Tag Archives: Personal Reflection

Will We Sing Any New Songs In Heaven?

http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk/images/albums/shine/graham-kendrick-shine-jesus-shine-cover2-600.jpgI moved back to the Cincinnati area in 1992 to become the new music minister at White Oak Christian Church. The senior pastor at the time told me he wanted me to lead the transition of the musical part of the worship services here from a very traditional (think hymns/organ/piano/1st, 2nd, and last verse) to using a worship band and more contemporary music. (As I look back on it now, I find myself wondering if the congregation was on board with this. But that’s the subject of a different post.)

I began introducing some new songs. Songs by Matt Redman, Graham Kendrick, Darlene Zschech, Don Moen and others.

We would learn these songs at choir rehearsal and teach them to the congregation on Sunday.

There was a super nice couple in the choir around that time named Dennis and Rosalee Hendricks. I love these two! Dennis was about 10 years older than me. I was around 40 at the time and I still thought of 50 as pretty old. Old enough to maybe prefer the old style of music.

I wasn’t sure.

One of the songs that we did quite often back then was Shine, Jesus, Shine. Remember that one? It was written by Graham Kendrick in 1987. This quickly became Denny’s favorite song! Whether he was in the choir on the platform, or in the congregation, I could see his face light up every time we sang it.

The last time I spoke with Denny, he mentioned how much he loved that song.

I sang it this morning at his funeral.

Rosie was sitting on the front pew.

Dennis was singing around the throne…

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance.
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

I recently read an article that was critical of the new worship music. It talked about the old hymns and how these old songs bring comfort to the grieving and the dying, and claimed that the newer songs could never do that. “Could you imagine singing one of these new songs in worship around the death bed of a loved one?” it challenged.

Yes. Yes, I can.

I realize Shine, Jesus, Shine is no longer one of the “newer” songs, but it was new 25 years ago. It was a new song that Dennis Hendricks didn’t learn until he was 50 years old.

What songs are you learning today that you will sing in heaven?


Faith vs. Certainty

We all have our ways of making sense of the world. We look around at the way things are: the beauty of the creation, the goodness and love in some people, the evil and violence in others. The fact that goodness, evil, love and violence exist simultaneously in every one of us. We see how death is right there with us every day we live, just a heartbeat away. We look at all that and more, and we develop a worldview. Maybe you have spent serious effort thinking it through.  Maybe, for you, it gradually crept up on you as lived your life.

Either way, you have a world view. Something that explains most of what you see, experience, and know to be true about life.

Most, but not all.

I’m sure this is true. You have unanswered questions. There are things that still don’t really make sense.

I’ve committed my life to the belief that the Bible is true. That we humans were created in God’s image. That we have blurred that image by our own selfish rebellion from our Maker. And that, through Jesus, our Creator has lovingly offered a way of redemption. These simple but profound statements, and the rest of scripture, make sense of the way the world is. It explains most of what I see, experience, and know to be true about life.

However, I still have questions that I can’t answer.

But I’m learning to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Certainty is ridiculously arrogant, isn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand me. I have faith. Deep faith. I trust that there is an explanation, even though I may not know what it is, or even understand it if I did know.

This has been on my mind since I read the following passage of scripture last week for my #GodQuestions devotional:

Luke 20:27-40
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man[f] must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons[g] of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

The Sadducees have a world view. We’re told they don’t believe in the resurrection. In other words, they think this life is all there is. (Consequently, they are “sad, you see.”) Their argument here seems to be something like, “If there were a resurrection and people lived again after death there would be all kinds of problems that don’t make any sense to us. For example, there were seven brothers…etc.”

I find it fascinating that on this one occasion Jesus simply gives them a straight answer.  No riddles. No stories.

Jesus does two things: first, he tells them something about the next life that they didn’t know. New information not included in their scriptures. Then he passes by their specific spoken question and addresses the heart of their issue by explaining something to them that they thought they already knew. But apparently, not well enough.

So, what are your questions?

Maybe you don’t believe scripture at all. You think it’s all just some kind of fairy tale. You might think the same thing of any religion.  People ask questions about all kinds of stuff in the Bible. Stuff they think simply can’t be true. Because, like the Sadducees, if it were true it would raise all kinds of issues for them that don’t make any sense.

But, is it possible that Jesus would answer you the same way he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken objection into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections that is beyond you?

Maybe you do believe scripture and do your best to follow Jesus, but can’t quite swallow everything the bible teaches about some things. Things like morality, for example. You read what scripture says, but figure it must mean something else. Because if it were really all completely true it would raise all kinds of issues for you that just don’t make any sense.

