Posted in death

A shrine in the woods

I (and Samson) have probably walked past this little shrine a hundred times. It’s about fifty feet off the road in an undeveloped lot next to a drainage ditch around the block from my house. I always knew there was something there on the tree, but couldn’t quite see what. Today we decided to take a closer look.

It’s there in memory of Justin, a twenty-three year old young man. A couple of American flags suggest he may have died in military service of our country. A rosary lets me know someone still prays for him. A solar-powered angel-light stands vigil at night. A small valentine sits right next to a small stone reminding us of the presence of angels. A small sign reminds us to count our blessings.

I’ve seen plenty of little shrines at intersections and curves in the road where crashes have taken the lives of loved ones. When words fail us, small crosses, stuffed animals, pictures, flowers and flags announce to the world, “We miss this person a lot.” These carefully erected shrines express a grief in ways that words can’t.

There is almost always a cross at the center of those shrines. A cross that reminds us of Jesus’ horrible death. A cross that reminds us of Jesus’ victory over death on the third day. The church may not be filled with all those who believe, trust or grasp for hope in Christ. But they are out there. They say it with a memorial that speaks volumes about their loved one, their faith and their Lord.

Posted in Devotions, Lent, Ministry

2020 Lenten devotion #4: Goat blood instead of Joseph’s

“And Reuben said to [his brothers], ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. “(Genesis 37:22)

“Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?’” (Genesis 37:26)

“Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.” (Genesis 37:31)

Joseph’s eleven brothers are ready to kill him, throw him in a pit and tell everyone that a wild animal had eaten him (Genesis 37:18-20). They are so jealous and so tired of hearing about Joseph’s grandiose dreams that they are ready to murder him! And you thought your family was dysfunctional!

Reuben, the oldest and supposedly responsible, begs them not to shed any blood. He wanted to come back and rescue him later. Judah has second thoughts, too. Would it really do them any good to kill Joseph? Instead they stage his death, sell their brother to a passing caravan, and soak his robe in the blood of a goat. This would explain his disappearance to their father. 
A little blood is all it takes to solve their problems. They’ve gotten rid of Joseph and gotten away with his disappearance. Would they be able to sleep at night? Well, that’s a different story. 

A little goat’s blood will also save their skin a few years down the road. When they desperately show up in Egypt, Joseph will save his family by selling them some food. Good thing he was still alive!

You never know when that person you don’t like, can’t stand or even hate will be someone who will help you out someday. God has a way of using folks to provide, protect and preserve our lives. They despised and rejected Jesus, didn’t they? And he’s the very one who saved their lives!

Thank you for all the people who help me out Lord, especially your son, Jesus. Amen. 

Posted in Devotions, Lent

2020 Lenten devotion #3: Blood is life

Photo by Jose Murillo on Unsplash

“But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’”  (Genesis 9:4-6)

In the wake of the flood, God somberly charges Noah and his sons with responsibility for the lives of others. That is a serious charge. But God is serious about life. He knows that once blood is shed, more blood will be shed. Rather than a world of bloodshed, God wants us to look out for each other. “From his fellow man (and even from the beasts!) I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” 

That’s not my natural instinct. I am prone to look out for myself much more than the lives of others. Clearly, I shouldn’t do that. My life is tied up in the lives of others. We’re in this together. If I’m not concerned about those around me, I can’t complain when something happens to me. 

If you can’t stop the bleeding, someone is going to die. As long as the heart pumps blood through our bodies we are alive. If my heart can no longer do the job, I die. Blood is necessary for life. 

Jesus was born into a world where life was cheap. Get in the way of a Roman soldier and you would soon experience the sword. It doesn’t bother them at all. They won’t lose any sleep. Your life had little value to them. 
But our lives are precious to God. You see, we were created in his image. When someone takes a life, from the unborn to a family next door to a hospital patient or an enemy in war, it is an affront to him. You are taking a swipe at God himself. Of course, it doesn’t harm him. But it hurts him deeply. He loves you that much. 

So never forget how precious life is. Never take life for granted. God doesn’t. 

