Trains, planes, & ….

Trains and the heart of children

What’s the fascination children have with trains? Can it be the immense size of the locomotive passing along the tracks in front of the family car? Is the sound of the train whistle miles away stirring their hearts? Perhaps a child dreams of unknown destinations as the train lumbers along.

Several years ago, I climbed into one of these iron horses with a friend in South Carolina. Hugh, the superintendent of a short line, shocked me as he placed me in the engineer’s seat. You can imagine my joy as his instructions allowed me to move the beast in the yard.    The proverbial “knock-me-over-with-a-feather” comes to mind!

As a child, I had an American Flyer train and the stunning lines of those trains ended when the business closed.  I watched trains circle the eight-foot by four-foot layout. Houses, people, buildings, and cars completed a child’s world with Donnie Dixon alongside.

Bring a child the gift of discovery

Newer electronics eclipse the toys of yesteryear.  A grandson received a stuffed animal searching to locate the on-switch. Children have lost the ability to imagine and these toys lose appeal as some believe penmanship lost its purpose.  This year help Santa to give just one gift of discovery for a child and help them learn to dream.

 

 

 

My 60 Year Inventory

Well, today I am sixty years young and I wanted to review my life and see what God has done over these many years.  Reflections help remind us not only of our missteps but also our triumphs. So, here goes!

Today, I have more hair than when I was born. The Bible says God knows the number of hairs on my head and I realize since my 30’s God knew subtraction since my head looks like the bottom of a newborn baby.

As a child, my friends consisted of kids in my neighborhood: Donnie Dixon, Holly Whitmore, Vicki Trumble, Theresa McGovern, and a few more.  Then school started and friendships increased.  Those friends have moved on or moved away yet I have a Friend who is closer than a brother.  I met Jesus in the back of a Chinese restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia when I was twenty-six and he is still with me thirty-four years later.

Though I was not able to start college till I was twenty-seven, God led me in ways I never expected.
Since my first job was washing dishes I found myself was drawn to the hospitality industry and it was here I got my Bachelors degree. Waking up a year after graduation, I sensed “I need to be doing something for God”.  I went back to graduate school to work in Christian camps or retreats but a friend shared God had a call on my life.  For three years He did not relent and I surrendered to pastoral ministry and had the pleasure of serving God’s people for twenty-six years.

Once a loner, I now have an extended family of brothers and sisters in Chris.  Two of those are Vicki, my wife of seventeen years and our daughter, Stefani. God did not stop there and gave me a mother-in-law and sister-in-law to care for since Vicki’s dad had passed away.  Caring for them fulfills a promise I made to care for my own mom but was unable by the time she had passed away.  With both of my parents gone I have a woman in my house who spoils  Stefani and made sure Stefani never had a babysitter.  She has infused Stefani with her life and love and Stefani is richer because of it.

I have had my heart broken and I have done the same to others. To those, I am grievously sorrowful. I, like David of the Bible, have those sins before my eyes.  While I cannot forget them I know he has forgiven them.  The angst we feel because of what we have done gives us cause to stop and think before we go down that same road.

This inventory does not mean the end of my life but a poignant reminder He will still be with me the rest of my life and beyond.  Vicki and I have a new ministry and future plans to travel.  No matter what, God will be with us.  Happy Birthday to me.

The Ironclad Rule: “Things Don’t Always Go Smoothly.”

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the stormsubsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:23-25

Things amazingly never go as we plan.

We hope, plan, strategize, and organize but, no matter, things always go a different way. Why should we think any differently than these intrepid and adventurous disciples who had grasped onto Jesus’ sleeves looking for a better life. If you forgot, they argued among themselves about status and position as Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem for the last time.

Many times we see these difficulties as God’s condemnation about the plans we have made instead of looking at the picture as he sees it. The back of a very expensive Persian rug looks very different than the front. Often times we are looking at the back of the rug instead of seeing these events as God does — opportunities for growth. Scripture tells us man does purpose in his heart but it is God who directs the travel.

Thirty-six years ago this month I left Virginia Beach to go to Rhode Island at nationally recognized hotel and culinary college. My plan was to eventually earn the certification as a Certified Hotel Executive and travel the world managing hotels and resorts. Little did I know within seven years I would be entering seminary and leaving my plans behind. The journey has not been smooth but a series of ups and downs, and twists and turns.

Eventually, the disciples found their true place and would lead the real Jesus explosion throughout the known world. Likewise, I have found myself looking back these years and know I am where God wants me.

