Ready To Give

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

Psalm 24: 1

            The practice of Christian stewardship is won or lost over this question: Whose is it? Is what you have yours or God’s? The Bible gives a clear answer: It’s the Lord’s. Read the first line of Psalm 24 again.

            Author Hugh Whelchel helpfully lays out this biblical truth when he writes:

In the beginning of Genesis, God creates everything and puts Adam in the Garden to work it and to take care of it. It is clear that man was created to work and that work is the stewardship of all of the creation that God has given him.

 This is the fundamental principle of biblical stewardship. God owns everything; we are simply managers or administrators acting on his behalf.

 Therefore, stewardship expresses our obedience regarding the administration of everything God has placed under our control, which is all encompassing. Stewardship is the commitment of one’s self and possessions to God’s service, recognizing that we do not have the right of control over our property or ourselves.  

 Echoing Deuteronomy 8:17, we might say: “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But Deuteronomy 8:18 counsels us to think otherwise:“Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” 

            Are you ready to give of the talents, time and treasure God has entrusted to your care? If the answer is “Yes”, then you’re ready to go. If your answer is “No” or “Not Certain”, then it’s time for some deep thinking and honest praying. What makes you believe you own what you have been given? What is keeping you from recognizing God’s loving claim on every inch or your life? Are you afraid? Are you proud? Remember this: if you are living as caretaker rather than as owner of your life then that also means that your worries, fears, and burdens are God’s, and yours. Biblical stewardship frees us.

What percentage is God calling me to give?

            I hope you are ready to give in this season when we emphasis stewardship. Starting Sunday you’ll be hearing a lot about a special Sunday in November. It’s Consecration Sunday and the date is November 12th. Our session has selected the Consecration Sunday Stewardship Program as a way to teach the biblical and spiritual principles of generous giving in our stewardship education emphasis this year.

              Consecration Sunday is based on the biblical philosophy of the need of the giver to give for his or her own spiritual development, rather than on the need of the church to receive. Instead of treating people like members of a social club who should pay dues, we will treat people like followers of Jesus Christ who want to give unselfishly as an act of discipleship. Consecration Sunday encourages people toward proportionate and systematic giving in response to the question, “What percentage of the Lord’s income is God calling me to give?”

A Big Impact

The 2017 Central Mexico earthquake struck at 13:14 CDT (18:14 UTC) on September 19, 2017 with an estimated magnitude of 7.1 and strong shaking for about 20 seconds. It was epicentered about 34 miles south of the city of Puebla. The earthquake caused damage in the Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos and in the Greater Mexico City area, including the collapse of more than 40 buildings. 369 people were killed by the earthquake and related building collapses, including 228 in Mexico City, and more than 6,000 were injured. The quake coincidentally occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which killed around 10,000 people. (from Wikipedia)

 In 2014, we began an international missions partnership with Urban Mosaic (ConeXion Mosaic) in Mexico City. Led by Jean-Luc Krieg, Urban Mosaic serves some of the poorest people in Mexico City. In the summer of 2015, I went with four college students to lead a week-long Vacation Bible Camp in the eastern section of Mexico City. Nearly all families live in cinder-block homes without indoor plumbing.

When a natural disaster hits a well-function community like Houston, there is still a lot of work needed to rebuild homes, businesses, schools and churches, along with the lives of those affected. When a natural disaster hits a poor community with few resources the same work needs to be done but the poor community starts 10 spaces back.

Our Mission and Outreach Committee sent $4,000 to Urban Mosaic to support them as they sought to help their community. Writing shortly after the earthquake, we learned from our partner: “In catastrophes such as these, not only structures and buildings become damaged. The inhabitants suffer different degrees of psychological trauma. Urban Mosaic’s team has been articulating a holistic response.

·         Neighborhood Clean-Up and Safety Assurance. Working together with the municipality, we continue to clear the most damaged structures.

·         Community Training in Disaster Response. Over 200 people trained. In partnership with other allied organizations, we will be launching a campaign to prevent human trafficking at the shelters.

·         Psycho-Emotional and Pastoral Support for Those Experiencing Trauma. This week pastors and leaders from the slum communities in Chimalhuacan that Urban Mosaico has mentored for over a year were participating in the intensive psycho-emotional first aid campaign.

·         Empowering communities to rebuild: We are in talks with other allied organizations to design a strategy to build new homes.

·         Marisela's Story
Marisela has become dear to our team. Her house was the first one we tore down, and whenever we visit her, she stops what she is doing to offer us a cup of coffee on a table she has set up next to the rubble that was her house and to share a brief moment with us. We always listen to her, and every time she opens her heart some more, and gives us the opportunity to provide psycho-emotional counsel more effectively. Our mission is not only about demolitions and rebuilding, but also about coming alongside people and restoring them to a healthy lifestyle.

I’m so grateful that our mission dollars can have such a meaningful impact in a place and among people who need it so desperately.

For more information about the work of Urban Mosaic or to make a donation, visit their website: http://www.urbanmosaic.net/home

We're Doing Something

 My dear brothers and sisters, stay firmly planted—be unshakable—do many good works in the name of God, and know that all your labor is not for nothing when it is for God.

1 Corinthians 15: 58, The Voice

             Most pastors have weeks when we wonder about our congregations, “Is there anything happening here? Are we making a difference? Are we leaving a footprint for Jesus?” Thankfully I don’t have many days when I’m wrestling with these questions and concerns. I see that God is plenty of good through you and through me. These weekly reflections of mine are called Grace Notes because I’m continually looking for what God is doing in and through the people of Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church. Every now and then, I have to look a little harder but I always see it. I see that God is alive and well among us.

            Last Friday I was invited to attend the annual banquet for the Good News Home for Women. (See their website at https://www.goodnewshome.org/) If you don’t much about this wonderful organization, here is their statement of purpose: The Good News Home is a residential treatment center for women desiring to break the bonds of alcohol/chemical addiction and co-occurring disorders.  We offer a holistic approach to healing the total woman - mind, body, and spirit - through a comprehensive treatment program without regard to race, religion or the ability to pay.

