Tuesday, October 18, 2016


I wasn’t texting when it happened.   And I wasn’t checking emails on my cell phone.  And I wasn’t changing radio stations, munching on a McMuffin, or punching in an address on my GPS.  I was just driving my car.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

“Swear to God, Officer.”

That said, I WILL admit that my mind wasn’t exactly on the road.  Truth is, I was thinking of my father. 

You see, it was exactly 13 years ago that my dad was killed.  I’ll spare you the details, except to say that his death was sudden, tragic, and at the hands of another.  

Maybe I was thinking about his autopsy for the kjillionth time, and its myriad medical inconsistencies.  Maybe I was thinking about all the holes in the police investigation, if you can call it that.  Maybe I was thinking about those who came to my father’s funeral, and thanking God for each of them.

Whatever it was that I was thinking about, I was NOT thinking that a scrawny gray squirrel, doing an impression of Usain Bolt, would suddenly bolt across the street on which I was driving.  Immediately, I swerved to avoid the little guy, but as fate would have it, I hit him with my left front tire.

I felt it.  I heard it.  And when I looked back anxiously in my rear view mirror, I saw  it.  For the first time in my life, I had run over a squirrel. 

Coincidentally, my father was not a fan of squirrels. Watching them dig up his flawless lawn in search of last year’s nuts drove HIM nuts!  As did the fact that they would climb up and eventually empty his so-called “squirrel-proof” bird feeder of all the seeds that were intended for other, more Disneyesque, creatures.  

To him, squirrels were hairy rats that were destructive, disgusting, and a big ole pain in his...

“…but Dad, they are living and breathing evidences of God.  Learned it in church.”

In my last parish, I was leading a Bible study one evening.  As was my custom, the class began with me asking that wonderful Wesleyan question: “How are things with your soul?”

George T., the elder statesman of the class, quickly answered, “I have just seen undeniable and incontrovertible proof that God exists!”

A hush fell over the room, as we waited to hear how George, during his one-block walk to church, had witnessed something that all of humankind has been searching for since time immemorial. 

He shared how he was considering crossing Church Street when a squirrel scurried into the middle of the road - but then froze when it noticed a vehicle bearing down on it.   As soon as the driver saw the squirrel, said George, the car swerved. 

“The car swerved!”, he repeated.  

  When it became painfully clear to him that no one else in the room came to his conclusion, George explained slowly that deep down, at our very core, human beings are good.  That’s our nature.  That’s our instinct.  We have all been wired (by God) to instinctively have high regard for life – even the life of a lowly squirrel.  

I’ve never forgotten that.  As a result, every time I see a squirrel, living or otherwise, I am reminded that we have an amazing and loving Creator who created us all to be good – to squirrels, to refugees, to people in the other political party, to folks who don’t look like us - to EVERYONE!

If only the person who took my father’s life had squirreled that one away.   

Thursday, September 29, 2016

If Jesus Worked @ Expedia.com

Last spring, my daughter, Olivea, was accepted into Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  She wisely accepted their acceptance, resulting in my wife and me dropping her off at college in the middle of August in the middle of nowhere for freshman orientation. 


I haven’t seen my little girl in 6 weeks. Thankfully, that’s about to change.  Her school is hosting its annual “Family Weekend” this weekend, so we’ll finally get to spend a couple of days with Olivea.  It should be a great time.

But therein lies the problem.  We hear that these events are such a great time that EVERYONE is going. Not only will the parents of all the freshmen be there, but the parents of all the sophomores, juniors, and seniors will be there as well! 

Now, do you remember a few paragraphs ago, when I told you that Bucknell is in the middle of nowhere?  Well, when you put EVERYONE in the same place at the same time and that place is in the middle of nowhere, that causes a hotel shortage of biblical proportions (see little town of Bethlehem). 

We were alerted to this logistical nightmare fairly early in the admission process, so we expeditiously made hotel reservations through Expedia.com.  Or at least, we tried to.

 It turned out that all of the lodgings in Lewisburg were sold-out a year ago, as were all of the hotels and motels within a thirty-mile radius of the school.  My wife, not one to quit, persevered until she eventually found a room at a reasonable rate about forty miles away.  Not terribly convenient, I’ll admit, but at that point we were thrilled to have a place anywhere in Pennsylvania to lay our heads at night.  
We gave Expedia our credit card number and they in turn gave us reservations.  According to our Discover card statement, this transaction was completed in June.  Yesterday, however, just days before our big “family reunion”, we received an unsettling email from Expedia saying that we no longer had a room.  

Evidently, we had broken the law - the law of supply and demand, that is.  

My guess is that when Expedia “Discovered” that they had many more customers than rooms, they cancelled all the cheaper reservations they had on the books and then released those now-available rooms to the moneyed masses at a premium price.  Sound$ right, right? 

Well, that’s wrong! 

What’s the point of making reservations if they don’t actually reserve the room?  Isn’t that why they’re called RESERVATIONS? 

Can you imagine if Jesus worked at Expedia?  If he did, the poor fella would surely have to change the course of his Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel.  Instead of saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…”, they’d make him water it down a bit by proclaiming, “In my father’s house are a couple of rooms, one of which may or may not be available to you when you need it.  It all depends on how much money you’re willing to pay.”

Thankfully, Jesus’ offer of eternal life is UNconditional.  In his Father’s house, there are no blackout periods, or secret codes to enter, or disclaimers printed in  really tiny fonts.  In my Father’s house are many rooms…”, he says. 