Maybe you love Jesus but you can’t seem to make sense of the challenges this life has brought your way. You wonder how God, who has promised to meet your every need, has somehow allowed you to suffer in ways you had never imagined.

I have no answer for you. Certainty eludes me.

But, isn’t it possible that Jesus would answer you much like he answered the Sadducees? Is it possible that Jesus has access to some information you do not? Information that would radically alter your world view? Is it possible that Jesus could see right past your spoken questions into your heart? Is it possible that there is an explanation for your objections and situation that is simply beyond you?

Yes, I believe it’s possible.

In fact, I believe it is so.



Satan is a liar, sin is a killer, and we only have one hope.

I met an impressive young man in 1981. He was a 16 year old high school student and I was his youth minister. He was outgoing, funny, good looking, smart and energetic. He also knew more scripture than any of his contemporaries and many of his elders. He was committed to Christ and planned to be a preacher. Actually, in many ways, he already was.

I expected that God would use him to do great things for the Kingdom.

I think he expected God to do great things with him, too.

In 1986 I relocated to a ministry in another state and I sort of lost touch with him. I would hear things about him from time to time. Some good. Some not so good.

I heard he was a natural in the pulpit. His personality was perfect for it. He was a focused leader. I believed this was true because it fit perfectly with what I knew of him as a teenager.

He could also be brash and abrasive. He alienated long-time church members and focused only on newer folks. This was also believable.

I admit that I took some of the negative things I heard with a grain of salt because I’ve encountered many of those same complaints myself from people who didn’t like changes that were being made.

Then came the discovery of immorality. I don’t know all the details, but I know it was bad. He lost his ministry and his family.

His kingdom impact would never be the same.

In some ways, I suppose it’s the same old story of moral failure in ministry. But this one hit closer to home. This one was personal. I knew the guy. I knew his wife. They were kids in my youth group. Leaders, in fact. I loved them both. I still do. My heart hurt.

I attended his funeral recently. He was 51 years old. Cancer.

Even though I hadn’t really spoken with him or his ex-wife for many years, I felt compelled to be there.

There’s something about death that puts life into perspective.

It reminds you of some basic truths. These are certainly nothing new, and they aren’t filled with subtle insights and nuances. But they are hard truths that easily elude us.

Satan is a liar.

If you’re a minister, he will tell you that you have the talent and ability to do ministry on your own. Success in ministry is dependent on your gifts, your personality, your drive, your vision. Depending on God is a cop-out. It’s a sign of weakness and a lack of self-confidence. Also, you don’t need the accountability of other Christians. They would never understand you, anyway. You can’t let anyone else know about your temptations and failings. You must keep those things hidden. People would lose all respect for you. Your reputation would be ruined. – These are just a few of the lies he’ll tell. And I can tell you from experience that they’re easy to believe. But don’t! Ministry is not like building a business. Ministry is a spiritual battle. You and I don’t have the power to win this battle on our own. Attempting it just makes us a tragedy waiting to happen.

It may seem oxymoronic, but leadership requires humility. Think about who has had the most lasting positive influence on your life. Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like? Who is someone you would trust with your deepest self? I’d be willing to bet that the person you’re thinking of is not an arrogant, prideful, self-absorbed individual. It’s more likely someone whose life is characterized by humility. Someone who doesn’t hide behind a façade. Someone who is more interested in the welfare of another than advancing his own personal agenda.

Sin is a killer.

Because it’s so universal, it’s easy to minimize sin. Everybody does it, so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook with an “I’m only human” attitude. But sin is a killer. It ruins everything it touches. It wrecks families, and churches, and individual lives. It has destroyed nations. It killed Jesus.

It’s important to remember that sin is not simply a specific act, but a condition of the heart that manifests itself in specific acts. Sin is a heart in rebellion to God. Sin is a willful decision to behave in a way that you know God hates. This is why there is no hierarchy of sins. It’s true that some acts will have heavier consequences on this life than others, but Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that anger and murder, adultery and lust, all stem from the same root cause. It comes from a heart that says, “I know what you said, God, but I don’t care. I’m gonna do what I want.”

That’s sin. And it’s a killer.

We only have one hope.

It’s not popular these days to make exclusive claims like this, but that doesn’t change the fact that our only hope is Jesus. Our hope is found exclusively in the wonderful, indescribable, undeserved grace that can be ours through the blood of Christ. Sin may have killed Jesus, but grace made his death our hope.

This is the gospel. This is the truth that must completely saturate our hearts and our work. Without this, what are we even doing? Why are we wasting our time? This is what keeps us humble, and it’s what keeps us bold.

