My errands for the day included a trip to the farmer’s market for strawberries and the barber for a haircut. For both I would need cash, so my first stop of the day was the ATM.
Cash? Oh, yeah, I remember cash. Paper money, green ones, fives, tens and twenties. I have a place for them in my wallet, but rarely is that place filled. I hardly ever have cash. And neither do many of you, I’ll bet.
I pay for everything with a credit card that I pay off each week. Gas for the car, food at the grocery store, restaurants, dog food, big box home improvements, coffee shop, prescriptions, car repairs. I give to my church online, pay all my bills online, and do most of my shopping online. Why carry cash? For strawberries and a haircut, and a few boxes of girl scout cookies.
When I have cash in my hand, the money feels real, the transaction feels real, the expense feels real, the product feels real. Electronic banking, giving, buying, investing, paychecks, and bill pay seem surreal. Like it’s not even happening. So much of what we give and pay for, by and receive is virtual, a service, and not even tangible. It’s a strange world, isn’t it?
Cash is for babysitters, tree trimmers, churches I visit, Christmas and birthday presents, a roadside fruit stand, a football team fundraiser, and a kid’s roadside lemonade stand. For all the things that are real.
The words of Psalm 23 easily roll off my tongue. The Lord “leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). I’ll join in with the prayer of Psalm 5:8, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness…make your way straight before me.
But what does that mean exactly? What does that look like? How does God lead me?
It was easy in the wilderness. “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire” (13:21). Pretty basic. When the cloud moves, you go. When it stops, you set up camp for a few nights.
But that was a long time ago. You’ve probably noticed that when there’s a big decision to be made there aren’t any arrow-shaped clouds directing you. And when you are lying awake at night wondering what to do, someone must have forgotten to light the burner on that column of flame.
The primary way God will always lead me is with his Word. The “path of your commandments” (Psalm 119:135) will always lead me in “what is right” (Psalm 25:9). The light and truth of his Word will always direct me (Psalm 43:3). Rather than simply wondering what God wants me to do, I can spend a little more time meditating on his Word, letting it either narrow down my choices or reveal what I ought to be doing.
God’s kindness also leads me – to repentance (Romans 2:4). Another day of sunshine or rain is a reminder that I’ve been blessed not according to my behavior but because of his steadfast love. I often need to be led back to him. Not down a path or towards an opportunity. But to my God. I’m grateful he does that like a Shepherd guiding me to food and water rather than a Cowboy driving cattle into the barn!
And then of course, “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor. 2:14). When you are in the parade celebrating God’s grace, you never have to wonder. With eyes fixed on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, I’m always on the right path. It’s amazing how clear the path is when he reminds me of who I am at the water of baptism. I’m reassured of my way when he reminds me of who he is at the altar, where I enjoy pasture of grace.
If you are afraid of making the wrong decision or stepping outside of God’s will, remember that if you stray he always comes looking for you. He always runs to embrace you when you realize you’ve made a bad choice. He still loves you and you always get another chance.
In fact, if we are declared righteous by faith, doesn’t that mean he’s already made all the right decision for us? That is a very freeing reality.
I believe it says a lot about God that he hasn’t made all our decisions for us. Instead he lets us discover what it’s like to taste something new that we might or might not like. He lets me decide to sleep in or get up early. I can choose any pet I want, change the station to listen to different music, and eat an extra cookie. I can choose to retire, go say hello to a stranger, add chocolate chips to my pancakes, sit silent in worship or sing my heart out. I can give a few bucks to a beggar or few hundred to my kids.
You know, when I think about it, it’s people who always seem to have more to say about my decisions than God does. Other are quick to question and condemn, not God. He’s slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That must be why the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil” (Ecc. 2:24). It’s all a gift from God!
After two worship services this morning, I headed out to Stuart Meyer hospice house (in Palm Coast, FL) to see Kay. By the grace of God I last saw Kay on Wednesday, the last day she was awake and aware. I was glad to talk with her, give her communion and pray with her. Within hours, the doctors found a brain tumor and plans were made for hospice care. From that time one, she was unconscious.
Early this morning, I realized I’ve known Kay for more than twenty years. Before we built a new sanctuary, and before we paid someone to be an office manager, she was a volunteer, answering phones and helping me get ready for Sunday morning. I did the memorial for her husband ten years ago. I will soon do hers.
A lot of pastoral care happens on the extremes of life. I am there at birth and baptism, and then at death and funerals. In between I get to be a part of weddings and marriages, confirmations and graduations, and birthdays and anniversaries. I get to share in the best of life as well as the most difficult times.
