This online study group is a way for us to stay connected during the Coronavirus pandemic. It will supplement our worship streaming each Sunday and provide some lessons and sharing to keep us learning and connected. At the bottom of each entry there is a button link with questions for you to ponder and answer in a worksheet. I am the only one who will see your answers. I hope you find it helpful and enjoyable.
May 16, 2020
This is my last entry, at least for now. I really enjoyed posting every day and receiving your answered worksheets. It was fun for me to read your answers. I got to know you better by what you wrote and shared with me.
I hope you found this little distraction somewhat helpful. We now need to focus on getting back to business as usual. It will be a slow process but an important one. I pray that each of you will soon be able to reconnect with your loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Some parts of the state are ahead of others and will all eventually get there in time.
Remember, God is with us all the time!
May 15, 2020
You may have heard how Ben Franklin discovered electricity by holding a kite up in a lightning storm. I always admired Mr. Franklin. I, too, have an interest in electricity. My Uncle Woody invited me to help him wire the new house he and his friend, Fred, were building for the family. I learned how to run Romex cable, install duplex outlets, install the circuit breaker box, and even how to wire a three-way switch. I was so excited about what I learned from Uncle Woody, that I used this new learning in a demonstration speech for my Middle School Language Arts class. Yep, it was a demonstration speech on how a three-way switch works. Thanks, Uncle Woody!
Just recently I was reading about some of the printing Ben Franklin did back in Colonial Days. The book had this to say about Ben:
“As a printer, scholar, author, scientist, and statesman, Franklin exercised a marked influence on colonial thought and political activities… He was a product of the unspecialized age we have just examined in that he was a jack-of-all-trades. He violated the proverb by becoming master of at least half a dozen. Some of them he created. In the course of his life he was a printer, advertising man, promoter, publicity expert, civic organizer, fireman, postmaster, librarian, military architect, quartermaster, soldier, legislator, diplomatist, and statesman. He was also a…” General Printing; Cleeton, Pitkin, & Cornwell, p. 145
The list went on to include a whole other paragraph of Franklin’s interests and involvement. He was involved in just about everything!
I like this about Ben Franklin. I, too, have many interests, though not nearly as many as Franklin. I like preaching, electricity, woodworking, tractors, tools, welding, songwriting, drumming, cycling, Lionel trains, fishing, hunting, website design, printing, and photography. I am quite sure I missed one or two! I believe that all my many interests have allowed me to relate to people of all walks of life throughout my ministry. I enjoy talking to people from all walks of life. I always learn something new and because I have so many interests, I usually have some way to break the ice with them.
This is the way I look at it: I don’t know exactly what I want to do if I ever grow up! My plethora of interests is actually sort of a problem now that I am retiring from ministry: which one or ones am I going to pursue now? Actually, things are beginning to clear up for me and I have some definite goals in mind and have already started laying the groundwork for the next phase of my life. It is very exciting!
We read this in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might;”
Ecclesiastes 9:10a. The “a” indicates that just the beginning of the verses is being quoted.
Whatever you do, do with all your might. That’s my translation and understanding of this verse. I can do that. I can put my mind to something and give it everything I’ve got. God-willing, it will work out. The possibilities are endless!
Birthdays and Hardwood Flooring
May 14, 2020
Today would’ve been Denise’s birthday. I always get a little melancholy on this day every year. I miss her every day, but some days are harder than others. This is one of those days. One time, right after we were first married, I made a pretty big mistake: I wished Denise a happy birthday and gave her gift to her on May 12th instead of 14th, her actual birthday. Many years before, I was dating another girl who had her birthday on May 12th. I never made that mistake again!
For all the years in my ministry, we lived in a church parsonage until we moved to Stroudsburg UMC. We actually never thought we’d own our own home until I retired. Denise loved our new home! We no longer had to ask the Trustees for permission to paint a room or change the flooring. Actually, we never really were denied any of our requests, but still, the home wasn’t ours and we had to ask permission. When we lived in the parsonage in Allentown, we were getting the new babies’ room ready for their arrival. Denise and I did the whole room over and that floor was just beautiful. It was hardwood tongue and groove flooring. We sanded it and completely refinished it. It turned out great, if I do say so myself. We were proud of our accomplishment and that floor was just so beautiful!
Back in 2016, two years after I lost Denise, I decided to redo one of the rooms here in our house. I was in the process of buying a 1903 Chandler and Price platen printing press and I wanted the flooring to reflect the period of that time at the turn of the last century. I talked with Rory Stanton about my intentions and he hooked me up with a guy in Lehighton, Cory Hill, who makes hardwood flooring. He told me that Cory could skip-plane the flooring to make it look a little rough, just like an early 1900’s floor from back then. I talked with Cory, he manufactured the flooring, and I went to pick it up. Wow! I was amazed not only at how good it looked for my purpose but also at how flat and straight was each and every board. I stained the boards and then started to install them. As each piece was fitted and then nailed, I was amazed: there was no cupping, twisting, or warping in any of them! Cory had kiln dried the red oak to perfection! Once again, I was pleased as punch with my makeover of the room that now houses my 1903 printing press. I just walk into that room and go back in time!
Lydia moved back home about two months ago. She will be taking over our house this summer when I move out to my cabin. She’s already planning for some upgrades and the flooring here in the rest of the downstairs was one of her top priorities. So, I contacted Cory Hill again and placed an order for some white oak flooring. I just picked it up today, on Denise's birthday. Every piece is straight, just like the last time, but this time it is completely planed to a smooth finish. Lydia and Nathaniel, her fiance, started staining it tonight and boy does it ever look good! I can’t wait to start the installation.
So, today, I am thinking about birthdays and hardwood flooring. They might not go together for any one else, but they both sure get me to thinking!
May 13, 2020
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most quoted scriptures at weddings. The chapter is all about love. Here is just a sample from verses 4-7:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NRSV)
In the original Greek language there are several words for love. Philia is brotherly love. Philadelphia is literally the city of “brotherly love.” This kind of love is between brothers and sisters or friends.
Eros is erotic love, such as the love between a husband and wife. This kind of love is intimate love. By the way, in the Hebrew language there is a word that is similar to this word for love. In Genesis 4:1 we read these words: “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” To “know” in Hebrew is to love intimately, just like eros in the Greek.
Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is speaking about a different kind of love than phiilia and eros. The Greek word for love here is agape. Agape love is charity, which is exactly the word used for love in this chapter in the King James Version. Specifically, it is the love of God for humans and of humans’ love for God. It is also used to describe the unconditional love of God for all of us. This is the most special kind of love and this is the type of love Paul is talking about in this chapter. It is also the kind of love we talk about at weddings. A man and woman love each other enough to get married. They stand before witness and before God to make a covenant of love for each other. It is unconditional. It is for better or worse. It is for richer or poorer. It is in sickness and health. It keeps them true to each other. And, this kind of love never ends. Now that’s love!
May 12, 2020
A nightlight serves several purposes: it can subtly light the way to the bathroom in the dark of the night, or it can comfort a child who is afraid of the dark. When I was a child I wanted a nightlight in my room. I guess, if I admit it, there was a time when I was afraid of the dark. Those days are long gone now, but a child’s mind can run rampant!
Grandma and Grandpa Shank’s house seemed big to me as a child even though it was a simple row house in town. We entered the house off the back porch and into the kitchen, which was the active nerve center of the home; many things of importance happened here in the kitchen: food was made and eaten, pies were baked, and many kitchen table discussions were shared by family and friends.
Grandma made the best pies and I had the privileged job of pinching the crust on all of them. She baked 15 pies at a time: two for each of her children’s families and one more for her and pap. That was a lot of crust to pinch! And when we ate a piece of pie, in true Pennsylvania Dutch fashion, we always ate from the crust in to the point. I still do this when I eat a piece of pie to this day. My grandma taught me well!
Grandma also made a crumb cake. I guess you could call it something like a shortbread cake. She baked it in a cake pan and I loved to eat it. Actually, the process of eating it was really cool for me. Grandma would sit me in her lap at the kitchen table. Then she’d cut a piece of the crumb cake and then she broke it up into Bobby-size pieces with her fingers. She then poured milk over it and watched with a big smile as I ate it! Grandma was the best and I always sported a big smile when I ate her cake, too!
When my brother and I stayed over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we slept in an upstairs bedroom above the kitchen. It was scary. The room was dark but there was a street light not far away. The problem was that light cast shadows on the walls from the trees and other outdoor objects. When the wind blew it was like the dark, somewhat lit wall was coming alive! To make matters worse, Grandma had a big stuffed 3-foot black cat sitting on a cane chair in the corner of the room. Yep, it was black, and it had diamond-shaped eyes that glittered whenever the streetlight rays shone on it. I remember many a night when I was awake more than I slept, keeping at least one eye on that black cat to be sure it stayed on that chair and didn’t come any closer to me or my brother who I felt the need to protect since I was the oldest!
I miss my grandpa. I miss my grandma. I miss that old house. I miss those pies and, of course, the crumb cake (although, once in a while, if I am very good, my mom makes that cake for me!), and I even miss that big black cat, at least a little bit.
May 11, 2020
Most of you know that I enjoy sports photography. I’ve been the East Stroudsburg University sports photographer for the past six years and a freelance stringer for the Pocono Record for the past seven years. But I am also an avid wildlife photographer too. I lead a trip each fall with photographers who want to learn how to photograph the Pennsylvania elk.
I’ve had my cabin up in Elk County since 1993. Denise and I bought the land in 1990, right before I graduated from seminary. I go there whenever I can, taking much of my vacation time there and always enjoy getting my camera after the elk!
This month I received good news from Bugle Magazine. They are the official publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They published one of my elk photos full-page in their May-June 2020 issue! The cow elk is backlit, meaning the lighting is coming from behind her instead of behind me, as many photographs show. Lighting is essential to any photograph but we photographers can and should be creative with the lighting. The magazine ran a photo essay entitled, “Gold Standard” featuring golden and backlit photos. Mine is the one on the left side of this two-page spread. While I have had a handful of wildlife photos published before, this is the first time I ever had one of my photos published full-page! Now my goal is get one published on a magazine cover!
May 10, 2020
There was a broken link for the Camel Worksheet, which is now fixed. So if you want to go back and re-read that entry and answer the questions you can do so now. Thanks, Cathy Doane, for pointing out this problem to me!
I was seriously thinking about stopping this because the responses were getting few and far between. We are all slowly getting busier, which is a good thing. Then today I heard two comments from people who thanked me and said they enjoyed this so much. That was nice to hear and it changed my mind, at least for now.
Here is what I plan to do. This all started because we were in a lock down, shut in our homes and trying to find some things to occupy ourselves. I also thought there was no more important time spiritually than right now, during this time. I may have felt a little guilty, too, because I couldn’t perform my weekly pastoral duties that I was so accustomed to doing. So I began writing entries and accompanying questions in the worksheets. The initial response was very encouraging and I kept going. I’ve written an entry for each day since.
My current plan is to finish out this week and then stop. My reasoning is twofold. First, life is getting back to normal more and more. Even though Governor Wolf has again extended the lockdown, my observation is that many people are not adhering to it anymore. More and more businesses are opening and the roads are once again full of people. This is a very good sign!
Secondly, I am getting busier with my retirement plans and wrapping things up as the soon-to- be former pastor of Stroudsburg United Methodist Church. My personal time is getting filled with packing boxes, talking to realtors, and making plans for the next stage of my life. This is all very exciting and most welcome by me, but it is taking a lot of time.
So, I will finish out this week and then stop. I truly appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read these entries and then fill out the worksheet and submit them for me to read. I’ve learned a lot about you, even some of you I knew very well, and it’s been fun.
May 9, 2020
I like trains. I always have. Their sound and sights bring a smile to my face every time. I remember the very first time I rode the Amtrak train to Philadelphia. I remember fondly the times my parents took me and my brother to ride the steam engines at Strasburg Railroad and the East Broadtop Railroad. Throughout my ministry we have taken church families to Strasburg, Jim Thorpe, and Steamtown to ride the historic trains. Every time was a special memory!
My third cousin, Dick Johnston, was a railroad engineer on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Penn Central Railroad, and then Conrail. I always admired him and loved hearing his stories of running a train. One day he gave my brother and me the biggest thrill a kid could ever hope for: he took us to the train yard in Harrisburg and let us take turns running the engine in the yard! What a thrill! That big blue diesel engine was so big! Dave and I looked up at it in amazement! Then we sat in the engineer’s seat, put our foot in the deadman’s pedal, and pushed the throttle forward. Wow! What a feeling! You could hear and feel that engine come to life. It was idling even before we got to it, but now it was alive and moving down the track, all at our command!
These days I am resigned to pushing the throttle on my Lionel transformer, which is usually out at Christmas time. It is fun, and I enjoy it immensely, but it’s not the same as running a big Conrail diesel engine down the yard tracks!
