Parable of the Osprey—26 JUL 22

Our summer travels often take us to the top of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, to a place where Osprey, or sea eagles, love to nest and play.  They are marvelous birds, masters of the winds, often making it seem effortless to just hang motionless in the air.  They spread their broad wings to catch the breeze just as they were created to do, suspended on the wind in an awesome display of the power of what can neither be seen nor touched.

Sometimes people say that God can’t be real, as God can neither be seen nor touched either.  But just as that makes the wind no less powerful and real for the osprey, the fact that God can never be seen nor touched can also never be “evidence” that God is not real.  And just as the osprey were made to effortlessly soar and rely on the wind that can never be seen nor touched, we, too, were made to effortlessly soar and rely on the invisible and untouchable, though awesomely powerful God.

I love the fact that the Greek word used in the Bible for “Spirit” is pneuma, the same word used for “wind.”  We were made to soar on the power of pneuma—the Holy Spirit—in the same way that osprey were made to soar on pneuma—the almost constant wind on the coast.  But baby osprey don’t soar right away—they have to grow their wing muscles and learn to trust that they were made to soar—not to stay earth-bound, just to watch and envy others that do soar.

We, too, need to grow our muscles for soaring on the power of the Spirit.  And just like the osprey, the only way we can soar, is to eventually trust the power of the pneuma, and take a leap of faith.  Osprey safe in the next aren’t very impressive.  But when they soar, they are glorious, and reflect, if ever so dimly, the glory of their Creator, just doing what they do best.  When we take a leap of faith and do what God created us for—blessing others at every turn—that’s when we truly soar!

Spread your wings to catch the power of the invisible, untouchable pneuma, to soar like the osprey–and be a sign of the glory of the God who made each of us to soar in our own way!  Or just sit in the nest—but that’s not where any of us were made to stay!

“… and God will raise you up on eagles’ wings…”  Pastor Jim

Concrete Fix

—12 JULY

We’ve had a problem with the concrete walk heading to our back door for the whole 21 years we’ve been in our home.  It’s been on my fixing to do list ever since we moved in, but like usual, the fix only comes when we’re moving out.  It’s a small enough fix that after the prep work late in the afternoon, I was able to do the patch after a meeting last night.  When I was trying to get the mix of concrete and water right, I was reminded of the old M*A*S*H  TV series episode in which they laid a concrete operating room floor.

The bunch of medical folk at M*A*S*H 4077 had no idea about how to mix or work concrete, so CPL Klinger piped up to offer “I helped my uncle with some concrete when I was a kid…” so he instantly became the expert.  They really SHOULDn’t have gotten mad at him when the mix didn’t work—had had been only a kid helping occasionally, after all—but the first effort was a disaster!  But they finally got it right, and when I finally got my concrete mixed right, I knew there had to be a message mixed into the concrete as well.

Concrete is a mixture of water, aggregates and portland cement.  The aggregates are normal things like gravel and sand.  The magic is in the portland cement paste that is formed when mixed with water, and when it completely covers, surrounds and encases the aggregates.  The chemical reaction that then occurs forms a growing number of nodes on the cement particle that grow together with surrounding cement particles, that become virtually as hard as stone.

The cement paste, as it surrounds and encases all the aggregates and forms links with one another, is what provides the magic of the strength of the final product.  This sounds so much like how God created us to work—we, like the ordinary aggregates in concrete, are nothing special in and of ourselves—until surrounded, held together, and encased in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The spiritual reaction occurs in us, much like the chemical reaction occurs in the concrete, when we’re shaped by the water of our baptism, to then become intertwined and interconnected as the Body of Christ, one strong, malleable substance to be shaped by God’s master Mason’s hands.

Don’t you just get covered with spiritually excited goosebumps when you hear how this works?  I just LOVE seeing in the most ordinary things around us how the hand of God works!  And it does sometimes seem like we have the intellectual prowess of a box of rocks when we get away from the all-encompassing power of the Holy Spirit.  Though it might not always feel so good to be hosed down and scrambled all together for a while, those trying actions are the catalyst that envelopes us into the Holy Spirit, so are essential to our spiritual growth.

