My Picks for Thursday 12-24-2015

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

Dear parents, do not miss it this ChristmasMarty Duren
I remember Christmases as a kid. I always paid close attention to how fast or slowly the day passed, wanting it to last a long, long time. The next day, I’d think, “It’s still just one day after Christmas,” the next, “It’s just two days after Christmas.” I wasn’t aware of the Twelve Days of Christmas outside the song; it was more wanting the feeling of Christmastime to last. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.

Then came the new year, back to school, and the feelings of Christmastime, peace, and goodwill were soon forgotten.

When our kids came along, the feelings returned for different, but significant, reasons…”

This is a nice little piece on C.S. Lewis in Canada’s The National Post…

How C.S. Lewis made Christianity seem like common sense
Robert Fulford
Author C.S. Lewis
“His tone is a key to the success: It’s outspoken, often blunt, and clearly directed to those who possess little or no religious knowledge. It deploys his great talents as storyteller and arguer, always in a way that makes Christianity seem a common sense solution to the world’s most basic questions.”

Here is a sobering Christmas Eve exhortation in the Washington Post by Marco Rubio and Russell Moore…

This Christmas, we must remember slaughtered Christians in the Middle East -Marco Rubio & Russell Moore
“We’ve all watched the news with horror in recent years as the Islamic State and other jihadist groups have led a ruthless religious cleansing campaign. Their tactics are to bomb churches or convert them to mosques, to violently drive Christians and other minorities from their homes, force conversions to Islam, or require compliance with Islamic apostasy and blasphemy codes. Such violent persecutions come not only from non-state terrorist organizations, but also from repressive governments the world over.

Despite all of this, we find far too little attention paid to the plight of these Christian communities in peril. Reports suggest that the State Department is ready to designate the Islamic State’s terror against the Yazidis as genocide, which it clearly is, but they might not to do so for equally embattled Christian communities. This is only one part of a refusal to come to grips with the full weight of these facts.”

Thanks to my “niece-in-law” for this…

An Altar CallMary Graham
an altar call
“Did you know that this whole holiday, this whole Jesus-coming-to-Earth thing was for you?

No, really, YOU…Merry Christmas, you.”

You’d better watch out…
Source: Randy Glasbergen


Genesis 46:1-7

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Genesis 46:1-7
So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
So, I reassured Jacob that I was still keeping my promise.
You realize that these guys never would have figured that moving to Egypt was part of the plan, right?
What are you going through now that you never thought would be part of the plan?
I’ll ask again: What kind of a God do you think I am?

My Picks for Wednesday 12-23-2015

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

The Cost and Beauty of MarriageDarryl Dash

“There’s suffering in this thing called marriage, but there’s more joy than you can imagine. Somehow they exist together.”


As usual, even though we would prefer it otherwise, the answer to this question is too long for a bumper sticker. While you may or may not agree with everything he says in this article, John Piper does a good job of outlining several strands of thought on the question…

Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?
John Piper
Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?“The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.

Here are nine considerations that lead me to this conclusion…”

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Albert Mohler
“Hard times come with hard questions, and our cultural context exerts enormous pressure on Christians to affirm common ground at the expense of theological differences. But the cost of getting this question wrong is the loss of the Gospel. Christians affirm the image of God in every single human being and we must obey Christ as we love all people everywhere as our neighbor. Love of neighbor also demands that we tell our neighbor the truth concerning Christ as the only way to truly know the Father.

We must also understand that the most basic issue is the one Jesus answered with absolute clarity. One cannot deny the Son and truly worship the Father. There is no question that the Muslim is our neighbor, but there is no way to remain faithful to Scripture and the gospel and then claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

And now a little something fun to lighten the mood…

When Christmas Carols Lead us AstrayBarnabas Piper
Christmas decorations
“Just because it’s cold outside does not give a man the right to ply a woman with drinks and force her to stay longer.”


An Instagram miracle…
Source: Off the Mark

Genesis 45:16-28

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Genesis 45:16-28
16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Have no concern for[a] your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

21 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels[b] of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

From this passage I hear God asking me:
No questions this time.
Just this: Don’t quarrel along the way.


So long 2015. It’s been great.

My earliest memory of a New Year’s Eve was very traumatic. I had to be maybe 4 years old. No, seriously….I was. What I remember was my dad saying, “This is the last cigarette I’m gonna smoke all year.” (It was the late ‘50s. Everybody smoked.) He wasn’t saying that he planned to quit smoking. (That didn’t happen until I was in college.)

He went on to add that this was the last snack I would eat, that I had taken my final bath and that this was the last time I would go to bed all year.

Looking back, I realize that he was making a “dad joke.”

