Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Just a quick update to all you following my blog. One of our sabbatical goals has been to spend some time with old friends with whom the vigors of normal life sort of get in the way.

I am writing this from a resort in Tennessee. We traveled here with our friends, Tom and Sue Bollinger, for a few days with them. We left home on Saturday (Oct. 24) and headed for Cincinnati, where their son, Philip and wife Sarah, are both working on Doctorates in Biblical Studies. (If you have been around ECOB for a few years you may remember that Philip spent a month or so with us while he was in college.) From Cincinnati we headed south to Fairfield Glade Resort in central Tennessee. We plan to arrive home on Thursday evening.

Back to blogging after that.

Also newly developed are plans for me to travel to Putney, VT, during the second week of November for a few days with Paul Grout. Paul is a key leader in the Church of the Brethren, a prophetic voice within the church, a bit out there sometimes, but via a brief conversation on the phone and email, I believe I need to spend some time with him during this Sabbatical.

I'll share more about this later.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Half Way

Today I begin the second half of this sabbatical. Surprisingly, I am only now really beginning to feel relaxed and released, for lack of better words. I sensed this yesterday in worship. Let me share a bit about it.

As I wrote earlier, Doris and I have been trying to worship consistently at Ephrata Community Church. In reality, we have been getting there every other week, and attending worship with our kids on the other Sundays. Anyway, this past week was a really moving time for me in worship. The ECC band did their rendition of "Taste and See" (Hillsong). Every church has songs that seem to hold special meaning for them and I sense "Taste and See" is such a song for ECC. Anyway, the congregation really cut loose and the worship flowed freely. I love seeing people worship with abandon and seeing a church really open up in worship. And since I had no worries about what is coming next, I too could just let my heart go. From this song the band went into "Holy" by Brenton Brown. Part of the lyrics for "Holy" go like this:

"Holy is your name in all the earth.
Righteous are your ways, so merciful.
Everything you've done is just and true.
Holy, holy, God are you."

As we sang these words, I wept. They were tears of joy and praise and thanksgiving for the righteous, just and true ways God has moved in my life over the years. They were tears of joy and praise and thanksgiving for the love God has for me, as unworthy as I am, and how gracious and kind and amazing God has been. It has been a long time since I was able to let go like this in worship, and it was so very good.

Why this moving experience now? Not sure, but it had something to do with what I have been working on the last few weeks. I have been reading, studying and praying. There remains in my soul a great quest for increased intimacy with God and I have been asking him for this, wondering if I am being selfish. But God heard my prayer and on Sunday gave me another glimpse of his glory and grace.

Also, I have been spending some time reviewing my spiritual journey over the years, as you know from previous posts. And I had just spent some time with two close friends of mine--two guys I went to high school with whom God grabbed and and set on a path of following him during the same eventful year that I blogged about. As I was hanging out with these two guys and their wives, including attending a wedding reception for one of their children, I again saw how gracious God has been in our lives. We three couples have ten children, and now a host of grandchildren. The ten children we raised are all believers who are actively following Jesus and are plugged into the church. Those who are married (all but one) chose well and have spouses who are also Christ-followers. Some of our kids are on staff at their churches, some serving abroad in missions, some pursing advanced degrees in biblical studies and psychology, some following the call to ministry and some providing important services in their communities. And emerging now is the next generation--little people to invest our lives into. God has been so merciful and gracious, and unbelievably kind.

As I reflect on this, it comes with great humility. I speak for myself and Doris, but we were not perfect parents. We made our share of parenting mistakes. There were times when we wondered if our inadequacies and blunders would leave scars on our children that would turn them away from God. But righteous are his ways, so merciful; and everything he does is true and just. We give God all the glory. I know there are many families where the parents were just as sincere in their faith as we and their family stories are very different. I do not know why. Many factors come to bear on the lives of our kids, some far beyond our control. But God is sovereign and his ways righteous and merciful, and so I trust in him and thank and praise him for his mercy.

So as I worshipped on Sunday, the goodness of God flooded my soul. My heart filled with joy and gladness as God blanketed my soul with is mercy and love. I cried tears of joy (and clouded up my contact lenses for the rest of the day!). It was sweet and refreshing. Tears have a way of cleansing more than just your tear ducts. Doris and I worshipped side by side, arm in arm, as we basked in the glory of the Lord. It doesn't get any better than that.

Sunday was a great half-way point for this sabbatical.