Jenny was a little girl
She only dreamed of trains
She never played with dolls
Or lacy kinds of things
Jenny counted boxcars
Instead of counting sheep
But she could go anywhere
When she went to sleep
All she ever talked about
Was getting on to ride
She was living in another time
You could see it in her eyes
And every day after school
She’d head down to the track
Waiting for the train
That was never coming back
Jenny dreamed of trains
When the nighttime came
Nobody knew how she made it come true
Jenny dreamed of trains
The depot’s been boarded up
The rails have turned to rust
There hasn’t been a train through here
Since the mill went bust
No one believed her
When she said she heard the train
Said she was just a little girl
Acting kind of strange
Jenny dreamed of trains
When the nighttime came
Nobody knew how she made it come true
Jenny dreamed of trains
Jenny laid a penny
On the track one day
In God we trust
She walked away
The very next morning
All that she could find
Was a little piece of copper
Squashed flatter than a dime
Jenny dreamed of trains
When the nighttime came
Nobody knew how she made it come true
Jenny dreamed of trains
Nobody knew how she made it come true
Jenny dreamed of trains
“Jenny Dreamed of Trains”
Performed by John Denver
Written by Vince Gill & Guy Clark
Jenny dreamed of trains. I do, too. Do you?
May 8, 2020
“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
You might think I am quoting the New Testament here, specifically some of Jesus’ last words as he hung on the cross. Actually, I am quoting from an Old Testament book, the Book of Psalms, chapter 22. Here is the quote:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest”
Psalms 22:1-2 (NRSV)
Was Jesus reciting scripture on the cross? Perhaps. We know that the Old Testament contains quite a few messianic prophecies, predicting the coming of the Messiah. One explanation could be that Jesus was just quoting one of these prophecies. However, and I think many of us can relate to this, sometimes the words of scripture are so profound that even out of desperation our words sound like scripture and they even resonate some of the exact same words!
Here is an example: have you ever said or thought, “There is nothing new under the sun?” Well, Ecclesiastes 1:9 contains these words:
“What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NRSV)
How about this: prides goeth before the fall? Well, Proverbs 16:18 reads:
“Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Proverbs 16:18 (NRSV)
Here’s another: it’s just a drop in the bucket. Isaiah 40:15 states:
“Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.”
Isaiah 40:15 (NRSV)
So you see, there are many common sayings that we use many times that are actually in the Bible. It is amazing to me how much the Bible has to say to us and how accurately is depicts our feelings.
A Field of Dreams
May 7, 2020
One night when I was living in the Paoli parsonage, Denise was working nightshift and the kids were asleep upstairs. I was watching TV and stumbled across a 30-minute documentary on the cornfield in Iowa that was used for the filming of The Field of Dreams movie staring Kevin Kostner. This is one of my of favorite movies and I was enthralled with the show. Toward the end they told us that the baseball field was still there and could be visited for free by anyone who wanted to visit.
When Denise got home in the morning, I told her, “We’re going to Iowa!” She was taken back at first but when I explained why, she was all in! Denise loved baseball. In fact, she planned the whole trip and here was our itinerary. We drove west to Cincinnati to see the Reds host the Phillies. We sat in the nosebleed section but sat beside a very nice older couple who moved from Pennsylvania to Cincinnati. They were very nice to Lydia and James and we had an enjoyable evening. Believe it or not, the Phillies pulled off a win!
Then we drove to Chicago. The drive in the car was not bad at all. I played my baseball CD and Denise kept the kids busy with all kinds of games and activities. During the drive, Lydia and James started a debate on which one of them was going to have the best time in Chicago. You see, Lydia was scheduled to go to the American Girl Doll place to have tea with here babydoll, Hannah. At the same time, James was going to be in Comisky Park to see the White Sox host his favorite team, the Orioles. They went back and forth, arguing who was going to have the best time. Between Denise and I there was no doubt; I was going to have the best time. We both readily agreed to this because I was taking James to the ballpark and Denise was forced to have tea with Hannah and Lydia even though she was a huge baseball fan.
James and I arrived at Comisky Park early and were standing in line on the concourse to buy a hotdog and a soda. We could see the ballfields and the Orioles were warming up. Cal Ripkin, Jr. was nursing a very bad back injury and hadn’t been playing for a few weeks. He was jogging from first base to second, then to third, and then to home. He would run down to first base and do it all over again. We left our place in line because I had a hunch. I told James if we went down to the third base line, I think Cal might sign some autographs. We got down there along the field and not two minutes later, Cal comes over and starts signing autographs for the kids. James got his autograph! He just knew he was going to have a better time than Lydia, but even with this huge score, Lydia still did not agree!
The next night we went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play a twilight doubleheader. It was a great ballpark with lots of atmosphere. We’ve been to eight or nine major league parks and this one is still my favorite so far.
The next day we drove the rest of the way to Iowa and reached our destination in Dwyersville, Iowa, where the Field of Dreams is located. We spent two-and-a-half days there and had the time of our lives! On Sunday morning, the Ghost Players melted into appearance from the corn field and put on a show. I’d call it something like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. They included the kids in their routine and it was a blast.
But you know, the best part of the trip was having a catch with James, Lydia, and Denise. We played ball for hours on end every day. We sat in the small bleachers and just looked at that beautiful baseball diamond. We recollected special moments from the movie, especially the ending where Ray’s dad, who came back as one of the Ghost Players, says to him, “Hey, dad, wanna have a catch?”
Is there anything better than having a catch with your son, your daughter, or your wife? I don’t think so.
First Fishing Trip with Jim
May 6, 2020
Not long after my arrival to my first church as the pastor of St. Paul UMC in Hellertown, Jim asked if I was a fisherman. My answer must not have impressed him because he said, “Well, they taught you how to fish for men in seminary, and I will teach you how to fish for fish!”
Not long after making this statement, Jim called one day and asked if I could fishing tomorrow. Tomorrow? No, I have to lead Bible study I told him. A couple weeks later Jim called me again and asked if I could go fishing tomorrow. Tomorrow? No, I have a Trustees meeting tomorrow evening so that won’t work. Now I knew Jim was retired and could pretty much do anything he wanted whenever he wanted, like going fishing, but my schedule as a new pastor was much less free much of the time. When he asked me if I could fishing the third time and I had to decline again, I asked him why he didn’t give me more notice, say like four or five days. His answer was we can’t predict the weather out that far! I didn’t know it but Jim was waiting for the perfect wind direction—coming from the west. His reasoning made sense once he explained it to me. When the wind blows from the west, it is blowing over the land and this makes for a more gentle sea and better fishing. The fourth time he called, I was free the next day and could tag along, so we went.
My first fishing trip with Jim was night fishing for whiting. The boat was to depart at 11pm. We got there four hours early! Jim also knew exactly where he wanted us located on the boat and he knew that it was first-come-first-served. He wanted his spot, so he got there super early. The other thing I observed was the route we took to get to Belmar, NJ. We never once got on a highway, which would have made the trip quicker. Jim had his reasons he said.
Jim asked if I knew how to tie knots and when my answer did not please him he took the time to teach me the knot we were to use that night. He tied it slowly as he instructed each step of the way. He made it look so easy! It was not easy for me though. To this day I struggle to tie that knot. Not Jim. When he wasn’t slowing down to instruct me he tied that knot in the blink of an eye.
It didn’t take long for us to get onto the fish. It was amazing! Jim, Al, and I were standing at the rail beside each other and catching fish like crazy. By the time the captain indicated it was time to return to dock, we had caught 56 fish! I kid you not. That’s what Jim would say if he was here telling this story.
We got back to Jim’s house around 8am. He took one fish out of the coolers and showed me how to filet it. Then he told me to go back to the parsonage and call everyone in our church directory, asking each one if they liked fresh fish. Once I made the phone calls, I went back to Jim’s house and he took me around to deliver all the fish to the church members who wanted fresh fish. It was a classic way for the new pastor to meet the church members. Jim was brilliant—as a fisherman and a churchman.
I miss JIm. We had many wonderful fishing trips after this first one and Jim taught me a lot. We had some mighty special memories on the water and later he even taught me how to fly fish. Jim was a giver. He gave away fish and he had a huge garden. He never took money for any of the vegetables he grew—he just gave it all away.
I imagine Jim is fishing in heaven with the disciples now. I miss him and the good times we spent together. He was special to me. Thank you, Jim!
A Camel Ride
May 5, 2020
Mid-way through our trip to the Holy Lands, Denise and I were staying at the Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives. We stayed there for three or four nights. Each morning as we came out of the hotel to wait for our bus, there was a camel driver peddling camel rides to all the tourists. We grew weary of all the panhandlers so we barely noticed this guy the first few mornings. On the last morning of our stay in that hotel, we came out to the same spot, and Denise suggested we might want to take the guy up on his offer for a camel ride, asking when would we have the opportunity to ride a camel again?
I rode the camel first. He got down on his knees and I got up on the saddle on his hump. The owner led me down the steep road and we slowly made our way. It was not all that exciting really. Camels are high when you sit atop them, but this guy just plodded along down the hill and back up again. My ride was over and now it was Denise’s turn.
Denise sat atop the camel and it stood up. Then, all of the sudden it lurched away from the owner’s grip of the lead rope and took off! Denise was bouncing up and down as the camel ran down the hill. The owner was running after them shouting some words in his native tongue. Meanwhile Denise was yelling “Whoa!” and getting louder with each breath! The look in her eyes and her expression were absolutely priceless. Of course, I was laughing like crazy the entire time. Luckily for Denise, the camel owner finally caught up with them and once again took hold of the lead rope and slowed the camel down to a brisk walk. Denise got much more for her money than I, and had the ride of her life!
When they returned to the top of the hill, I asked the owner if that happens a lot. He looked at me with an exasperated expression and excitedly replied, “No! That never happened before!” It made me think; maybe that camel liked Denise and was trying to steal her away from me!
May 4, 2020
Denise and I had the privilege to travel to the Holy Lands in 1994. It was wonderful to see all the sights and to think that we were walking in the very places Jesus walked long ago. It was a beautiful experience. We stayed longer than the typical 10-day tour to attend a 3-day extension on the parables of Jesus. Each morning we studied the scriptures on one of the parables. Then in the afternoon we went out to visit a vineyard, or the road to Jericho, or a sheepfold. This time of study was tremendous, theological, and deeply spiritual for both of us.
A sheepfold is a place where the sheep stay overnight to be protected from wolves and other dangers. After a day of grazing, the shepherd comes to the sheepfold and widens his legs at the perimeter of the sheepfold entrance. Then each sheep comes between his legs. As it does, the shepherd reaches down to inspect each sheep for any burrs or cuts. If everything is alright, the sheep continues through the legs of its shepherd and goes into the protection of the sheepfold. Once all the sheep in the flock are accounted for and nighttime comes, the shepherd lays down across the entrance of the sheepfold. This way, any danger that comes to threaten the sheep, first has to go through the shepherd. He is the gate!
This was a powerful lesson to me. I knew that Jesus said he was the gate in John’s gospel, but I did not know exactly what he meant. Now I did. Think about it: after each day we are checked out by Jesus. He encourages us to come near to him so he can check for any scratches or harm that may have come our way during the day. Then, when we are safely in the fold, he lays down to protect us for the night.
When I was a young child, my parents taught me this prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” It sort of has a similar feeling of comfort knowing that Jesus is our gate. We can close our eyes at the end of the day and rest easy because Jesus is laying there to protect us through the night. Somehow I always rested easier after saying that prayer.
By the time we taught our own kids this prayer, it changed slightly: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Your love stay with me through the night and wake me with the morning light. Amen.” I don’t know if cleaning up the “if I die before I wake” part was always the best thing. I grew up in farmland and around a lot of animals. New birth and death were before us all the time. This has changed for many now, except those who have pets who experience all the joys of new birth and eventual death, too. We can only shield our children from the realities of life for so long. Eventually they have to learn these important life lessons anyway. I would rather have us teach our children about all the good and bad things that come in our lifetime, and to know we have a shepherd who will always take care of us!
May 3, 2020
Grandma Shank was a wonderful grandmother for a grandson to have growing up. She was loving and kind. She talked to everybody, even strangers. She never learned to drive a car but she got places, saw lots of things, and was the most friendly person I knew. She always seemed to have a positive attitude, too. She certainly had her share of troubles in life, but she never let it get her down.
Oh, and she thoroughly enjoyed sitting in her rocking chair. I can still see her there, sitting in her wooden rocker, rocking back and forth. She’d be looking out the living room window, watching and observing the world around her. Or, she would be watching the old black and white TV set. Or, she would be reading her Bible. Or, and this was most often the case, sitting there and talking to someone in the living room. She often had us relatives in her home, she always invited the mailman in to chat or have a cup of coffee, and she even invited Stinky the Bum in to feed him a sandwich and soup.
Grandma always seemed to enjoy the little things in life. She had a green thumb like no one I ever saw. She knew every flower and plant name, how to make them grow, and she talked to each one when she watered them. She collected rainwater off the porch roof and spent a great deal of time caring for her plants. It was something to behold.
But mostly I remember her rocking in her rocking chair. When I was just a toddler, she would hold me and rock for a while. Then she would stretch out her two legs and let me slide down to the floor. Grandma was the best soft and cuddly sliding board a grandson could ever hope to have in his little life!