Heaven on Earth

ALMOST HEAVEN…

In John Denver’s ode to country living, Country Roads, it speaks of West Virginia life and the beauty of its people. Yesterday we drove our daughter, Stefani, to just such a place. Sandwiched between the mountains of West Virginia and the Birch River is a place many in the state would consider “all most heaven” and for good reason. Camp Cowen is both rustic and beautiful with the cabins covered by a canopy of sixty, eighty and hundred foot trees that may have been around when West Virginia became a state. As I watched the families bringing their children, I began to notice something in the faces of the adults. They looked around with growing smiles and longing looks as if they had come home. I was fascinated by the Cowen mystique since I had never gone to church camp as a child. Adults joined in with the children and they played bean bag toss. Others greeted other adults as long ago relationship of a by-gone day.

I asked Rob Ely, Director of Discipleship, Camping, and Youth about this. Though this title is well deserved for the years of work he had given to Cowen and youth across the state, he is as much a kid as his charges for the week. When he smiles, it is infectious and inviting. Dick Clark has been called the eternal teenager but they have never met Rob Ely. While most ministers his age are settling into pastorates, he is still running around the camp in shorts, shirt, and sneakers. As he greets the children who have come back year after year, Rob calls them by name. While the title is listed on the web page for the camp, words like a coach, friend, encourager and lover of God are written across his countenance. When asked if any of the adults volunteering this week had once been children here, he advised me many had and said they were “giving back”.

Giving back to God

Susie, this week’s director also added she found Christ here as a child and coming back yearly she developed a relationship with people across the state who hold her in Christian accountability to the ideal of Cowen and prayed for her as well for this week. She further added that as she enters the gates into Cowen she feels the presence of God. Our daughter’s counselors greeted each child in the cabin, helped them get settled and began learning their names. One was Emily, a married twenty-one-year-old college student at Concord who is seeking to enter medical school. She left her husband for the week to serve with little girls because she too had found Christ here and over the years knew this was a place of ministry for her.

We left for Cowen yesterday morning at 8 AM and returned from a four hundred mile plus trek about 10 PM. Thinking about this post all the way home I realized the “giving back” was not out of obligation or debt but a profound commitment to share the same Christ with other children just as it had happened to them. For the parents who journeyed long and for churches who make this a priority, the “giving back” may one day bear much fruit. My good friend Tom Smell has a picture of him when he was a few months old in the arms of a missionary at Camp Cowen, and if it pays off for Stefani as it has done for Tom, Susie, Emily, Rob and unknown thousands of people who have entered the gates of Cowen, then we have shown her a bit of “almost heaven”.

A Father’s Choice

My crisis of BELIEF

 Several years ago we celebrated Vicki and Nan Nan’s birthday at the Cracker Barrel in Fairmont with her sister and husband.  They sang Happy Birthday and gave them each a brownie sundae which she gave to Stefani.  Stefani ate a bit and then when shopping with her Aunt Glenda.  Just to try it, I ate a bite and discovered a walnut—something Stefani is deathly allergic.  She soon appeared at the table complaining her throat was scratchy, drank something and went back.  I had already told Vicki and we were going to see if anything happened without alarming her.  Again she returns and we make the decision to call the ambulance.  Holding my daughter and trying to calm her and remain calm too, the squad arrives and begins to apply oxygen.  They asked if they wanted us to transport her or them.  They would not give us the oxygen and I had to make a decision to place my little girl into the hands of someone I did not know.  We surrendered her into their hands and followed closely behind. Jarius had the same choice.  Nothing was working as he sought out Jesus.  Would he be able to help?  He had no other choice. 

As president of the synagogue he was responsible to make sure worship was according to the traditions.  He would invite speakers, lead discussions and debates.  This was a community voted position which speaks of his impact in the community. But,Jesus was not educated according to the Jewish traditions nor schooled to the best schools and he was not the disciple of some famous Jewish philosopher.  Jesus was a nobody special from Nazareth—a nobody town.  This is who Jarius was coming.  When Jarius approached Jesus, the word says he pleaded.  The sense of the word is he did not stop pleading, having fallen to his knees, and a position of humility for the president of the synagogue. 

Another father’s crisis of BELIEF

Jarius faced a challenge to his beliefs. Mark records the woman with the issue of blood which according to the Law of Moses, she was a defiled woman and anything or anyone she touched would also be defiled.  She had not only been unable to enter into the court of the Women at the temple for twelve years, but she would have been cut off from friends, family and even society.  This woman touched Jesus!  Can you imagine the man, Jarius, as now the only hope for his daughter was not defile according to the Levitical law.  Jesus does heal this woman, stopping to talk with her.  This must have really tested Jarius.  Jesus called her daughter.  This term, bat mitzvah, means daughter of the commandment or the daughter of the Divine Law.  This same woman, whom Jarius would not be able to welcome into his synagogue, was being welcomed back into the same covenant with God as any other Jew–especially Jarius.  

