Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Prayer for A Boy Turning Ten

(To be read by the boy today and each ten years hence…)

A prayer for a boy turning ten, that during the span he celebrates the turning of many, many more decades this ‘may have happened to you’ more than not:

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost, green thrives, the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave a stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to do.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.


Sometimes, by Sheenagh Pugh (sources: Good Poems, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor© (Penguin Books, 2002); Sheenagh Pugh, Selected Poems, (Dufour Editions, 1990)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Friendship Bench

Acacia is Tiny. That’s her nickname. Acacia’s arms are not fully developed. Acacia knew what it was like to not ‘fit in’ to school and social circles. She didn’t want other children to feel what she felt. So, this “Tiny Girl’ came up with a ‘Big Dream’: provide a Friendship Bench to every school in the United States and Canada.

Friendship Benches exist for children who want a friend to talk to, to play with, to remove the sense of being ‘all alone.’  If a child is looking for a someone to play with on the playground, she sits on the Friendship Bench and other children then come and invite her to join them. I asked one child whether her schoolmates were reluctant to sit on the Friendship Bench because they didn’t want to be noticed as being in need of a playmate. She looked at me with this quizzical expression meaning, “what are you talking about?”, and politely said ‘no.’

So I got to thinking about whether adults have any ‘friendship benches’.  If you walk into a restaurant and see someone alone at a table, do you ask if you can join them? If you walk into a bar and see someone alone at the bar do you take the barstool next to that person or sit three stools away? If you walk into your house of worship and see someone alone in a row do you sit next to them or start another row? Maybe children who grow up with Friendship Benches will be better at this sort of hospitality, of being the friend to one in need. 

I think about sitting on the Friendship Bench like I think about the season of Advent. It is waiting, sometimes all by ourselves, for ‘Jesus’ to show up. It is a frustrating business, this waiting alone. The hardest choice might be whether we want to sit on the Friendship Bench and wait or to remain in our rooms and sit all alone.


I pray this Advent season for those who are lonely, that they will find the courage to take a seat on one of life’s ‘friendship benches’. And wait.  And I pray that someone, maybe you, will be the Friend who will come and sit next to them and ask if they would like to play. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

11.11@11

A prayer for you to pray today, if possible, with a Veteran.  It’s not too big a sacrifice to ask, is it? Healing happens through acts of genuine gratitude.  Love your neighbor…
Bless Them Abundantly: A Veteran’s Day Prayer
Dear Lord,
Today we honor our veterans,
worthy men and women
who gave their best
when they were called upon
to serve and protect their country.
We pray that you will bless them, Lord,
for their unselfish service
in the continual struggle
to preserve our freedoms, our safety,
and our country’s heritage, for all of us.
Bless them abundantly
for the hardships they faced,
for the sacrifices they made,
for their many different contributions
to America’s victories
over tyranny and oppression.
We respect them, we thank them,
we honor them, we are proud of them,
and we pray that you will watch over
these special people
and bless them with peace and happiness.
In Jesus’ name we pray; Amen.
By Joanna Fuchs 
http://www.poemsource.com/veterans-day-poems.html


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

The men wore silk top hats, the women their best dresses.  The prior evening’s snowstorm threatened to undo the entire event, but the winds of change were more powerful than the storm.  So, he ascended the podium, hat off now, looking so young, so dapper in his black jacket, silver vest,  with a silver tie adorning his crisp white shirt.

The speech early on had a captivating illustration designed to inspire a new generation about the passing of the torch.  This early word picture captured the ears of the listening crowd, even the world. Through another twenty-two paragraphs he tried to inspire.  The speaker, now almost preacher, began paragraph twenty-five with a fist gently pounding the podium. And then, as he got to the second half of the sentence he raised his right index finger, slightly bent, and with his distinct accent he spoke his most famous words. The crowd behind the lectern didn’t seem to hear or notice the moment, but for one man. He was a large man with big ears who possessed a keen sense  of greatness, and as the words echoed over the open air this astute listener raised his head and looked surprised, no-he looked aware,  that he had just heard a man declaim generation-changing sound:

“…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”

Has the  ‘ask not’ generation become the ‘what about me?’ generation?  A sign of “growing weary in doing good” is that the questions which we ask change;  the range of people we seek to care for, to love, grows more and more narrow until our sole concern, as with infants, is “me.” 

Generations change. Leaders change. Visions change. Nations change.  Questions change. What God expects of nations which claim to seek God’s blessing does not change.

Are we being asked the right questions today, questions which lead us to become an America we would expect God to bless?


Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Ocean of Grace

The moment they realized the engine was not starting again. Ever.  Followed by the moment they realized that their radios could not reach anyone, on the ocean or on land.  Those had to be the two most frightening moments.  Being surrounded by sharks was probably a close third.  How do you deal with that kind of fear? You keep on sailing.