One year, Grandma got a new rocking chair. I remember it and I remember her reaction to receiving it. She put it into use right away and she had such a big smile on her face. The sides of the rocker looked like ram’s horns to me. And the wood, oh, it was so beautiful! Grandma rocked back and forth on that rocker, tapping her toe along the way. It is a memory I still hold dear in my mind and heart.
These thoughts came to mind a few years ago when I first started writing song lyrics and I wrote down some words about Grandma in her rocking chair. I liked what came out on the paper and sent the lyrics to Marti Lantz. In her usual, masterful way she composed music for my lyrics. It is a true treasure for me. Whenever I play this song I remember my Grandma and her rocking on her rocking chair! It is a sweet memory I will never forget!
The Living Bible
May 2, 2020
The Bible has been translated into many different languages from the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. In 1611, King James of England had the Bible translated into the King’s English. We refer to this as the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.
For many, many years the King James Version was the preferred Bible by most people, even in this country. If you memorized Psalm 23, my guess is you learned it from the KJV. My dad used the King James Version and for most of his life he believed it to be the only true Bible. He taught Sunday school with it, led Youth Group with it, and used it for his personal devotions. He even read through it cover to cover seven times!
Other translations and versions of the Bible now exist and many of them go back many years. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, for example, was composed in 1946. Arguably, the two most widely used translations today are the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version. Both of these are excellent for in-depth Bible study because a group of scholars worked on these translations as opposed to only one person. The Message is an example of the latter, where one person was primarily involved in writing the version instead of a collaboration of people. The Living Bible is, too, and it is actually a paraphrase of the Bible rather than a true translation.
The Living Bible was introduced in 1962. Kenneth Taylor was a Baptist layperson employed by Moody Press. Tyndale House Publishers was founded by Taylor because he wanted to publish his paraphrase of the Bible. He started with Paul’s letters. In 1963, Billy Graham offered Taylor’s paraphrase at his Crusades. Taylor kept working. By 1967 he had the entire New Testament done and by 1971 he completed the Old Testament to finish his Bible.
Kenneth Taylor’s reason for creating this paraphrase of the Bible was to help those who wanted to read the Bible to children without having to stop and explain everything. He wanted it to be easy to read and understand, even when children heard it.
The Way was a version of The Living Bible that I used when I was in middle and high school for Sunday school and youth group. It was my Bible. When I got to college and then seminary, I was introduced to the Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version and have been using this ever since for my preaching and leading Sunday school and Bible study. But The Living Bible is still one of my favorites for personal reading and devotions. It is easy to read and I like it’s simplicity. If it was good enough for Billy Graham, I figure it’s good enough for me.
The Perfect Storm
May 1, 2020
Jim and I were planning a fishing trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1991. Jim was a great fisherman. In fact, he was the best fisherman I knew. He taught me how to fly fish and he took me out deep sea fishing many times and man could he catch fish! But this trip was bigger! We were going off the coast of Massachusetts to catch real fish—cod and pollack! I was told we’d be jigging 200 feet down and catch fish hand over fist. I couldn’t wait!
The week before our departure from Pennsylvania, the weather forecast did not look good at all. In fact, three hurricane force storms were converging out on the Atlantic Ocean in what would be termed The Perfect Storm. I called Jim and said, “Surely we will not be going on our trip, will we?” Well, Jim was an old fisherman and an old Pennsylvania Dutchman. He made it clear he was not going to swallow his down deposit for our trip, so we were going!
We left Pennsylvania on schedule and arrived in Gloucester early as usual. The very first thing Jim did was check in at the dock and have the Yankee Fleet touch base with the captain who was out on a day trip. He radioed back saying the trip was on but we were going in a different direction, to the Gulf of Maine, due to the approaching storm. Jim was happy so we got a nice seafood dinner and waited for our departure at 11pm.
I told Jim I thought I wanted a bottom bunk but he said that was wrong. He was a World War II Navy man and informed me that the bottom rack was not preferred. I began to argue a little bit with him but he won completely when he asked me what would happen if the guy above me got seasick? I was obviously a greenhorn but was having the fishing trip of my life anyhow!
As I got settled in my top bunk, and heard the drone of the boat’s motor, I began to think. And I began to get a little nervous. I had never been out so far into the ocean before and I am not a good swimmer. As we rode out deeper into the sea, I thought about how deep the water was getting and by now it was far too far to swim back to shore! That was my last thought before I was rustled by Jim at 5am to start fishing.
This two-day fishing trip began, but there was a problem: the water on the ocean was calm; dead calm. I never saw the ocean so calm. It was as flat as a table and it was the only time I ever got seasick! I chummed the fish for a moment or two and then got back to fishing. And boy were they ever hitting! We’d no sooner start jigging our 16-ounce jig and a fish would nail it. We’d reel it up the 200 feet, get it off the hook, and get right back at it. It was amazing! Jim was right: we were catching fish hand over fist! “I kid you not,” as Jim would say.
Our success didn’t wane. Both days were jam packed with excitement and we had an incredible catch. In fact, even with the mates filleting our fish, we had to buy three more coolers for the trip home! But we were weren’t home yet. Around noon on the second day, the sea began to get wild. It was calm no more and we realized we had just experienced the calm before the storm. The wind and waves came one after the other and the next one seemed bigger than the one before it. Our captain cut our trip short by a few hours and started heading back to dock. But now the waves were even bigger. By the time we saw land, the waves were swelling to fifteen feet!
We did get back safely and had an incredible fishing trip. We later learned that this was indeed The Perfect Storm. A movie was made about it and the crew of the Andrea Gail fishing boat was lost at sea that week. Our trip was eventful but their’s was fateful. When I ate my fish that year, I remembered. It was a bitter sweet memory and it is one I will never forget.
April 30, 2020
Anger is an emotion. Is neither right nor wrong; it is a feeling. Anger can burn deep in one’s mind and heart. It is what we do with our anger that get us into trouble!
The Bible is honest. It tells us like it is. Some people do not like this. Biblical characters have been known to have anger and even act out on their anger. Moses is one who comes to mind immediately. Here is what happened:
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” Exodus 2:11-12 (NRSV)
The anger burned in Moses and he acted on his anger and killed the Egyptian. Even great leaders, like Moses, can be victims to the negative actions in anger. Anger is not the problem, it's our reaction and retaliation to anger.
Psalm 137 is one of my favorite Psalms. It is not a pretty Psalm but it is honest. I like that. Here are all the verses from this chapter:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Psalms 137 (NRSV)
That last verse is the one that gets me. The people are so angry with the Babylonians that they want revenge! This is an honest to goodness Psalm. The people are expressing their emotions and there is nothing wrong with that. Too many people are not honest with their feelings. Expressing them and getting them out is a very good thing. Just be careful with how you act on them.
Introductions and First Impressions
April 29, 2020
When I was introduced as the new associate pastor at Asbury UMC in Allentown, the senior pastor wanted to do it in a special not an ordinary way. He gave great thought to this, too. He presented how he wanted to introduce me to see if it was okay with me. It was and this is how my introduction to that church went on my first Sunday.
Bob Wright was the senior pastor and he was tall. So there I stood beside him before the congregation. He said, “Good morning, I am Big Bob!” Then I said, “Good morning, I am Little Bob.” Then I said, “But I am Young Bob.” The senior pastor replied, “Then I guess I am Old Bob. But, I am Bob Wright.” And then I said, “So I guess that makes me Bob Wrong.” Finally, the senior pastor concluded my introduction by suggesting that we just go Bob Bobbing along!
I will never forget that day. I will never forget Bob Wright and the staff of that church. And I will never forget that congregation. They treated me so well as their associate pastor and I had a great time there with them. I learned a lot, too.
The church staff was incredible. They were all excellent in their area of involvement and they seemed like experts to me. I learned something valuable more than once from each one of them. I learned just by watching them some days!
I think back to those five years and wonder if any of them learned anything from me. I was just the associate pastor and only had three years of experience under my belt as a pastor in the church before I got to Asbury UMC. I did have a lifetime of active involvement in the church and had seminary training to boot. But I learned a whole lot of practical things while serving in Allentown. It is a memory I will cherish forever and there are many people from that church I think of often and fondly.
Bob Wright was actually my District Superintendent when I first started the process of becoming a pastor in the United Methodist Church. He conducted the Charge Conference at St. Paul’s UMC in Elizabethtown when they approved me as a potential candidate for ministry. Bob scared me back then. After all, he was the District Superintendent!
When I met Bob again to interview with him for the associate pastor’s job at Asbury UMC, I was still a little intimidated. He was the senior pastor, he would be my boss, and he was tall! I always looked up to him, both literally and figuratively. But you know, he made that first meeting so easy for me. He was laid back and receptive to me right from the start—in fact, right from the telephone call the previous evening.
Introductions and first impressions are important, and Bob showed me how to make very good introductions and first impressions.
Saint or Sinner - Part 2
April 28, 2020
Yesterday, I posed the question: Are you a saint or are you a sinner? I gave you my answer from that day in seminary when the question was first posed to me. I even gave you my rationale by quoting Romans, defending my position. Now let us consider this question a little further.
My friend, John, said he was a saint when he answered this question. I knew John fairly well by this time. We became very good friends and had a lot in common. John is a great guy. I like him a lot. But when he declared himself to be a saint, I laughed.
I mistakenly equated a saint with being perfect. The two might not be mutually exclusive. The word saint only appears in the NRSV Bible one time: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you.” Philippians 4:21 This does not sound like the usage of the word saint that many of us are accustomed to hearing. Saintly talk and reference was developed more in the early church than it was in the Bible. However, in this particular usage in Philippians, it sounds like a human can, in fact, be a saint.
The protestant church does not refer much to saints. We hear of Roman Catholic saints and, because we are different, we get turned off. We do celebrate All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday of November when we remember all the saints in our church who died in the previous year. Here, we use the word saint but we might mistakenly identify the term with only those who died and are now angels.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines saint as one officially recognized through canonization as the Roman Catholics do, and as one of the spirits who departed to heaven. But we also see this definition as well: “one of God’s chosen and usually Christian people.”
It turns out that John was right. He is a saint. So am I and so are you! We are also sinners. The question before us is not correctly answered yes or not, but both!
Saint or Sinner
April 27, 2020
My Church History Professor in seminary was a great teacher and he had the driest sense of humor. As we students gathered for class, every day we saw a different quote or thought written on the blackboard. It was always there as we entered the room. One day, my friend John and I sat down in our usual seats in the center front row. We both looked up at the question on the board, which read: “Are you a saint or a sinner?”
I looked at John and said, "Well, what you are; a saint or a sinner?"" Without even thinking about it, John said, “I’m a saint!” I looked at him and laughed. “I know you, John,” I said, “and I know you are no saint!” We were debating this back and forth and it was getting lively. Dr. Partee walked into the classroom, looked at us briefly and just smiled a dry smile. We knew he had accomplished his goal of making us think even before class began.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church, well, after I was three years old. Prior to that our church was Evangelical United Brethren, until the merger in 1968. All along the way I heard sermons and was taught in Sunday School that I am not a saint; I am a sinner. After all, Romans 3:23 clearly reads: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are sinners pure and simple and need repentance and forgiveness.
Back in the day, preachers would preach the devil out of you. They felt called to preach to sinners who needed repentance and they wouldn’t stop until every last sinner did repent. Some would slam their fist on the pulpit and many would yell at the top of their lungs until they were literarily blue in the face. It was a sight to see and hear and it wasn't pretty.
Revivals were weeklong preaching events where a well-known preacher would come to town and preach the gospel. These events were often held in big tents, almost like circus tents. They were often held in the dog days of the summer, maybe to remind the attendees how hot it is down there! Lay Witness Missions were weekend events that were somewhat similar but with less loud preaching. They were more teaching events helping people to have a religious experience and come to believe or believe stronger.
Preaching has changed over the years, even during my lifetime. We preachers are less prone to slam the pulpit with our fist or yell at our parishioners during a sermon. The message is still the same but with a different tone. Sometimes a little honey is the best way to catch a bee, rather than provoking or scaring it!
On the Road to Emmaus
April 26, 2020
Today’s scripture reading in worship was Luke 24:13-35. This is the story of the two persons walking on the road to Emmaus. They were in Jerusalem and were traveling home. Along the way they met a stranger who started walking with them. They began conversing but the stranger did not seem to know what had been going on in Jerusalem so they told him all the details of Holy Week and Jesus’ crucifixion.
When they were finished, he started to tell them about all the teachings from Moses to the prophets regarding the prophecies of Jesus. As he talked he seemed to make the scripture come alive. When they finally, seven miles later, reached their destination, he acted as if he was going to continue on his journey. But they invited him in and urged him to stay with them that night since it was getting late.
Then, as he broke bread with them, their eyes were opened and they suddenly realized it was Jesus! Unbelievable! All this time he was walking and talking with them but they had no idea it was him. It wasn’t until they were eating at the table with him that they recognized him.
I like to drive in my truck and I am on the road a lot. My average is between 37,000 - 42,000 miles a year! That is a lot of time spent on the road. As I read this story from Luke’s Gospel, I wonder how many times I’ve been on a road and Jesus was there with me, but I didn’t realize he was there, maybe even right beside me.
