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For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…

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The Prophet Jeremiah writes these words in chapter 29, verse 11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  How does one discern God’s call in life?  Does the Lord call us once to a vocation of work, or, over and over issue many calls to serve Him through a variety of life’s opportunities?  How does one hear that “still small voice” of God who whispers to us His loving wisdom, and, provides us direction and purpose in life? Most often that call of God to hear, to receive and to follow has come to me through the invitations of others, and now from a brother pastor and good friend, Jeff, who has invited me in his stead, to serve his congregation for a summer at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in San Clemente, California. I am grateful to the President and Board of Trustees at Newberry College in their graciousness to allow me this time for renewal and reformation of spirit and inspiration of heart.  I am further grateful to Pastor Jeff and the good people of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church for their warm and loving welcome this past week. Of course my greatest thanks, and eternal joy goes out to my beloved Annie, who is always there for me wherever the Lord sends me.  God is so very present to me in the faces of His children, and the faith we share.  The sojourn of summer has begun…  I shall attempt to use this blog to give voice to joys, wonders, questions, and musings that come along as together we share the journey.

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What is it about ugly Christmas sweaters?

‘Tis the season for holiday get-togethers, office parties, family reunions, church pot-lucks, choir and caroling groups, and friendly gatherings at that favorite pub or restaurant. Invariably, one or more of these festive soirées will be advertised by invitation which will read, “prize for the ugliest Christmas sweater.” Seems that over the past few years the clothing outfitters have gone out of their way to provide some pretty “creative” ugly Christmas sweaters. Truth be told, some of us really like those ugly sweaters and even more…wearing them. Frankly, I cannot put my finger on why I like wearing these awful sweaters, but, to say, that my ugly sweater really helps me feel the spirit of the season. This past year my ugly sweater displays polar bears across my chest. Who doesn’t like polar bears, right? Maybe ugly sweaters are kind of what Christmas is all about?

After all isn’t the beauty of Christmas that God loved the world so much that he sent us the gift of His son to be the very essence of God’s forgiving and eternal love in the flesh? No fancy hotel with magnificent atria, soft beds, and plush comforters for Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus, just a lowly manger of hay and wood and all the delightful odors of a stable filled. The manger is kind of like an ugly sweater, not the epitome of Haute Couture, but comfortable and a bit outside the normal. Yes indeed, Christmas and ugly sweaters go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows.

Isn’t Christmas about the gift of God’s love for all people no matter what we look like, no matter what our failures, flaws, blemishes and wrinkles? Christmas is about the incarnation of the perfect making a home with the imperfect with a love that accepts us no matter what just for the asking. High Fashion meets ugly sweaters and together we live side by side, neighbors bound together in our need to be loved, forgiven and chosen. For me every Christmas is an ugly sweater soirée. Come to the party as you are…

Pearl Harbor

I reenlisted in the Navy many decades ago onboard the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My beloved was my reenlisting officer, our older daughter, maybe 3 years old at the time, the witness of the event. It was a proud time for me, signing on once more to continue service to God and Country, providing for my family, and, at this place of scared story and sacred honor.

The Arizona, a graveyard for hundreds of Sailors caught unaware on a sleepy Sunday morning 76 years ago, a memorial to their sacrifice, and a reminder of the devastation and human cost of war. Buildings can be rebuilt, ships repaired often or replaced, but human beings cannot be replaced. Each and every human being on this earth is a blessing from birth, endowed with special gifts and talents from their creator, and we might do well to remember that we are gifts from God on loan to each other, born to make this world a better place for everyone. On loan to each other to love, and to cherish as human images of the eternal Creator. I remember Pearl Harbor, and many other tragic events that I have lived through in my lifetime. Each time that I am called to remember, it reminds me that every day is a gift, and every relationship an opportunity to become a treasure.

Today reminded me once again of the words of the Prophet Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And, what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Hanukkah and Christmas are but a few days away. Today, the carols of the season are taking on new meaning for me. I remember an old hymn that begins with, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Written in 1955 by Sy Miller and his wife, Jill Jackson-Miller. A diplomacy of peace, one relationship at a time, isn’t that the miracle of Christmas!

