Loss and Gain
 “Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Ecclesiastes 7.10 NRSV October 17, 2017
Saturday I walked the streets of a small town in the thumb of Michigan.  In a few hours, I would have the pleasure of officiating the wedding of a young man I coached in basketball and his bride to be.
     It felt good to walk in that cool air. Clouds blocked the sun, a mist began to fall and I pulled my collar tighter as I walked through what had once been the center of commerce in that small town.
       There, I experienced a bit of melancholy. Almost all the storefronts were empty. Where once small businesses hawked their wares and where windows would have been filled with the symbols and colors of autumn and Halloween, only for sale signs clung to the windows.
       At noon in the old heart of that town, I walked alone.  Not one other soul could be seen; only an occasional car hurried by on its way somewhere else. 
       The only occupied buildings were a church's ministry to the young people of the community and a café where I had just enjoyed my meal. 
       I circled back and got into my truck and left the silent street.
       Superstores with everything we need and want, shopping centers and the growing home delivery options made that downtown obsolete.
       I remember as a child the excitement of Saturdays downtown. Stores selling everything from food to clothes to toys and books and more beckoned with colorful lights and the windows were full of wonder. All now lost except to my memory and perhaps yours.
       As deep and rich as that memory is, we have made our decision. We prefer the convenience and amazing choices we have now that simply were not there a handful of decades ago.
       Things were lost, but much was gained. Such has been my life and yours. So rejoice and celebrate the now. It’s all we have…until tomorrow!
Prayer: Lord, I wonder, what's next? 

A Season for Work
 “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16.3
 October 16, 2017
 Success is there for the taking, but the price is always painful. There will be nights with too little sleep and times when work must be done even when we’re not at our best.   And always there are mistakes to make as we learn the lessons needed.  Later, when we succeed, we can call this experience!
     Some people would rather blame their boss for not seeing their worth, or blame parents for being too critical or, if that doesn’t fit, for not expecting enough from them.
      I’ve never seen that lead to succeed.
     Today, after Kathy prepared a delicious lunch, she and I brainstormed about the next push for our new book. Once again we are coming into a season of hard work. To be successful, we know we will have to do work that many don’t want to do and won’t. Neither do we, but we want to succeed, so we count the cost and make the plans.
      The world owes us nothing, but it offers much if we are ready to work for it.
Prayer: Lord, we thank You that we can still keep trying. 

An Answer for All Seasons
But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19.26 NRSV
October 11, 2017
       The council looked back at me with wary eyes. I had proposed what some in the council had called “bold moves”. They defined a bold move as anything that the pastor could not do by him or herself and that cost money.
       Finally, the chairperson said to me, “Preacher, we need to be careful. Hard times are a’coming.”
       Of course he was right. Hard times are always coming. And easy times, prosperous times and times of want. Wait long enough and any prediction we care to make will probably come true.
       The one true lack that hurts a church is a lack of vision. God always has an answer. That answer will walk into the church this Sunday, will call on the phone or send an email or a check in the mail. We don’t always recognize it because it comes disguised as risk and change. 
       The hardest times are not those of economic shortfall, but the twin woes of small minds and little action.
Prayer: Lord? I have several fears, but the only one that I should heed is the fear of failing You.
The Challenges of the American Church

 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.” Revelation 12.11
October 10, 2017
Several years ago, my friend Kevin sent me an email sharing the testimony of a Chinese pastor he knew. The church this pastor served in China was constantly harassed, his phones were tapped, and infiltrators were sent by the government to join the church to spy from within.  Members were often thrown in prison for their faith. The church continued to grow.
Another friend has spent time preaching in India. There, to be a Christian often means you may be ostracized by your family, never rise high on the job ladder and even risk death. And yet the churches grow.
Here, our challenges are, more often than not, the style of music, the temperature of the sanctuary, and how the church will be decorated for Christmas.
And then we wonder why so many churches are half empty.
              Prayer: Lord, sometimes we need to be reminded of what church is really all about. And it isn’t us.

The End of the World

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” NRSV Ecclesiastes 3.1

October 3, 2017
 Last week on the first day of Fall, I was walking Trooper when I heard that old and familiar sound.
       Autumn in northern Michigan is crisp and cool as the trees end their growing season in a burst of colors.
       But this autumn was ushered in with over ninety-degree temperatures, breaking some old records.
       Before we shout, “Global warming!”, August recorded record-breaking cold weather here.
       In the moment, much seems upside down. Storms of unbelievable force, mass murder and more.
       That morning I looked up and saw the familiar V of geese heading south for the winter. I was taken back to a morning on Barton Street where, for the first time, I saw the V and heard the honking. I ran in to tell my mom who said that the geese always go south for the winter and, in the spring, they return. They always have.
       We live in trying times. Many of my Christian friends have once again turned to the Book of the Revelation, or Isaiah or whichever source might let them unlock the secret of when the world comes to an end.
       Others look to radical political strategies and still others just shake their heads and give up.
       The Creator of time and earth will get the last word and, until He speaks out, I will marvel at the geese flying south as they have for uncounted millennium and live the life God gave me.
       Have faith. It all comes right.
 Prayer: Lord, since I have today, what say I go do something good for someone? I thought You would like that!
Climbing the Stairs
“But strive for the greater gifts…” 1 Corinthians 12.31 NRSV

 October 2, 2017

 The elevator at the hospital arrived at the ground floor and a family of seven souls piled aboard. Somewhat impatient that day, I decided to take the stairs.

Since I began walking the dog regularly some years ago, I found the first flight of stairs and the second quite comfortable. Then I began to slow down. By the fifth floor I could feel a burn in my calves. When I reached my destination, I just stopped and waited for a moment.

The walking was good for me, but the stairs told me to not be satisfied and should step up my game.

There is a principle here I am trying to apply to my other efforts. My writing has a reached a certain level of acceptance and quality. Time to get better. My preaching is most often well received. Time to get better.  Like some of you, I sometimes need something or someone to nudge me to improve myself. Consider yourself nudged.     

Prayer: Lord, let me not grow complacent, even when doing a good job, but instead strive for excellence.

No Hope in the Cereal Section
On reaching the place, he said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation'" Luke 22.40  

 September 21, 2017

       As it turns out, fiber in our diets does wonderful things for our health. So I was walking through the cereal section and looking at the various fiber-rich selections.

It was there that the abomination caught my eye. I knew then there was no longer hope. All the good intentions were snatched out of me. I knew the end had come.

       I stared at the box, transfixed by the symbol of goodness that beckoned to me just above the horror.

       There, for all to see, was the Girl Scouts logo above a breakfast cereal I never expected to see. 

Thin Mint Cereal! Get thee behind me Satan! 

       We are all doomed. Wait a minute. There. I spilled some and had to rescue that sweet crunch! I wonder if it would be even better with some salty almonds?     

OK, one serious question. Do we really need Thin Mint Cereal?  Just asking.

Prayer:  Lord, remind us that just because we can a do a thing does not mean we should.