There are a lot interesting details in this story: the journey, the conversation, the meal, and the recognition. I believe it is a story we can relate to because we want to be close to Jesus but he seems so far away; so distant from us. These two persons thought he was dead, so it never occurred to them that he could be there walking and talking with them.
That’s what Jesus does, you know: he does things that seem improbable and impossible. He has a way of showing up in our lives just when we need him most. You do not have to look too hard. He might be closer to you than you think!
The Name Train
April 25, 2020
I started my passion for woodworking when Denise and I were just married. She came home one day and asked me, “Can you make a name train for Erica (our niece)?” I asked for a few details and bought some 2x boards at 84 Lumber. We bought a Craftsman Scroll Saw and I cut out all the letters for Erica’s name. Then I began to sand each letter. After the second one, my fingers hurt and started to cramp. Denise asked if she could help me, so I readily obliged her offer. She and I sanded a few more letters then we went back to Sears to buy a Craftsman sander!
In my usual go big attitude, we made enough letters for Erica’s name and then additional letters for each letter of the alphabet. I cut out a train engine and a caboose, too. When we were finished and hooked all those cars together, it was 26 feet long! I knew Brian and Sabrina would kill us if we gave Erica all those letters, so we just gave her her name train. I still have letters in my workshop!
Then I started watching Norm Abram’s New Yankee Workshop on TV. He made woodworking look so easy and he had a special knack for teaching the skill to us viewers. Before long, I wanted to be like Norm Abram. Denise bought me a Delta 10” contractor’s table saw for Christmas the first year we lived in Hellertown. Then I got busy recreating the workbench Norm showed us on the television show. It wasn’t perfect but it worked well, looked good, and has been a prominent piece in my workshop, and is still in use today! Denise bought me a Delta 6” joiner that second Christmas in Hellertown. Then I made Norm’s Shaker beside table.
When the kids were born I made them a changing table based on one Denise saw and wanted to buy. It was $795! So I went with her to the store with my little tape measure, made some measurements, took home a brochure, and made one modeled after it, complete with dovetail joints for the drawer fronts. Then I made Lydia and James each a rocking horse, Teabiscuit and Cactus, exact replicas from the New Yankee Workshop. Later I made them a toy box modeled after the one Norm made.
I have a complete woodworking shop set up in my basement now and enjoy making sawdust whenever I can. I imagine I will be doing a lot more of this in the near future. And to think, it all started with the name train.
April 24, 2020
When I was a little boy and the daytime hours were waning, nighttime approached and it was bedtime. The only problem was I didn’t like bedtime. I never wanted to go to bed. When mom or dad told me it was bedtime, I would say rapidly and repeatedly, “No bed… no bed… no bed… no bed!” I said it so fast, and it amused my parents so much, that they recorded my reply onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
I found all kinds of ways to delay bedtime. I would ask for a drink of water. I had to have mom or dad check the nightlight. I was creative! I drove my babysitters crazy when mom and dad where away at bedtime. They’d be in the living room trying to have alone time with their boyfriend and here I was delaying bedtime for as long as possible and preventing them from being alone. My one cousin got the brunt of this but back then I had no idea how far-reaching my antics were for her. Sorry, Kim! I put my parents through a lot, too, night after night, as I delayed bedtime as long as possible.
I was finally forced to succumb and take my little self to bed, but not before dad said, “Goodnight. Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite. And if they do, hit ‘em with a shoe and say, “Hey, that’s not for you!”
The Waltons had a bedtime ritual that we sort of adopted in our home. They would be settled down for bedtime and then they said “Goodnight” to each other before drifting off to sleep. “Goodnight, Mary Ellen. Goodnight, Erin. Goodnight, Grandma. Goodnight, Ben. Goodnight, Grandpa. Goodnight, Jason. Goodnight, Momma. Goodnight, Jim Bob. Goodnight, Daddy. Goodnight, Elizabeth. Goodnight, John-boy. It was a touching tribute to a family that was so closely connected.
Some people are morning people and some people are night owls. I still hate bedtime and, yes, I am a night owl. I attended Temple University, which was the first night school in our country. We are the Temple Owls! But I think I came by my night-owlness at an early age. I read a study one time which stated that morning people’s body temperature warms up more quickly in the morning than a night owl’s body temperature. This makes sense to me. I hit my stride late in the day and get my second wind much later than many do. My in-laws say I sleep half the day away when I get up at 8am. They’ve already been up for over three or four hours!
In the story of creation, we read this: “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:5 (NRSV)
The daytime and the night make up the whole day. Some people have to work third shift and sleep during the day. They still complete a day’s work.
Maybe I’m afraid I’ll miss something, but to this very day, I hate bedtime.
April 23, 2020
When I was a kid we had two ewe lambs on our country property. We didn’t live on a big farm but my dad bought some land from a neighboring farmer and we had some space for a big garden up back and a fenced in area for the sheep. It was fun to have the sheep but they made for extra chores and they were not always cooperative. They repeatedly got out of their fenced in pasture and we had to chase them down. This always happened at harvest time when the farmer harvested his crop beside our property. The sheep panicked when they saw and heard the big tractor or combine coming and they found a way out of their fence. I guess they didn’t know they were safe inside. But once one of those two sheep made her escape, the other was sure to follow. Sheep are followers.
One year dad decided to breed the ewes. A friend had a ram name George who was willing to do his duty. So my brother, my dad, and I went to get George and bring him home in dad’s pickup. We got to the Pop Walter’s farm and he and dad loaded George in the back of the truck. Now mind that the truck had a cap covering the back, complete with windows on all sides. It was my job to ride in the back with George and keep him calm all the way home.
Well, as soon as dad hit the gas to go out the lane, George went wild. I quickly found out that he did not like going for a ride in a truck. He bucked and turned and went completely wild. At one point I thought he was going to break through the side window! So I captured him and held him so he wouldn’t hurt himself or my dad’s truck. Imagine a skinny little kid trying to keep hold of a big jostling crazy ram. It was pretty funny for everyone except me!
Many years later, I still recalled that wild ride home. It become a memorable event for me and my family. George was long gone but I still remembered him. When Denise and I were out to eat at a fair or some restaurant and she ordered a gyro, I looked at her as she began to eat and said, “Awe, I could never eat that, it could be George!”
George left his mark on me and I will never forget him.
April 22, 2020
Today is the 30th consecutive day I’ve posted to this Study Group. It was initially intended to keep us connected during this Coronavirus and I believe it is accomplishing this goal. But some other benefits I never saw coming are being realized, too. First and foremost, by you taking the time to answer the questions on the worksheets, I am getting to know you better. I truly appreciate you taking the time to answer the questions and submitting them. I enjoy reading every one and I gain insights about you I didn’t know before and probably wouldn’t have come to know in any other way. This is cool!
I enjoy writing the posts. I am recollecting stories and events from my life and reconnecting to important and meaningful times I’ve had the opportunity to experience. Most times the stories come to mind immediately, which is amazing to me. There have only been one or two days when I sat here in front of a blank page and asked myself, “What am I going to write about today?”
I don’t think I originally intended doing this every day. My thought was to do something occasionally to keep us connected but once I started I enjoyed it so much that the daily posts came naturally.
I hope you are enjoying the content and the worksheets. I will continue to do this at least for the foreseeable future as I certainly have quite a bit more time on my hands than is usually the case. I am working on adding some additional features and one goal I have is to incorporate a comments section where you can leave comments for everyone to see, in addition to the worksheets that only I see.
Thank you again for your participation in this. I am grateful for you!
Working with Your Hands
April 21, 2020
I watched my dad working with his hands when I was a boy. He had an innate ability to fix or make anything. I watched him turn plenty of wrenches in my childhood. He could just look at a bolt and tell me immediately which size socket to fetch him. It was uncanny. I watched him work with his hands and I wanted to be like him.
One summer mom and dad bought my brother and I brand new ten-speed bikes. We rode our old bikes a lot and I mean a lot. Every day would find us pedaling somewhere. Having ten speeds would definitely help us flatten out the hills around our big country block and the two-mile route to town. We received the bikes in the morning and dad went to work. We rode and rode all morning. Just before lunchtime, I was sitting outside admiring my new gift. It was perfect! Mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money so I knew they sacrificed to be able to buy these bikes for us. I was sitting there just looking at that perfect gift. The paint was shiny red. The chrome bolts shone like diamonds. And that wheel; it just looked fascinating! So I took it apart. I loosened the bolt that attached it to the bike frame and took the chain off the cogs of that back wheel. It was so round! But there were more parts to take apart, so I took them apart. And then it happened. As I got deeper into the project and took more and more parts apart, all the ball bearings fell out onto the sidewalk! Yep, every single one!
Now I panicked! How would I ever get this perfect wheel back together again? How would I even find every ball bearing? I knew dad would be angry with me, and that he would be home at 5pm sharp. So I skipped lunch and started hunting for the ball bearings. They rolled everywhere and it took some time to collect them all. Then, with the pieces laid out in front of me I tried to put them all back together. Nothing worked. I tried again and again, but nothing I did was even close. The afternoon sun stretched across the sky and I could feel the pressure of time dwindling. Dad would be home soon and the brand new bike he had just given me that morning was in pieces and not working!
Still determined to not give up, I heard my dad pull in the driveway. It was five o’clock. He came up the sidewalk, looked at the bike, and then looked at me. I thought I was toast. But my dad sat down beside me, put the pieces in a straight row, and said, “Bobby, when you take something apart, put the first piece down. Then when you take the next piece apart, put that piece beside the first one. Keep doing this until all the pieces are in a row, like this. Then, when you start putting them back together, start at the far end and put that piece on first. Work backward and in order. And before long you’ll have it back together perfectly.” He wasn’t mad and he taught me an important lesson, as he worked with his hands.
Jesus’ dad was a carpenter. We believe that Jesus himself learned the trade from his dad. Jesus worked with his hands! There is a sense of accomplishment that goes unmatched when we create or fix something by working with our hands. It is just something mighty special!
A Little Faith
April 20, 2020
Yesterday I shared some lyrics I wrote based on the sermon theme we used in Sunday worship. I sent them to Marti Lantz, as I always do when the songwriting inspiration hits me. She is very patient and kind. I remember the first song I wrote. It literally came out of no where. I had just lost Denise and the words came out of me just like a song. I looked over the words I just wrote and thought, “This isn’t bad, but what do I know? I am not a singer.” So, I sent the newly written words to Marti & Dave Lantz. I explained what happened and asked, “Should I keep writing like this or should I keep my day job?” As I hit the send the button, I thought for sure they would reply, “Yeah, keep you day job!” Well, they both got back to me and encouraged me to keep writing. I was amazed. Words have been part of my life and my career as a pastor but this was new territory for me. Words are powerful. Words are fun. Words are meaningful and they have the ability to touch people in all kinds of ways. I want to be a man of my word.
Over the past fives years, Marti has taken some of my lyrics and put them to music. She is masterful with how she refines my words and turns them into a song. It is incredible to see her craft my raw words into usable and singable lyrics. Well, she did the same thing this time when I sent the lyrics to her yesterday. Here is what she came up with:
Just a Little Faith
3>Marti Lantz & Bob Shank
A little doubt goes a long way
Doubt does more than we can say
It grows and grows exponentially
And it won’t ever let us be
A little doubt goes a long way.
A little fear goes a long way
Fear takes hold and fear will stay.
Growing more than we might know
Makes a tough row to hoe
Yes, a little fear goes a long way.
Just a little faith is all,
Is all you need
About the size of a mustard seed.
To see you through
Through the long haul,
Just a little faith, a little faith is all.
Just a little doubt
Mixed with just a little fear
Can cause a drought
Where you hunger for years.
So, erase that doubt
And lose that fear
And find just a little,
Just a little faith!
Just a little faith is all,
Is all you need
About the size of the a mustard seed.
To see you through
Through the long haul,
Just a little faith, a little faith is all.
April 19, 2020
A little doubt goes a long way. It doesn’t take much to do much damage. Doubt multiplies exponentially. Two squared is four. Four squared is 16. 16 squared is 256. 256 squared is 65, 636. That is exponential. Doubt works the same way. A little doubt creeps in and before long the doubt is a lot—no doubt about it.
A little fear goes a long way, too. Fear begins with a tiny thought. It doesn’t have to be big at all; just small. It starts out without notice. Then it grows from fear to worry to absolute panic. Fear is paralyzing with its grip on us. It takes over and before long we are afraid to live.
A little faith goes even longer! Don’t believe it? Doubt it? It only takes a little faith to move mountains. Jesus said it not me. A little, like the minuscule mustard seed. The smallest of seeds is all it takes. Faith overcomes fear and doubt. Faith is forever and it only takes a little. Just a little faith will go a long, long way.