Why is this so easy to forget?

Because Satan is a liar.

And he’s a good one.

As I said earlier, these are all basic truths that we all know. You’ve read nothing here that you haven’t heard before. But this stuff is easy to lose track of. It seems too basic to spend much time with.

In fact, the opposite is true. These things are so basic, so fundamental, that without them nothing else matters.

Ability, talent, personality and gifts all matter. They do. But a career in ministry built on these things is a building with no foundation. It might look great for a while, but it won’t last. And when it falls, it could be disastrous for anyone in it or close to it.

Anyway, these are some of the things that have been on my mind since my friend’s funeral.



This Is Us


Like most of the country, Kathie and I are completely hooked on This Is Us. We are drawn, week to week, into the intimate relationships of the multi-generational Pearson family. It’s on tonight but I won’t be able to watch until tomorrow, so don’t tell me what happens!

There is a lot to love about this show. The central idea, of course, is the unique way the writers seamlessly connect the story lines of the generations. The device is more than the use of simple flashbacks and “time-hop” story telling, which has become all too common in my opinion. It’s as if we’re standing apart from the constraints of time and watching three stories, separated by time, unfold simultaneously.

There’s the love story of Jack and Rebecca. There’s the story surrounding the birth of their triplets and their doctor. There’s the early story of Randall’s birth father, William as well as William’s relationship with his own mother and brother. There are the stories unfolding in the adult lives of the three siblings: Kevin, Kate and Randall.

The writing is superb, the acting is first-rate. I find the characters to be completely believable. Every episode grabs you by several emotions at once and refuses to let go. Just like real life.

Obviously, one of the things that becomes clear in this show is the powerful influence our parents and grand-parents have on us. On our attitudes, choices and behavior. We all know this to be true, of course, but seldom do we see it portrayed so well or so believably.

My generation, specifically, seems to make a high priority of looking within ourselves to analyze how our parents, for good or ill, have impacted our lives. I believe there is value in this. Particularly if we carry some horrible emotional scar. Understanding is the beginning point to healing.

But what we don’t think about often enough, and what This Is Us is reinforcing in my mind, is how our own present behavior has the power to impact the coming generations. It reminds me that my life is not just about me. It’s about us.

How would it affect my behavior today if I could step outside of time and watch the story of my life, along with the stories of past and future generations of my family unfold simultaneously?

I have many regrets in my own life as a parent. There are moments I can recall, with excruciating clarity, things I said or did that I was sure would leave a lasting scar on my beautiful girls. What I’m learning is that, if you would ask them about my worst parenting mistakes, they would probably remember something completely different. It would likely be something I wasn’t even aware of.

I remember a conversation with one of my girls when she was in about 7th grade, I think. I wish I could remember the context better, but I remember the comfort and encouragement I felt when she said, “I finally realized that you and mom are just people, like me.”

I’ve been a grand-parent now for about ten years. I have found that I’m more intentional about trying to leave my grandkids with something positive.

I wish I had thought of that sooner.

Steve Farrar has said:

“I’m not going to know my great-great grandchildren.
But my great-great grandchildren are going to know me.”

What will they know?



These Kids Own Me

These kids own me.

Iris, Asher and Oliver are my grandkids, and I simply cannot imagine, nor do I want to imagine, my life without them.

Two years ago there were only two of them. When I learned there would be another it was sort of hard to see how a third kid would fit into this. There’s simply no way another child would bring the sweetness and caring that Iris adds, or the exuberance for life that Asher brings. What would a third kid bring? What was lacking? I couldn’t imagine.

What was lacking was Oliver.

What was completely unclear two years ago is utterly obvious today. There was an Ollie shaped hole in our family and we didn’t even know it.

The blog will likely be quiet for the next few days because tonight these three kids will begin spending a few days with Nana and Pop while their mother gives birth to her fourth child, and our fourth grandchild.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like anything is missing. Our family feels complete. My heart feels full.

But I can’t wait to see who joins us to fill his own unseen hole.



Why I Like Running In My Neighborhood

I went out for a run around my neighborhood the other day. (Something I haven’t been doing as much as I should, but that’s another story.)

There are a few things I don’t like about running the streets in my neighborhood, like the hills, for example. But one of the things I do like is saying hello to my neighbors.

Neighborhoods are interesting in Cincinnati because there are a lot of them, and they seem to be very close together. I can go through Mount Airy, College Hill, White Oak, and Monfort Heights on a single three mile run. Each neighborhood feels subtly different, and the people you meet on the sidewalks seem to fit in their respective neighborhoods.