God Bless us everyone. (Tiny Tim Cratchet, A Christmas Carol by Dickens)

Beautiful feet…

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news”. Isaiah 52:7

Studying the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, specifically the passage from chapter 52, verses 7-10: I am struck by the description of how the good news was being given to the people of Israel. Imagine good news, so good, that even the feet of the Messenger bearing the good news are beautiful. The good news of God’s love and comfort for His people is so exciting, so overwhelming, that every bit of the person of the messenger is a gift right on down to the toes on the feet. Imagine the guards in the watch towers of the town as they catch a glimpse of the messenger bringing the good news and at their posts begin to shout with uncontrollable joy and enthusiasm. This is more than good news, it is– The Good News of God.

Little children at this time of year seem to understand expectation and heart-felt wonder as they hear the stories of Santa Claus through the years. They hear the expectation in the cheerful voices of their moms, dads, sisters and brothers and other family members. Is there a Santa they hope? Will he visit my house they ask? Each year children grow older and stop believing, while new babies and toddlers are introduced into the club of hopeful believers. The stories and traditions are passed on from generation to generation, but the passage of time steals in and eventually belief is gone. Hopefully however, the childlike understanding of Christmas as a time for Santa and gifts is replaced by the truth of Jesus Christ and the gift He brings us at Christmas fulfilled at Easter; God’s never-failing, always forgiving, unconditional love.

I will admit that I love Hallmark Christmas and holiday movies and the lights and decorations all over my house and my neighbors houses. I adore the foods traditional to the Christmas season, the candies and the punch. I like to write a Christmas letter and to send and receive Christmas cards from family and friends. I can watch a movie about Santa and at the same time rejoice that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. My heart is so ready for Christmas, the worship, the hymns and carols, the decorations, the gift-giving, all of it, even the shopping. And through it all, I know by the grace of God and in the faith I am given, that Christmas is a time to wonder at the promise of the cross, the return of Jesus Christ in glory and wonder. I am not one to spend time talking about commercialism, or, how to spell the word, Xmas or Christmas, I am almost giddy, like an spirit-filled Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day, waiting for the blast of the trumpet and the heavenly host proclaiming, “Glory to God in the Highest.” I love the feeling I get at Christmas and want it all year long, and I do get that wonderful feeling every time I realize that my beloved wife, my children and grandchildren, my friends and neighbors are all special gifts from God, messengers of God’s love in this life. Christmas is about the gift of Jesus to us, and we are reminded that through that gift we are gifts from God to one another as well.

Newberry College Advent Devotions are online

Sorry for the blog silence recently, the holidays and end of semester must do’s have taken my full attention. I did want to mention that Newberry College is now in its 9th year of providing Advent devotions for anyone interested in being inspired, and, motivated in faith by our faculty, staff, student, alumni, and family authors who provide the devotions under the guidance and direction of campus ministry…me.

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar, Advent (the time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Christmas event) lasts this year from December 3rd to December 24th. Then we have the 12 days of Christmas which brings us to January 6th which is Epiphany and on goes the calendar for 2018.

Advent means that something miraculous and spectacular is coming, it is on the horizon, and it is the epitome of awesome. So we are called during this season to prepare ourselves for this coming event which is for Christianity a celebration of the child born in the manger, and, the promised return (second coming) of the child sacrificed as a man on the cross at Easter time. Advent is a time to read prophetic scripture to remind us who it is, this child born to us at Christmas, a time to listen to Handel’s Messiah and internalize the sacred story told in musical oratorio, a time to meet with family and friends in worship of the Holy One of God, the King of Kings, and Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. Advent is a good time to prepare spiritually for what we know in Christ, and, what we hope in his birth, his death and his resurrection.

If you are interested in reading a daily Advent devotion from Newberry College you can do that many ways.

1. From December 3rd to December 25th you can log onto Newberry College at newberry.edu and at the top of the home page is a bar that scrolls through various stories. Wait for the story marked Advent devotions and click on the ribbon for devotions, that will direct you to the Advent devotion page where the current day’s devotion is displayed with the previous days devotions beneath that current one.

2. Monday through Friday starting December 4th and running to December 25th you can log onto WKDK.com at 9:06am and listen to the Advent devotion of the day. Or you may download the WKDK app from the App Store and listen to that every Monday through Friday at 9:06am for the day’s Advent devotion.