At that same moment someone comes and tells Jarius his daughter is dead.  The first reaction to his grief might have been to run home to comfort his wife and weep for his daughter, but Jesus gives him a command: Do not continue with fear or be frightened but continue to believe!  He had believed to come to Jesus, would he have enough belief to continue with him the rest of the way.  We now see Jesus facing off against the paid mourners of the time.  The higher your status, the more you could afford and given Jarius status, there may have been many crying and mourning with the family.  Jesus asks why the uproar and Jesus is recorded saying the child is asleep.  This brings a scornful laughter from those who are paid to attend funerals.  “We know dead, and she is dead!.” But Jesus is not denying her death; he is simply saying that death does not have the final word.  We see the tender and compassionate Christ apart from the learned Jarius touch the dead girl’s hand and speak to her.

Is Christmas A Humbug?

Bah! Humbug!

In Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the principle character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is famous for the phrase, Bah, Humbug! The word is also immortalized in the Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow calls the revealed fake wizard a humbug.  The term means fake, false, deceptive or a hoax.  Ebenezer is rejected by his father after the death of his wife’s giving birth to him.  He fills his life with money that is powerless to reject him.  Like his father, he rejects all forms of love, companionship, and family; rejecting them before they can do it to him.  In one of the staves or segments of the book, the husband of Belle, Ebenezer’s former fiancee says he saw him in his counting house “all alone in the world.”  It is said of Dickens , “His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as “Christmas philosophy,” and he himself spoke of “ Carol philosophy” as the basis of a projected work. His “philosophy,” never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity.” (biography.com)  Christmas was a theme through many of Dickens stories and while his father was imprisoned for debt in England, Charles was forced out of school to work in a factory to help with the family and gained an understanding of the working class in England.  These events would find themselves as a basis for many of his characters and backdrops.
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?  (Mark 8:35-37 The Message)

Scrooge tried to save himself into prosperity and rejected mankind, even the least of man–the poor and destitute.  Scrooge is a picture of anyone who believes that self is more important than others.  Scrooge lost his way, perhaps because of his upbringing.  In contrast to the harshness of his father he was introduced to Fezziwig, who showed a young man the joy of fellowship and Christmas.  So who was the real fake–Fred, the nephew who continually welcomed his uncle to his home or Scrooge who saw everyone and everything Christmas related as a fraud?

Miniature Minstrels and the Message of Christmas

My first grade Christmas show

As the school year gets ready for Christmas break (yes, Christmas break and not holiday break or Winter solstice) children seem to sense with hopeful expectation the time off from school and the coming of the red-suited Mr. Claus.  School music teachers had worked hard for weeks to put together a choral event for the parents and a first grader at Pinelock Elementary. I remember attending in a red sweater vest knitted by my Aunt Frances and while I can’t remember I am sure it was  a mixture of religious and secular Christmas songs. Some children squirmed while others were so shy they mouthed the words hoping to blend in with the others. It made no difference to the parents because they loved watching their prodigy from the auditorium. 

Children no longer sing of Christ

I am sure over the decades since I sang in my red sweater vest the programs have shifted. From Christian to secular with the motivation of not offending anyone, secularists have changed the focus away from Christmas as the birth of Jesus. They would never think of tinkering with other religious holidays like Ramadan, Chanukah, Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah but have targeted the celebration of the birth of Christ to ridicule and derision. In 1965, A Charlie Brown’s Christmas debuted on CBS and amidst the activities of the other children, Charlie Brown yells out, and “Can anyone tell me the real meaning of Christmas?”  Linus tells Charlie Brown from Scriptures:           

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their  flock by  night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about  them:   and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you  good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a   multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
 (Luke  2:8-14 KJV)

One of the many secular songs which children sing is We Wish You A Merry Christmas.  This old song of Victorian England wishes good tidings from carolers who would receive a payment of figgy pudding  according to one source (ehow.com) much like American children get a treat on Halloween.  The angels pronounced a good tiding of great joy to the shepherds as well as to all of mankind. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see moms and dads hear these miniature minstrels sing the Message of Christ?

Shining Like A Christmas Light

Lights fill the night

For over twenty-five years, Wheeling and the Oglebay Resort have hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors during the holiday season traveling through Oglebay’s three hundred acre park with its beautiful displays of color and motion. This is one of the nation’s largest display and the six mile drive brings AOLTravel’s designation as one of the “10 Best Christmas Light Displays in the US.” (oglebay-resort.com) The colorful lights flash their color into the dark West Virginia sky and the demand by the public leads to traffic jams of those wishing to be part of the festivities. The displays are being retro-fitted with LED lights to reduce the cost of electricity by as much as 85% and they will last five times longer than the former incandescent light bulbs.