But sometimes, being a 63 year old white guy, I don’t.

I have made it a habit to greet every single person I meet while I’m out on a run. It may be a small thing but I feel like it’s a little move in the right direction. I do my best to make eye contact, which isn’t always easy. It’s interesting to me how we do that. We walk right past someone and act like we don’t even see them. Why do we do that?

Anyway, the other day as I was heading down the sidewalk in the picture above. It was January, so it wasn’t that green. I saw that I was coming up behind some kids. There was what appeared to be the oldest sister with a dog leash in one hand and her smartphone in the other, a younger sister walking close to her, and an even younger brother who seemed to have some excess energy.

It’s always tricky when I approach someone from behind while I’m running. No matter what I do, it always seems to startle them. This time I decided to move off the sidewalk and into the street until I got around them. Sure enough, they were startled when I came alongside, but the little boy said, “I’m gonna run, too!”

I laughed and said, “You can probably blow me away!”

Sure enough, he did.

For about 50 yards.

He stopped with his hands on his knees and breathing hard. But when I caught up to him he fell in beside me. I asked his name. I’m pretty sure he said it was Denarii. I’m not sure of the spelling but he pronounced it De-NAIR-ee-eye. I think he was about seven or eight years old. He asked my name and I told him. We chatted as we jogged until we got to the next cross street and his sister told him to “Get back here!”

Cute kid.

I don’t know why I felt like telling about this, but it made an impression on me.

An eight year old black kid and a 63 year old white man jogging together.

Not something you see every day.

It made me smile, and “I like smiling. Smiling’s my favorite!

I believe there’s hope for our future.

I don’t believe it comes from Washington.

It comes from me and my neighbors, and you and your neighbors, building little bridges.

That’s why I like running in my neighborhood.


Where did that come from?

No automatic alt text available.My mind kind of goes wherever it wants when I’m on a run. That is, if I can distract it from the actual…you know…running.

I feel my heart beating and hear my lungs breathing.

I wonder: where did I come from?

I could say I was born in Louisiana, but I lived most of my life in and around Cincinnati, so when someone asks, I tell them I’m from Cincinnati. But that’s not really what I’m asking.

Where did I come from? My life, I mean.

My heart has been beating for 63.5 years. What started it? My lungs have been breathing, maybe not as hard as they are right now, but for just as long. What started this? My thoughts? My questions? Not just these specific thoughts and questions, but the existence of any thoughts and questions.

Where did they come from?

I begin looking around at my neighborhood and the streets of Cincinnati. Where did they come from? I suppose one answer is that a bunch of Germans, a bunch of Catholics, and a bunch of folks from eastern Kentucky decided to build a city here. (I realize that’s a major generalization, but I’m trying to keep this short.)

But where did they come from? And what was here before they came to town?

I suppose there were some Native American folks here. Some wildlife of some kind. A river.

But where did they come from?

I don’t know all the details, but I think science tells us that the animals and people probably evolved from fish. The river was probably formed by the ice age. Ok. That’s what all the evidence seems to indicate. But still: where did the fish come from? What caused the ice age?

Where did the ice itself come from? Well, it’s frozen water.

Ok, but where did the water come from?

Well, I know that a molecule of water is comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. So I suppose that if you can somehow combine two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen you would get water.

I think this might be harder than it sounds. I don’t really know if it can even be done. I saw Matt Damon do it in The Martian, but I don’t know if that’s science, or just science fiction. Either way it begs the question:

Where did the hydrogen and oxygen come from?

Where did anything come from?

No automatic alt text available.Back to me.

I occupy a few cubic feet of space. What was in that space before me? Air? Probably. Before that?

Or maybe harder yet…

What was here before there was a here here? Where did this few cubic feet of space come from? Was this space always here? The truth is, this space wasn’t always here because it’s moving. The whole planet moves around the sun. In fact, the entire universe is in constant motion, so the actual few cubic feet that I occupy is never stationary. So, what occupied that space before I got there, and what is there when I leave?

More than that, where did the motion come from? What started it? A big explosion of unimaginable power?


But, where did the explosion come from? What caused it?

An enormous compression of all the matter in the universe into an indescribably monstrous black hole until it could no longer take the pressure and caused an energy release of cosmic proportions?

I just made that up. I know that smart scientific minds can explain it better than I can, but I still have a question:

Where did the matter come from?

Well, it’s been here for billions of years of time…maybe even billions of billions…

Ok. But that still doesn’t answer the question.

Where did it come from?

Where did any of this come from?