That’s what makes this job pastor so unique, interesting and rewarding. I get to ride the waves of celebration, wade through the muck of disappointment, cradle a new life in my arms and hold a hand one last time before their last breath. The words of encouragement, hope, strength and comfort are always my Lord’s and never my own as I represent Him in times of both life and death, beginnings and ends, joy and sorrow, and laughter and tears.
I began my day by holding a newborn baby in my arms and welcomed her into God’s family. I ended it by holding the hand of a child of God about to take her last breath in this world. What a privilege to experience both!
When my Dad died three weeks ago, the news quickly spread and I cannot begin to tell you how many people said to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I understand the sentiment behind those words. In fact, I’ve spoken them to those grieving the death of a loved one. But as I heard those words spoken to me, I thought, “Why are you sorry?” It’s not like you did something wrong. Are you sorry that I have to go through this? Are you sorry that I will no longer be able to go and visit my father? What is it that you regret?
I’m pondering this because I really didn’t feel that sad about my Dad’s death. Mom died fourteen years earlier, and I know that he’s been lonely since then. He lost some of the ability to care for himself about six years ago when we (his children) sold his house and moved him in with my brother. His kidneys failed three years ago, but after we gathered to be with him, he recovered. He didn’t want to eat anymore about two years ago, but after we gathered to be with him, and with a few bowls of ice cream, he regained his appetite. So in some ways, it’s been a long, three-year goodbye. Rather than being sorry he’s gone, I’m actually a bit relieved. I’m glad he fought the good fight of faith. I’m glad he finished the race (for him it was a marathon!) and finally crossed the finish line. I think we should be cheering rather than crying!
The last time I went to see Dad, he was basically unconscious for three straight days. We talked to him. We talked about him. We read scripture and sang songs for him. Not much response. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How long?” You just never know. A body created to live isn’t going to easily give up. All you can do is wait.
My memories of Dad are good ones. I remember the things we did together, the things he taught me, and the home and education he provided for me. I treasure the name he gave me (he was Junior, so I got to be the Third). Instead of feeling like I lost something, I feel like I gained so much. His ninety-five years were filled with family, love, church, work and hobbies. Rather than feeling empty, I feel so full of all the things Dad gave me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve lived near Dad. I’ve lived most of my life pretty far away and only got to see him a few times a year. So I don’t miss his presence, not like those who daily spent time with him. Instead, his death makes me more aware of all the parts of him that shape me.
A few folks have shared with me that they were a wreck for months after their father died. Some can barely hold back the tears when a departed loved one’s birthday comes around, or the anniversary of a death. I feel bad that I don’t feel worse, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s my British (not Vulcan) heritage that enables me to contain my emotion.
The one thing that occasionally brings a tear to my eye is the mental image of my Dad seeing Jesus face to face. That had to be and is going to be the best moment ever, and that’s what makes emotion swell up in me. Oh, and imagining the shout of the archangel, the sound of the trumpet and then the resurrection. I always tear up when I think of that day. But rather than sadness, it is overwhelming gladness.
So you don’t have to be sorry. You can cheer along with me. You can be thankful along with me. You can share that joy with me.
Molly Hogan, an 82 year old cross-fitter from Boston said in a recent interview, “You know that little voice inside that talks to you? It doesn’t age!”
From my own experience, I’d say she is spot on. Even though I’m now in my sixties, I never fell like I’m sixty. I think and speak and interact with people as if I much younger. Like thirty years younger. Every once in a while though, little reminders yank me back into reality.
Like when I need an extra day of rest between workouts. When I was younger, I would pound out the miles running, sometimes working out ten or more days in a row. I can’t do that anymore. Every two days, I need to recuperate.
Or when I suddenly realize I’m the oldest guy in the room. By a lot. I forget that when people look at me, they see an old guy with lots of gray hair. Most of my workout buddies see someone the same age as their parents!
My kids always want to be sure I’m OK. I feel like I did when I was their age, but they have begun to consider me someone to keep an eye on if I’m alone or driving late at night or on a ladder doing some painting. I appreciate their concern. I forget that I was concerned about my parents in the same way.
It’s cool that part of you never ages. It’s that little voice!
I was the third of three preachers at my Dad’s funeral. My son Adam (pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School, Dallas, TX) went first, followed by my brother Jim (Pastor at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, Vienna, VA), and then me. Here’s what I said.
“[The women] departed quickly from the tomb with
fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold,
Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” (Matthew 28:8,9).
That’s a game-changer, isn’t it? It’s a life-changing moment
for the women who came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. It’s a
life-changing moment for Jesus’ disciples who were hiding in an upper room.