3. Or you can like the Newberry College facebook page and every day there will be a link displayed that will take you to the current devotion for Advent.

I hope you enjoy these wonderful devotions as much as I do. God Bless you this Advent season in hope, in love, and in kindness.

Fall is an awesome season

I really enjoy the fall season because it includes a return of the students to the college where I work, football and other sports, sweatshirt/sweatpants weather, and, the change of the colors of the leaves on the trees.  Summer is an amazing season to be savored for sure, but, like all years past, governed by changing seasons, summer gives way to the fall.  Beautiful Little College in the Midlands [not our real name of course, but descriptive], is located only two hours from the sea shore, and, two hours from the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain ranges.  Fall weather gets just a bit chilly at night so it is better for sitting in the front of the fireplace, or, sitting on the porch around the fire pit with my beloved wife of many decades.  We might even snuggle up close under a blanket and stare up at the star-filled southern night sky.  Fall is for cheering on our favorite athletic teams, pumpkin spice coffee creamer, and icing Halloween cookies.  I could go on and on but I will just say, fall is the transition from marvelous seasons of amazing color to a winter time of drab grey overcast skies, cold weather, and barren trees, a time of rest and replenishment for the earth.  Winter is the promise of another beautiful, color-filled spring season.  Fall is the gentle reminder that we should enjoy each and every day that the Lord has made for the time is coming when the earth must sleep under cold and wintry skies.  Even creation must rest from its work to replenish, refresh and renew itself.  The circle of life is amazing proof of God’s eternal love and His unchanging grace. There is comfort in the certainty and promise of the seasons.

 One of my favorite books about life is titled, “The Fall of Freddy the Leaf,” by Leo Buscaglia.  It is a magnificent story about the cycle of life, and that all life has purpose and meaning, everyone is part of the greater good, and that the end of our lives is not the end of Life.  The story continues and shows that death is never final, and, is never truly the end, but rather, transforms us into a new beginning in ways too wonderful to fully imagine.  

As I continue to age, I learn new and wonderful things about life, like failure to succeed at something is nothing more than one attempt to be reviewed, and then tried in a new way, or that, phrases like, “70 is the new 60” really only means that you are only as old as you feel or believe.  Fall is my favorite season because I can see the power of renewal in the winter to come, and I can imagine the beauty of spring that follows winter.   I can now begin to truly appreciate that I am in the fall of my life, to be savored, treasured and lived fully, rest will come in God’s good time, followed by an eternity of spring filled with color, joy, and the freshness of new birth.  For today, it is time for fireplaces, sweatshirts, good company, the love of family and friends, and to keep at the purpose for my life that the Lord has laid before me [given to all of us really] in the words of the Prohet Micah, 6:8, “do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” Life is not easy, growing older can have its challenges, but it can be wonderful, one day, and one season at a time.  

Last week some really great students here at the college came to my office to decorate Halloween cookies.  They were very creative and the picture below is just one of the many designs that came from their joy that day.  My loving thanks to my beloved wife who spent hours making the cookies and the homemade icing.  May the One who Created us all give us grace sufficient for the day.

Bels Palsy changed my life for the better.

It was a Tuesday in 1997 and I had the first ear-ache of my life.  Wow, did it hurt, like someone was drilling a hole in my head through my right ear.  Similarly, the hairs on my head hurt to touch, and I had very few hairs on top of my head.  So, I went to see my friend, the doctor.  The doc said, “your hair cannot hurt as they have no pain receptors.”  All I knew at the time was that every time I touched the little hairs on top of my head there was pain.  Again, my ear was really hurting me as well.  The doctor prescribed aspirin, and then, went on some kind of tirade about what to watch for over the next few days.  I know now, years later he was referring to the shingles virus.  Anyway, Friday came along and by the time I went to bed the ear-ache had gone away, wahoo!  All better, right?  But wait, there’s more…

Saturday morning arrived and my beloved wife brought me a cup of her fantastic coffee, [none like it in the whole world] which I quickly poured all down the front of my pajamas.  What was that about?  A fast trip to the bathroom and a look in the mirror showed me a terrifying image; I looked like my mother who had been experiencing small strokes called, TIA’s.  My face was paralyzed on the right side and my speech slurred.  But my hair and ear no longer hurt.  