            The main reason I was asked to be a special guest at last Friday’s banquet is that the Good News Home wanted to recognize TMPC’s twenty years of partnership. Actually, no one knows how long we’ve been helping out at the Good News Home, but it’s been at least twenty years.

            It was Dave Koppes who pulled (or pushed us or kicked us, any of those three verbs works) onto the grounds of this unique mission outside of Flemington, NJ. When Dave moved to our area, as a newly retired guy looking to keep himself out of trouble, Dave found himself spending hours at the Good News Home serving as a Board Member and overall handy man. As he did throughout the course of his life, Dave Koppes showed up at the Good News Home ready to help out in any way that he could. He did that for close to two decades.

            Once Hank and Sandy Langknecht found TMPC a few years later Hank heard about the Good News Home from Dave. Hank drove over once a week to a lead a Bible study with the women. His two most popular studies were “Bad Girls of the Bible” and “More Bad Girls of the Bible.” Through Hank’s loving leadership a number of women who considered themselves “bad” discovered Jesus Christ who loved no matter where they had been or what they had done.

            Dave Koppes joined the Church Triumphant a few years ago. Hank and Sandy Langknecht now live in Lancaster County. These days, TMPC supports the Good News Home through Marcia Koppes and Amy Brewer as well financially through our Missions Committee. We always send a team each fall for Church Has Left the Building.

            On Friday night, Marcia Koppes and I watched several videos testimonies of women from the Good News Home. We heard stories of women who had lost family, jobs, and self-respect from their drug addiction. After a stay the Good News Home, these women are now sober and living lives that can only be described as new and blessed. As I listened to those testimonies I thanked God that we get the chance to do something wonderful for His sake and His glory alone.

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Your Invitation to A 300th Birthday Party

            For many of us the Presbytery of Philadelphia is not much more than a name of some kind of organization that relates to us somehow, someway. Well, you’d get a C- on a quiz but if that’s all you know, let me educate you today.

            Founded in 1717, the Presbytery of Philadelphia is the oldest Presbyterian corporate entity in the United States and home to some of the oldest Presbyterian churches in our nation. Our story is deeply rooted in both American and Presbyterian history, illustrating faithfulness and courage throughout our 300-year heritage.

             From 1946 until 2011, the Presbytery of Philadelphia was housed in a downtown historical building at the corner of 22nd and Locust. The Presbytery of Philadelphia, after a period of prayer and discernment, sold the long-time office to build a new building in the middle of the historic Mt. Airy neighborhood. I chaired the committee who oversaw the move. This intentional relocation of the Presbytery office has enhanced our ability to serve congregational leadership and host gatherings that empower our churches throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.

              There are some 130 churches in the presbytery. Thompson Memorial has been a member of the presbytery since our founding in 1811.

               This year marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. We are the oldest presbytery in the United States. I am personally grateful for this presbytery.  Using the geographic boundaries of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, I can tell my life’s story. I was born in Chester and raised in Media. I was baptized at the Wallingford Presbyterian Church, beneath the Rose Window that was dedicated to my grandmother. My grandfather, Elder Howard Spencer held the font that day. When I was ten years old, my parents moved to the Media Presbyterian Church, which I still consider my home church. There I met Jesus Christ through a newly hired Youth Minister. Through the faithful sharing of the truth and love of Jesus Christ, I came to a place of trusting faith in Jesus Christ as a sophomore at Penncrest High School. Within weeks of my conversion I felt a calling to the ministry. After college, I came under care of the session of the Media church and later our presbytery. I traveled all the way to southern California to attend Fuller Theological Seminary and then traveled all the way back to Delaware County to accept my first call as the first Associate Pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Manoa, where I served for six wonderful years. It was at Kirkwood Camp that I met my wife, Leslie. She was a member of the Woodland Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia, where we were married in 1994. In 1995, I accepted the call to become the Pastor of the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church. For nearly twenty-years, it has been my honor to serve you. My two sons, Miles and Sam have only known this church. You are a part of their family.

                 You are invited to a 300th birthday celebration for the Presbytery of Philadelphia. What should you bring to the party? I have good news: you only need to bring yourself. The party happens on Saturday, October 7th at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church at 10:00 a.m. It will be a barn-burner of a worship service with a large combined choir, a message from Dr. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and the Lord’s Supper. If you would like to carpool, there is a signup sheet on the Table of Well Wishing or call the church office.

 

300th Celebration: October 7, 2017 Worship Event

Our culminating worship celebration will take place on Saturday, October 7, 2017 beginning at 10:00 am

Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2800 West Cheltenham Ave.

The Art of Burden-Bearing

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Galatians 6: 1 – 3, New Living Translation

Brother Joseph: Burden-bearer 

Brother Joseph: Burden-bearer 

             Brother Joseph Wallace-Williams called me not long ago. He is the monk from Holy Cross Monastery who preached during our Renewal Weekend this past March. He is the most extroverted, exuberant monk you’ll ever meet. I had emailed him a prayer request and he was calling me back to check in on me. We spoke for about 15 minutes.

            I’ve been a pastor for 28 years, and I know how to do pastoral care. When I ended my phone conversation with Brother Joseph, I thought to myself, “He’s good.” To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul and the verses from Galatians 6 that I included above, Joseph was sharing, therefore bearing my burden with me. Of the many benefits from having a Church Family, burden-sharing might be at the top of the list. A burden shared, goes the saying, is a burden halved. The more I share with concerned, praying sisters and brothers in Christ, the smaller and lighter the burden becomes. The weight of the burden on my shoulders is much less when others bear it with me.

            Let me share with you Brother Joseph’s burden-bearing artistry with you. His brilliance in giving pastoral care to me a pastor centered around two statements and two questions.

Statement #1: This burden isn’t your fault.