That’s our reservation for salvation!  And our salvation reservation is confirmed in the very next sentence when Jesus assures us, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Thanks to Expedia, I may not have any place to sleep this weekend.  But thanks to Jesus, I will sleep very well. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


My wife got a very weird call on her cell phone last week.  For starters, the call came at an ungodly 5:45 a.m.  Secondly, the caller was one of my poker buddies.  And lastly, the call went straight to voicemail (Karen turns off her ringer at night) but he left no message.  None.

Who does that?  Who places a phone call before 6 in the morning and DOESN’T leave a message when it goes unanswered?  If the call is important enough to risk waking someone up for, then it’s important enough to leave a message.  Right?

And why did he call KAREN?  Why didn’t he call ME?  After all, he’s supposedly MY friend.  So, unless he’s planning a surprise party to congratulate me for being a vastly superior card player to him, this pre-dawn inter-spouse cell phone call was an egregious violation of “Guy Code”. 

When confronted with these questions, my friend said that he didn’t actually call Karen.  He said that for the last couple of days, his so-called “smart” phone had been making unauthorized phone calls to 5 random folks on his contact list whenever his morning alarm went off.  To make matters worse, the phone would subsequently hang up as soon as the connection was made.   

The way he described it to me, his phone was “cursed and possessed by the devil, and needed to be exorcized”.  I told him that I didn’t do exorcisms - but even if I did, I didn’t think that there was anything demonic about this.

In fact, I thought it was rather divine.

I mean, do you think it would be a blessing or a curse if you started each day by randomly calling 5 people on your contact list – FOR NO REASON AT ALL?  Just because.  No hidden agenda.  No ulterior motive.  No purpose, other than to simply connect with them.  Person to person.  

Do you think the folks on the receiving end of such a call from you would consider that a blessing, or would they curse you? 

Consider the preparation that you'd likely make prior to each one of those calls. Granted, you’re calling “just to say hi”, but you’d probably spend a moment or two beforehand thinking about them and what might be going on in their life.

Is their dog still sick?  Has their only child just left the nest for college?  How’s their favorite football team looking for the upcoming season?  Is their boss still a jerk? 

You know, I used to do something similar to this back when I was the pastor of a local church.  Each Monday morning, I’d put the names of 5 persons/families on my desk blotter.  I made it my goal that, by the end of the week, I would call each and every one of those folks “just to say hi”. 

As you can imagine, the responses I received to these random phone calls varied wildly.  Sometimes, the recipient would spend the entire conversation wondering why I really called, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

But much more often, the folks would say something like “It’s funny that you called, Pastor…”,  and then share with me an important issue that they had been hesitant to talk to me about because either I seemed too busy or they were too afraid/embarrassed. 

Alas, I’ve gotten away from this practice since becoming a DS, reasoning that the context for my ministry is so different now.  But honestly, ministry is ministry, and people are people. 

So I’m gonna stop typing now, and start calling.  TTYS!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

O me of little faith

There’s a barber shop on my way to work.  It’s not a beauty shop or a hair salon or a coiffuring center.  It’s just a good ole fashioned barber shop, with a swirling red, white and blue barber pole out front.

For the past 7 years, I have driven by this place – but I’ve never walked inside.  I’ve thought about it, though.  Actually, I’ve fantasized about it. 

Perhaps I should explain.

It’s not the prospect of having of my ever-thinning and ever-graying hair cut that draws me to this place.  I already have someone who lops my locks every couple of months, with whom I am well pleased. 

No. What draws me to this particular barber’s shop is the large sign in his window that advertises a $20 shave.  Admittedly, that’s a lot of money to pay to have one’s face shaved – especially when one has his own electric razor at home that’ll do the job for free.  But ever since I was a little shaver, I have longed to sit in a swivel chair, draped in an apron, lathered to the limits, and have a guy use a straight razor to give me a nice warm, close shave.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to justify such a luxurious and self-indulgent extravagance.  If only it was a little less expensive. 

Ah, watch what you ask for, beloved.

Last month, I attended a  5-day church conference at the Marriott in Lancaster, PA. During a brief break from our business, I took a short stroll.  A few blocks from my hotel, at the corner of King and Prince Streets, I spied a sandwich-board sign with a painted picture of a red, white and blue barber pole and the promise of a $3 haircut!

Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that this place wasn’t a barber shop but a barber school. In other words, they didn’t want customers - they wanted guinea pigs.

Inside the barber school, hanging on the wall, was a more complete price list of the various services the students offered. The one that caught my eye was the $3 shave.

My first (second and third) reaction was to dismiss that possibility as quickly as I dismissed the $3 haircut.  After all, what kind of person would literally stick their neck out to allow a nervous neophyte to put a straight razor anywhere near their jugular vein just to save a few bucks? 

A person of faith, that’s who!  A person with a tremendous amount of faith.   A person with so much faith that their cup o’ faith runneth over, that’s who!  (see Genesis 22)

In other words, a person not like me.  

To be honest, I don’t have faith…
…that ISIS is going to stop terrorizing the civilized world in the foreseeable future;
…that our country will solve its racial divide so that we can finally live in harmony and unity, as God intended;
…that we’re going to suddenly stop mortgaging our children’s fragile future with our  local, state and national budget deficits. 

Then again, I didn’t have faith that I would ever see…
…the end to Apartheid in South Africa;
…the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction           of the Berlin Wall;
…a black man living in the White House, and a woman being nominated by one of the major political parties for the presidency.

Soooo, maybe the next time the Big Bad Wolf of doubt and fear threatens to enter my house of faith, I will, with the confidence of Christ, proclaim, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.”