Inspired but the topic of this morning’s sermon theme, which I’ve been thinking about a lot this past week, and the words I just wrote down for this entry, I penned a song. I started writing lyrics a while ago and I enjoy the challenge of putting a few words together to make lyrics. It doesn’t always work and some of my lyrics should never see the light of day. But here’s what I came up with tonight:
A little doubt goes a long way
It grows exponentially
Doubt does more than we can say
And it won’t ever let us be
A little fear goes a long way
It grows more than we might know
Fear takes hold with a deadly grip
Leaves us with a long row to hoe
Just a little
A little doubt
A little fear
Life’s in a drought
And it only takes a little
Just a little faith is all
And everything will be okay
Faith sees you through the long haul
John 20 tells the story of Doubting Thomas. The story is one of many about Jesus, but the final verse is one my favorites: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29
Is There Pizza in Heaven?
April 18, 2020
Pizza is one of my favorite food groups. No, seriously. I’ve always loved pizza. When I was a kid we spent a lot of time in at my grandparents’ house. Often, in the evenings, when all of us were together, we would order a pizza from Den’s, a local pizza shop in a neighboring town that had delicious pizza. I remember riding along with my uncle Tom in his blue Dodge Swinger to get the pizza—oh, and the ham and cheese sandwich, too. You see, my grandpa thought that pizza caused cancer, so he always ordered a ham and cheese sandwich.
I didn’t care if pizza caused cancer, l loved the way it tasted and still do! One time recently, my mom and I were driving past Den’s Pizza Shop and I noticed it was closed up. I don’t get home all that much, but this was sad news to me. The pizza shop wasn’t just closed for business, it was closed for good. I asked mom what happened. She said that Den died. I asked her what he died of and guess what she said? Yep, he died of cancer. Maybe grandpa was right! But you know, I still much prefer pizza to ham and cheese sandwiches.
I have friends who have twin boys. As they were growing up, the family had pizza night once a week in their home. Their mom cooked a delicious meal every other evening, but Tuesday was pizza night. One Wednesday evening, as the family ate the meal, one of the boys said out load: “I’d rather have pizza!” It did not matter to him that his mother slaved over the hot stove to make this meal, he preferred pizza and decided to say so. His mom was not pleased. She looked him in the eye with that look only a mother can give and said, “Keep it up and you’ll be having pizza every night!” The boy looked at his twin brother and then his father. There was a pregnant pause as their eyes all met. And all together they said, “Bring it on!”
I wonder if there is pizza in heaven? In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to seven disciples after his resurrection. They were on the shore of Galilee and they ate fish. Fish was a common food for Jesus and the disciples, much like pizza is common food for us. Jesus ate fish in his resurrected body form. He ate fish. So, is there fish in heaven? I hope so, and I hope there is pizza, too!
April 17, 2020
Back when I was in children’s Sunday school and attended Vacation Bible School, memorizing verses was a challenge we embraced heartily. If we could memorize a whole verse, without help and without looking at the words, we earned a prize. It was nothing big typically, maybe a sticker or a special pencil, but it was earned by memorizing all the words of that verse.
I enjoyed the challenge immensely. I realized I was pretty good at memorizing things and felt I had an edge on the other children. One summer I invited my neighbor friend, Todd, to attend Vacation Bible School with me. He was not a regular in Sunday school so he did not have all the practice I did. But he quickly learned the ropes and was neck and neck with me in the top memory verse competition that was held each day. The champion would get a bigger prize than ever before: a beautiful after shave canister made by Avon. It didn’t matter that I didn’t shave yet; I wanted to win that prize. I flew through each round and was even surprising myself by Thursday. Then Friday came—the last and final day of the memory verse competition. I was all ready to take that prize home but Todd, that greenhorn neighbor whom I had invited to join me, took the prize. I was devastated but pretended to be happy for Todd. After all, he won the competition and took home the winning prize. I took home a nice piece of humble pie!
These days, memory verse competitions are out of vogue. The modern thinking is that it isn’t fair to reward those who are gifted at memorization and “punish” the children who do not posses this gift. The result is that fewer and fewer of us commit words of scripture to our memory. It is a shame. Recalling words of scripture can be helpful especially in times of trouble or sorrow. Some American World War 2 veterans were prisoners of war for quite some time. During that time they collectively constructed huge portions of the Bible merely based on their collective memories. It was a way to pass the time and draw on the words of comfort from the Bible, which only existed for them in their minds.
The mind really is an incredible thing. We can do far more thinking than we might realize. The mind can also hinder us if we let it. I remember my football coach in high school. He was tough on us and demanded 100% effort at practice. I remember him saying repeatedly, “Your body can do far more than you mind will allow.” In other words, our mind can make up all kinds of excuses: when will this be over, it hurts, I’m gonna die from doing this! The body can do far more than our meager minds often allow.
I spent some time this week creating a way on the computer to help memorize some verses of scripture. The way it works is you read the verse over and over for at least 10 times, then you see a new page with a few blanks with missing words for you to fill in. Then the next step is to advance to another page with even more blank words for you to fill in. Finally, the last page is the final test to see if you know all the words of the verse. Give it a try and see if it helps you memorize a few verses. Let me know how it goes!
Reading the Bible in a Different Way
April 16, 2020
Reading the Bible is important for Christians to do. The stories and lessons in the Bible are critical for us to learn about. However, there are some inherent problems with reading the Bible. For one thing, some of the readings are boring to read. For example, have you ever read Matthew 1:1-17? These words are the genealogy of Jesus on his father’s side. Somebody begat someone else and so on and so on down the line. It makes for good bedtime reading and little else, or at least we think.
But let’s look at this story in a different way. Read the story and find out how many women are mentioned. This is, after all, Joseph’s genealogy so no women should even be mentioned. But they are. Who are they and why are they mentioned? This is interesting. Five women are mentioned in this story and the first four are what we might call “shady ladies.” The fifth one got pregnant before she married Joseph. Interesting! And you thought this story was boring! Here is an interesting web link on this information:
Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus is told from the perspective of Joseph. His near break of Mary’s engagement was stopped only by a dream he had, in which God spoke to him about this dilemma and instructed him what to do. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters is helpful to get more from these stories. If you were Joseph, how would you feel? What would you say? What would you do?
The Bible is not boring. It is intriguing and interesting. We just need to read it in a different way—by looking at the details a lot closer!
April 15, 2020
I like music. It may be my parents’ fault. Dad loved music. He sang in the church choir for years. Back in the day, he also sang in a Barbershop Chorus and Quartet. He traveled around the region with the chorus and the quartet participating in competitions. My brother and I would stay with our grandparents on those weekends, but I remember being with him at many of their Saturday rehearsals. Dad also had the radio on in his pickup truck all the time. I fondly remember listening to Z107, which was a country station. I grew up with the lyrics of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, Charlie Pride, Jerry Reed, and Tom T. Hall. For her part, mom didn’t sing in the choir because someone had to keep my brother and me straight and out of trouble. She succeeded most of the time! She loved music, too, and played her albums on the console stereo all the time. The lyrics of The Statler Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Jim Reeves, and so many others were in our home. It was a great childhood for sure and music was a huge part of it.
Earlier this evening I was practicing on my drum kit. I typically start with some rudiments to warm up and keep my chops sharp. Then I go through a playlist of songs that I enjoy and picked out because of the vast variety of drum beats in those songs. It makes practice fun but also practical and constructive. For me at least, it’s hard to beat a lively country beat with a sharp cross stick pattern in combination with the bass drum and hi-hats.
My nephew, Michael Shank, is a great drummer. He’s played with some amazing bands, plays in worship at LCBC quite often, and even played one night with Michael W. Smith! And man, can Michael play! He is so fun to watch and listen to anytime I get the chance! He teaches me a lot and just this past week, he shared a ton of drumming information with me again. I am so grateful for his drumming talent and interest, and his willingness to share it with me!
Music has alway been a big part of my life. When I was dating Denise, she attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania while I attended Temple University. I made that trip with Alabama blaring through my cassette player. Tonight, I am listening to music while I am writing these words. A mix of 60’s, 70’s, soul, jazz, and country have been playing for about an hour now.
Music does something like nothing else can do. Songs deliver a message but its different and deeper than mere words. I like preaching and teaching, but they are not anywhere the same as a song. Songs touch the heart and soul, while they share their message. It is more powerful and touching. It is like nothing else in the world.
Dad’s in heaven now so I am sure he is listening to and making great music. Mom still listens to music in her living room. I wonder if James is hearing any music on his submarine? Lydia still enjoys music after singing so many musical songs over the years. I wonder if Jesus enjoyed music?
The Easter season is filled with many meaningful and uplifting songs. We sing some of them on Easter Sunday and throughout this season. Remember, Easter is not just one day; it is a season. Listen to music. It will uplift and bless you. I know it will.
Resurrection of the Body
April 14, 2020
The Apostles’ Creed states that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.” What does that mean? What kind of body are we talking about? What kind of resurrection body did Jesus have when he came out of the tomb?
The Apostle Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 15. Here are some of his words:
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.” 1 Corinthians 15:35-40 (NRSV)
It is an interesting question. Jesus apparently had a different body when he was resurrected and yet he was recognizable by the disciples and the women. He ate fish with the disciples on the shore of Galilee but he also walked through a door that was unopened. He also had scars from the nails that were driven through his hands and feet to crucify him.
There are a lot of things we do not know about the resurrection body, but we know that it will never die again. Some refer to it as a spiritual body. Others refer to it as an immortal soul. How old will our body appear to be in heaven? Will we appear in one way to our parents and another way to our children?
These questions are interesting but really not all that important. What is important is that we believe in the “resurrection for he body” whatever kind of body we are talking about. Jesus was the first fruit of death and resurrection for all of us. Because he lives, we shall live also!
Sometimes our bodies ache here on earth. As we get older, the creaks and pains increase. If we live long enough we might very well wear out body out. The new resurrection body never wears out. We will never need a knee replacement or a new heart valve in heaven!
Part of the miracle and glory of heaven is the healing that takes place between here and there. The scriptures state that in heaven there will be no tears. All things will be made like new and every one will be healed. What a glorious day that will be for us!
He is Not Here
April 13, 2020
Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for this moment. Months, if not a year, before this Jesus talked to them about his upcoming death in an attempt to prepare them for this time. But they still were not ready. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. Maybe it just didn’t connect. Whatever the reason, the disciples were so surprised at this news.
“He is not here,” the angel told the women. Well, they could see that! The tomb was empty and Jesus was no where to be found. “He is risen!” The angel continued. Could it be possible? Could Jesus be back from the dead and now living? No, that just doesn’t make sense. Or does it? Could this be what he meant when he said those things so long ago?
Just like the disciples, we often do not heed the words of Jesus. It’s not that we mean to deliberately disobey him. Maybe we get distracted. Or maybe we don’t understand the words properly. There are a myriad of reasons why we do not heed the words of Jesus.
First, we have to hear them. So how do we hear the words of Jesus today? Unlike the disciples, the do not have the luxury of talking with Jesus directly, like we can with each other. Jesus is in heaven and we are here on earth, so how do we hear the words of Jesus today.
First, Jesus spoke in the Bible. Some Bibles have each of Jesus’ words in red letters. These Bibles are often referred to as the Red Letter Edition Bibles. When you see the red letters, you know these are the words of Jesus. You might not read them as words intended directly for you. They might have been spoken to a crowd, the disciples, the Pharisees, or someone else. But they might be intended for you anyway. Sometimes, just when we need it the most, the words of Jesus in the Bible can hit us square in the face and be so meaningful to us. So to begin listening for Jesus’ words, we must read the Bible.
Secondly, whenever we pray we should pray “in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Our words are to Jesus directly. He hears our words. Prayer is defined as communication with God. Well, communication is a two way street of both talking and listening. Communication never really takes place if no one is listening. Prayer should include us listening for Jesus as well as talking with him. Are you listening for Jesus in your prayers?
Thirdly, we can sometimes hear and see Jesus in other people. There’s an old saying that goes: “God moves in mysterious ways.” It is true. God does not always take the most expected path to speak to us. Sometimes it is done most indirectly and through other people. We never know when we might meet Jesus in a stranger or some other person. So be ready. Jesus might speak to you in this way.
Listen to Jesus and know that he lives!
April 12, 2020
“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” Matthew 28:6 (NRSV)
The women went to the tomb while it was still dark. There had been no time to give Jesus a proper burial on Friday because the Sabbath started at sundown. Now it was the day after the Sabbath and the work could be done to give Jesus a proper burial and let him rest in peace. They journeyed to the tomb much like Jesus had journeyed to the cross. Their burdens and their hearts were heavy. The days before were filled with sadness and tragedy. It was surreal. Now they made their way in the dark to get there as soon as they could. I wonder if they shared in any conversation or if their journey was silent? Sometimes there are no words.
As they approached the tomb they noticed that something was wrong. Something was not right. No, not right at all. The large stone that sealed the tomb was out of place. They had wondered how they would deal with that barrier but now it was gone. The tomb was completely open and it was empty. Their first assumption was that someone stole the body. Where could he be? They watched them lay him in this tomb on Friday. They knew he was here. He was dead and he was buried; right here. There was no question about it. Why would someone steal his body and take it away? Those dirty grave diggers.! Why?
Before they could think another thought an angel appeared and talked with them. “He is not here; for he was been raised, as he said.” Matthew 28:6 (NRSV)
What? Excuse me… did I hear you correctly? He is not here and that’s okay? He’s okay? He is alive?!?!