Dive with me into the mix that God has in store for us.  It can be a rocky ride sometimes, but it’s a small price for the priceless gift of being a part of the living temple God is building with us to be His presence in the world!

Ever in the mix–Rev. Jim

GPS Problems

I was recently following my GPS for the quickest route to my next stop when I went through what must have been a dead zone for the phone.  The phone had that “spinning wheel of death” going for a bit showing that it was searching for something.  Keeping my eyes on the road as any good driver would, I had a hard time seeing what was going on, but I caught a glimpse of what looked like it saying “Searching for destination.”  I HAD the destination entered and the route clear—what happened?   I’m pretty sure my destination didn’t move—how can the system lose track of my destination?  Sure, it may have lost the signal for a bit, but to lose the destination?  Pretty crazy!

That’s how God messages me sometimes—right through the digital doo-dad.  While it wasn’t actually a text from God, the message was still pretty clear:  How can we lose track of our SPIRITUAL destination?  I know we “lose the signal” with God sometimes when we get in one of those dry places where it seems we’ve lost touch with God, but that doesn’t mean our destination in God has moved, nor that God has moved or failed us!  One of the songs I’ve been hearing a lot on the radio lately by Sanctus Real is talking about God’s faithfulness, and has the line in the chorus: “When did He break His promise?  When did His kindness fail?… When did He lose His power? When did His mercy change?  Never has, never will, my God is still the same.”

When we start feeling something like that, remember the last time you went to a horror movie, how easily our feelings can be misleading, and just plain wrong.  When the music is just right and they’ve set the mood, it can take only a matter of seconds for our “feelings” to tell us something terrible is about to happen—when we’re just sitting in air-conditioned comfort watching dancing lights on a screen, safe as can be.  Just because we FEEL like we’ve lost touch with God, or lost our destination as my GPS was thinking—doesn’t mean God has moved, or we’ve lost Him, or that God is no longer holding us in the palm of His hand.

Sure enough, my GPS caught the signal again and I made it to my destination.  Neither my destination nor my signal had actually gone anywhere– which is also equally true with God, despite the illusion, or the false feelings that makes it sometimes SEEM like God has left us.  “When did He lose His power? When did His mercy change?  Never has, never will, my God is still the same.”

Still on track—Rev. Jim

Yesterday— 7 JUNE 22

Yesterday Karol and I celebrated 35 years of marriage.  But how can that be?  It barely seems like it was yesterday when I first met her by stealing her pillow, or when I first heard those three most magical words from her lips?  Yesterday we just heard from both our kids, deeply involved in their own adult lives of touching others, but how can that be, when just yesterday was filled with sleepless nights of colic with one, and endless worlds of toddler discovery with the other?  Yesterday I called one of the Veteran organizations to help with some challenges with my impending Army retirement, but wasn’t it just yesterday when I was first swearing in, then going on my first deployment?

Today’s moments and blessings are too easily lost when they so quickly slip into yesterday without our noticing it.  While this is hardly a new thing— it was almost a million yesterdays ago when the wisest of men, after gaining the world, but nearly losing his soul, first wrote in Ecclesiastes: “vanity, vanity, all is vanity… (it is all) a chasing after the wind…”  Is there any way to somehow stop all our yesterdays from being just a chasing after the wind?

I’m sitting back on my new porch as I write this, being kissed by reminders from the gentle morning chasing raindrops across the yard, that while many of those raindrops are merely drizzling into the mud, many other of those raindrops are watering the freshly planted blessings of our herbal prayer labyrinth just a few feet away.  And while others of those raindrops are quenching the thirst of the evil mice trying to invade our citadel in paradise, others are watering the also freshly planted veggies around back.  Those herbs and veggies may not be much of a blessing yet, but each one is full of the promise of perhaps blessing our palate, or better yet, blessing others of whom we as yet know nothing.  So are those raindrops merely a chasing after the wind?  Some may be, yet others provide the essential gift of life, provided by nothing else under the sun.