Was it always here? Always? For eternity? No beginning and no end? Seriously?

I really don’t know how atheists do it. I think most atheists look at belief in the existence of God, and Christianity specifically, as so much fairy-tale make-believe. The thing is, if I’m honest, I have to admit I can see their point. It does sound that way to me sometimes.

Until I start asking the questions.

Where did the thoughts, the ability to think, a sense of good and bad, right and wrong, DNA, an atom, the energy that holds the atom together, the solar system, the universe, movement, time, love, eternity, the ability to even think of the concept of eternity…where did any of this come from?

I love science. Scientists can analyze and describe what is. And the more they do, the more amazing it all becomes. But scientists can only theorize about where it all came from.

And then there’s the big question…


Science can’t even touch that one.

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about while I was out for a run.


How was your Christmas?

“How was your Christmas?”

I’m glad you asked.

It was good.

Allow me to try to explain what I mean by that…

December 24

When our girls were little we started the tradition of giving them each one gift to unwrap on Christmas Eve. It was always pajamas. The idea was that they would have nice new pj’s for the pictures on Christmas morning. They caught on after about…one year.

Our girls are now 35 and 33. They can buy their own pajamas. But we continue the tradition with our grandkids. On Christmas Eve they stop at our house either before or after the Christmas Eve worship services at church. They get one gift each. They know what it’s going to be. They just don’t know what they will look like. But we also throw in a little something else, like a book or a stuffed animal, just for fun.

It’s our tradition. It warms my heart.

And it’s good.

December 25

Christmas morning used to be just the four of us. Lloyd & Kathie & Liz & Kate. The LKLKs. (Pronounced “lick-licks.”) This was still true when Liz & Kate grew up and moved out. But now it revolves around the next generation. This is as it should be. But the transition has been a little awkward, I think. We want to keep family traditions alive, but we recognize the need for the next generation to establish their own traditions. Like we did.

We’ve settled into a pattern where the kids have their own Christmas celebration at home, then, later in the morning, everyone comes to our house for brunch and another round of gift giving. By “everyone,” I mean Kathie and I and our kids, and kids-in-law, and grandkids.

We take turns opening gifts. There is chaos, mess, laughter, and love.

And it’s good.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but earlier in December, Kathie’s mother took a turn for the worse. Her health hadn’t been good for a while now, but it had worsened to the point where hospice care was called for. During these weeks Kathie made the 45 minute drive to be with her mother almost daily. We had even discussed how things might go if her death occurred before Christmas. Her condition weighed on our hearts during our Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day activities. But, as I reflect on those days now, I realize that, even though there was sadness in the knowledge that Louise could pass into the arms of Jesus at any time, this knowledge did not cast a gloom over our family times.

In fact, I think it added warmth and meaning and depth.

This is why we celebrate.

This is what hope can do.

This is what Jesus’ coming to earth can do.

And it’s good.

December 27

On Tuesday morning we got the call. Louise’s breathing had changed. It was starting to happen. Kathie left work and I met her at the Hospice Care Center. During the rest of that day the room was filled with her children and grandchildren. There was laughing, and talking, and serving, and remembering, and loving. Louise wasn’t really conscious, but I’d like to think she could hear it all. I believe she did.

As evening came, some decided to go home. The lights were lowered. It got quieter.

A couple years ago, Louise was very sick. We thought we were going to lose her then. During some of those times of delirium she would call out for her older sister who had passed away some years ago. “Ruby!” she would cry.


She did this again a couple weeks ago. When she was more alert she explained that she had dreamed she saw a door in front of her. Light was streaming from under the door, and she knew that Ruby was on the other side. But Ruby wouldn’t open the door to let her in.

I don’t really know what to make of these kinds of experiences, but there are too many stories like this to ignore. There is something going on here that we cannot quite understand.

What I do know is that, around 2:30 on Wednesday morning, surrounded by her children, Louise’s breathing slowed to about 6 breaths per minute. Susan whispered to her to ask Ruby to open the door and let her in.

She did.

And it was good.

The following days were spent planning a memorial service.

December 31

Just as Kathie and I have had to transition our family Christmas time from one generation to the next, my parents have done the same thing. Not only do their kids have families of their own, their kids’ kids have families of their own, and we don’t all live in the same state. So, it takes a little effort to figure out how and when we can all get together. But we believe it’s important, so we do it. This year, the 31st was the day.

It’s nothing fancy. Just the usual holiday food and gifts.