Two female sailors and two dogs, on their way from Honolulu to Tahiti in their small boat encounter a Pacific Ocean storm which destroys their engine.  Two sailors smart enough to pack a year’s worth of food, supplies and a water purifier.  But, despite their best hopes and efforts, the boat’s sails did not take them to safety. They were more than off course. They were lost. In the middle of an ocean. And the months passed, one, two three, four, five months, lost at sea. Thousands of miles of course, and no way to figure out a way back home. They were really lost, they thought.

But they were not lost. They were just not yet found.  A Taiwanese fishing boat found them, which in turn called upon the U.S. Coast Guard, which came to the rescue of the sailors and their dogs. When asked to comment on their work of finding, of saving the lost, Commander Steven Wasson said, "The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation." (Source: John Bacon, USA Today, 10.26.17)

It is easy to get lost when the storms come up. And despite the best planning, if you are stuck in the middle of an ocean of troubles, it is normal to feel lost.  But someone, somewhere, is looking for you. Someone is ready to turn your ocean of troubles into an ocean of grace.

Define Grace: for any distressed mariner; of any nationality; in any type of situation, the Commander is ready to pluck you up and place you on the rescue boat.

If we believe that this is the mission of U.S. Navy, why do we find it so hard to believe it is the mission of God to do the same?

‘Grace Alone’.

God is in the business of finding the lost. Mission accomplished.

Shalom,
Pastor Bill


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Remembering 'Mighty Mouse'

I cheered for ‘Mighty Mouse’ to win.  Saturday nights at the Plymouth Fairgrounds, listening to the deafening roar of modified Stock Cars in the early 1960’s, I would keep my eye on the strategic moves of ‘Mighty Mouse’ as he, lap after lap, weaved and bumped his way from his starting position at the back of the pack of competitors. I have pictures in my mind of the little painting of the  cartoon character on the side of his car, as the muscular mouse became a blur speeding past the grandstand, his fans screaming encouragement as he maneuvered another corner propelling chunks of mud from the dirt track across the warm night sky.  And then there was the almost inevitable victory lap, ‘Mighty Mouse’ holding aloft the prized checkered flag as he took that final lap.

Fast forward half a century.  I am standing in the back of church as one of Ken’s (a/k/a ‘Mighty Mouse’) granddaughter’s has just professed her faith.  Ken had no idea he was a boyhood hero of mine, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as he and I talked about how God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform in the lives of the people we love.  Sometimes it seems miracles happen right before our eyes. When Ken saw his granddaughter overcome her trials to stand before the congregation and read from Ephesians that, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” it was for good reason he was dabbing his eyes at the thought of her victory.

And now it is my privilege to pastor two of Ken’s great-grandsons.  While Ken was a member of another church, he came to their baptisms at our church, and we had a couple more conversations about the joys of seeing your legacy receive the sign and seal of God’s everlasting love.  I feel this sense of obligation to make sure those boys know about God’s love for them, telling them how their Great-Grandpa Mighty Mouse was my boyhood hero, and how proud he was to see them be a part of the family of God. And to help them ‘re-member’ Ken.

You see, Ken is now racing on a new circuit.  The joy of racing, the thrill of the win, those things all must be how he experiences Heaven.  Engine roaring, checkered flag in hand, ‘Mighty Mouse’ takes that Victory Lap.

That Ken, he’s a real winner now.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Regrets, I've Had a Few"

Having dinner with good friends, the conversation turned to today’s “young people”.  We, who are both sides of 60, were talking about those in their early 20’s, the ones just finishing college or starting jobs.  We talked about their need for good mentors and how young they looked. “Did I look that young?”, I wondered out loud, “when I started my career at 22”? My wife assured me I did.

What if we could be 22 again, we wondered? “Boy, there are a few things I would have done differently.”  We all agreed on that observation. But then I began to wonder, would I really have changed anything? As we talked further we wondered whether you could say, “I would have treated this person or situation differently”, without  changing all of the other parts of life. In other words, had I not made this mistake in life, then I would not have been wise enough to avoid making it at another time or with another person.  Or, if I had not met “Mary”, then I would never have met “Martha”.  In other words, isn’t our life the sum of all of the parts, the good choices, the great decisions; the bad choices; the horrible decisions?

So what do we do with the life choices we ‘regret’? We can sing, along with Frank Sinatra, that though ‘we’ve had a few’ they are too few to mention. I am close, I think, to that school of thought.  It is good to remember the choices we regret. That’s what helps us, hopefully, improve our lives, if we use the regrets as lessons.  But we should not dwell upon them. The bigger danger than forgetting regrets too soon is living with them too long. While decisions last a lifetime, the regrets don’t need to. 

The most underrated and least believed fact in the Bible is the truth that God remembers our sins no more.  I have so many encounters with people who are dwelling in regret, in guilt, in shame, wondering how God could accept them given their ‘past.’  I believe the reason we have trouble believing that God could forgive those decisions we regret is that we cannot forgive ourselves for them.  God’s ability to ‘forgive’ is based on his marvelous, grace-filled decision to forget; to accept you, to love you, just as you are, the sum of all the decisions, good, great, bad, horrible.

Can you do the same?