are, in fact, calling for a moral, ethical and spiritual revolution. We are seeking nothing less than a radical change in how all peoples everywhere live. No wonder they banned the Lord’s Prayer.



         This week, as we drive through our town or as we walk between stores, let us quietly ask that His will be done. And then, let us watch as God works and calls us to do our part where we live.



 Prayer: Lord, help me take this revolution of love and gentleness to heart. Amen.



SERMON-FEB. 28