I picked dad up at the nursing home and brought him home for the day. I can’t tell you in a few words what that man means to me. This is the man who would throw the childhood me in the air. The man who would make the teenage me work with him in the hot sun building a stone patio behind our house, and I just couldn’t keep up. The man who consistently demonstrated to the grown up me what it means to stand for what was good and right, regardless of the personal cost. He’s the same age as my mother-in-law. He is certainly not dealing with the same life threatening issues she was, but his physical ability seems to deteriorate every time I see him. This is why my heart aches every time I’m with him.

I want him to experience the love of his family as often as possible.

Four generations celebrating together make for an interesting afternoon. There is certainly a lot of joy, a lot of love, and a lot of warmth, but there are definitely stressful moments. It can’t be helped, and it shouldn’t be avoided. The stress is where love grows. You deal with it, recognize it for what it is, forgive, and move on. You’re family. That’s what you do.

And it’s good.

Then there’s New Year’s Eve.

We have celebrated New Year’s Eve with the same basic group of friends for many years. These people mean the world to me. This year, I think I needed their presence more than ever. Yes, it added one more activity to what was already a busy and emotional couple of weeks, but we needed it. It was life giving.

And it was good.

January 2 & 3

Funeral services.

Monday evening’s visitation. Watching a video collage of photos and telling stories. Covered with love from family and friends. Oliver, 18 months old and currently the youngest reminder that a part of Louise lives on, oblivious to the purpose, but enjoying the gathering, bringing life and charming everyone.

Tuesday morning’s memorial service. A bit of a delay as we wait for one family member to arrive. Typical. While we sit and wait like mature adults, inwardly we run and explore vicariously through Oliver who has a hard time sitting still but easily brings a smile. Young life. It’s sort of hypnotic in these circumstances.

It’s a dreary, drizzly day, and kind of muddy around the gravesite, but we’re thankful it’s warm for a January day. After the short committal service, we were invited to take a flower from the beautiful spray on the casket. I was deeply touched when my daughter Liz took one of the flowers across the road to the nearby grave of her great-grandparents and placed it in the small vase on the marker. Her sensitivity impresses me.

The chain of life. Generation to generation.

These connections are important. We do live on after we die. I carry the life blood of those who came before. A part of me lives on in those who come after.

It’s humbling.

And it’s good.

I think maybe it’s fitting that our Christmas season ended with a funeral. This is why Jesus came, isn’t it?

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
-1 Corinthians 15:25-26

So, maybe our Christmas didn’t look like a Currier and Ives print.

Everything wasn’t perfect.

But we were reminded why we celebrate.

And it was good.


Weekend Picks ~ 12-9-2016


This is some stuff I found helpful, challenging, interesting, or amusing today that I think may enrich your day as well...

An important seasonal reminder…

The War on ChristmasJonathan Storment
Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 7.08.24 AMNow today ”Magi” sounds like a very Christmas-y word, but in the day that Christmas actually happened everyone knew that they were the outsiders.
..someone who was trained in the dark arts, things like interpreting dreams, astrology, talking to the dead. You know, just like the Wise Men in the Christmas story that you grew up hearing about.

Today, the church that stands over the Cave where Jesus was born is called the Church of the Holy Nativity…and on the Church there is a mosaic of these Magi. In 614 A.D. when the Persians invaded Jerusalem, they burned all the churches to the ground. But not this one. When they saw the Magi dressed in traditional clothes of the Persians they said here is a church that respects our traditions, and they decided not to destroy it. This little detail may sound trivial to you, but I think that it is incredibly inspiring.

The Christmas story from the very beginning calls into question all the ways we categorize the people of the world into good and bad…

Every year the 24-hour news cycle runs some story about how some retailer has decided to use the term “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and how some people are upset because we want to do our Black Friday shopping/greed-bonanza to some Christmas carols, the way that the early church would have wanted. Now we Christians will always say things like “Merry Christmas” but my question is when did we decide that this was a policy that we needed to outsource to retail stores?

I loved this little personal memory and reflection…

It Came to Pass in Second GradeSylvia Schroeder
christmasOnce upon a time, long long ago, before people knew better than to celebrate Christmas in schools, when the principal could still haul a student to the office for a whopping, a second grade teacher formed a choir.

Now this choir was made up of twenty children all under the rule of one solitary gray haired woman. The children obeyed her completely because they all knew very well what “or else” meant, and in spite of it, or perhaps because of it, they loved her with all their hearts…

A longer article in the Washington Post for your weekend reading and consideration…

Their Tube: When every moment of childhood can be recorded and shared, what happens to childhood?
Jessica Contrera
Mark Adam adores watching other little boys who do nothing but open eggs with plastic toys inside. Max would rather watch another kid play Minecraft than play it himself. Annie doesn’t aspire to meet celebrities but the girls who get millions of views for braiding hair.