Here are some YouTube renditions of the songs I mention in this post. The videos are, naturally, from other places and by other bands, but you get the gist of the songs. (Reminder: some of you who receive this by email will not be able to see these links and will need to log on to this blog directly to see the videos. I do not know why this is. Sorry.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Last week--I think it was Wednesday, not that it matters--I spent some time at the Lititz Springs Park, Bible in hand and journal open, as I relived the early months of my Christian life. In the summer of 1973 I attended (at Scott's invitation) Thursday evening Christian gatherings in the park, which were led by some youth leaders in the area. These were, as far as I know, non-denominational gatherings that drew kids like me and Scott. We gathered, studied the Bible, prayed together and worshipped. On occasion, we would plan times where we went out into town to share our faith on the street.

I came to these meetings hungry to know God. Here, I learned the basics of the Christian faith and God laid down some important foundations in my life. I learned to pray by first listening to others pray. I learned the basics of Bible study as I listened to people share what God was teaching them and as I stumbled around in my paperback Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible. I grew into a personal relationship with Jesus that summer that did not include any of the trappings of traditional religion--only the bare essentials of a love relationship with my Lord. As I did so, my life changed in dramatic and not-so-dramatic ways. It shaped who I became and who I am to this day.

I do not remember a lot of the detail from that summer. But I have vivid memories of one event. We met in the open pavilion near the concession stand. I remember exactly where I was sitting when this experience occurred and I went there this week and sat at the exact spot. One evening when we were worshipping together, one of our leaders shared that as he was praying and reading scripture, the Lord gave him a song. It was based on these words from Psalm 20:7.
Some men trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the Lord our God.
As he sang this verse to a tune that he received from the Lord, I felt a significant spiritual movement in my life. This was the first time I experienced anything this "personal" with God and the first time I remember witnessing this kind of movement of the Spirit. I have remembered this verse all these years and can still sing the tune. Amazing. (Really amazing if you know anything about my significant lack of music ability.)

What significance does this have? Why did this event, out of many others that I had that summer, impact me and stay with me for over three decades of life--decades packed full of events, change, adventure and experiences with God? What does this verse mean for me? Though the verse and tune were given to the leader that evening, I have often felt it was also for me in some significant way, I feel even more so now. I have been asking myself this, and prayerfully discerning how this verse and this experience relates to my life message, the call of God on my life. Whatever it means, the concept of this verse forms part of the foundation of faith that has guided me all these years. Some people--some pastors even--trust in their own abilities, cunning, intellect, personality, human gifts, strength and the like--but we--no, I--will trust in the name--the nature and character and power--of the Lord, my God. Foundational, bedrock.

There remain many other foundational things I learned that summer, but the gift of this verse and its accompanying Spirit tune, set in motion in my life a journey of mystical and sometimes, mysterious, experiences with God. The magic of those fresh experiences that summer cannot be recaptured. I know that. My life now comprises layer upon layer of feelings and memories and encounters and experiences accumulated over the years which shape me and my walk with God. But the relationship remains. There is no sweeter voice than the voice of God spoken sweetly into the soul of one he loves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Divine Appointment

There is an old Southern Gospel Song that goes something like this: "Roll back the curtains of memory now and then, show me where you brought me from, and what I could have been. Remember, I'm human and humans forget, so remind me, remind, Dear Lord." Wise words. Though the scriptures encourage us to forget what lies behind (Philippians 3:13) they also encourage us to remember (Ephesians 2:11-12). Sounds like a contradiction. Not at all. We all have things we should forget and things we should remember. We need wisdom to know which is which!

Anyway, while on Sabbatical I wanted to revisit some places that contributed significantly to my spiritual journey. Last week I went by one of those places. At eighteen I had a life-changing encounter with God. Prior to that I was aimless and self-focused. In a word, lost. I had graduated from High School in the middle of my class, having never taken a book home (other than library books) in the entire course of my High School years. (If I couldn't get it done during school time, it was not worth taking home and interfering with the things I wanted to do.) I spent my energies on hot cars and fast girls (or was it hot girls and fast cars?). During my last year or so of High School, I worked at Bob Lutz Tire on Fulton Street, but had left there in late summer for a job in the big city--a Philly-based tire firm in Lancaster. However, I had quit there just in early December, for justice reasons (which is another story), and was unemployed for a month or so while I lounged around home (to my parents dismay) and rebuilt the engine in a 60-something Ford (it blew a piston one day coming home from Lancaster on 222) which I used as my run-around car so that I could keep my tweaked-out 69' Trans Am out of the rain.