I was a Navy Chaplain during this event and stationed for almost a year with a submarine group as their chaplain.  This duty station was the fulfillment of a life-long dream, to serve with the submarine community.  From my earliest years I dreamed of being a submariner.  Since I was chaplain for multiple boats and crews I could only be at sea with them a week or so at a time.  It was very difficult to become relationally a part of the community, a member of the team.  I tried my very best, but was always seen as a bit of an outsider.  I did not belong to any one submarine or crew.  

This one Saturday changed everything.  Looking like I may have suffered a stroke, slurred speech and paralyzed face on the right side, a choice had to be made.  The very next day was my turn to preach in the base chapel, what to do?  When I did speak I looked and sounded like I had received to much anesthesia from the dentist.  I spit when I used the letters P or S.  My food had to be cut in small bites and speech was labored and slow.  It was too late to get a replacement for chapel.  Life had thrown me a huge challenge.    I had Bels Palsy.  

Sunday came and I preached a short sermon and shared my story of Bels Palsy.  Monday came and a Sailor walked by and looked at me and said, “Bels Palsy, right?”  He then told me about his bout with the disease onboard his boat underway some time past.  Later I met a sales lady in a store and she shared her story with me.  When you have a paralyzed face you cannot hide what you have.  And the stories continued, connections were made, relationships were built, and all of a sudden; I was a member of the community in a brand new way and much deeper in context.  My dream to be a member of the submarine community had come true and it was everything I had every hoped.  The ministry with and for the community was blessed because I had Bels Palsy.  

What I had originally seen as a terrible event, a challenge to my vocation, and a blow to my ego, turned out to be the greatest benefit I could have imagined.  Bels Palsy changed my life for the better and I am grateful to God for walking me through this valley of the shadow to see the sunlight at the end of the tunnel.  I still have residual effects from Bels Palsy and it reminds me daily that what I might see with my eyes or believe with my head to be too great a challenge, faith tells me might be the best thing ever.  All things are possible with God.  

To judge or not to judge; love is the answer.

Years ago I had an “aha” moment, a revelation, and it would enlighten me to the fact that I was indeed, judgmental.  This particular epiphany taught me that I had judged those with tattoos and piercings unfairly, albeit subconsciously, but, never-the-less negatively and with judgment.  I wondered why, too much influence of television, films, the evening news, what had informed me in such a way as to form judgment without knowledge or relationship?  Well, let me tell you; I was disappointed in myself.  After all, if I was judgmental in this way, then, in what other ways was I passing unfair judgment on my neighbors?  Could it be that if I was subconsciously judgmental about tattoos and piercings that I could be lacking in Christian kindness in other ways?  Was I passing unfair judgment for other reasons and distinctions?  I am not sure what precipitated this spiritual awakening?  O Lord, listen to my lament and answer my plea.  I did not enjoy learning this about myself, introspection is often a bit painful at first, but, it can also be the first step to discovering a whole new way of being.  The Bible is pretty clear that judgment, if, and when it becomes necessary, belongs to God, and, that we are to be people of forgiveness and love.  Matthew 7:1-2 states: “Do not judge or you will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” NIV.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Pastor, wrote in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” the following thought;  “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”  

It has been many years now since my “aha” moment of personal spiritual discovery.  I have chosen over the years since then to try with every prayer and thought to honor the command of Christ to see others through the eyes of God’s amazing love.  It is much more pleasant to look for the good and the joy and the hope in others than to wonder in judgment about them.  It is more profitable spiritually to look for a reflection of the Creator in each person than to see only our human frailties.  It is, as my 6 year old grandson would say, “way gooder” to love my neighbor as myself than to be blind to my own evil in the rush to judgment. 

The lesson in church yesterday was a Word from the Book of Philippians, chapter 4 starting with verse 8.  St. Paul writes, “Finally, brothers [sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.”  NIV.  Yes, think on those things.  Choosing to fill my heart with thoughts of love and be done with judgment.  Bonhoeffer was right, love is illuminating.