The empty tomb presented a real dilemma to those women and the empty tomb presents a dilemma to us today. We are forced to make a decision about this empty tomb. We can believe that someone stole the body, he was never really dead, or he was risen, as he said. You have some choices to make when presented with the empty tomb. Make your choice wisely.
The Roman Centurion watched Jesus die. It was not your ordinary criminal execution. Not at all. This man died differently from all the others. There was a peace about his awful and tragic death. There was something definitely different. The Centurion noticed it and proclaimed it. “Truly this man was God’s Son.” That’s what he believed. That’s what he said out loud. And he didn’t care who heard him. He was convinced.
The tomb is empty. Its emptiness demands a response. Ignore it or believe it. Pretend it didn’t happen and move on, or accept it and embrace it. Deny it or let it change your life forever.
We live in a world of death, and not just because of the Coronavirus. There is death around us every day. We just choose to ignore it, not talk about it, and pretend it isn’t there. But it is here. Death is everywhere and it stinks. And just like the empty tomb, we have to deal with it. We have to talk about it. We have to confront it.
Because he lives, you can face the reality of death in your life. Because he lives you can face the struggles of every day living. Because he lives, you can live, too!
The tomb is empty.
Jesus is risen.
You have a decision to make!
Here is another link for some Easter Sunday Bible Trivia. Once you click the link, you will be taken to the trivia page. Read the instructions at the top of the page and see how well you do. No one will see your answers, unless someone is looking over your shoulder onto your computer screen.
April 11, 2020
Jesus was buried yesterday, just before dusk. The hours were fading away and they hurriedly buried the body before sundown as was the custom. He was dead; dead and buried, as we say in The Apostles’ Creed. Mourning is not natural. Experiencing and dealing with the loss of a loved one is not accomplished by some predetermined or predictable pattern. Feelings and emotions get in the way and everyone is different.
The disciples missed Jesus for sure. He was their Master and Teacher. He had been their traveling companion for three years. He got to know them; really know them. They got to know him, too. They learned from his teachings and marveled at his healings. They wished they had more time to spend with him.
Mary, his mother, watched him die from the foot of the cross. She saw how they beat and mistreated her son. She was heartbroken. No parent should ever out-live her child. She heard him speak to John about taking care of her. Even in his final breaths, he was worried about her. He grew up too quickly and left home too soon. She was glad for the times they had together but she wanted many more moments with him. Now that was just a pipe-dream that would never come true. Her son was laid out in the cold, dark tomb.
The Centurion was amazed at the way Jesus handled the dying process. He watched many a criminal face a similar fate and not many made the journey well. They struggled and cried. They begged for strange things or displayed complete hatred and total defiance. It was not pretty. Most criminals do not pass softly into the night—they go kicking and screaming. Jesus’ death was different; much different. The Centurion stood there watching and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
When I was a kid, I was fortunate that my parents instilled many customs and traditions in our Christian family home. Dad said a prayer before we ate supper. We went to Sunday School and Church on Sunday. Music was played just about every day. We took my grandparents for Sunday afternoon drives. And on Christmas we went to the Christmas Eve service. Then we came home and dad read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2 out of the King James Version Bible before we went to bed.
My parents introduced my brother and me to Gospel music, not by force or even formal invitation, but just by playing the records on the console Magnavox stereo. Then on some Sunday evenings, we’d pile into the car and travel to a church to hear a Gospel band perform live. We’d hang around afterword to meet and talk with them and get their autographs on their album.
I don’t remember if we ever saw them in person, but the Blackwood Brothers were a band I loved. That bass singer could get way down there with his voice and it was impressive to me. Their songs were catchy and meaningful, too! One song in particular I enjoyed every Christmas. It was entitled, “The Little Boy from the Carpenter Shop.” I loved that song, as I pictured Jesus growing up with his father Joseph, who was a carpenter. My dad was a machinist and worked with metal. Joseph worked with wood, so I didn’t think there was all that much difference. I was in awe of my dad as he took a raw piece of material and fashioned it into something productive and useful. I imagined Jesus looked at his dad in a similar way.
As I got older and listened more closely to all the lyrics of that song, I began to realize that it journeyed through Jesus’ entire life. It was chock full of theology, too; heavy theology. The kind of theology that deals with sin, darkness, and death; and even includes the ultimate powers of heaven and hell. When I was a kid we were not allowed to speak that word aloud: “hell.” Swearing was against the rules in our home. So, when we talked about that word we’d say: “H” “e” “double hockey sticks,” and everyone knew what we were talking about. The lyrics in this song speak about life and death and life beyond death. It speaks of sin and punishment. It speaks of the rival powers of good and evil. And, ultimately, it speaks about victory—victory even over death on a sad Saturday. Here are those lyrics:
The Little Boy from the Carpenter Shop
Sung by The Blackwood Brothers
Written & Composed by Dwayne Friend
Born in the stable
His mother a virgin
Raised in the carpenter shop
His people were slaves
His parents were poor
His friends were a lowly lot
His chances in life are very slim
He's expected to be a slave
But people in darkness saw light in him
And hope of freedom he gave
All of the power in heaven and earth
God has invested in him
He's to die on the cross
Descend into hell
Meet the devil take the keys from him
He yielded himself to the death of the cross
Cried its finished and slumped to die
In the regions of hell the devil celebrated
We've destroyed the king they cried
In the midst of the celebration
Footsteps were heard
Walking the corridors of hell
Then the shouting stopped
When a voice rang out
A voice that rang like a bell
Satan then trembled
As he recognized him
Who came to deliver his own
Shut and lock those gates he cried
Don't let him ascend to his throne
Then the gate swung shut
In the face of the king
To prove God's salvation untrue
But he shook hell's gates
And cried lift up your head
The king is coming through
Then out of the devil's prison house
Came a procession led by the king
Shouting now oh grave where is thy victory
And death where is thy sting
Who is the King of glory
The Lord God mighty in battle is he
Who is the King of glory
The Master of the hosts of heaven supreme
Who is the King of glory
The One that not even death could stop
Who is the King of glory
The little boy from the carpenter shop
The little boy from the carpenter shop
The little boy from the carpenter shop
The little boy from the carpenter shop
April 10, 2020
This day is called Good Friday. It is good for us but it was bad for Jesus.
This day was bad for Jesus in obvious ways. He endured a long trial with Pilate and before the crowd. He had to carry his cross down the Via Delarosa. He was beaten and scourged. Then he was nailed to the cross. Can you imagine?
Jesus was treated like any other criminal. The only problem was, he didn’t do anything wrong. He was innocent. The crowd, in a frenzy, shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” As he hung on the cross the sky turned black and the world changed forever. Death was in the air.
One of the criminals, hanging beside Jesus, kept talking. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal, hanging on the other side of Jesus, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Two men with two choices were hanging beside Jesus. They had to make a decision about who he was and whether they should believe in him. Each one of us has this same choice to make.
The Walk of the Cross is a tradition that we have held in Stroudsburg for many years. It was going on well before I entered onto the scene and that was eighteen years ago! Sadly, today we are not continuing this long-held tradition due to the Coronavirus. In honor of the importance of this tradition, I am posting a video I took of The Walk of the Cross in 2016. I hope you enjoy it.
Here is another link for some Good Friday Bible Trivia. Once you click the link, you will be taken to the trivia page. Read the instructions at the top of the page and see how well you do. No one will see your answers, unless someone is looking over your shoulder onto your computer screen.
April 9, 2020
Tonight is the first time in what seems like forever that I am not at a Maundy Thursday service. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years, so that’s 30 straight years. Before that I worked in a church during seminary, and before that I worked in a cooperative parish of nine churches in Philadelphia.
Maundy Thursday Worship is important to me. My feelings about it heightened when I began working with a great pastor in Pittsburgh as his student associate. He and his wife set up a very special Maundy Thursday. They completely redecorated a room in that church to represent a makeshift Upper Room setting. A table was placed in the center of the room and accompanied by picnic benches to seat the guests. The whole room was dark that Thursday night but it was unaccompanied at first.
Worship began in the sanctuary at the appointed time. We sang hymns, heard the scripture read, and listened to a powerful sermon. Then we were dismissed in groups of eleven and taken to the Upper Room. Its walls were adorned with old fishing nets and we were told about Jesus’ disciples who were fishermen before they started following Jesus. One chair at the far end of the table was draped in black and we were told that represented Judas and we were the other eleven disciples. The head of the table featured a chair draped in white, indicating Jesus who was the host of that special meal. A pitcher and bowl was placed on a small table in the corner of the room, reminding us how Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet that night.
The pastor told us that this night was called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin “mandatum” because Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment that night that they should love one another even has he loved them. Jesus took a loaf of bread and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Then he took a cup of wine, lifted it up, and said, “This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”
We were told the disciples left the Upper Room to go to the Mount of Olives where they sang hymns. And then we left our make shift Upper Room.
That first experience left an impression on me and Denise. We started doing the same thing in the churches I served over the past 30 years on Maundy Thursday. I am grateful for Bob and Jean Lash, who showed us this touching way to celebrate Maundy Thursday. Bob joined Jean in heaven this year and they are both celebrating Maundy Thursday with their Lord. We worship and we remember, until he comes again.
How We Got our United Methodist Name
April 8, 2020
John Wesley and his brother, Charles, attended Oxford University at the same time. Their daily devotion to God was important to them, so they formed a society they called “The Holy Club” with a few other students. We would call this a small group today. They met each day at an extremely early hour in the morning and studied the Bible and held one another accountable. Because they were so methodical in their behavior other students began to call them “methodists.” It was not an especially endearing term but one of tease and jest. So that is how we got our Methodist name.
The United part of our name originated in 1968. In that year, two denominations merged together: The Methodist Episcopal Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church. The EUB denomination was much smaller than the ME church and there was some strong fear that they would be swallowed up and all but forgotten. They agreed on the merged name including their “United” name and we got The United Methodist Church. To this very day, if you only refer to our church as The Methodist Church, you are leaving out the former EUB membership and they might let you know about it!
Names are important both for people and churches. If I only refer to you as “Hey, you!” that will not carry the same meaning as if I actually use your proper name. Some of us acquired nicknames along the way. As a child, I was called Bobby. Some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins still call me this today. It is an endearing nickname; I think. My formal name is Robert Ray Shank but I only hear “Robert” when I am in trouble with my mother! Ever since high school, I have gone by the shorter name Bob, which I much prefer to Robert, which sounds way too formal for me.
My dad was a great example of one person going by several different names. His formal, given name was Marlin Ray Shank. He didn’t like Marlin because he said he wasn’t a fish! So he often went by his middle name, Ray. When he was born, his twin brother, Red, had red hair, and my dad had white hair; so they called him Whitey and he went by that name, too. He also was Santa Claus in my hometown for 26 years. His combined names that people called him were: Marlin Ray Whitey Santa Claus Shank. That’s a mouthful, but he went by every one of those names throughout his life. He often said, “You can call me anything, but not “late for dinner!” Mom often reminded him that he could have been born first and been named his brother’s name: Ammon Jay Shank!
Jesus went by various names, too: Jesus, Master, Lord, Rabbi, Christ, Messiah, Savior, Emanuel, Son of God, etc. I am guessing that his disciples probably referred to him as Master or Rabbi. I wonder what his mother called him?
Trust in Him
April 7, 2020
Denise, my high school sweetheart and wife of 26 years, died in 2014. I asked our church music staff, Dave and Marti Lantz, if they would sing and play a duet that meant a lot to me at the time. It was Kenny Rogers' and Dolly Parton’s song, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” I had heard the song quite a few times that year, but one day while going home from the hospital to do some laundry and pay bills, the song came on the radio again. This time the song hit me like a punch in the gut. As the song played over the airwaves, I said out loud, “God, I’m gonna lose her, aren’t I?” Denise was gone not long after this. So I asked Dave and Marti if they would sing and play the duet for Denise’s funeral, and I also asked if I could accompany them on the drum set. They readily agreed.
I had never played in public before or with a band. I had a drum set when I was a kid that my parents bought me and I had it until I got to college. Then I bought a drum set again much later in life but just played for myself. I got a little instruction more recently to refine my skills and learn how to play better. I love music but I can’t sing, so I play the drums. It is an outlet of sorts I guess and it is therapeutic. I love it!
Dave, Marti, and I rehearsed the day before the funeral and they said it was okay. We did the song at the funeral and it was so special for me to be able to do that for Denise. She loved music and she could sing! She sang in many of the church choirs in the churches I served over the years. Denise had a unique musical gift beyond her ability to sing: she remembered lyrics in an uncanny way. I swear she could hear a song one time and know each word by heart.
The summer before she died, I surprised her with a gift to see Reba McEntire at the New York State Fair. It was on a Sunday, so we left right after church. We ate a late lunch and walked around the fair all afternoon enjoying all the sights and buying something special for James and Lydia. Then we went to the concert. Reba put on an incredible show and all the while, Denise sang along with every word. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but that was the last concert we attended together and I am so glad we had this special day to share together!
Denise’s untimely death was a huge blow to me and I for a while I felt like I lost my way. I asked Marti what she thought about me attending a songwriter’s event down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and she thought it would be a good experience for me to attend. So I did. It was an incredible weekend and I learned a lot.