Kids have always learned by mimicking their peers. Now, the children watching YouTube are seeing role models who don’t just play — they perform. They’re not just experiencing childhood, but constantly considering how their experiences will be perceived by an audience.

For church leaders…

How Your Control Freak Tendencies Stunt Your Church’s GrowthCarey Nieuwhof
control freakThere’s a lid that comes with your control freak tendencies. You will eventually hit a wall in which the size of your church shrinks back to the size of your personal span of care. Until you let go.

In other words, if you want to limit your church’s growth, attempt to control everything…

Here are 5 insights that help me remember that controlling everything means you will eventually end up leading nothing significant…

Two Kinds of WinningSeth Godin
Image result for seth godinSome can only win when others lose.

Others seek to win by helping others succeed.

One of these approaches scales far better than the other.

More Nursery Rhyme Headlines…
Wrong Hands

Election Reflection


Who saw that coming? I know I didn’t.

I haven’t been very active on social media the last few days while I let things sort of sink in. Oh, I’ve “liked” some stuff, wished a few “happy birthdays,” and shared some articles on important things other than politics. I have read a lot of reactions in blog posts and FB statuses (stati?).

What I have intentionally not done is to comment, or post anything myself about the election.

I think I will now.

You may think there’s really nothing more to be said, and you may be right, but there a few important things that I hope we don’t miss.

What follows is sort of a hodge-podge of things that have been swirling around in my head since the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

First of all, now that Donald has won the election I have to recognize that he is my president. He’s not just president of the people who voted for him. He’s president of the ones who opposed him. He’s president of those who hate him. He’s even president of those who are demonstrating and protesting against him right now.

This is not a sporting event where one team wins and one team loses and life goes on. This is a decision we made. That’s right. We. All of us. I am disgusted by the gloating posts declaring the hope that some celebrity or other will keep their promise to leave America now that Trump won. I am angered about being accused that it’s my fault that Hillary lost because I voted for an independent candidate. If the election had gone the other way, I’m sure I would receive the same, but opposite accusation. I’m troubled by those who are claiming that, even though he was elected, Donald Trump will never be their president.

And, what about those who supported him?

There are too many easy false narratives to accept. Certainly, there are many Trump supporters who fit Hillary Clinton’s description. Vladimir Putin, David Duke, the KKK and other white supremacy groups, all these and others, who think they have found a champion in The Donald are most definitely “deplorable.”

However, there are others. I am friends, good friends, with many. They are emphatically not deplorable. They are not racists. They don’t hate women or Mexicans. They care about the less fortunate and prove it by their many acts of service in their community. They truly love this country and want what’s best for her.

But they certainly saw this election differently than I did.

I appreciate what Ed Stetzer wrote:

“Trump’s supporters—like many Americans—are complicated.

I don’t know them all, but I know some—including some members of my church.

The ones I do know don’t hate immigrants (though they think illegal immigration is an economic and criminal problem), think a multicultural society is a good thing (while they are quite tired of politically correct speech codes), and they really do want what’s best for the country (though we might differ on what that is).

Still they support Trump.

I may not agree with that decision, but I do care about them. In part because, for some Trump supporters, I am their pastor.”

I find myself in a similar situation.

Those of us who, for whatever reason(s) couldn’t vote for him, now have a choice to make.

We can pray for him, or we can hope he crashes and burns. Back in 2009, Rush Limbaugh famously made the statement that he hoped Barack Obama would fail in his presidency. His comment was taken out of context, but most people thought he was saying he was not accepting him as “his” president. That seems to me to be about the most unpatriotic, not to mention unchristian, thing that a person could do.

This command from the pen of the Apostle Paul comes to mind:

1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the Roman Emperor at the time Paul wrote this was Nero. Christians were instructed to pray for their emperor. Their persecutor. Seems to me that God likely expects us to do the same for Donald Trump.

Now, unlike many, I am not naïve enough to believe that Donald Trump has become a believer and follower of Jesus. I mean, I don’t know what Dr. Dobson was smoking when he claimed that he did. (He does live in Colorado.) Although, to be fair, he did dial back that claim a bit.

But, I would also be the last to say that change is not possible. It most certainly is. God specializes in changing people. It happened in scripture, it happens today, and it happened to me.

I admit that I have a natural tendency toward optimism. In fact, this is the shirt I’m wearing as I type this…
So, is it possible?