So what of our yesterdays?  Perhaps some have merely been a chasing after the wind.  Some may have even fed the evil mice of our lives, sometimes merely pests, sometimes worse.  Yet 35 years’ worth of those yesterdays have watered my beautiful marriage; twentysomething years’ worth are investments as nothing else under the sun could be, in the countless unknown blessings my kids will bring into their worlds, often to people as yet unknown.  And I can pray that a lot of those yesterdays have watered the blessings and washed the tears of many of the other souls God has put in my path across years of yesterdays.

The morning breeze caresses me again, and the raindrops become more insistent in their reminders that though many do seemingly just vanish into the mud, each brings its own kind of blessing that nothing else under the sun can– bringing a bright life to what otherwise would be yet another lifeless rock drifting in space.  Perhaps chasing after the wind is not so bad after all.  Here’s to sending as many blessings into our yesterdays, as are the blessings of each raindrop!

Thank you, Lord, for the reminders chasing me in the wind.

Rev. Jim


Pastoral Ponderings- Ebenezer- 1 JUN 22

We have all kinds of monuments these days as memorials– whether a tombstone for a loved one, or the big monuments gracing our nation’s capital to help remember our heroes who made us free.  Memorial Day calls us to remember those who have died in their service to our country.  But Memorial Day has also become an important family day.  It was a perfect day on Monday to be Cedar Point for Memorial Day.  How such getaways are a facet of the remembering of the day, I’m not sure, but sometimes we make sacrifices for family…

Our son Kristopher had to bring some of his meds, so we ended up at the first aid stations at the park with their very helpful teams several times across the day.  During one of those stops, a mom stopped by, already in a huff, asking for something minor they couldn’t help her with, and she left even more angry than before.  While I’m not THAT big a roller coaster fan, SOME would say this is one of the best parks in the world– and on as a beautiful day as you could get, with no big crowd, and blessed to be with family, could it get better than this?  Yet the mom was still angry, for what seemed to be a rather minor issue (she WAS rathe talkative about her anger…), rather than living in an attitude of gratitude for the blessings of the day.

I was at another “pit stop,” so only came in at the end of the exchange as she was angrily walking out, but Darling Wife, Karol, caught me up on it while we were waiting.  Karol had said she tried to share with that mom a little ebenezer–a reminder of blessings—but the mom in the midst of her anger, wasn’t very receptive.  In that brief interaction, I had a flash of insight into a lot of the anger we seem to be stewing in across the board these days, an insight about memorials, ironically enough, on a Memorial Day trip.

The Old Testament is full of piles of “memory stones,” in at least one case, set up by Samuel, called “Ebenezer” (I Sam. 7:12), a word meaning “stone of help,” or a commemoration of divine assistance.  So an ebenezer is a reminder both of all God has done to bring us to where we are, and a reminder as St. Paul said about his “thorn in the flesh,” that God’s grace is sufficient, God’s power works through our weaknesses, and that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (I Cor. 12: 7-10).

Might the thick soup of anger our society seems to be stewing in these days, point to a need for better ebenezers– reminders of the gift of God’s grace, reminders of how thankful we COULD be—especially on a beautiful day with family at a great place to spend time together?  Anger often comes when we lose our “attitude of gratitude,” and think we’re entitled to what we’re not getting, or when we’re not getting our way.  I seem to recall someone saying something about “blessed/happy are the meek…”

That mom wasn’t particularly receptive, but what about us?  Are we receptive to the need for reminders of how God has blessed us and our forebears before us?  What memorials or ebenezers work for you to remind you of how blessed you are, of how blessed we all are, so we can stay in that place of meek gratitude, and be thankful, rather than losing that attitude, and falling into the bitter stew of anger?

While Robert Robinson’s 18th century lyrics may not fit our world so well these days, the intent of his song certainly does: “Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;… Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come;… O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.  Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

What’s your ebenezer?  Keep being thankful—Rev. Jim

Run For Missions

I’ve never been that fond of running.  And yet when people come together for running events, it becomes a powerful, magical experience.  While I certainly can’t say for all of them, for those I have been involved in– as a runner, as a supporter, or just experiencing a glimpse of them in passing– it’s almost like I’m seeing a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  Even though such events may not be faith-related at all, and many involved wouldn’t want anything to do with “the Kingdom of God,” many still consider their running to be spiritual experiences.  I’ve never been in a more supportive environment, where it’s common, even in a competitive “race,” to see those who finish early to go back and run alongside and encourage those who are lagging and struggling to make it.