What my four year old brain heard was: This is the end of life as we know it!

I think I’ve been scarred for life.

I tried the same thing with my kids but I don’t believe it had the same impact.

Years have come and years have gone since that New Year’s Eve of 1958. Some have been exciting and filled with changes, some have been hard and filled with challenges, and still others were pretty much the “same old, same old.”

I’ve got to say that, as years go, 2015 was a pretty good one.

I have mixed feelings about saying that because I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I’m not bragging or comparing. I know many people who have had a rough time this past year and my heart truly goes out to them. I know others for whom this past year has been a time of amazing joy and blessing.

But for me, when I look back on 2015, I feel an overwhelming flood of gratitude.

It actually started on Christmas 2014 when Kate gave her mother this picture as a gift…
christmas gift photo

It took us both a few minutes to realize what this was telling us. We’re gonna have a third grandkid!

To provide some emotional context, you should know that late in 2014 we were facing the very real possibility that Kathie’s mother, Louise, was not going to live to see 2015. Plans were made. Funeral expenses were paid. Power of attorney was assigned. So the knowledge that a new little boy was going to be joining us was very moving indeed.



However, Louise apparently had other plans. We are now planning a 2015 family Christmas gathering at the New England Club where she lives. It’s kind of amazing.

Louise and the greats
Louise and some of her great-grandkids.

On my side of the family I admit that I was pretty fearful for what 2015 might hold for my parents. It’s true that my dad continues to struggle more and more with a lack of balance and a general loss of strength and energy.

DadDad played Corn Hole with us in May, but I doubt he would attempt that now. He works hard at keeping a positive attitude but isn’t always successful. Mom has recovered nicely from her second hip replacement and they continue to manage pretty well on their own with some occasional help from my sisters and me.

Photo by Katy C Photography

3Our family gets together several times a year to celebrate birthdays. February is for Mom and Liz. I still have trouble getting my brain around the fact that my first baby girl is now a 30 something. I’m so proud of the woman she has become. She has always been tender-hearted and sensitive to the needs of others. As she has matured, it seems to me she has added to that a drive to excel and to build upon her natural leadership qualities.
I believe this combination of compassion and drive has served her well in her career. I’m so excited to see what 2016 may hold for her.

Kathie and I had been saving up to take Liz, Kate, Timm and the grandkids to Walt Disney World in November of this year. Well, when we found out that Kate was “with child” and the baby was going to be born during the summer we decided to move that up to March. We figured it would be easier to do Disney when you’re 6 months pregnant than to try to take along a 6 month old baby.

“Which way to Space Mountain?”

I don’t really see how that trip could have been much better. Whenever you take a trip like that with a multi-generational group of fairly strong-willed, opinionated people, there will be some tense moments. They were just that: moments. The weather was perfect and it was still sort of the off-season so most of the lines were manageable. Just the other day Asher, my 6 year old grandson, said, “Hey, Pop. Do you remember when we went to Disney? That was awesome! Can we do it again?”

TexasJune found us taking a trip to Abilene, Texas. The son of a couple of our dearest friends was getting married to a young lady from there. It was a wonderful time with a group of some of our best friends in the world.

The next big event was Oliver’s birth. Kate and Timm told us they were having a boy, but his name was kept secret until he actually made his appearance. I think this was partly because they really didn’t know for sure what it was going to be. Kate went to the hospital on July 3rd and the boy was born on the 4th. Looks like he’ll have fireworks on his birthday every year!Oliver 1

Oliver 5We went for our first visit at the hospital that afternoon. This is when she told me his name: Oliver Lloyd Combs. I gotta admit, it caught me by surprise. It’s a little hard to describe the emotions I felt at that moment, but I think I’ll always feel them.


In November of 2014 I told our Senior Pastor that I had been considering retirement. It wasn’t definite yet, but I thought it would only be fair to let him know that I was considering the possibility that 2015 would be my last year of full-time ministry. I told him I would have a definite decision by spring. I won’t go into all the reasons here. Suffice it to say that in the following months it became even more clear that this was the right move. So, together we planned for the end of August to be my final Sunday on the staff of WOCC. The church planned a wonderful reception for Kathie and me. I can’t honestly say that I’ve done no second guessing about this decision, but I still feel confident that it was a wise move.

In October Kathie and I took a road trip. We called it our “Hall of Fame Road Trip.”

mike and kristin


Our first stop was my nephew’s wedding just outside Baltimore.









Then we took in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY…

Baseball and ice cream. Does it get any better?

…then Niagara Falls…

On Maid of the Mist

…and then on to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. R&R

The trip was lots of fun and we were able to visit some places we had never been before.

Now, here it is Christmas time again.

