What Others Say

Thank you for writing the article in Saturday's edition of New Castle News. It was very good and very interesting. You bring it all to light, making everything very simple and easy to understand. - Kathy L. - New Castle, Pennsylvania

Monday, August 3, 2020

Risk Tolerance


Investors talk about “risk” and “risk tolerance.”  A few years ago, even the most conservative of investors could expect to receive a return of 5% percent, or more, by simply placing their money in CDs or savings accounts.  But times have changed.  Those kinds of risk free investments have disappeared. Savings Accounts usually earn fractions of a percent.  Certificates of Deposit do little better.      

Those who want to invest for the future, including retirement funds, are left with higher risk options.  But for many of us, risk leaves our stomachs queasy.  Our introduction to 2020 has been gut wrenching.  The Dow Jones industrial average recorded its worst ever loss in March, with many economists predicting the “greatest depression” in history.  But a massive $3 trillion infusion of money by the government created an immediate rebound.  The stock market, since that time, seems disconnected from the economic indicators.

Stocks, investments and economics have always confused me. I have never been able to figure it out.  I guess that is why I find Jesus’ story in Luke 19 confusing.  He told of a wealthy owner who left his servants in charge of his money while he was gone.  To each he gave the same amount.  Let’s say he gave each $1,000.  When he returned one servant had invested and multiplied the $1,000 into $10,000.  Another had invested and multiplied it into $5,000.  But the third was afraid of losing the $1,000.  Maybe he wrapped it in some newspaper and hid it under his mattress. 

The wealthy owner commended the first two, but he was furious with the third.  “You should have at least put it in the bank so it could earn interest,” he said.  He then took the $1,000 from the last one and gave it to the one who had $10,000.  He said, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” (Luke 19:11-27).

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there are many applications to be made and much to learn. Of course, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about money. After all, when he died all he had were the clothes on his back. But he clearly understood how the world works. And he clearly understood how life works.

So, what was his point?  It seems to me that Jesus wants his followers to learn to take risk for the Kingdom’s sake. Whenever we grow fearful and withdraw into ourselves, we shrivel up. What little we have is taken away from us. I have watched people do this.  I have even seen churches do this, pinching pennies and worried that they will not make budget.  But when we lay it all on the line, when we give our lives away for others, we experience pleasure and joy unspeakable.  This is why he said, “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, shaken together and running over.”  And, again, “He that will save his life shall lose it, but he who will lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it.” 

Jesus’ early followers clearly understood this.  There is no evidence that any of them became wealthy. But there is abundant evidence that they were willing to risk everything to serve God and help others.

During this coronavirus year we should all wear masks, wash our hands,  practice social distancing and continue to live our lives with courage and joyful service to others.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

When We Are Wounded


We bought a rocking horse for our son on his first birthday. It was simple and sturdy, made of unfinished wood.  That was 42 years ago.  Over the years it continued to hold its head high, but the tail drooped between its legs.  I am sure we intended to paint it someday, but that day never came.  Instead, our son decorated it with crayons, pens and markers.  We passed it down to his little sister, born eight years later, and then to our grandchildren.  They covered it with scratches and scribbles, dents and dings.

The little rocking horse had little value.  But it became priceless to us because of the scratches, dents, dings and scribbled drawings left behind by our children and grandchildren.  We treasured it because of its scars.

Life is much like that.  We start out youthful and unblemished, unmarred by the world. But, over time, we become scarred with age.   Cuts, abrasions and burns leave their marks on our bodies. And, at a deeper level, the setbacks and disappointments, the sorrows of separation and loss add up.  We find ourselves scarred and wounded. Perhaps at no time has this been more obvious than this year of the pandemic and social unrest.

But, like our little wooden horse, those scars make us all the more precious in our Father’s eyes.  

Imagine how precious the scars that Jesus endured appear to the Father.  The nail prints in His hands, the sword riven side and the lashings upon His back are the marks of his sacrifice and love.  Isaiah says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5). And, again Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24).

Few have suffered as many hardships as the Apostle Paul.  Of these he wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, ... I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. ... But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 11:24-27, 12:9-10).