What can we as a church, eager to show God’s hospitality and encouragement to others, learn from running events that too often seem more like a taste of the Kingdom of God than church gatherings do?  Maybe you’ve had some experience with such events you could reflect on to help explore this question.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers, some observations I’ve made might include:

–          It’s a judgement-free zone—those who are there are eager and happy to help others of all levels of skill and experience come and join the fun.

–          Themes of encouragement and building each other up—essential to our calling as Jesus people according to I Thes. 5: 11, are lived out more than anything else

–          The community is built by shared purpose, accomplishment (and suffering?) is a community of support

–          The community recognizes that essential to encouragement is accountability, and helping each other “run the race with endurance”

–          ALL of any skill level, capacity or disability are welcomed, embraced, encouraged and have a place of belonging!

–          The culture of encouragement empowers even the reluctant (like me!) to embrace the opportunity, the community, the experience

–          They’re not afraid to talk about money, an essential tool for making it all happen

I’m eager to hear more insights, and how we might be able to put them to good use in our own hospitality!  Perhaps we might even consider sponsoring our own run?

“let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle… and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12: 1)—Rev. Jim

Money raised by pledges for runners for the Annual Conference Run for Missions on June 9 will go to the Conference Board of Missions grants for community engagement.  I will be one of the runners, and pledges or donations could be made through the church or through the website.  The run will be out and back at Canal Park in Akron, and even if you’re not involved nor a part of the Conference, they’re encouraging our church folk to come out and cheer along those of us who will be running.  The event is slated to start at 6, so folks will start gathering by 5:30, and most people will complete the run in about 30 minutes, so it won’t make for a long evening, but a good one to practice coming out and cheering people on!

Cultivate Smiles

She smiled at me—it was such a lovely thing!  Shy, hiding behind her mom’s skirts at the Meadow Stream family greenhouse outside of Plymouth, about 5 years old and cute as a button, I first asked if she would help me count the seedlings I was getting.  That didn’t quite do the trick, but after sharing a few of my smiles and a little chat with the mom, she finally shared one of hers!  I didn’t find something at another greenhouse, so back to Meadow Stream I went to get the last of the plants.

There she was again, playing on the lawn mower, so not with her mom when I checked out this time.  But the mom shared another of the little girl’s smiles with me– a smile the little girl had colored after I left the first time, on the bottom of one of the cardboard plant carriers, so I was able to take this smile home with me!  In the process, I think I might have left a smile or two with the mom, who might even have shared them with the rest of the family, too.

Believe it or not, I never used to talk much with strangers.  But when I keep preaching this Jesus stuff, some of the virtue of reaching out and cultivating smiles has been rubbing off on me.  Hexis is the Greek word often translated as virtues.  I’ve not been able to find this exact word in the Bible, though the closely related term, arete—excellence or moral virtue–is used a bit in the New Testament.  Hexis is often translated in Latin as habitus, from which we get “habit” in English, but it’s more of a habit on steroids—habitual behavior PLUS tastes, preferences, tendencies, interests.

A lot of people have heard of Aristotle, even if we don’t fully appreciate this ancient Greek philosopher and founder of Western education these days, but he was all about cultivating, or working to grow more excellence (arete) in virtues (hexis/habitus, or good habits/tastes/inclinations).  He, too, would have gotten a good smile from my exchange with the good folk at Meadow Stream, because my habit/habitus/hexis of talking with strangers, is something I have learned and developed over time, which fits so well his model of education, or personal formation of excellence in virtues.

Whenever I talk about reaching out or sharing with people outside our normal bubble of relationships, I very often hear responses like “I’m not comfortable…” or “that’s just not me…”.  But even though this habit/habitus IS a part of me now, it never USED to be something I was comfortable with, and certainly not something that came natural to me.  Until I started cultivating smiles.  And like our gardens, it starts with just a little seedling, or even smaller, with a planting of seeds that we then water and care for, and uproot the weeds around it that would choke out what we’re trying to cultivate.