Then I started writing lyrics to songs. They were mostly about my struggle with the loss of Denise at first. Then a few songs were about faith. Marti put a few of them to music in her amazingly skillful way and surprised me that Christmas with a few more. Eventually, she played one in church as her special music. I sat there in suspense, wondering what the congregation would think of their pastor’s songwriting abilities. Would they like it or would they hate it? Would they think it was ho hum or even awful? The response was very encouraging, which I suppose I should have suspected from such a loving congregation.
Marti played a couple more, including this one that I am including in today’s post. It was written much later, after I had actually written over 70 songs, and Marti put it to music. She surprised me when she played it for her special music one Sunday. Here it is. I think it is especially appropriate for us during the Coronavirus and I hope you enjoy it:
Trust in Him
The Little Donkey
April 6, 2020
Yesterday we celebrated Palm Sunday without our trusted beast of burden: Velamint. It was the first year in many that she was absent, as were many, from worship this Palm Sunday. It was a little sad for me not to lead Velamint around the sanctuary as we used to follow the choir in the introit.
There were quite a few people who were sensitive to my feelings and reached out to me. I am grateful for their thoughtfulness. Two of them, Pam & Bill Hoy, went so far as to even recreate our long-held tradition by making a miniature one of their own during our streaming worship yesterday in their home. You can click on the arrow below to view it and you can click on the left-angled arrows in the upper left to increase the size of the video. I thought this was a sweet video and I think you will, too!
It's interesting how certain traditions get started. This one started by me asking a crazy question to the Trustees and their encouraging endorsement of the idea! Traditions should never be sacred cows, or sacred donkeys, and they should never supersede the One whom we worship. But some traditions are good, helpful, and meaningful.
The Palms is another one of these traditions in our church. I never heard this hymn before coming to Stroudsburg. And I regretfully remember one of my first years when I did not have this hymn in the repertoire for worship that Sunday. I was told in no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable and the hymn was included anyway!
There is often debate on some traditions. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they helpful? Are they annoying? It's true with most things--some people like them and others do not.
Traditions have now taken a back seat to the lock downs we are experiencing due to the Coronavirus. These traditions are missed. But the good news is that some of these traditions will come back. Maybe it’s time to make some new traditions, too!
April 5, 2020
Today is Palm Sunday; the first day of Holy Week. For many years here at Stroudsburg United Methodist Church we had a donkey with us to celebrate the triumphal of Jesus into Jerusalem. I do not recall the exact year, but one year early in my ministry here I went to the Board of Trustees meeting. It was the usual once-a-month Tuesday night meeting until they looked at me and said, “Do you have anything to add, pastor?” I looked at them and asked, “What do you think about having a donkey come to church to help us celebrate Palm Sunday?” You could hear a pin drop. The looks on those faces was akin to a deer looking into a headlight. One of them struggled through the shock and the lump in his throat and said, “You mean, a donkey, in the church?!?”
Those Trustees were very accommodating and kind to me and my strange request. They gave permission for my crazy idea and we’ve been doing it ever since! How many churches can say they actually have a live donkey worshipping with them on Palm Sunday? But we have for many years! Velamint is the best, too. She knows exactly what to do and I believe she enjoys doing it! I missed having her in church today, as I missed all of you! It just wasn’t quite the same.
Palm Sunday began as a triumphal celebration, as Jesus rode into the city on a donkey. The crowd cheered praises to him and they laid palm branches and their outer cloaks on the ground to pave the way for the Messiah!
However, the celebration did not last long. The crowd was fickle and changed their tune from triumph to doubt and then to tragedy. The same crowd who cheered Jesus into town on Sunday was shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” on Friday.
Holy Week is the most important week of the Christian year. The whole week is important, not just the beginning and end of the week—the Sundays. There was a Maundy Thursday and a Good Friday in the week, too. A lot of well-meaning Christians miss out or avoid these important days. They overlook the awful denial, betrayal, and agony of the cross. This past week I was looking for an image of the cross for worship that communicated the awful tragedy of the crucifixion. It was not easy. Every image I looked at, page after page, portrayed the cross in good light and in a positive way. The cross was not a good and happy thing. It was a sad, painful, and awful thing. A cross was a means of capital punishment and it meant death. Jesus was beaten and flogged and was near death even before they nailed him to the cross.
I guess I can see why people prefer not to think about this, but it is important for us to ponder it. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we are still in our sin. Without Jesus’ death we would all die without an ounce of hope whatsoever. Because of our sin, we deserve to die, but Jesus didn’t. He was without sin and took our place on the cross to save us from sin.
Palm Sunday is just the beginning of an eventful and difficult week. I hope and pray that you will take this journey to the cross. Jesus did it for you. Walk with him this week and see where it leads you!
In addition, to the worksheet on today’s topic, here is another link for some Holy Week Bible Trivia. Once you click the link, you will be taken to the trivia page. Read the instructions at the top of the page and see how well you do. No one will see your answers, unless someone is looking over your shoulder onto your computer screen.
April 4, 2020
This afternoon I walked down my driveway to check the mail. On the way, I heard a neighbor’s chainsaw humming. It sounded good and it immediately felt like a Saturday to me. Growing up in our country home, Saturdays were different from the other six days of the week. First, dad didn’t have to go off to work, and it wasn’t church-going day. Saturdays were unique.
There were chores to be done but some special things were reserved for Saturdays. We often worked in the yard or up in the garden. Oftentimes our grandparents came out to help. Saturday evenings were spent watching Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw in my home. You know, I still love watching reruns of Hee Haw!
Even in high school, Saturdays were different. There was usually no football practice, unless we messed up big time and the head coach called a special Saturday practice as punishment. We cut firewood, mowed grass, or helped put away hay on a neighbor’s farm. Saturdays were different and they were special.
The story of creation in Genesis depicts God creating different things on each day. But it wasn’t until the sixth day (our Saturday) that God created the animals and Adam and Eve. So even in the story of creation, Saturday was special. Then God rested on the seventh day.
I confess that being in this lock down the days seem to run together. I sometimes cannot tell one day from the next and all days seem to be the same in a lot of ways. But today felt like a Saturday for me. That was good. It brought back some precious memories for me and brought back some normalcy in my abnormal week.
I hope you are having a good Saturday!
A New Song
April 3, 2020
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Psalms 40:1-3 (NRSV)
Patience, they say, is a virtue. Virtues are good to have I suppose. Definitivelty, a virtue is a quality considered good and disirable. Patience is one of these virutes. Patience, however, does not come easily. Patience my be disirable in a person but it does not come easily for most of us.
I am not a very patient person much of the time. It seems to be part of my nature and makeup, I guess. But I believe that most people are not patient today. We live in a fast-paced and immediate society these days. We have microwaves that cook our food in mere minutes, fast food chains that deliver our happy meal in short order, and the internet that spits back reams of information in several seconds! Wait? Not me and not most of us.
So when David writes, "I waited patiently for the Lord..." in Psalm 40, I have a hard time relating. Not only do I abhor waiting, I sometimes find myself quietly despising those virtuous persons who are good at waiting. He writes as if his patience was exactly what prompted God to hear his cry.
Aside from the patience theme, this psalm connects with our current day extraorinarily well. Many of us might feel we are in a "desolate pit" or a "miry bog" these days. These descriptors certainly lend themselves to communicating our present situation with the Coronavirus. We feel isolated and distant from others. We worry when will it all end. We wonder why. It sounds like we are in a desolate pit or a miry bog.
But David goes on immedaitely in his paslm to share that God protected him, helped him rise above the mire and bog, and was set safely on a rock. Then the Lord put a new song in his mouth!
I like music. No; I like music a lot. No; I like music a whole bundle and a bunch! Music seems to speak to the soul when words alone cannot. Music can get us right again when we are feeling off-center. Music soothes the soul. And music give us hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
"Listen to the music," sang the Doobie Brothers. That is exactly what we should do!
April 2, 2020
My grandparents meant the world to me. They were a huge part of my life when I was young and their influence was enormous. Thanks to my parents, I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents. We were at their respective houses often; several times a week usually. Some of my cousins and their parents were also at my grandparents' home. It was nothing for us to fill the row house with lots of family members. It was loud, active, and fun!
When I was about five years old, I would go into the Middle Room (that was the official name for it) and gather some encyclopedias off the bookshelf. I would select as many as my little scrawny five-year-old arms could muster and pick them up in my arms. Then I'd look at the family talking in the adjacent living room and declare: "I'm going to college!" With that, I was up the stairs to my make believe college!
Learning has always been part of my life. It was no big surprise when I got older and traipsed off to Temple University. It wasn't even all that surprising when I went out to graduate school. What did surprise me, however, was that my learning did not stop when my formal education did. I am still learning and I love it!
If you don't know me very well, you might not know that I have a myriad of interests. I have a ton of hobbies. My wife used to say, "And they're all expensive!" Here is a short list of my hobbies: woodworking, farm tractors (I have two), Lionel trains, turn-of-the-last century letterpress printing (I actually have a 1919 printing press in my home!), hiking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, photography, movies, music, drumming, tools, weightlifting, biking, and computers. See, I do have lots of hobbies. This allows me to learn all kinds of interesting things on a vast number of topics.
Creating this online Study Group aligns with my interest in computers and computer programming. I first tried to use Google classroom, which is a pretty neat concept. But it didn't take long for me to run into trouble with utilizing it for this purpose. I could not add some people because of their email domain, especially teachers for some strange reason. Then there were troubles with the worksheets where I included the questions for each post. It became extremely frustrating in short order. So, with my interest in computer programming, I decided to create my own site for this group. Creating the actual website content and look was easy for me, but I admit I was scratching my head a little in trying to utilize the worksheets. This required some basic programming in PHP, which is different from the HTML and CSS I used for the look and feel of the main content. I wanted it to appear simple and easy to use. I hope I accomplished these two goals so far.
Now I am learning more! I have some ideas on how to enhance this experience for the users who visit the site. This time of lock down due to the Coronavirus provides many of us with time to do some things we didn't have time for before the virus. Learning is fun and it expands our horizons!
God created us in amazing ways. We are all unique and different. Each of us has a different personality along with likes and dislikes. Many of us are curious and adventuresome. Many enjoy asking questions. And a whole lot of us like to learn new things even in retirement and our latter years. Learning doesn't stop and I have so much more I want to learn!
April 1, 2020
Today is April Fool's Day. The origin of April Fool's Day is unknown but many of us have been fooled on this day throughout the years. Some speculate that the custom started way back in 1564. That year France adopted the Gregorian calendar to replace the Julian calendar, which was called for by the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent was a reaction and response to the Reformation by the Catholic Church.
I like country music, as most of you know. My favorite singer is George Strait. I prefer the classic country, which I grew up with as a little boy sitting in my dad's truck and hearing the likes of Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn, John Denver, George Jones, The Statler Brothers, and so many more. I actually like all kinds of music and have some classic rock, jazz, classical, and even some reggae in my music collection. But country music, far and away, outweighs the others.
I remember one morning when I was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia It was a dreary day and the alarm clock went off to call me up-and-at-'em, so I wouldn't miss class. I was still wiping the sleepies out of my eyes and slowly coming to life as I listened to WXTU, the only country music radio station in the city. The disc jockey came over the air with an important announcement: "We regret to inform our listeners that our station was bought out and will now change to classical musical." The message was short and sweet and followed by classical music playing through my speaker instead of my beloved country musicians. I was devastated. WXTU was my station. I was a country boy literally living in the big city of Philly. This station was my comfort in an ever-changing environment. As the classical music played on, I began to feel anger burning inside me. How could this happen? Why? All the while I stewed and brewed, the classical songs kept coming, one song after another. It was unbelievable. I was just about ready to leave my apartment to get to class, when the disc jockey came over the air again: "April Fool's," he said. He got me good! They played that classical musical for at least 15 minute and had me convinced!
One definition states that a fool is "a person who acts unwisely or imprudently; a silly person." the Bible uses the word "fool" 78 times in the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) and 89 times in the NKJV (New King James Version. That's a lot of fools!
Here are some of the sayings about fools:
Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool. Psalms 39:8 (NRSV)
The wise lay up knowledge,
but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near. Proverbs 10:14 (NRSV)
Doing wrong is like sport to a fool,
but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding. Proverbs 10:23 (NRSV)
And my most favorite saying from Grandma Walton: "There's no fool like an old fool."
We all may feel like a fool sometimes, but we should not be a fool all the time.
March 31, 2020
On a work trip to West Virginia many, many years ago, one of the boys earned a nickname: Lightning. He acquired the name from an old carpenter with whom he was working with one day early in the week. The young boy was hammering, or more correctly, trying to hammer a nail, while the old carpenter watched him. The poor boy was getting no where fast. He'd hit the nail with his hammer on one blow, then skim off the nailhead on the next, and completely miss on the next. The old mentor nicknamed him Lightning, because he never hit the same place twice!
