Tuesday, March 26, 2013


We're in the midst of Holy Week, a busy annual time which has many memories for me. For the decades of my pastoral ministry Holy Week meant officiating at specially planned worship services, culminating in the joy of Easter Sunday. But it also brings back memories of unplanned events that made their way into some of my Holy Weeks over the years. 

During a Holy Week my youngest son was born, on Maundy Thursday to be exact. Another Holy Week I spent three days in a treatment center with a dear friend, now with the Lord, who had asked me to be with him during his struggle to defeat the demons of alcohol. Several Holy Weeks brought funerals of people whose families wanted to hear God's Good News during a bad time. One year my young family got the flu and only by the grace of God did I get through the Sunday services before succumbing to the flu myself. 

But Holy Week took on a different meaning after walking Jerusalem's Via Dolarosa. In 1999, Carol and I traveled to Israel a second time and were part of a group of forty Christian pilgrims. One of our elderly friends had difficulty walking, so our guide took us over part of the "Way of Sorrows" in reverse order, to make it easier for him to walk the uneven streets. 

This change brought us into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at a rare time when it was nearly empty. This most popular destination in Jerusalem is usually jammed with jostling people, prodding guides and flashing cameras, so little of the place is actually seen. But this time we were nearly alone. We quietly walked up the steps to the Armenian chapel built over the remnants of Calvary, unhurriedly went in and out of the memorial tomb and saw details inside the Chapel that few ever see. For half an hour in that place which normally held a thousand anxious tourists, we were the only group there, and the quiet was amazing. 

Jerusalem was certainly not empty or silent during the first Holy Week. In the mayhem of the annual Passover, Jesus' trial and crucifixion were less noticed by the crowds than we think. Some of the hundred thousand or more Jews and Gentiles there saw Him carry His cross through the streets, but only a few heard Him speak His eternal Words or watched Him hang on the cross and die.

However, the death that day of Yeshua ha Nosari (His Hebrew name) has become indelibly woven into the fabric of human history, and His resurrection two days later changed the world forever. Because He died and now lives again, the world's people have hope. Christians have a living Savior. All who trust Jesus as the living Son of God are blessed with a future in the joys of heaven. 

"Who is this?" The crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee." (Matt. 21:10-11)

Monday, March 18, 2013


In life, there is a time to follow someone's advice, and there is a time to follow your heart. 
Francis Ouimet, son of immigrant parents, grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, living next to the 17th hole of "The Country Club." At a time when golf was reserved for the wealthy, Ouimet started caddying at age of nine. Using clubs from his brother and golf balls he found around the course, he taught himself the game, eventually catching the eye of club members.

Although Francis became the best high school golfer in the state, his father insisted he drop out of the sport and "do something useful" with his life. So he tried awhile, working at a dry goods store and later a sporting goods store. But he also kept playing and improving his game.

In 1913, Ouimet won a major amateur tournament and was invited to play in the U. S. Open which would be played that year at the course next door he knew best, "The Country Club."  In what is considered the greatest golf match ever played, amateur golfer Francis Ouimet won that coveted tournament, besting favored British pro golfers, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon. 

In that tournament, Ouimet was twenty years old and stood six feet two inches. His caddy and friend Eddy Lowrey was less than five feet tall and only ten years old! They remained lifelong friends, and their story is the basis for Mark Frost's, The Greatest Game Ever Played.

Ouimet remained in golf his entire life, winning several more amateur tournaments, being elected into several golf halls of fame and honored by his many PGA friends. The "Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund," funded over the years by PGA golfers, has given $25 million in aid to over 5,000 young caddys, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus  and Annika Sorenstam. 

Francis Ouimet's portrait is on a U.S. postage stamp, and his 1913 U.S. Open victory was the basis for a Walt Disney movie. He served as an Army Lieutenant during World War One and was married to Stella Sullivan nearly fifty years. He is the only American ever elected captain of St. Andrew's Royal Golf Club of Scotland. Despite many offers to turn pro, Ouimet retained his amateur golf status all through life.