Cultivating smiles is a lot like propagating in the garden.  We cultivate smiles by sharing smiles—especially with cute little kids with whom it’s so easy to smile!  Then when we keep on sharing smiles a little bit at a time, and weed out the grumpiness that too often gets in the way, it becomes easier.  And a smile– as with that mom at Meadow Streams– often leads to a conversation—even though the other may be a stranger.  And you CAN smile, even when you feel like frowning!  When you do, the smiling muscles in your face are directly connected to the happy neurons in your brain, and a plastered on smile starts working right away on changing your feelings.  Ask any neurologist, they’ll tell you!

Most of the time, too, sharing smiles is like a two for one deal—you share one, and get two or more back in return—so you never run out!  It’s that time of year anyway for cultivating—both our gardens, and our smiles!  So keep cultivating those smiles, and be abundantly blessed in return!

–Pastor/Farmer Jim

Tragedy or Honor? Veterans Day, NOV 11

As an Army Chaplain, one of my most meaningful duties and highest honors has been with families who I help through their experience the Ultimate Sacrifice of their loved one.   Between deployments and across the worst of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve done probably fifty or more memorials for fallen Soldiers, or “Casualty Notification” missions where I’m on the team knocking on the door to deliver the news that the family behind the door will not be having their loved one coming home.  More recently, I’ve also been a part of well over a hundred Military Funeral Honors missions, providing military honors and laying to rest mostly Vietnam era Veterans, with quite a few WW II, Korean era Vets and a smattering of others.

One of those doors I knocked on had one of those blue star flags, indicating one of the family was currently deployed, except this flag had four stars—four members serving, though one had just returned–so the immediate question was “which one?”  One of those doors I knocked on, the younger brother of the one killed ended up a friend of my daughter’s going to West Point together, and I’m still connecting with the parents.  One of those doors was answered by a pregnant young mom with a baby in arms and toddler in tow.  One was for a recent high school graduate whose memorial I led in the high school auditorium where my son attended, and where my daughter the following year started.  Another of those had her story (though I doubt my part) turned into a book that for a while at least, was in talks to become a movie (“Ashley’s War”).  Probably my most memorable of those funerals was for a Korean War MIA whose 60+ year old remains had only recently been returned and identified, yet he was still remembered by old playmates as a favorite big brother of the neighborhood who showed the meaning of service when he went off to war.

Most of the Casualty Notification events were from combat deaths, but some were from accidents or suicide, as also have been too many of the memorials I’ve done.  I’ve heard the word “tragedy” used countless times to describe the deaths of so many promising young souls, and for those whose deaths were by accident or suicide, the word certainly fits.  But while it is a terrible loss when any loved one dies, is the word “tragedy” really appropriate for one who has willingly put themselves in harm’s way for the love of others, which results in what Jesus Himself described as a demonstration of ultimate love: “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives for a friend”?

God has put each of us on this earth for only a limited time, and while some are older, some younger when that time comes, in terms of God’ view of time, even the most ancient of human lives is but a flash.  No one gets out alive.  But God didn’t put us on this soil in a competition to see who can last the longest, or who can collect the most friends or most toys.  If anything, the contest is to see who can be the most of a blessing.  And if “greater love has no one than this,” isn’t it then a grand prize from God’s perspective, rather than a “tragedy,” when someone reaches their end blessing others in that Ultimate way?  I’ve heard countless friends of those who died in combat almost insulted by the word “tragedy,” saying that their friend would be proud to be called on to give their life in such a way.

At one of my previous churches, I met for coffee each week with a group of WW II Vets, the youngest of whom first arrived in Germany just after the fighting ended.  Yet decades later, he still reflected on that time of service as one of the  highlights of his life.  Many people struggle to make sense of their lives.  Veterans often make sense of their lives in terms of their service, but when they do struggle in this way, it is usually after their time of service, challenged with where to find a place to fit in when life after the military is much more often not about service, but about self.