            Joseph knew the details of my burden before talked together. His reading of my problem was that I was not the cause of it. He pointed out a few things—some of which I knew and other stuff I hadn’t thought about—that revealed that I was not at fault. Sometimes I’m a lot at fault and sometimes I’m not; and most times it’s somewhere in-between. This is why having someone near you to help with the burden is so crucial. There are times when I take took much blame and there are times when I don’t take enough blame. I need a good friend I can trust to help me gauge how much fault is mine.

Question #1: Are you taking care of yourself?

            He wanted to know if I was exercising, eating properly and getting enough rest. I appreciated the question because sometimes in the course of carrying a burden I can stop taking care of my body. I can’t carry the extra weight of a burden if I’m not doing the things I know I need to do to stay in good health. I can forget about my health and that’s when I need a friend to ask me about it, just in case.

Questions #2: Are you able to pray?

            This is another great question to ask as we bear someone else’s burden. The old hymn tells us about the great friend we have in Jesus. The hymn reminds us about the great privilege it is to carry everything to Him in prayer. Peace gets forfeited, needless pain increases all because do not carry everything to God in prayer. And the preacher needs to be asked that question too.

Statement #2: I love you and I’m praying for you all the time.

            This one brought tears to my eyes and lump in my throat. I don’t have the words to express how meaningful it is to me to know that others pray for me. In this case, I have a whole bunch of monks, who do nothing but pray, praying for me and for my burden. And while, Brother Joseph didn’t have to tell me that he loved me because of what he was doing; I can’t hear that enough.

The Night Shift

            I used to take the 2:00 a.m. feedings a long time ago. I thought of it as my Night Shift. My wife, Leslie and I had a deal when our sons were babies. I went to bed early while she put either Sam or Miles to bed. Early in morning around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., when the boys cried to be fed, I got up while Leslie slept. Then she would let me get some extra rest in the morning by handling breakfast duties.

            I started drinking coffee when Sam was born. I made it through five years of college, three years of seminary and ten years of pastoral ministry without caffeine. Those way-early mornings made a coffee addict out of me. Still, I didn’t much mind those night shifts. The world was dark and quiet. The boys had their bottles and quickly fell back to sleep. I often found myself praying.

            A week ago, I dropped off my oldest son, Sam at Trinity College in Hartford. My wife, my Dad and I got his stuff into his dorm room. Leslie helped him get unpacked while my Dad sat in the courtyard talking to pretty co-eds. We said good-bye to him in the afternoon.

            How did you feel? I’ve been asked that question a lot. I can’t say that I felt sad and I didn’t weep, though there is no shame if I did. I’m excited for Sam because I think college will be a good season for him. I’m delighted that he is a student at Trinity College.

            Yet I must admit that I thought about him a lot over the next couple of days. I was hoping that he was meeting people and making friends. I especially hoped that he wasn’t overwhelmed by loneliness.

            On Sunday, Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed piece entitled, “The Real Campus Scourge”. What is it? It is the experience of being all alone. Bruni wrote, “In a sea of people, they find themselves adrift. The technology that keeps them connected to parents and high school friends only reminds them of their physical separation from just about everyone they know best. That estrangement can be a gateway to binge drinking and other self-destructive behavior. And it’s as likely to derail their ambitions as almost anything else.

Brett Epstein felt it. ‘I spent my first night in the dorm and it hit me like a pile of bricks: It’s just me here,’ Epstein, a 21-year-old senior at the College of Charleston, told me about his start there three years ago. ‘I was completely freaked out.’”

            I’m thankful to report that Sam is off to a great start at Trinity. He has made some friends. He checked out and didn’t care for a frat party. He will be a part of the crew team.

            Frank Bruni ended his column on the loneliness so many students find at college with a suggestion that we talk with our children or grandchildren about this common experience. “We also need to tell them that what’s often behind all that drinking and eating isn’t celebration but sadness, which is normal, survivable and shared by many of the people around them . . .”

            I hold my sons differently now than I did during my years on the Night Shift. In daily prayer, I hold them. Through a text message here or a phone call there, I hold them. My sons are also held with great attention and care by their church family. You hold them too. You do so by joining me in prayer; through sending care packages regularly and by fussing over them (including all of our young people and not just my boys).

             The Night Shift never seems to end.             

I Locked My Father in the Shower

            Yes, I did. I locked my father in the outdoor shower of the manse we use when we visit Avalon, New Jersey. You ask me: Why did you lock your Dad in the shower? I will tell you: I have no idea but I did.

            Here’s the story. My older brother Scott and my Dad came for an overnight visit to Avalon during our recent vacation. In the afternoon, all of us had gone for a swim in the pool of friends of ours in Stone Harbor. We returned to the beach house and my father wanted to clean up in the outdoor shower set in the back of the house. I made sure that he a towel and then I remember that he closed the door and I slide the lock across. I can recall a vague thought that I had that I was somehow keeping him safe. I went inside and changed my clothes. My brother and I sat on the front porch and started talking. In the back of my mind I wondered where my Dad was, but I figured that he was taking his time. He is 90 years-old after all. About 30 minutes later, my father opened the front door, peered down at me and asked, “Can you tell me why you locked me in the shower?”

            Some people can hold a pie in each hand and resentment at the same time. Thankfully, my Dad has never been someone who clings to hard feelings. I felt terrible all the same. He told me that he called out for help. No one heard him. So he sat on the bench for a while, waiting for rescue. Finally, he kicked the door open. My son Sam reminded me that I did the same thing to him in the same shower when he was 9 years-old.

            Grace, mercy, kindness and forgiveness are needed in abundance in all of our families and for all of our relationships. We are mistake-making people which mean that we also have to be forgiveness-giving people. I’m so glad that my Dad and I could quickly laugh about my odd action. Soon after his great escape, we had a delicious dinner and then walked to the ocean to body-surf. My Dad got in the surf too. The day wasn’t ruined and life rolled on like waves.