It’s a life-changing moment for us who have gathered here today in the name of
the one – Jesus – who met them and said, “Greetings!”
Just like us, those women and disciples were dealing with
death. On Friday, Jesus had been crucified. Some had heard the sound of nails
driven through his hands and feet into the wood of the cross. Some had been
there through the three hours of darkness. Some had been there to hear his last
words and witness his last breath. Others had wrapped his body in linen and
laid it in a tomb. A few witnessed the rolling of a huge stone across the
opening of the tomb, to seal it shut. It was a dark day. A sad day. A
tear-filled day. A Friday.
But these words are from Sunday, the first day of a new
week. The earth shakes. An angel comes rolls away the stone from the tomb. The
guards pass out. And the angel says to the women, “He is not here, for he
has risen, as he said.” (28:6). The tomb no longer contains a corpse.
It is empty. Jesus is no longer dead. He is alive. Jesus’ words about death and
resurrection are no longer a prediction. They are now a reality.
This moment really does change everything.
Jesus is clearly not just a man or a great
teacher. He is truly the eternal Son of God.
We can believe every word Jesus says.
We are not simply sinners who will always fall
short of God’s glory. Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins. We are
forgiven. We’ve been declared righteous. We will share his glory.
grave cannot hold God’s people. Not for very long. “For the Lord
himself will [one day] descend from heaven with a cry of command,
with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of
God. And the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess. 4:16).
These truths certainly changed everything for Dad.
Baptized ninety-five years ago, he became a
child of God.
He sought and found the truth in a lifetime of
hearing and reading God’s Word.
Words of absolution from his pastors (and his sons) continually and consistently announced God’s forgiveness for all his sins.
And now he waits, along with us, for that day, for that voice, for that trumpet and for the resurrection!
These truths have certainly changed things for me! Just
about every day I look at the picture of Mom and Dad holding me on my baptism
day, September 29, 1957, and remember that I too am a child of God.
Next weekend, when I am back in the pulpit, I’ll be
preaching about God’s discipline. The writer of Hebrews says that’s how you
know you’re a child of God. Discipline was a little bit different when I was
growing up, but Dad never hesitated to remind me that I was his dearly loved
I’m not sure how he did it, but somehow Dad got us to fight
over who got to read the bible at family devotions. We had to keep a calendar
to keep the peace. I don’t remember ever doubting that God’s Word was
One of the greatest gifts Dad ever gave was making sure we
met Jesus on the way. In the Word. In worship. In song. In prayer. In life. And
Very few people will ever hear of Dad’s faith. Yet his quiet faithfulness, left a legacy. Three pastors – so far. Three generations of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – all zealous for the Lord. What a great gift to receive. What a great gift to pass along. And what a great gift to celebrate today!
Preached at the funeral for William Douthwaite, Jr. (1924-2019) at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Ridley Park, PA on Friday, August 16, 2019. The entire service can be viewed here.
We had been getting ready for this funeral for three years.
That’s how long it had been since my Dad fell, his kidneys failed, and my
brother, sister and I gathered to say goodbye to him at age 92. By the time I got
there, though, he had rebounded and returned home after a few days in the hospital.
Rather than a funeral, we started making arrangements for assisted living.
Two years ago, still in the memory care unit of a very nice
assisted living facility, Dad stopped eating. Rather than another trip to the
hospital to find out what was wrong, we admitted Dad into hospice so he could
stay where he was. Once again, we gathered for what we thought would be the end
of his ninety-three year earthly journey. However, his appetite soon returned,
especially for ice cream and other desserts, and we did not need to make any
This summer, after about three days into the Dallas portion
of my vacation, I got the call that Dad had a fever that wouldn’t break, and
was less and less lucid each day. The hospice nurse predicted he would only
last a few days, if not a few hours. I quickly booked a flight as my sister
boarded a train, and we once again gathered to be with Dad.
This time was indeed different. Dad was on oxygen, was not
responsive, and indeed looked like he was at the end. My sister and I spend
three days there, watching and listening to his rhythmic breathing. We read to
him, sang some hymns, and agreed that even though this might be the end, we
would never bet against Dad recovering.
At the age of ninety-five, though, his body just couldn’t
fight the infection. No eating or drinking for days took its toll on his
strength. But not till he stuck around for another six days. I had returned to Dallas
and then home. My sister had gone home and returned over the weekend.