So sometime early in 1972 I was looking for a job. I had checked out a few places to no avail. In hindsight I clearly see that God had a divine appointment for me. Someone told me that Kinder Manufacturing in Denver was hiring. I remember driving up the entrance to the office parking lot twice, and then turning around and leaving. "I did not want to work in a factory." Kinder manufactured furniture for the mobile home industry. Finally, on the third approach, I went in and was hired.

Factory work there resembled factory work everywhere, I suppose. People were nice, but rather crude (the women on the upholstery line had the foulest mouths I had ever heard, and remember I hung out with car guys). The work was routine and mundane. Though I was soon offered a management position, I could not see myself there long term. But in the midst of all the, shall I say, darkness, one person stood out. Scott oversaw one of the lines (at least I think that is what he did) and was clearly different from the rest of us. He came out of the hippy drug culture of the 60's. Long straggly hair, unkempt beard, tattered jeans, a bit of a glazed look in his eye (no doubt from too much LSD), but unashamedly in love with Jesus. Scott talked about Jesus all the time. Boy did it blow my mind (to use a good 60's term).

Scott could tell, I think, that I was searching and my questions paved the way for his interest in me. We would take lunch together and he shared his story and his heart with me. He took me to my first Bible Studies where I cut my spiritual eye teeth (that for another post) and began to grow in the ways of the Kingdom. As spring blended into summer, my life changed. I cannot point to an exact moment of transformation, but it was real and it was intense. I hungered for God and spent hours in his Word, no matter where I was. (I remember going to the beach for a day or two that summer with my buds and all I wanted to do is read the Gideon Bible in the hotel room.)

God did three very important things in my life during these months. First, he taught me about his guidance and sovereignty. Twice I turned away from Kinder before I went in and landed the job that placed me in a position to meet the person who would lead me to Jesus. But the third time I went in and my life was changed. A mystery of our faith and God's power lies right here; could I have turned back that third time and never returned? Would God have had another plan? Food for thought. I learned that God does have a plan for my life and that he will accomplish that plan, and the plan is always good.

Secondly, God shattered my pre-conceived notions of what Christianity is all about and what Christians are. Scott, in appearance at least, broke nearly everything my parents said was important in regard to how a Christian should look. And yet, Scott demonstrated more Christianity and more spirituality than anyone I knew up to that time. How could this be? Could it be that my conservative, Brethren, rural, culture had somehow got somethings wrong? Well it did, and does, and I continue to face the challenge of sorting out what is real, essential Christian faith and what is merely my cultural preferences, and worse, baggage. (But that too, needs to be another post.)

Thirdly, God taught me about his protection. I remember the very first time I heard God speak into my soul. It was spring of that year and I was in a long-term relationship with a woman. As God began to rebuild my life, one of hardest things related to the rebuilding of relationships. Friendships had to change, and God very specifically told me (so specific that I heard his voice in my spirit) that this long-term relationship and to come to an end. And so it did. However, there was another woman at work whom the Adversary quickly used to attempt to entangle me in another unhealthy relationship. She was about my age and had recently lost her husband in a car accident. We worked across from each other and developed a friendship that led to some casual dating. (She had a wild Olds 442 that I loved to drive.) However, God spoke again that summer, and again made it clear that this relationship had to end. The point here is that God was teaching me about his protection. As God rebuilt my circle of relationships (and I should say that some of my former friends also met God that summer and so God was rebuilding my life in a number of ways), I eventually met Doris in the fall of '72, and as we say, the rest is history!

These three early lessons went on to play a huge part in my Christian life, and continue to do so today. In many ways they shape my life and my ministry.

So last week I sat in the parking lot of what was Kinder Manufacturing (it is now some other company that makes mattresses) and, as the Gospel song encourages, I remembered. I remembered what I was and what I could have been. I remembered the gracious hand of God on my life and how he moved. I journaled around those memories and relived the moments of transformation. It was sweet.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what ever became of Scott and cannot even remember his last name. I left Kinder early in 1973 and never saw him again. As I end this post, I lift up a prayer for Scott:

God, how awesome you are. Thank you for the year I worked at Kinder and for the divine appointment of meeting Scott and his influence in my life. I do not know where I would be today had I not walked in that office and applied for a job. Dear God, thanks for the foundational and elementary lessons of faith you taught me that summer--they have served me well all these years. I thank you for Scott--I do not know what ever became of him or if he is even still alive. I entrust him to you and ask that somehow he might be reminded of this year in his life and that he might find joy in knowing that he has left an lasting impact on at least one life--a life lived for you. Amen.