            You would think that I would have learned a lesson from my father’s mercy and kindness to me. I regret to tell you that I didn’t. We came home on Tuesday and I asked my youngest son, Miles to cut the grass. He did but he failed to put the lawnmower back in the crawl space. When Miles got around to putting everything anyway, he didn’t close and lock the doors. When I saw the open and unlocked doors, I heatedly told him to go and lock them. He tried to tell that he was having trouble closing the doors, but I wasn’t listening. For a guy who locked the wrong door at the wrong time you would think that I might be a little more understanding of my son who was trying to lock the right doors at the right time. The next morning, I told Miles I was wrong and asked him to not lock me in the shower the next time we’re in Avalon.

I Am

            Last night my youngest son, Miles and I went to New York City to see a magic show that was much, much more than a dazzling display of how-did-he-do—that tricks. The magician is Derrick Delgaudio. Since July his show In and Of Itself has been playing in a small theatre near Union Square.

            Derrick is a world-class magician. Twice he was voted by his peers to be the top magician. In his current show, Derrick doesn’t do a trick until about ten minutes into his performance. He begins the show by standing alone beneath a single spotlight on an otherwise darkened stage. His first words are “I am”. In the course of about 90 minutes, Derrick tells six stories that are all in some way about him. He relates an amazing tale he heard in a bar many years earlier about a man that played Russian Roulette more than once and survived. He shared deeply about his childhood with a story about his Mom. Interspersed between his stories he did magic tricks that left Miles and I staring at each other in wonder and with broad smiles on our faces. Wearing a blindfold, he did a card trick where he ended up dealing cards face up, in order from the Ace to the Two card right up to the King by suit—diamonds first, then spades, then hearts and finally clubs.

            As Miles and I entered the theatre, we found a wall of cards. The cards were white with black lettering at the top reading “I am”. Beneath each card were words like: a baker, a chemist, a good Christian, the life of the party, or the black sheep of the family. There were a thousand cards on display. Every person was asked to select a card; first search carefully for the card that best captured your identity. I walked the length of wall before I found one. When I saw I thought, “That’s me.” I grabbed it and walked into the theatre. An usher took my card, as she did with all the cards, handed back the top of the card with the words “I am” on it and kept the part with words that captured me.

            At the end of the performance, Derrick asked everyone who selected a card and who did so with some thought to stand up. About 40 people stood, out of a crowd of nearly 150. I stood; while my son Miles stayed seated.  As a joke, he had selected “I am a meteorologist”. Walking up the center aisle, Derrick turned to each standing person and looked them right in the eyes and told them what they were. “You’re a rock star,” he said to one. To a man, he nodded, “Congratulations, you’re a good Dad.” Pointing at a middle-age lady, Derrick called, “Hey everyone! Here’s the Master of the Universe.” I was standing at the end of the row, about halfway back from the stage. Derrick paused and looked at me for second or two longer than the rest. I’m sure it was for dramatic effect.

            Let me tell what I that day before Derrick told me who I was. Early in the morning I met with a very close friend of mine to talk with him about several deep and personal problems he is facing. Mostly I listened, though I did offer some suggestions and I prayed for him. Later, I had lunch with Chuck Wilson, the Pastor of the New Hope Community Church. Chuck and I have been trying to get together for months. You may remember that Chuck and his wife, Kim, lost one of their children named Ryan to an alcohol and drug overdose two days before their oldest son’s wedding. I’ve been praying for my friend and I wanted to see how he was doing. After those two good meetings, I was looking forward to go spending the afternoon and evening with one of my sons. My day was filled with time spent with men—two friends, and one of my sons. There are a lot of men in my life who care about me and for whom I care deeply. So when I saw this one card hanging on the wall of the Daryl Roth Theatre, my hand went straight for it. Sure enough, after that long, pregnant pause, Derrick Delgaudio, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re your brother’s keeper.” With a grin, I nodded and sat down.

            So I can’t figure out the real trick. Was it that Derrick guessed right or that I knew it?

Holy Ground

4 When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

5 “Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 6 I am the God of your father[—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3: 4 – 6

            Due to an unsettled stomach, my youngest son Miles wasn’t able to ride up to Kirkwood Camp on Sunday with the rest of the Middle School Mission Team. He and I rode up together on Monday afternoon.

            We parked near the camp office and then walked towards Meadowside cabin where Miles would be living this week. On our way, we passed the pond and volleyball court where nearly all the campers were hanging out that afternoon. It was a postcard-perfect summer’s day: low humidity, dark blue skies, and vibrant green everywhere you turned. A wonderful, warm feeling overcame me. I knew I was standing on holy ground because I felt as I used to feel when I would turn down Dogwood Road in Media, Pennsylvania, the street where my childhood home was found.

            I went to Kirkwood Camp for the first time as a camper when I was a bit younger than Miles. Kirkwood has always been the property of the Presbytery of Philadelphia though when I went there as a teenager, the camp was fairly new to us. A few years earlier, my older brothers, Blake and Scott went to summer camp on an island in the middle of the Delaware River a few miles north of New Hope.

            My home church, the Media Presbyterian Church, used to “take over” all of Kirkwood Camp for a week-long summer camp for the congregation in August. The church offered a full program for elementary-aged children, middle school students and high school kids, as well as adults. For meals, we all gathered together in the dining hall to eat and to sing. One night each week, all of the counselors—a mix of college students and parents—were given 20 minutes to go and hide. All of the campers, from the youngest children to the oldest high school student carefully watched the clock and when time was up, kids came pouring out of the dinning to track down their hidden counselors. If you found one, you were allowed to pelt them with water balloons. The pastors hid too and were subject to the same sentence if caught. One year, the Senior Pastor and the Assistant Pastor dove into the dumpster. No one came close to finding them and they said they had a wonderful staff meeting amid the trash.

            On Monday afternoon, some of those happy summer memories came to my mind. But, as I’ve written already, I was standing ground that is holy to me. Summer after summer, year after year, God met me at Kirkwood Camp. I call it a “thin place” too for the line between heaven and earth is very thin there.

            As I greeted our young people from TMPC at Kirkwood this week, I know sounded like an old man: “I came here when I was a kid.” The young people looked with wonderment at me. Who knew they had summer camps back in dinosaur days? As for me, I have prayed all this week that our young people would realize that they too are standing on holy ground.