Thunder and lighting storms are fascinating to me. The sheer power of a storm is displayed by its bright lightning bolts and deafening thunder claps. Some people are afraid of storms but I find them fascinating. It stems from my dad. He liked lightning storms. I would sit beside my dad on our front porch during these storms if the rain didn't blow too much. Our porch wasn't very deep so if the rain blew much at all in the wrong direction, we got wet. But if the wind was blowing right, we'd sit there and watch the lightning. It was fascinating because there was a high-tension power line within our view. I learned something, too. Lightning does hit the same place twice! Yep, we'd watch the natural fireworks as the lightning repeatedly hit the electrical tower.
Charles Tindley penned a hymn with the title, "Stand by Me." The first verse goes like this:
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the storms of life are raging, sandy by me.
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
Many today feel they are being tossed by the raging storm of the Coronavirus. The wind is blowing and the rain is driving. We are being "tossed like a ship on the sea." We need God to stand by us. The storms of life are raging. God, stand by me.
March 30, 2020
When Lydia & James were toddlers, it was obvious that they had the twin connection even before they could talk. One day we were in the car, Denise in the passenger seat, me driving, and Lydia and James in the back. As we drove along, the kids were having a full blown conversation in toddler talk. Denise and I could not understand a word, but it seemed like they certainly did. One would speak a bunch of jibberish and then stop. Without a moment's hesitation, the other would pick right up and speak jibberish in response. Back and forth it went. Then, one would stop the toddler talk and they both would laugh and laugh. This went on for quite some time. Finally, after one of the laughing spells, I looked at Denise and said, "I think they're talking about us!
Communication is second nature to us. We take it for granted. We read, and write, and talk, without thinking about it. It comes naturally. As soon as a child is born, communication is important; no, vital. You could say we were born to communicate.
I often say I like to talk, and I do. I like communicating with others. There is so much to talk about and I want to learn, so communication is my avenue to these endeavors. I even went to college and majored in communication. I learned the basic building blocks of our English language and how to put words together. My first class at Temple University was a Grammar Class, which met twice a week at 8 o'clock in the morning! I learned about gerunds and other grammatical terms. It was a challenge but it was what I wanted to do.
Now, I've spent thirty years preaching. I've had plenty of opportunities to communicate with others in five churches during my ministry. It's been a blast! I've made mistakes, learned a thing or two, and keep learning. One thing I am learning is that I still like words and I still like communication. I think I always will. I also like to be creative with words and I think I will continue to do this somehow in the next phase of my life. Words are life, at least to me.
How does God communicate with us? One way is the Bible. It always amazes me that words written so long ago are still relevant to us today. This is amazing! How else does God communicate with us? Perhaps through other people who meander into our lives. Perhaps through events that take our breath away or leave us feeling stranded and alone. Perhaps God even speaks through life-changing events. Is God speaking to us now?
Communication is a two-way street. It requires both speaking and listening. I can talk all I want to, but if no one is listening to a word I say, then I am not communicating. God longs to communicate with us. Are you listening?
The Dinner Bell
March 29, 2020
It happened every night at 5pm. We'd be playing down at the creek, up in the woods, or on the pond playing ice hockey. No matter how close the game was or what we were doing exactly, it happened just the same. It was inevitable. We didn't like it either. It put a stop to the game and it put a stop to whatever fun we were having at the time. The 5 o'clock occurrence was dad ringing the dinner bell perched off the front porch.
Suppertime was an important time. Tardiness or absenteeism was never allowed. We gathered around the kitchen table, sitting down as a family. Mom delivered the food to the table and sat down with us. Then dad said the prayer and we dug in to the food. It happened like clockwork at 5 o'clock every night. The dinner bell called us to the appointed time.
The neighbor boys' dad had a different method--he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled so loud we could hear it down at the creek, deep back in the woods, and even down on the pond during our hockey games. Man, that whistle was loud! It was almost as loud as our dinner bell.
Suppertime was almost sacred in our home. We bowed our heads as dad blessed the food and those who prepared it. Then we conversed about the day's happenings at school, work, and in the neighborhood. It was a routine that was precious and simple.
Sometimes it was eventful. One evening at the table, dad and I were having a deep discussion that turned into a slightly heated argument. We sat at each end of the table putting us at the longest distance. In the heat of the moment, I picked up my water glass, pretending to throw it on dad. He looked at me and said, "Go, ahead." So I did. The glass wasn't half empty and it wasn't half full; it was totally full! The cool, clear water hit him square in the face and poured over everything! As I remember it, mom left the table in absolute disdain and disgust; declaring she was not going to clean up the mess. My brother, on the other hand, was smug as a bug in a rug. He thought I was gonna get it from dad! He looked at dad and asked, "Aren't you gonna punish him?" Dad, as cool and composed as I ever saw him simply said, "No. I told him to do it."
Most evenings were not so exciting. They were nothing much out of the ordinary. Yet, those evenings spent around the table with my family were so special. I had no idea at the time, but they were shaping my brother and me in ways I never could have imagined. We talked and we connected and we bonded by sharing in conversation and listening to one another. All the while, we ate our fill of delicious food until our stomachs ached for more room.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NRSV) Suppertime at our family table is a season I will never forget!
I Don't Give One Iota
March 28, 2020
You say tomato; I say tomato. You say potato, I say potato. I prefer to say it my way. When I hear either word spoken incorrectly it makes me cringe. These words share the exact same spelling but are pronounced differently. Some words are similar and are only distinguished by one different letter. There and their, for example. There; I said it. Both words sound the same but have different spellings. They are called homophones: words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and meanings. Meet and meat are homophones. I like meat and I will meet you behind the school buses tomorrow after school.
Some Greek words share a similar similarity. The are pronounced only slightly differently and, in fact, only have one different letter between them. Homoousios was a word which meant having the same substance. Homoiousios meant having a similar substance, and included the Greek letter, iota, in the middle. Two long words with only a slight difference, and the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, at that!
I don't give one iota. But at one time somebody did. It was around the year 319 and Arius was trying to understand the relationship between Jesus and God. He preached on the absolute oneness of the divinity and he felt this divinity could not be shared. Therefore, Jesus had to be a lesser deity than God.
These two Greek words helped to provide clarity on this dilemma. Arius used the word, homoiousis, the one with the iota in the middle of the word, because it reflected his understanding that Jesus was of similar nature to God but not the same as God. Athanasius was the bishop of Alexandria at the time. He argued with Arius and preferred the word, homoousios because he believed Jesus was the same as God. It might have been a debate over one tiny letter, but it was a huge debate. So much so, that Emperor Constantine demanded that they settle their disagreement. It almost split the early church in two! It all came to a head in 325 at the Council of Nicaea.
The outcome was in favor of homoousios. The winner was for the same substance, reflecting that God and Jesus were one. We declare this victory every time we recite The Nicene Creed. The third sentence states: "God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same (homoousios) nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.
Religious leaders, politicians, sports fans, and just about everybody can relate to getting mixed up in a huge argument over something small. When I think I am right, I will not back down. I will argue until I am blue in the face. Notice that argue and agree are only differentiated by one letter, too! Hmmm, I might argue with you even when we agree.
March 27, 2020
Psalm 121 is another familiar psalm. It may not be nearly as popular or recognizable as Psalm 23 but I think you will see some familiar lines in this one.
Psalms 121 (NRSV)
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.
What I learned in my first year of college
March 26, 2020
My first year of college was memorable. Mom and dad had just enough money saved up to supplement the maximum loan and grant money I could apply to my secondary education for that first year. After that I was on my own. So I set off to college with a dream of majoring in journalism.
That first year was tough. This wasn’t high school anymore! We students were on our own in terms of living with a classmate, eating meals, studying, and getting to class on time, even in the wee hours of the morning like 8am. Mom wasn’t around to gently remind me of anything.
I distinctly remember learning exactly two things that Freshman year that still serve me well today. The first lesson was learned, not in the classroom, but in the dorm room. You see, a neighborly student on my dorm floor could juggle, yes, literally juggle three objects in the air at a time. It was amazing to watch as he tossed those objects up in the air and had them defying gravity. So, wanting to be like him, I learned to juggle in my Freshman year of college. That was the first of the two lessons.
The second lesson I learned in a presentation by a visiting speaker in our weekly chapel. He was quite engaging and had me on the edge of my seat from the first word he spoke. His lesson was actually three lessons tied together. I still remember them well. They were:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
2. Everything is small stuff
3. Go with the flow
So, there you have it: the two things I learned in my first year of college. Now mind, this did not impress my parents very much. In fact, dad was not pleased at all. He wanted his money’s worth and my initial secondary education did not come close to meeting his expectations whatsoever! He nearly demanded a full refund!
But you know, these two lessons have served me well over the years and, as I reflect on it, they had a huge influence on how I think and live my life today. The second lesson is obviously the biggest of the two and the most profound.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is good advice. We can worry about things way too much and make mountains our of mere molehills. Most of our daily living is “small stuff.” I stand exactly 5’7” short and feel like small stuff myself! But it’s okay; we do not have to sweat the small stuff. In fact, we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, only the big, important stuff.
The second lesson of the second learning is “everything is small stuff.” This might not make much sense at first, but I believe it is true. Way too often I think I am bigger stuff than I am. I am not God, not even close. So what right do I have to argue with God about things that are completely out of my control. None of us can control much of our living right now with the Coronavirus. This might make us feel out of control. But that’s okay, because it really is small stuff. Really, it is. Everything is small stuff.
“Go with the flow” reflects a laid back, peaceful way of facing life. A similar quote we throw around is “When the going gets tough; the tough get going.” Dealing with whatever life may throw at us on any given day is the right attitude. Going with the flow avoids fighting an upstream kind of battle. It is more relaxing and manageable, too. Give it a try for just a week, and you’ll see what I mean. I try to go with the flow and it makes life flow so much easier when I do.
And when it doesn’t seem to be working so well, I can toss three things in the air and attempt to defy gravity! There is some levity in defying gravity, if only for a few moments!
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral and How to Apply It
March 25, 2020
Albert Outler was a 20th-century American Methodist theologian and philosopher. He is often considered one of the most important Wesley scholars in the history of the church and the first real United Methodist theologian. I read some of his books in seminary and these books are still in my personal library. I find his perspectives helpful and informative.
John Wesley was the founding father of the United Methodist denomination. He attended Oxford University and was an Anglican priest. His brother, Charles Wesley, wrote over 800 church hymns, many of which are in our hymnal.
Outler studied Wesley’s work and theorized that Wesley used four different sources in making theological decisions.
I was taught this Wesleyan Quadrilateral in seminary and when I was the associate pastor at Asbury UMC in Allentown, PA, we taught this to our new members. The lay leader of the church, Judy Ehninger, taught it in a slightly different, yet memorable way. “You’ve heard of Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street. Well, BERT is an acronym for the Wesleyan Quadrilateral:
The Bible is the overarching source for our theology. It is like an umbrella over the other three and should be the main guide in our theology.
Experience is a great teacher. We learn from experience and our experience shapes and guides us. We can learn from our experience and it can guide us in our theology.
Reason is achieved by using our minds. John Wesley said that God gave us a mind and we should use it! Some things are reasonable and some are not. Reason can guide our theological decisions.
Tradition is part of who we are as United Methodists. We are a church of potluck suppers and we like to sing. These are just two examples of traditions we are known for as a church. Tradition is important, and it, too, can guide our theology.
When I teach New Members classes, I teach the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and then I show how we can apply it in a practical way:
Suppose a new member came from another church denomination and suggested that our church should use the real stuff, wine, for holy communion. After picking up some of our longtime church members off the floor, let’s apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to this theological question.
What does the Bible say about this? Well, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine for crying out loud! Jesus also used wine at The Last Supper. It appears that the Bible’s teachings would suggest that it is okay to use the real stuff for communion. I have to laugh as I write this because I am reminded of a song written by Tom T. Hall. The song’s title is “I Like Beer,” and I like this section of the lyrics:
“Last night I dreamed
That I passed from the scene
And I went to a place so sublime
All the water was clear
And tasted like beer
Then they turned it all into wine.”
Experience is another tool for us to use. What does experience tell us about this question? Well, sometimes people use too much alcohol and it puts their mouth in gear. I cannot even imagine how much faster I would talk during the communion liturgy if we used the real stuff! Experience might suggest we use some caution when answering this question.
Reason is helpful, too. On any given Sunday there is a very good chance we could have an alcoholic sitting in church. If we used the real stuff, wine, for communion, then that could be the impetuous for that person to fall off the wagon and start drinking again. This would be terrible, so we should be reasonable.
Tradition could be translated into these seven deadly words: “we’ve never done it that way before!” Too many churches think and say this to avoid moving into the future and growing. But tradition has some value, nevertheless. Part of our tradition on this question is the Welch family (you know, Welch's Grape Juice) were members of our denomination. It is not by accident or happenstance or coincidence that many United Methodist Churches still use our real stuff—Welch's Grape Juice. In answering this question about using the real stuff for holy communion, tradition says we already use the real stuff!
And that's one way to apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral on a practical situation.
The Lord is my shepherd
March 24, 2020
This past Sunday's scripture reading was from Psalm 23, a very familiar passage.
Here is the reading:
Psalms 23 (NRSV)
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.