Our undeserved wounds and innocent scars make us precious in the sight of God. Just as Peter wrote, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Peter 2:20).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bearing Fruit in a Pandemic World



I grew up in central Texas with huge pecan trees that shaded our house in summer.   When the leaves fell in fall they left behind bare branches bearing thousands of pecans.  It was my job to climb to the top-most branches and shake loose a hail storm of pecans that covered the ground.  My mother’s pecan pies were sought after at family gatherings.

A persimmon tree grew outside out kitchen window.  The tree house I built among its branches became my favorite hiding place where I discovered the magic of books that transported me through time and space.  In fall the persimmons ripened into delicious redish-orange fruit. But a bite or two of green ones ruined their taste for life.   My mouth still puckers when I think about it.  

We had pear trees in the back yard whose branches sagged in summer with the weight of golden fruit.  As kids, we munched on pears plucked from low-lying limbs, juice dribbling down our chins.

In my adult years we moved to Minnesota. I was introduced to Minnesota sweet corn, corn is so sweet that Garrison Keillor wrote a hymn about it.  Nothing compares to Minnesota field-ripened sweet corn roasted and slathered with butter. In the fall we picked strawberries in the fields and plucked honey crisp apples from the trees. 

Just as we take pleasure in delicious fruit of summer, so God takes pleasure when we bear good fruit in our lives. Like the garden, the field and the orchard, we can live fruitful lives even in an upside down pandemic world.

Jesus said,  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-20). “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. … For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:33).

In Galatians, Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit that nourish and sustain us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23).

Peter wrote, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence knowledge, and in your knowledge self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Honesty and Authenticity


I stepped up to the counter and handed the cashier my twenty-dollar bill.  She glanced at me, lifted the bill up to the light, squinted and examined it, then laid it on the counter. She whipped out what looked like a felt tip marker and marked it. After a long second, she placed it in the cash register and gave me my change.  It seemed simple enough. But it made me wonder. 

What made her think my twenty might be fake?  Did I look dishonest?  I reminded myself that it was standard procedure.  She had been taught to check every twenty because you never know who might pass a counterfeit.  You can’t recognize honesty or dishonesty by a person’s looks, with or without a mask.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as easy to discern fake people as it is to recognize a fake twenty?  What if we could hold people up to a light, squint and examine them for watermarks, or just swipe them with a pen and watch for discoloration?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Sometimes the people we trust the most disappoint us. That was the case with Richard Nixon. After winning the presidency by a landslide vote, the Watergate investigations revealed a man far different than the public image. One of our great difficulties today is the widespread doubt that no politician can be trusted. They seem more intent on vilifying their opponents and promoting their own agenda than engaging in sincere dialogue.

We all know that no one is perfect.  We are all human.  We are all sinners and we all make mistakes. We are not looking for perfection.  But we are desperate for authenticity and honesty. We are desperate for authentic parents, teachers, employers, employees, preachers and politicians.

Jesus ranked authenticity among the highest of virtues. His harshest words were leveled at those who pretended to be what they were not. Speaking to people of his day, Jesus said, “You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds.” (Mt. 23:27-28, The Message).  He warned his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1).

What really gets scary and complicated is to examine ourselves. Am I authentic?  Is there any hypocrisy in me?  Are we being open, honest and authentic with one another? Someday, of course, there will be a test. God will hold each of us up to the light. He will examine us for authenticity. Are we people of authentic faith living honest and authentic lives?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Beyond the Coronavirus Fog


New beginnings are always exciting: weddings with candles and flowers, beautiful bridesmaids, handsome groomsmen, laughter, toasts and dancing; the birth of a baby wrapped in blankets, showered with gifts; graduations with speeches about dreams and possibilities; a new job; a new home.  Starting anew stirs our imagination. 

New beginnings are filled with excitement, optimism, and hope as well as fear, doubt and worry.  Weddings are fun, but making a marriage is hard work.  Babies are cute, but raising a child is challenging. Graduation marks a significant achievement, but finding a job and advancing in a chosen career can be daunting.

We cannot predict our future.  Not all newlyweds who leave the marriage altar showered with petals and birdseed will experience a life-long relationship of love and fulfillment.  Not all babies will grow to health and maturity.  Not all graduates will find positions for which they prepared.  But, we are all called to something new, something significant.