A Heart for the City

            One of happiest memories of my youth happened one summer Sunday when I was 11 or 12-years-old. For reasons I forgotten, my Dad and I skipped worship that morning at my home church, Media Presbyterian Church. And for more reasons I’ve lost, he and I went together to worship at the Old Pine Presbyterian Church in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The old sanctuary of that congregation is among the most beautiful of many lovely Presbyterian sanctuaries in and around Philadelphia. I remember worshipping God there that morning. Afterwards, my Dad and walked towards Second Street. We found an ethic food festival in Head House Square. We had lunch. I don’t remember much more than that but that time with my Dad has always stayed with me and I actually point to it as a birthplace of my concern for cities.

            According to one of our mission partners, Urban Mosaic, “Over the past decades hundreds of millions of people have moved to cities in hope of a better future. Yet, every single day, over 100,000 of them end up in an urban slum. By now, 1.3 billion people live in urban poor communities. In 2050 close to 40% of the world's population will live in a slum.” Most of those billion plus people live on less than $2 a day. By 2050 nearly 75% of the world’s population will live in cities. The needs and the suffering found in cities are great; and Christians belong in the city.

            My visit to Philadelphia with my father many summers ago planted something within me. I’ve always been comfortable in cities and love the vibrancy that fills the streets of cities. I love the culture and the beauty and the food of cities. I am drawn to the countless stories one finds among the people of cities.

            Last week I spent a week in Philadelphia as a member of the High School Mission Team. We lived last week in a small, crowded house in North Broad Street. Two other church youth groups shared quarters with us. There were two showers for 40 people. We had minimal air conditioning and we slept in narrow bunk rooms with a few fans. It was a mission trip.

            And yet . . . it was the best week of the year for me. Our group made our way all over the city from southwest Philadelphia, where we helped with a week-long summer camp to Northern Liberties where we did landscaping and cooked a meal for another mission team. I was in parts of Philadelphia where I don’t often go, like the depressed neighbors of Kennsington and Hunting Park. We also found several lovely parks, previously unknown to me.

            When I was leading summer youth mission trips, I planned for our kids to go to cities every other year. On off years we would travel to more rural places in Appalachia. While the poverty in rural America is alarming and in need of lots of help, I know that our young people will more likely live in or near an American city. I want our young people to have a heart for the city. For as we heard this past Sunday, God loves cities: But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4: 12)

For a good summary of the challenges of urban poverty follow this link to the website of Urban Mosaic: http://www.urbanmosaic.net/global-urban-poverty

Whenever I See Your Smiling Face

“And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!”

Genesis 33:10

            I got a new smartphone recently. We are now a four-phone family. Research conducted by my oldest son Sam revealed that we would do best by purchasing a certain brand of phone, which we did through Amazon. The only drawback to obtaining our phones this way is that I couldn’t transfer all my contacts from my old phone to my new one. This meant that I spent hours creating new contact information: name and phone numbers.

            One feature I like on my phone is a feature that allows me to download the picture of my contact. Now, when I receive a call or a text, with it I see the smiling faces of my loved ones, work colleagues and friends.

            The words at the top of this page were spoken by Jacob to his brother Esau. They might not be the most sincere words ever spoken, but I like them all the same. Jacob and Esau were twins. They were night and day different and they never got along. Jacob, with plenty of help from his Mom, cheated Esau out of a sizeable inheritance. Esau was a big, burly mountain man who could kill you in 30 seconds. Esau, when he discovered what his younger brother did to him, promised to do all sorts of nasty things when he got his hairy hands on him. If you could say nothing else positive about Jacob, you could say that he was smart enough to run away.

            Time passed and now the brothers are about to meet face to face. I can see Jacob sweating as he sees his brother for the first. Jacob piles it on, double-high. He compliments Esau about everything: You look terrific! Your wife and children all look like fashion models! I love your car and your house! Did I tell you how good you look? Jacob’s best line was this: “And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!”

            Maybe Jacob only said that because he was hoping his brother wouldn’t crush him there and then. And maybe out of his fear and dread Jacob was saying something deeply significant. The face of friend or one you love does bring relief, doesn’t it? And that small sense of relief is nothing compared with seeing the smiling face of God. And I believe that when we face God we find a friendly, smiling, loving face.

            The Gospel of John starts by describing the Word of God, whom we know as Jesus. The Word, John says, was with God from the beginning. The word “with” means “face-to-face”; and I think that’s a clue for us that the best way to look at those we love is face to face, with nothing between us—no phones, laptops, magazines or TV’s. Let’s look at each other that way. You will find relief in that friendly smile. You’ll find the face of God.

A Promise Worth the Effort

            Next Friday, June 30th, I will get up early in the morning to join dozens of friends for a day on the Delaware River. We will not be lazing in the summer sun. No, we will take turns paddling in out-rigger canoes traveling from Trenton, NJ to Camden, NJ. That’s about 25 miles, or a 40-minute car ride. In an out-rigger canoe that means about a five-hour paddle. Two years ago I took part in this amazing event. Half the seats were always filled by members of the Philadelphia Outrigger Canoe Club. These women and men are serious paddlers. They row 15-mile races at a pace of 60 strokes per minute. We rookies were paddling an hour at a time at a leisurely 50 strokes per minutes for a solid hour. One crazy woman who paddled like broken machine stuck in high gear, shouted over her shoulder, “Are you feeling the burn?” Oh, yes, our shoulders and back were on fire.

            I’m happy, really honored actually, to sweat under the sun for the sake of raising money for Urban Promise Trenton. This is a favorite mission of mine; and I’m proud that since 2010, Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church has been a key supporting church. Melissa Mantz is now serving as the Executive Director of Urban Promise Trenton. Melissa loves the young people she serves. She brings great faith, wisdom and an extraordinary sense of humor to her work. A number of Thompson members volunteer on the Advisory Board. Others show up each week to tutor or help with other programs. Many of us have contributed generously to support this mission.