Lord, teach me to value life as much as you value mine. Amen.  

Posted in death, Ministry


Photo by Tim Evans on Unsplash

A few days ago, I visited a member who had just been admitted to a hospice house. She was alone, comfortable and talkative when I stopped by. We had a great visit.

Early in the conversation, though, she said, “I have a question for you. I told God a long time ago I was ready to die. What’s taking him so long?”

Great question. Way above my pay grade. So I said, “I don’t know.” But then I said, “Do you remember when you were a child and your parents were driving somewhere for the day or for vacation? How many times did you ask them, ‘How much longer? When are we going to get there? Are we there yet?’ I’ll bet your mom or dad said, ‘We’ll be there soon.’ That’s our heavenly Father’s answer for us, too. Soon.”

As a dad that’s what I always said to my kids when they asked, “Are we almost there?” Whether we had fifteen minutes or a few hours to go, I always said, “Yes!” I answered the question and got a few miles or minutes of peace.

The last words our Lord says in scripture are, “I am coming soon.” What does that mean? Who knows? Time can fly or drag. But the word “soon” gives me hope and peace for the next few minutes or miles of life.

Posted in friends, Ministry

A great friend from the past

Photo by Nina Conte on Unsplash

I had the most pleasant surprise yesterday. After the noon Ash Wednesday worship service, I was hanging around talking to my organist when I caught sight of a man I didn’t recognize walking through the narthex. Nothing out of the ordinary. People wander in all the time. I walked up and introduced myself, and as he shook my hand he said, “Jim Werner.”

Wait a minute. This name is familiar. This name is in the mental database. OMG, Jim Werner. I shared a house with him thirty-eight years ago in Neptune, NJ. Are you kidding? No way? That’s a name from like three lifetimes ago. Yep, it was Jim. He was on his way to Jacksonville, looked me up, stopped by and by the grace of God found me.

Suddenly, a flood of memories from my past overwhelmed me. In 1980, with a whole year of experience of work at Bell Labs under my belt, Jim asked if I would like to share a house with him. Apartment life wasn’t working out very well for me, so I jumped at the opportunity. Jim was a fellow tenor in the choir with me. His family was an influential part of the church Less rent for me. A more affordable home for him. A win-win.

That opportunity was a life-changer in many ways. I could get my first dog, a yellow lab named Gabriel who got along famously with Jim’s Irish setter named Shannon. Jim worked nights, I worked days, so we rarely saw each other during the week. His bright idea to buy a wood burning stove to heat the house afforded me the opportunity to learn how to operate a chain saw and cut and split firewood. I absolutely loved doing that.

I was running 70-80-90 miles a week in preparation for marathons while he had family and friends over to party. His supper would often be no more than a few slices of toast, while I ate a variety of vegetables. Both of us slept on mattresses on the floor because neither one of us had a bed frame. Hey, it was comfortable.

Jim’s family (mom and dad plus three sisters) became my surrogate family as I learned how to live on my own. We were very different from each other, but were also very good for each other.

You never know who God is going to put in your life to help shape your future. But somehow, he always knows who you’ll need.

Posted in Devotions, Lent

2020 Lenten devotion #2: The blood of Abel

Photo by geralt on

Photo by geralt on
“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”

“When they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.’” (Genesis 4:2-5,8-10)

Like a glass of red wine spilled on a light-colored carpet, a scratch along the side of a car or a welt across a slapped face, some sins cannot be hidden. There is no hiding Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in a field where no one sees. Heaven can hear the screams. 

How does God respond? He simply asks, “What happened?” Of course he knows. But he wants Cain to say it. To speak the words. To confess. Why? Because “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us” (1 John 1:9). God has always been that way. Drops of blood from his own son’s whipped back, thorn-crowned head, nail-pierced hands and feet and spear-pierced side have also splattered on the ground. With the assurance of forgiveness, his blood drowns out the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24) and the stains, scratches and scars of all my sins, too. 

There may not be a chalk outline on the ground for each one of my sins. But God knows. So do I. Amazingly, he always listens when I tell him what I’ve done. Even more amazingly, he forgives. 