God always calls us forward into new beginnings.  He beckons us to leave the old and familiar to follow Him on a journey of discovery into places we have never been.  He encourages us to calm our fears and exchange our doubts for faith.  He challenges us to trust in Him for a better future and a better day. Even in this Caronavirus fog, God is calling us preparing a future and a hope.

When God called Abraham, He called him from his familiar home to follow Him into a strange land.  God said, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you; and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2).   Abraham’s step of faith to follow God into a new beginning changed history.

To Isaiah, God said, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:18-19).   Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone. The new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17).

The 2020 pandemic has thrown the world into confusion.  Families, careers and whole economies have been upended.  But, on the other side, is a new beginning. If we will persevere and be patient, we will find a new day dawning with possibilities and opportunities.  God has promised.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Fourth


This Saturday we celebrate the Fourth, a uniquely American holiday. No other nation has a holiday quite like it. No other nation on earth has aspired to a higher and simpler ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Eighty-seven years afterward, on July 4, 1863, Lee’s Confederate army withdrew in defeat from Gettysburg. On that same day, Vicksburg fell to Grant, two pivotal battles that decided the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery.

On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

In many ways the history of our nation has been written by our efforts to live up to the Declaration of freedom and equality for all. We are currently engage in perhaps our greatest struggle to rise to the ideals of our nation since the Civil Rights movement.

We have learned that ultimate freedom can never be achieved though legislation and government alone, as important as those are. Ultimate freedom must be achieved in each human heart. Every one of us must fight a personal war with our own sin nature that seeks to make us captive and steal our freedom. We see everyday in the lives of our politicians, sports heroes and celebrities the consequences of losing that battle in the secret places of the heart. Greed, corruption and prejudice remain the greatest obstacles to freedom and equality.

The pervasiveness of sin is perhaps the best documented reality in our world. The media is filled with daily accounts of its presence and the horrendous consequences it can create.

Two thousand years ago another document was drafted. It was not voted upon by representatives and did not found any government. But those words spoken long ago hold the secret to the ideals that we have embraced. Jesus said, “I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

God sent His Son into the world not merely to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter Heaven, He sent Him in order that He might overcome sin’s grip on our lives and set us free. The Apostle Paul had once been enslaved to ambition, anger and prejudice. He started his early career arresting the innocent and locking them up. But he found a better way. He confessed, “The good that I would do, I don’t. And that that I don’t want to do is exactly what I end up doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24).

This Fourth, as we celebrate the freedom envisioned by our nation’s founders, may we experience true freedom that is found through faith in the One who laid down his life for all people of every nation and every generation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What Are You Worried About?


The world gives us plenty to worry about. 

Many worry about Covid-19. Following efforts to re-open, more than half of the States report increased Caronavirus cases. Last week my wife and I ventured back to a restaurant wearing our masks and seated in an isolated booth. We attended our first church service since March, again wearing a mask and sitting apart from our friends. The U.S. continues to lead the world with more than 2.3 million confirmed cases and 120,000 deaths. 

Students worry about their educations.  Colleges, universities and schools remain undecided about whether they can open their campuses, and to what degree. Many are preparing to continue online-education in the fall.   

Some worry about their jobs.  Stimulus checks have been spent and, over 20 million Americans remain unemployed. While job opportunities are improving, millions worry about their income after unemployment checks run out.

Some worry about the stock market.  Although it has made a dramatic recovery since its collapse in mid-March, the economy remains uncertain and a second wave of Covid-19 could trigger another dramatic downturn.

Some worry about the social upheaval and unrest that has swept across our country with demonstrations for racial equality in cities large and small.  Racial icons of the past are being pulled down. The Confederate flag has been banned from NASCAR.  The commissioner of the NFL has apologized to those who took a knee to protest police brutality.   

The list goes on.  There are lots of things to worry about.  Some big. Some small.

Worry can be a good thing.  Like physical pain, worry can serve as a signal that we need to take action for ourselves and the welfare of others. But worry can also debilitate. All of us experience circumstances beyond our control.  In such cases, worry can rob us of sleep, steal our energy and cripple our creativity.

Jesus clearly wanted us to live our lives free from debilitating worry.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).