            The City of Trenton is a part of our “backyard”. In the name of Jesus, we belong on the streets of this city. The website for Urban Promise Trenton declares that, “The need for UrbanPromise in Trenton is without question. The city of Trenton ranks among the poorest cities in the state and has one of the country’s highest crime rates. Nearly a third of Trenton’s residents live below the poverty level, and the city’s high school graduation rate is under 50 percent and the lowest in the entire state. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Trenton’s population was about 85,000 and nearly 28% were under eighteen. This translates to over 23,000 kids with few alternatives to gangs and crime. With gangs recruiting children as young as eight years old, Trenton’s children are at risk. Our free programs not only take young children off the streets but also employ area teens, providing valuable life skills and a safe haven for these young people. UrbanPromise Trenton opens up a new world and allows city youth and teens to choose a better path for their future.”

            Joining me in the boats on June 30 are TMPC members Sam Spencer, Frederic Haubrich and Mark Tomkovicz. Please remember to pray for us and for all who paddle.

           If you would like to support me, please follow this link: https://www.commitchange.com/nj/trenton/urbanpromise-trenton/campaigns/stuart-spencer-paddle-for-promise-2017

It's Not a Hard Decision

            Number me among the fans of golfer Phil Mickelson. Faced with the decision to play in the U.S. Open—the only major tournament he hasn’t captured in long career—or attend his daughter’s high school graduation, Phil Mickelson said he would skip the tournament to attend the ceremony. “I love the [U.S.] Open, but this is a special moment for us,” Mickelson told reporters from the FedEx St. Jude Classic about missing the golf tournament to attend the high school graduation of his daughter, Amanda. “I mean, my daughter’s speaking, she’s giving the speech there at graduation. It’s one of those things you just need to be there, so it wasn’t a hard decision.”

            Yeah Phil Mickelson! Yeah Amanda Mickelson! Here’s guessing that when Amanda stands by Phil’s deathbed both will look into the other’s eyes and agree that it was the right decision and it wasn’t even that hard. It’s not hard to choose to celebrate the big moments in the lives of our loved ones. It’s not hard to put work in its proper place if you have the rest of the priorities in their proper places. In face of deep and meaningful time, in the light of what matters most, you would make that choice every single time.

            Keep your priorities clear and straight and your life will be a little less hard. You need to work but watch that your work doesn’t push out marriage and children. If you are married, honor your marriage vows and you will steer around the wreckage on unfaithfulness. Seek God first and let go of the debate of whether or not this is the Sunday to go to church. Worship God! There’s nothing more important you’ll do this week.

            Make sure you are keeping one eye on your death bed. You’re getting closer to it every day. What do you want to remember on that day? Attending your daughter’s high school graduation or winning the U. S. Open? It’s not a hard decision.

The Pastor Said, "Go to Dinner"

Asking for help and accepting directions are what bring results.

            Some folks think that church members can’t or won’t say No to me the Pastor. So strong is my ministerial presence, so weighty my authority that the poor TMPC member only has but response to any request from me: How high?

            I wish it were so, but it’s not. If I could always get a Yes from our members then our services would be standing room only every Sunday, we’d out-give our budget by April because every member would tithe and no one would carry a grudge or nurse a resentment.  Believe me: members and friends have no trouble saying No to me; and that’s fine by me. Once in a while I give some advice or direction and people actually take.

            A few times while talking with a married couple I got a sense that they could use a night out. I said to the couple, “Your Pastor wants you to go to dinner. Don’t argue with me, just go. Have a great time. And if you need some help to cover the meal or pay for babysitting, your evening is on me. Listen to your Pastor now. Do what I say.”

            I sound a little like a sponsor in those moments. A sponsor is an integral part of 12-Step recovery programs. A sponsor is someone who has been sober for a length of time. A sponsor has also spent significant time looking carefully at herself and working to change the worst aspects of her character by applying the principles of the 12 Steps. A sponsor is combination friend, counselor, and parent. One recovery writer describes this special relationship: “As we get into the Steps, we find it indispensable to rely for help on those who have gone this way before. In Twelve Step programs, the term commonly used is sponsor. What we call the person doesn’t matter; and we don’t have to call them anything. Asking for help and accepting suggestions are what bring results.”

            All of us need someone like a sponsor to help us mature as Christians. We will never grow up alone—never! Growing into our spiritual big boy pants happens as we ask for help and take direction. All of us need someone who can tell us

ü  When we’re wrong and acting like a baby

ü  When we’re being way too tough on our family

ü  When we need to let something go

ü  When we did something really well

ü  When spiritual progress can be seen in our lives

ü  When we need to hear for the millionth time that God forgives and loves us

              Chances are high that you have no one like this in your life. I do; and he is one of the greatest blessings I have. You’re fortunate because lots of our members could easily fill the bill.  I really wish you did have a sponsor.

               No, on second thought, I, the Pastor tell you: get a sponsor—now!

A Summer Stroll

If we do not regularly quit work . . ., we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds our eyes to the action of God in and around us.

Eugene H. Peterson

            While riding the elevator in Doylestown Hospital on my way to visit a church member and I saw a poster for Walk with a Doc. In the summer of 2015, Doylestown Hospital launched this program for their patients. This national initiative simply invites people to walk with a doctor, usually a cardiologist. A news release from the hospital’s website states: “Walk With a Doc is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages, and reverse the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in order to improve the health and well-being of the country.” When you walk with a  doc you ask your burning questions about health or how the doc thinks the Phillies are doing with their re-building efforts.  

            As a long-time walker/hiker, I love getting my long legs moving outside. One of my favorite spiritual practices is a called an Emmaus Walk. Presbyterian pastor and author Eugene Peterson has a nice description of these walks: We got the phrase "Emmaus Walks" from Douglas V. Steere, who told us the story of an old Lutheran retreat master he once knew, very Prussian, whose speech was thick with German gutturals. He specialized in men's retreats. As the men would come into the lodge, he would make them open their suitcases, from which he would confiscate all the whiskey. Then he would pair them up and send them off on what he called ee-mouse walks.