I know it seems highly unlikely, but is it possible that, instead of feeding his already out-sized ego, the office of the presidency could actually be a humbling experience for Donald Trump? Could he walk into the Oval Office and be awed by its history, and by the past presidents who have used it, and commit himself to serving the people like many of his great predecessors? Is it possible that after decades of living the life of a hedonistic playboy he could find redemption in service to his nation, and actually do what he claimed he could do? Namely, face down the special interest groups to which, unlike many politicians, he has no allegiance; stand up for those who feel betrayed by their own government? For the good of our nation, and for the good of those who feel they have no opportunity, who have lost hope, I pray he will.

And what about those folks who feel hopeless? The ones who are so fearful?

During this campaign I have been struck by how much fear and anger seemed to be out there. I didn’t quite get it. I still don’t, to be quite honest. Sure, I have some concerns about some things that I think ought to be different, but I just don’t understand what is so utterly terrible about our national situation that the answer is to blow it up and start over. Don’t concern yourself with temperament or character, just get it done. I never got it because, you know… optimist.

Consequently, I never believed Trump would get the Republican nomination. Then when he did, I thought they had nominated a candidate that was completely unfit. Not only that, I believed he was unelectable.

Why did I think that? Why did the pundits think that? Why did almost everyone I know think that?

I’m certain there are many reasons, but surely one major reason is the divide that exists in our country. It’s really more of an invisible, impenetrable wall. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

I recommend this whole article by David Gushee, but here’s a pertinent quote:

“The election results show that there are (at least) two Americas, not just one. Anyone with the faintest interest in this country or in commenting about it had better get to know the other America rather than remain hermetically sealed in their own monoculture.

There are three places in my life in which I must engage that Other America — my extended family, my classroom, and my church. In those three sacred communities I encounter people that I care about and am called to serve who did not view the politics of 2016 through the same prism that I did.

As human beings, we all face a basic choice — whether to remain in relationship with those who voted differently than we did or to cast them into outer darkness for having done something that is from our viewpoint incomprehensible.”

There are people who are hurting, and many of us are unaware of it. Sadly, many of us don’t even care. We talk about caring for the outcast and the hurting, and here’s a whole category of people right under our privileged noses that we aren’t even aware of. And if we are aware of them, compassion is not what we feel. It’s more like disdain. (Incidentally, I’m preaching to myself right now, but if the shoe fits…)

As I was thinking about all of this, I was reminded of a challenging piece I read back in March of this year, when Trump’s rise was just beginning. In it Michael Kelley writes:

“We naturally congregate with people who look like us, think like us, earn like us, and even vote like us. Facebook even does it for us… Or to put it another way, if left to ourselves we will always do for ourselves what Facebook does for us right now – curate our lives so that everything that comes into our sphere of vision squares exactly with our belief system.

But Jesus has called us out of that. He’s called us to go into the world – all the world – and meet hostility head on with compassion, judgment head on with love, anger head on with service. But we must know our tendency to flock together well enough to know that we cannot be trusted with this assignment. We must take direct action, knowing that if we do nothing, we will always and forever surround ourselves with people just like us…

Regardless of what happens in this election, it has shown me that there is a great chasm between the people I’m most comfortable being around and everyone else. And it is a chasm that I must be willing to step into for the sake of the gospel.”

So, the outcome wasn’t what anyone really expected, and it wasn’t what many of us desired, but, cockeyed optimist that I am, I believe there are things we can and must learn from it.

Things that can make us better.

If we fail to learn them, I fear we can anticipate the same kind of thing every four years.

I’ll close with another quote from Ed Stetzer’s outstanding article:

“We won’t soon forget 2016.

Whether in emails the sender thought would never see the light of day, or tweets heard around the world in the middle of the night, we’ve been exposed to some of America’s basest instincts and darkest thoughts. It’s hard to recover from that. But we must remember that this election isn’t the turning point in our story…

Christians should never forget the bigger picture.

The turning point in our story never fell on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It fell on a weekend, when the veil was torn in two on Friday and the stone was rolled away on Sunday. No elected official can fix all of our problems and no elected official can undo our hope. Christ made a way so we don’t have to trust in chariots.

God has a mission and it hasn’t changed. Donald Trump cannot stop it. Hillary Clinton cannot stop it. The media cannot stop it. The Director of the FBI cannot stop it. And Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange cannot stop it.

What happens now? We wake up tomorrow and live in light of what we know to be true. The mission remains and the end is certain. It’s time to come together and get back to work.

A divided nation needs a more united church focused on a common mission.”

It’s right there in our name: The United States of America.

To the church I say, “Let’s show them how it’s done.”