I saw a commentary years ago about the term “Veterans Day,” and where the apostrophe belongs if it is a day for Veterans.  But note there is no apostrophe—it is not a day FOR Veterans, but ABOUT Veterans.  It is a chance all of us have because of Veterans to reflect on what it means to serve, and what it means to truly give our lives—whether in life or in death—as a tangible demonstration of love for others.

THANK YOU to all our Veterans!  Rev. Jim


Has someone who shined the Light of Christ in your life died this past year whom you would like to remember at our All Saints service this Sunday?  Please send their name and a brief idea of how they’ve made the Light of Christ real in your life so we can have candles for them too!

One of the great classics of Christmas literature, Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man” (made into a TV movie in 1985), starts with a gathering in Persia of a group whom we come to know as “The Three Wise Men.”  They and others, including “The Other Wise Man” this powerful story is about, were gathered around an altar with a small fire atop, in which part of their liturgy showed their strong connection to whom we know as God: “we worship not the fire, but Him of whom it is the chosen symbol… it speaks to us of One who is Light and Truth.”

Fire and candlelight have always had strong spiritual power for many, hence our using candles in worship each Sunday to represent God’s presence with us, and our use of candles in special services at Christmas when we celebrate “the Light that shines in the Darkness” first coming into the world.  So it’s no wonder that candles are also often used at All Saints celebrations to honor those who have brought the Light of Christ into the darkness of our lives.  Many churches light candles in this way to honor church family who have been lost across the past year, which we will do this year as well.   If you would like to remember with us someone who brought Light into your life, let me know, and we’ll have a candle of remembrance for them.  Feel free to share a bit about the Light they brought to you if you would like, and I may be able to use that blessing in some way in our time together.  Let your light shine!

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I really don’t know why billiards popped into my half-sleeping, half-awake mind this morning. I’ve not thought of nor played any kind of billiards in quite some time, so why now? Throughout the scriptures and throughout my life, I’ve noticed God often uses dreams or impressions in this twilight of consciousness for conveying “dreams and visions” and insights to those eager to have eyes to see. So I have learned to pay attention to what may seem to be random synaptic firings in the brain. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has something to say through the colliding pool balls on a billiard table?

We have a lot going on in our world today that demands our spiritual attention—the resurgence of COVID, Hurricane Ida, Afghanistan, health issues with church and family, the saints moving on to Glory, the season of reports and Charge Conference to name a few. Kinda seems like the opening “break” on the billiard table, with balls colliding with each other, bouncing and rebounding in every direction at once. Such a scene is a great image for the chaos we seem to live in these days.

But wait—I think I’m hearing whisperings of God’s Still, Small Voice from the balls crashing around the billiard table. As chaotic as these balls bouncing off each other and around the table may SEEM, remember that such a scene is only a small piece of a larger, very targeted and intentional game. Even that first play with the cue ball breaking the starting set is aimed and intentional, and every shot after that is also aimed, intentional, and working toward downing specific, seemingly chaotic balls one at a time, often in a specific order. Sometimes the shots seem to go awry, but in the hands of a talented player, even what seems to be a random shot is often setting up the next shot, as with an expert chess player planning three, four or more moves ahead.

We often hear something along the lines that “these sure are crazy times,” as if we are stuck facing unusual challenges in life right now. But the preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims that nothing is new under the sun. Charles Dickens’ memorable words, most often quoted only in part, are a good reminder that we’re not is such unfamiliar territory as we like to believe: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

But just as God was busily at work both in Dickens’ time, and in the times about which he wrote—contemporary to the forging of our own freedoms in our baby United States—God is also still at work in our seemingly chaotic times, even though our world, too, reflects the same paradoxes of which Dickens so eloquently wrote. Perhaps we find ourselves now in the opening “break” of a new round of billiards, where everything bouncing around seems to be chaos. But if we trust that God is holding the cue stick and taking careful aim with each shot, perhaps we can find a bit of peace, even if it is ‘’the best of times/the worst of times.”

Rebounding with the Spirit- Rev. Jim