               Steere told us that for a long time he wondered what ee-mouse walks were, and then realized one day that the old Prussian drillmaster was sending his men out on Emmaus walks: two disciples walking and talking together and Jesus, unrecognized, with them. But afterward they knew: ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’" (Luke 24:32 KJV).

                This summer, I would love to take a stroll with you for the sake of getting to hear about your life and your “heart” while enjoying the glory of God that surrounds us in Bucks County. There are three levels of walks: Easy (walking around the cemetery), Moderate (walking along the tow path), Slightly Challenging (a hike at Kinser Mountain or Ralph Stover State Park). There is also an “arm chair” option, which means instead of killing ourselves in the heat; I come to your home and we drink iced tea and talk there.

              Strolls with Stuart (how’s that for a snappy title?) begin the first week of June. To schedule a time contact Melissa Bottelier (office@tmpc.org) in the office. Our website will soon have a sign up page.

               So, check your schedule, dump your whiskey, lace up your Air Jordans and let’s make a walking date—you, me, and Jesus

A More Google Less Facebook Church

            In last Sunday’s New York Times “Week in Review” section, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz an economist and the author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are wrote a column entitled “Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable.” Stephens-Davidowitz spent five years analyzing Google searches and social media posts, primarily on Facebook. He found that what we post on Facebook tends to reveal our better sides and the parts of our lives we are most proud of.

            The author notes, for example, “that Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.” Certain medical concerns like migraine headaches garner more support on Facebook than does Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The difference is that IBS sufferers are more embarrassed by their struggles that those who deal with migraines.

            Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.”

            I know that there are some people who won’t come to Sunday morning worship because they are afraid that they will break down and start crying during a hymn or they won’t know where to find something in the Bible. Others are so deeply ashamed of their personal or familial failures that church is the last place they would go. How sad that is for me to hear. We exist because every last one of us, the Pastor especially, is struggling with something. My friends in Alcoholics Anonymous have a wise saying: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”

Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides.

            That’s why I hope we will become more of a “Google” congregation than a “Facebook” congregation. Stephens-Davidowitz shares what he learned from his studies of Google searches: I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram. Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands. On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase ‘My husband is …’ are ‘the best,’ ‘my best friend,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘the greatest’ and ‘so cute.’ On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also ‘amazing.’ So that checks out. The other four: ‘a jerk,’ ‘annoying,’ . . . and ‘mean.’

            I’m not suggested that we get real by going off on one another. I’m advocating that we be more honest in sharing our doubts, our fears, our struggles and our failures. We’re the church, which means we are a community of grace, not merit; of forgiveness, not moral perfection.

            This op-ed writer encourages us to use Google as a corrective to Facebook: “Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, ‘I always feel tired’ or ‘I always have diarrhea.’ This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.”

            Or, just coming to worship on any Sunday; look around and say this in your mind: “They are as messed up as me. Everyone needs Jesus Christ as much as I do. I must belong here.”

______________________________________

Here’s a like to the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/opinion/sunday/dont-let-facebook-make-you-miserable.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Trash Detail

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus the Anointed One . . ,

Philippians 1: 1

            Mini liquor bottles and recipe cards—that’s the primary trash I found along a stretch of River Road last Saturday morning. Along with my wife Leslie and a half-dozen folks from Thompson Church, I was participating in the Church Has Left the Building, the Spring Version. We were picking up garbage on a portion of Route 32 just north of Windy Bush Road by 7:45 a.m.

            I couldn’t help but wonder about the recipe cards when I kept finding them alongside of the road. The cards weren’t just dumped in a clump beside the highway. I kept picking recipes for pancakes and roast beef all illustrated with color photos, for at least a half mile. Who throws trash out the window of a car one or two recipe cards at a time? The liquor bottles I get. Leaving a good-time in New Hope, someone wants the party to continue on the drive home. I just hope that whoever chucked those bottles was riding shot gun and not behind the wheel of the car.

            Thompson Church keeps about two miles of River Road clear of trash; and we’ve been doing that for a number of years now. If there is anything that can ruin the incredible beauty of this area in which we live it’s some thoughtless person throwing trash out the window.

            I’ve never completely understood the need to have clean-up crews clean the ground beside the highways. Is it that hard to hold your trash and get rid of it when you get home or toss it in the trashcan when you pull into get gas?

            Christians, like the Apostle Paul, have always been quick to slap the label servant or slave on themselves. Servants sign up to do something. Servants go and do what others don’t want to go and do. Servants find joy among the trash. I might not like the garbage out there in whatever form I find it. I had better be ready to pull on my gloves and hold my back to make the world a little bit more like God had in mind.

A Good Humiliation a Day

“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it.”

Richard Rohr

            I recently heard Richard Rohr interviewed on one of my favorite radio program/podcasts called “On Being”. Host Krista Tippett came across this strange prayer of Christian author Richard Rohr a few weeks before their scheduled interview and she made a point to ask him about it. Krista Tippett admitted to Father Rohr that there is nothing in her that wants to pray to be daily humiliated; and to be honest, me too. I’m not looking to start praying for this.

            Here’s what Richard Rohr had to say:

 No, and there isn’t in me either . . . Some years ago, I started recognizing that I was getting an awful lot of adulation and praise and some people treating me far more importantly than I deserved. And I realized I was growing used to it, that the ego just loves all of this admiration and projection. And a lot of it was projection. And I didn’t want fame and well-knownness and guru status to totally destroy me, and so for me, this became a necessity, that I had to watch how do I react to not getting my way, to people not agreeing with me, to people not admiring me — and there’s plenty of them — and that I actually needed that. And so I do, I still, I ask God for one good humiliation a day, and I usually get it, one hate letter or whatever it might be. And then what I have to do, Krista, is I have to watch my reaction to it. And I’ve got to be honest with you, my inner reaction — I’m not proud to tell you — is defensive, is, “That’s not true. You don’t understand me.” I can just see how well-defended my ego is. And of course, even your critics — and I have plenty of them — at least 10 to 20 percent of what they’re saying is usually true. And I’ll recognize that very thing she’s so angry at me for saying, I really could’ve said it better, and I didn’t use the right word . . . So I try to learn from my critics, and they’re often the best of teachers, frankly.