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb but brought about changes in design which made the light bulb affordable. Edison discovered a filament in an oxygen-free environment lasted longer than previous light bulbs. “The gases are colorless, odorless, tasteless and nonflammable under normal conditions.” (Wikipedia.org-Noble Gases) These gases surround the filament which heats to temperatures nearing four thousand plus degrees. It is in this atmosphere the glowing filament creates what we see as light.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

(Matthew 5:14-15 NIV)

When I baptize someone, I say Matthew 5:14 handing them a lighted candle in a holder as they leave reminding them they are a light in this dark world. No one including God would give light to hide and expects us to give the Light of Christ to those around us. Like the filament in the inert atmosphere of the glass bulb, we live in the atmosphere of a sinful world which also does not support life. Our faith, walk, works, speech, and attitudes should glow brightly like the small lights at Oglebay so people can see them.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5:16)
The Army teaches a sniper can see the glow of a flame or cigarette from a great distance and how to protect yourself from the enemy. While we may think our efforts are unseen Jesus bids us to continue to let this light shine by our good deeds so the world will glorify God. Our efforts, combined with others, will bring glory to God. We are more than Christmas lights!  We are lights of CHRIST!

Trees, Tinsel, and Turmoil

Why is is called Black Friday?

Black Friday earned a new low by a woman using pepper spray on a group of other shoppers about 10:20 p.m. Thursday night shortly after doors opened for the sale. The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox video game players, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping. Valle says the woman began spraying people in order to get an advantage.”(Huffinton Post.com)  Incidents like this filled newspapers and blogs across the country.  A man from West Virginia had a heart attack amid a crowd of buyers who walked around his unconscious body.  He would die later but did receive help from medical personnel who happened to be in the Target.  Black Friday got its name in 1966 by the Philadelphia Police Department “to describe the crowds and traffic jams associated with the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.”  (About.com)  Retailers use this day to make massive sales and during the Great Depression, retailers asked President Roosevelt to move the Thanksgiving date to one week earlier in November to lengthen the shopping season.

The Season of Sales

Now, our family did go out to the stores on Friday afternoon and were amazed by the hoards of people still standing in line for the bargains.  Sadly, is this a sign the Christmas season has shifted further from the Prince of Peace to the purchase of packages?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Isaiah 9:5-7

God’s gift of Peace

Christmas is more than a season and Isaiah identifies four titles of the Jesus.  The Prince of Peace states he will establish, rule and be an example of the peace man can have with God because of the Child given to mankind.  The rush to save money, buy goods, and give presents usually causes many to wish for the end of this season sooner than December 25th. Many fall into their easy-chairs that afternoon with a sigh of exhaustion and glad the day is soon finished.   Many purchase gifts not because of love but to impress others by the gift’s value. Sadly, gifts are purchased for people we don’t like to prove how good we are.  God gave us the gift not wrapped in beautiful paper but in swaddling clothes.  These clothes were strips of cloth used in preparing the dead for burial.  Those on journeys would wrap these around their waists incase they died on the trip.  This sign, spoken of the angel gives us a clue this Child would suffer death in place of his parents and the rest of mankind who receive this Gift.

Quarterbacking for Christ

Football and Faith

Jake Plummer is the former quarterback for the Denver Broncos who recently made some comments about the present quarterback, Tim Tebow.
“Tebow, regardless of whether I wish he’d just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he’s a winner and I respect that about him,” Plummer said. “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better.  I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.”  (AOL.Sportingnews.com)

God’s MVP

 

Tim Tebow’s extraordinary life in football speaks of a dedicated and hardworking player who excelled to become a professional football player.  The first ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, the accolades continued to roll in throughout his entire college career.  The son of a baptist missionary, Tim along with his siblings were home schooled by their mother until high school.  In college he was given the rare distinction of being selected by his teammates for three years as the most valuable player.  The quarterback leads the offensive players to victory by a list of plays which are either sent in by the offensive coach or the head coach.  He follows the plays which have been instilled in him by rounds of study, drills, and scrimmages.
You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. 
Psalm 44:4-8

I only played school-boy football on vacant lots or on the playground at school.  Most of the time I was the last one selected because I was not very athletic and Tim would not find a threat in me for his job with Denver.  However, each believer is part of God’s team who will one day defeat His enemies–Satan, Death, and the Grave.  It will not be by our efforts but taking the plans which God has given us and following them.  God trains us, develops us, scrimmages us, and then encourages us as any good coach to take the name of God, I AM, into a dark world.  Living his faith in a public way has made a target of Tim Tebow from those who reject or ridicule his God.  As a running quarterback, he is accustomed to having the enemy chase him when he carries the ball.

Well teammates, the ball is also now in our hands. Hike!