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of Francis Ouimet's historic win. If he had followed his father's advice to "do something useful," he would have been an unknown among the millions of workers in business or industry. Instead, he followed his heart and became a legend in the history of sports. 

Thanks be to God we live in free nation where we can use the gifts God gives us.

Monday, March 11, 2013


A scorpion, unable to swim, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across the river. "Are you crazy?" said the turtle. "You'll sting me and I'll drown." "My dear turtle," laughed the scorpion, "If I were to sting you, you may drown but I'd drown with you. Now where is the logic in that?" "You're right," said the turtle, "Hop on!" The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river suddenly gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both began to sink, the turtle sighed and said, "Why did you do it? You said there'd be no logic in your stinging me.  Why'd you do it anyway?" The drowning scorpion sadly replied, "Stinging you has nothing to do with logic; it's just my nature."

"That's just the way I am." "It's human nature." How often have we said or heard that?  It's the logic of a person who believes there's little hope for self or others to change. Or it's someone who wants to be excused for wrong actions. "It isn't my fault - he made me do it!" says the child - and also some adults. Whether on the playground or in the courtroom, it's our nature to point the finger, to blame others. Someone else did it, but not me, because if it was me, I'll have to accept the consequences, and that's against my nature.

Early in my ministry I remember hearing an old fellow tell me, "That's the way people are, Pastor; you'd better get used to it." But I never have. I've always wanted to be a part of change for the better. I've always thought leading a church and preaching and teaching the Gospel would change people for the better. I finally realized that I can't change anyone except myself.

People don't change people - God does. He brings us experiences that change our lives. He takes away the oldness of sin and replaces it with newness of His love. He removes our sins, but then seeks to change us to be more like Christ. St. Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." 

God isn't satisfied with our old human nature. He wants to change us into something better than we are. And He can love us enough to make that change happen.

God loves us just the way we are, but He may not leave us that way for long.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Sometimes the truth hurts. No matter what you or I may want to hear, or for what reason, unwelcome truth can cut like a knife. Two times come to mind.
I once officiated at the funeral of a biker whose friends asked the funeral director, "Just find some preacher for the service." The church parking lot was filled with as many motorcycles and pickups as the fifty or sixty attendees. I gently told them the Gospel of our loving Lord Jesus, and His acceptance of all who came to Him in faith. At the reception afterwards, not one person spoke to me save a fellow who walked over and said, "Your zipper's open." Not the truth I expected!

Another time came after singing at a jam session with a bunch of old timers who played and sang like they were born with their instruments in hand. I thought I'd done a pretty good job singing, "I'll Fly Away," but the only comment I got was, "Your guitar needs tuning." Again, not the truth I expected.

Such unexpected truths may not be what we want to hear, but they can help us do better next time. If a person works in public, he can expect feedback that won't always be positive, despite its truthfulness. Writers periodically get criticized for content or a few typos, and though this may sting, it is what is needed. How we react to criticism, however, can determine maturity and strength. My reactions sometimes show I have neither.

Those who criticize should make their remarks helpful, not merely critical. I doubt either the biker or the old guitar picker wanted to be hurtful - they just told the truth. Some critics seem to glory in pointing out mistakes, and they may prove true the adage: "Some are workers and others are just critics." But both need each other, despite how each is perceived.

Jesus was gentle with most people, yet harsh with those who should have known better. His strong comments to the Pharisees and occasionally His own disciples came because they needed to jarred from their entrenched ways of thinking. Calling them "hypocrites" was a stinging rebuke to those who were unwilling to change. 

Jesus once said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32). He didn't come into this world to be picky, but to fulfill the eternal plan of God's forgiveness. His road to Calvary was for our salvation. He came to show us the way of God's accepting mercy, not old rules. What He said and did for all was meant to help, not hurt.

When we trust our Good Lord for all things, we will be gently blessed. When we realize what He has done for us, it will soften those given or received truths so that they can benefit everyone the most. 

How can you show His love to others today?