            Father Rohr’s daily prayer for a humiliation reminded me of another great religious leader who prayed in the same way. I’m talking about the Apostle Paul and he’s how he explained his need for a regular put-down. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10)

            Do Paul and Richard Rohr need to have their heads examined? No, both men have something powerful to teach us about making friends with our critics and accepting without great angst frustrations, tough times in our relationships, and cold seasons in our spiritual lives. God never wastes anything, not even our struggles. God works on us; or more accurately, He works on our ego and our pride through a daily bring-down. You know the old saying: A humiliation a day keeps the pride away!

            Here’s a link to the Richard Rohr interview: https://onbeing.org/programs/richard-rohr-living-in-deep-time/

Jesus in the Kitchen

Note from Stuart Spencer: Pastors drag around after Holy Week and Easter. We’re as limp as a dishrag and as worn out as a middle-school teacher in June. When my dear friend Melissa Mantz shared this beautiful reflection with me this week, I asked her if I could use it for my Grace Notes. She was happy to help. With a tired yawn of appreciation, I offer you “Jesus in the Kitchen” by Melissa Mantz.

      Over the last few months, many folks at TMPC have said to me; “You’re always in the kitchen!”. And that is true, I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen at TMPC recently: Community Meal, Coffee Hour, Soup and Bread Suppers, Maundy Thursday and Easter! Whew!

       Here is a secret. I love the kitchen at TMPC. Because, so often, I meet Jesus in the Kitchen. There He is in the eyes of friends and strangers. There He is in conversations between friends and strangers. The thing about Jesus is that he loves to serve and where better to serve than in a kitchen?

        Over the course of time I have been here at TMPC, I have met Jesus at a dirty sink of dishes, at the coffee machine, at the dishwasher and by the ovens. I have worked with Jesus long after everyone else has left the church or even, when I am alone preparing for a big event, like Easter Sunday.

          I have learned so much from Jesus in the Kitchen:

·         It always works out. This is the most important truth; no matter how flustered I am or how together I am, it always works out. People show up just when you need them. When you think there will not be enough food, food appears. “Loaves and fishes” as my friend Melissa Michael says.

·         Making coffee is not hard. Period. Hosting a Coffee Hour is easy-peasy. And if you are shy, like me, it is a great way to meet people. Being part of the congregation requires action because love is a verb. Hosting a Coffee Hour is a good way to meet Jesus in the Kitchen.

·         If someone asks, do you need help?, say YES! Maybe you don’t need help. But maybe the person asking needs to help. Folks love to feel included. Say yes!

·         This Easter I had a profound conversation which began with me sharing about a powerful work of fiction I was reading. And then Jesus in the Kitchen showed up big time! My friend and I witnessed to the struggle and hope of a young friend. We prayed together with Jesus in the Kitchen. And then I made more coffee.

·         Ask for help! Do you need help putting out the coffee or the food or the washing up? You are not alone; you do not have to do everything by yourself. Life is a “we” thing. ASK. FOR. HELP.

·         One Easter a couple of years ago, I made an egg dish that I served VERY undercooked. I was so embarrassed- I am a former chef after all. I was all over myself…how could I??? As I was bemoaning my mistake, a very wise woman said; “oh, are you perfect then?” and she smiled gently. No, I am not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Jesus in the Kitchen is okay with my imperfection and yours, too.

            You can meet Jesus in the Kitchen. And you can meet Jesus in the Nursery, or Jesus in the Choir, Jesus in Session, or Jesus in the Sunday School Class. He is everywhere at TMPC and He loves to serve with his friends.

Easter Brings Hope

            I found a column written by my childhood pastor this week. My pastor, Bob Kesel, wrote these words for the Media Presbyterian Church newsletter in April 1990. Like all pastors, Pastor Kesel wrestled with how to preach a message of hope in a world with so few signs of it. What do you say to all those who come to church on Easter Sunday? Easter sermons don’t just preach themselves, meaning the empty tomb requires some explanation. What, exactly, is the hope that comes on Easter?

            A church layperson once said that the one thing he wants to know about a pastor is whether or not she has suffered. I think those who stand to preach good news on Easter Sunday should have some experience with weeping and heartache for nearly every person who shows up will have had plenty of experience with both.

            Bob Kesel was familiar with struggle. He was a veteran of the Korean War. I once heard him say that he didn’t sit in a chair for two years during his time serving the military in Korea. There were no chairs available to him in Korea, along with TV’s, cars and fast food. Rev. Kesel knew loss firsthand. His first child was born stillborn; and on a Christmas Eve, no less.

            Pastor Kesel was a gifted preacher, a brilliant student of the Bible, and a skilled leader of people. He visited the sick and shut-in members of his large congregation faithfully and he offered wise counsel to those who sought his help. But the greatest strength of his numerous strengths was his deep and abiding trust in Jesus Christ—a faith that carried him day by day.

            Here’s what my pastor wrote twenty-seven Easters ago in his Pastor’s Column:

“Easter is to our faith what water is the ocean, what stone is to a mountain, what blood is to our bodies. Ray Linquist, former pastor of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, said that ‘Easter is the unique substance of redemptive reality. It is the first and final word in the dictionary of God. It says that Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith, that He contains us because death could not contain Him . . .’

For me Easter is the only thing that makes sense out of life. Easter transforms ‘the foolishness of Christ’ into ‘the hope of the gospel.’ On an ancient Roman wall there is a cryptic scene chiseled by someone into the stone. It depicts three crosses: two men hang on the outer crosses and a jackass hangs in the middle. That is precisely what Calvary would mean, if it were not for the Resurrection. But on Sunday morning as Christians we will celebrate the triumph of Good over evil, life over death, righteousness over sin as we sing once again:

Christ, the Lord is risen today: Alleluia!

Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high: Alleluia!

Sing, ye heavens and earth reply: Alleluia!