Thank you, Lord, for drowning out the voice of my guilt with your words of grace and forgiveness. Amen. 

Posted in Stuff

More relics

A few weeks ago I wrote about the few things I still have from before I was married. Today, another older relic on my office bookshelf caught my eye: my penny collection.

I’m not sure when I started collecting pennies. There is a note written in the folder from January 1, 1972 indicating that I had eighty-four coins in my collection. I would have been fourteen at the time. The pennies range in date from 1916 through 1975 in this folder, and go on through 1992 in another. There is also a folder containing nickels from 1940 – 1959.

I know I never actually purchased any of these coins for the collection. I found them all in circulation and in cans of coins my parents had. I thought I had some steel cents from 1943, but I don’t seen them in the folder.

Anyway, these are by far the oldest things I still own from my childhood. I’m sure my parents got us started to keep us busy on a rainy day when we couldn’t go outside to play. This is what we did when there was no internet and only three channels on the TV. The whole collection is probably worth about $2.00 (a hundred pennies and twenty nickels!)

Posted in Ministry

2020 Lenten devotion #1: Garments of skin

A quick concordance search shows the word blood appearing nearly four hundred times in scripture. Blood is part of life and death in God’s creation. It is part of God’s covenants. It is spilled, sprinkled, poured out, and consumed. It justifies, redeems, reconciles, purifies and conquers. This year’s Lenten devotions focus on the drops of blood we find on the pages of our bibles, leading us to the cross of Christ and beyond. 

Photo by Adrian Ordonez on Unsplash

When “the eyes of [the man and the woman] were opened…they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). “And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). 

While the word blood does not appear in these verses, God is the first to take the life of some animal to use the skins to cover up the naked first couple. That’s right, God draws first blood. 

Adam and his wife have listened to the serpent, have responded to their own desires and have eaten from the tree forbidden to them. Now they must try and cover up their nakedness, shame and guilt with a few leaves. Mercifully, God provides a better covering, but it will require the shedding of blood. It is the first hint of many that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). It is the first indication that we will hear much about blood in the story of God’s people about to unfold in the ages to come. 

Why do we wear clothes? Sometimes for protection from the elements. To stay warm or cool. They may be a uniform that identifies our profession or company. We may wear them because we like to look good and impress others. Or to fit in with the people around us. 

Whatever the reason, clothes serve as a reminder of our sin and shame and also our Savior. As hard as we try, we can’t cover up all our faults. But our Savior’s love, sacrifice and blood can. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). 

Gracious Lord, thank your for covering my sin with the holy precious blood of Christ. Amen. 

Posted in worship

The peace of the Lord be with you always.

Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash

In our congregation, we celebrate Holy Communion at just about every worship service. Following the words of institution, I say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” and then encourage the congregation to share our Lord’s peace with those around them.

In addition to the traditional, “Peace be with you…” “…and also with you,” I’ll witness worshipers embracing, exchanging a kiss, shaking hands, waving and other assorted greetings. Some folks are a little uncomfortable with the moment, unwilling to share germs or give up valuable personal space. Many, I am sure, are not even aware of why we do this. So a member encouraged me to write about this part of the liturgy.

The sharing of the peace is intended to be a powerful reminder of the evening on the first day of the week when the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. Some had seen the empty tomb. Some had seen the risen Christ himself. Suddenly, Jesus is standing there among them and says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Powerful words. Through Christ, God has reconciled us to himself. Our sins are forgiven, the relationship has been healed, and we have peace with God.

The real presence of our Lord in the sacrament also brings the peace of the Lord to us, which means we have also received the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). We bring the salt and light of a new relationship with God into our world. God also enables us to pursue and be at peace with one another before we approach his altar (Matthew 5:23,24).

Conflict is inevitable. Relationships are fragile. Feelings are easily hurt. But forgiveness is real. Reconciliation overcomes separation. Love covers a multitude of sins. And as we participate in the body and blood of Christ, we have a lot in common. We are all members of one another. We are his church!

Keep that in mind each time we share our Lord’s peace with one another.