September 13 – Deacon Teague and the Increase Forever

Photo of John Williams “Deacon” Teague and an anonymous enslaved family

Can the Cross overcome the #hashtag?

In preparation for Sunday’s sermon from Psalm 148 and the unity to which biblical worship drives us – kings and all people, young and old together, I have been thinking about identity, and in particular identity politics* and how at its best it calls us to own and to celebrate who we are, even our God-given who-we-are-ness, and how at its worst it divides, antagonizes, separates, and destroys those things that best hold us together – family, community, country, and, yes, church.

I am who I am. My identity comes from a hodgepodge of nature and nurture, history and circumstance, serendipitous encounter and life-changing event. God has taken this stew of life and used it, graciously, to mold and make me who I am.  I have an identity which is layers deep, years wide, and not yet complete.

A piece of my identity has to do with my family; the home in which I was raised, and generations of homes stretching back to obscurity. Continue reading

September 6 – Niche Mission in a Needy World

We are just beginning to catch a glimpse of the destruction brought to the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian.  I can’t imagine it.

Thankfully, the world is responding.  Governments, including our own, are sending and promising aid.  Others are organizing relief efforts, as well.  Even some of the cruise lines are collecting money to be used to help alleviate immediate suffering and to begin to rebuild what was destroyed.  Of course, the Red Cross is there and the “big players” among the Christian Relief organizations, World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse.  Thank God for all of them.

Yes, stories of corruption, inefficiency, and greed are sure to follow over the next few weeks and months.  Poverty Inc. – there’s money to be made in preying on others’ loss – will rear its ugly head.

There is something fundamentally human about reaching out to help.  In many ways it simply doesn’t matter if the clean drinking water or plastic tarp comes from the UN or World Vision.  Thank God for clean water and plastic tarps freely given. Continue reading

August 30 – Whither We Goest

For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.  Ruth 1:16 

Over forty years ago, Becky repeated these familiar words at our wedding, and neither of us had any idea what they might mean.  How could any twenty-something couple possibly know the “goest” and the “lodgest” that lay ahead? Or what it might mean to become part of a family and then to start a family? Though we know him so much better than we did 40 plus years ago, as we have traveled together on the journey of marriage, our God has only shown himself more and more to be the faithful God before whom we made those amazing marriage promises.
Now there is a new season, a next part of the journey, coming our way in less than a year. Since we announced our retirement – set for mid-year, 2020 – one of the most frequently posed questions is the whither question. “Whither wilt thou goest?” we’re asked.  In fact, we’ve been asking the whither question of ourselves for a while and have finally come to an answer.
The great joys of our life together are our family – now three children and their spouses plus eight grandchildren, and living life with our God beside us through calm and storm, joy and sorrow. The whither in retirement question had to be answered, then, with “closer to family” and “as part of a strong church family.”  
The circles on the map indicate where our children and their families live; finding a whither closer to family is no easy task. A place to lodge the same distance from each of the families in our family would put us somewhere in southeast Wyoming.  Cheyenne would do the trick.  1,084 miles east gets you to Sturgis, Michigan, 1,115 miles northwest puts you at Ephrata, Washington, and a quick drive 1,106 miles southeast and you’ve crossed the Mississippi into Memphis, Tennessee. 
Parents learn early on that “just the same” is bad policy for good family life.
We decided not to fill our retirement with 1,100 mile drives, so we started looking at those circles, each circle on the map representing a one-hour drive radius from one of the families in the family.  Over the course of the last many months, each circle took its turn as number one on the list of whither we goest.
We also began to look for faithful churches within each of those one-hour circles. EPC would be nice; Reformed, warm, and with a strong sense of worship and mission was mandatory.  We’ve visited a hundred or more websites, listened to dozens of online sermons, and visited a few churches in person. 
And we prayed. We prayed a lot. God answered. Sometimes he startled us with his answers. Sometimes he was patient as we were slow to hear what he was saying. In time, God’s time, God’s answer to our whither question has become clear.
None of the circles got any closer to the others or to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The thought of not being close to each of the little families in our family is still only agonizingly difficult. But we – God – found a town on the edge of one of those one hour circles, and it seems to be just the right place. We’ll be an hour from one of the families. 
Saint Andrew Evangelical Presbyterian Church is right in the middle of town. We’ve worshiped at Saint Andrew. We’re beginning to get to know Pastor Adam and a couple of the elders. It should be a good place to sit in the same pew and serve together. 
We’ll drive or fly into those other circles on the map as often as we can.
“Whither thou goest,” Becky said all those years ago.  This town on the edge of one of the one hour circles, this town with Saint Andrew EPC right in the middle of it, was not on any whither list we would have made forty years ago.  “My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord.
So, thanks be to God! We can answer when someone asks, “Whither wilt thou goest?”
You say you’d like to know that answer?  Click here. Continue reading

August 23 – The Throne Room of Heaven: North 6th & West Cayuga 19140

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:9-10
The photo is from our lunch break in the Overflow Room at HPCA’s back-to-school workday this past weekend. Continue reading

August 16 – And the Winner Is…

You may have missed the news.  Just this last month the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada announced the greatest hymn of all time.  Yes, I clicked on the bait.

It turns out that the hymn society has an annual conference, and no one outside of the small group of people who attend hymn conferences much care about it, or about the Hymn Society, for that matter.  They decided they’d try for a little free P.R., and someone came up with a March Madness-like bracketed tournament to decide the greatest hymn of all time.

They started with four divisions, each with eight seeded hymns.  Hymns were picked and seeded based on hymnal references, online hits and other criteria.  They included data from sites that track both contemporary and traditional hymns and praise songs, so there was at least some attempt to go beyond the songs with which one might imagine those who attend hymn society conferences are most familiar. Continue reading