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

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.