I’m guessing Kate’s gift to us will be something different this year.

It’s very likely that 2016 will hold some real challenges for us and our family. Of course, we thought that about 2015 and, even though it did indeed have some challenges, I feel nothing but gratitude.

I also thank God for His promised presence and peace as 2016 comes rushing at us all.

I pray that you’ll also experience that presence and peace.



My Picks for Tuesday 12-22-2015

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

Dear God, I Don’t Want to Serve You This Way
Jeanne Harrison

“I imagined myself holding out a Christmas gift to God, only it wasn’t the present He wanted. It was the present I wanted to give Him, like buying your husband a weed wacker when he asked for golf clubs. Really, it was a gift for myself. Let me honor You by becoming a world-famous author! How about that? Let me do something big and impressive in my church. Let me put this college degree to use . . . You will be so glorified, I promise!

Jay Pathak on “Speaking of Jesus”Steve Cuss
Jay-_twitter“I’m amazed at the great lengths we go to to make people weird in the way they share their life with Jesus.” Jay talked about being a waiter at a restaurant when someone left him a ‘tract’ as a tip. “Why would you do this?” he asked the customer. The customer replied, “I don’t know, our pastor gave it to us….we have 20 of these and we have to get rid of them!” Clearly the people were in some version of an “evangelism class.” The goal of the class is getting people to share their belief in Jesus, but it actually pushed people away from following God because of how weird and unnatural this makes us.

But following Jesus is supposed to make us more human, more empathetic, so why do we do weird things when we’re representing Jesus, rather than be more human toward people?

So here are the 4 things I do:
1. Share the life you actually have with Jesus, not a bunch of facts about Jesus.
2. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, argue with someone.
3. When you love someone, you sacrifice money and time for them.
4. When you talk about life with God, just talk about Jesus.

Read the article for more explanation on each point.

Don’t just make your guests at church feel welcome. Surprise them!

Nine Surprises in Worship Services That Made Guests Return
Thom Rainer
Nine-Surprises-in-Worship-Services-That-Made-Guests-Return“In a recent Twitter survey, I asked respondents to share with me a singular event that impressed them in a church worship service. In fact, most of the respondents said they were “delighted” or “surprised,” and that the one event made them desire to return to the church. I am appreciative for all the responses. A pattern developed around nine factors. Here are some representative quotes around each of the issues…”

The NextSeth Godin
“Two hundred years ago, we had great-great-greats who lived in the dark, without much in the way of healthcare, commerce or opportunity.

Today, we complain that the MRI was chilly, or that the wifi on the transatlantic plane wasn’t fast enough or that there’s nothing new going on at the mall.

It’s human nature to recalibrate. But maybe it’s worth fighting that off, for an hour or even a day.

The world around us is uneven, unfair and yes, absolutely, over-the-top amazing.

Boring is an attitude, not the truth.

Possibility is where you decide it is.”

Holidays with loved ones…
Click image for larger version.

Genesis 45:1-15

The idea of these little devotionals is simple. I want to approach scripture with the understanding that God is speaking. I’m reading through the Bible and listening for God to ask me questions. I expect these questions to be fairly open-ended and plan to carry them in my mind throughout the day. I’ll share these questions with you in the hope that you find them challenging and helpful.

Genesis 45:1-15
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

From this passage I hear God asking me:
Joseph said it was Me who sent him to Egypt, not his brothers.
Do you think believed that all along, or was he just figuring it out?
Do you think he believed that when he was in slavery?
…when he was in prison?
…when he was forgotten?
Would I have really done something like that?
What if I did that to you?
You have no idea what I have in store for you, do you?
Do you trust Me?
What kind of a God do you think I am?


My Picks for Monday 12-21-2015

Just some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing…

You may have already seen this piece about Eric Metaxas. It has been filling up my Twitter feed the past few days, and with good reason. If you haven’t read it, you really should…

The Death of God Is Greatly ExaggeratedKate Bachelder
“Part of my life’s thesis is that we live in a culture that has bought into the patently silly idea that there is a divide between the secular world and the faith world,” he says, the idea that religion can be walled off exclusively into private life or pitched altogether, particularly when 70% or so of U.S. residents identify as Christian. “Culture presents us with this false choice between channels that are exclusively faith-based” versus those that are “exclusively secular.” Yet “that’s not how most Americans process the world.”


The Word Became FleshMichael Kelly
DT709“In the days past, long ago, God spoke to us in different times and in different ways. But no longer. Now He has spoken to us by His Son.”

If you’re concerned about refugees coming to the U.S., perhaps you’ll find this infographic helpful…

Who is a refugee and what do they go through to get to the U.S.?
Source: Wrong Hands