The call from my brother came early Monday morning, August
12. We had gotten home late, so we didn’t hear the phone buzz the first ten
times. Finally, I heard something about 4 am, and my brother confirmed that Dad
had died shortly after two, with him, my sister and sister-in-law holding his
hand. Calm, peaceful, and pain-free, accompanied by families on this side and
angels on the other. Not a bad way to go at all.
Over the next few days, my brother made arrangements for the
funeral that had long ago been planned for Dad’s long time church in Ridley
Park, PA and internment next to Mom at a cemetery in Aston. I booked flights
for my wife and I, my son, and one of my daughters who brought her youngest
That Friday (August 16), a few family, friends and church
members gathered to worship, remember Dad’s life, and look forward to the resurrection.
My son, a pastor from Dallas, my brother, a pastor from Vienna, VA and myself
co-officiated the service and all took a turn preaching. My sister played the
organ and my nieces played violin. It was a unique and fitting moment for a man
whose quiet faithfulness had left a legacy of three pastors (so far), and three
generation of faithful children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
When you live to be ninety-five, you outlive most of your family
and friends. Dad was the youngest of seven children. His last remaining sibling
had died some fifteen years before. Five of my cousins who were still in the
area joined us that day. About half-a-dozen members of the church who had known
Dad were still around and attended the service. A few folks from my brother’s church
and some area clergy friends also attended.
While neither my brother nor I wanted to preach at my Mom’s
funeral fourteen years ago, we both wanted to speak for Dad’s. I didn’t know
how I would feel. You never really do, until you’re in the moment. My voice
cracked just once, when I spoke of Dad, along with us, waiting for “that day,
for that voice, for that trumpet and for the resurrection!” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
My brother Jim spoke on Dad’s favorite verse from Romans 8, that nothing can
ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. My son Adam reminded us that
even though our hearts and minds are filled with great memories, the best is
yet to come when we get to be with the Lord.
My brother and I draped Dad’s casket with the funeral pall as my son reminded us of Dad’s baptism. We took turns reading scripture. Isaiah 55:6-13; Philippians 1:18-26; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 28:1-10. We preached around some great hymns. “For all the saints,” “The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want,” “My hope is built on nothing less,” “I know that my Redeemer lives,” and “Jesus lives, the vict’ry’s won.” It sounds like a lot, but only lasted a little more than an hour.
The procession to the cemetery had to navigate some
interesting interstate traffic, but we all made it. After a brief committal and
military honors, many of us gathered at a nearby restaurant for lunch, memories,
laughter and a few pictures.
I had to get my son back to the airport for an evening flight
home. My brother’s family, my sister and my family then hung out at our hotel
suite that evening. That night was much more relaxed.
And just like that, it was over. Everyone returned home safely
the next day.
I’m still trying to figure out how I feel. I don’t feel sad,
but I know I’ll miss Dad. Our recent visits weren’t much. It’s not like I’ll
miss our conversations. He typically sat and snoozed while I sat and visited
with him. I’m a bit relieved. I didn’t get up there to visit him very often,
and I always felt a little guilt about that. My brother, on the other hand, was
there every day. This will leave a bigger void for him. We didn’t shed that many
tears. Smiles and laughter predominated those last few days and the funeral
service. Dad always made us laugh before, so why not now?
Most of all I’m just thankful. I’m thankful for what he
taught me, for my memories of him, and for the faith he and Mom passed along to
I had the first appointment of the day when I recently took my car in on a Friday morning for some routine maintenance. With computer, journal and coffee in hand, I found a table when I could read, write and wait. Other than a few service people, the place was mostly empty. Over the next hour or so, I watched as the receptionist, sales, finance, managers and, eventually, a few customers arrived.
As I eavesdropped on casual conversations about their plans for the weekend, one outburst caught my attention. “I’m ready for this day to be over!” He passed by so quickly I never got to find out anymore details. But I thought to myself, “What a dismal way to begin your day!” The sun is barely up, and you are already yearning for dusk.
Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he had a funeral to attend, a root canal scheduled or knew he was about to get chewed out by the boss. So he just wanted to get it over with.
I wonder if he’s the only one. Are there others who just want to get life over with? What happens to your soul when each day crawls by with nothing but boredom, pain or loneliness?
When I catch myself just wanting it to be over (and yes, sometimes that happens), I remind myself that I really don’t know what this day will be like. I don’t know who I’ll meet, what I’ll learn, or what will arrive in the mail. I have to remember that what I dread usually only takes up a small slice of a day rather than defining the whole thing. Most compelling stories begin with a person with a problem who learns something about themselves and creates new possibilities. I want to be a part of such stories, so I don’t want the day to be over until I’ve experienced all of it. In other words, give me a big slice of today!
This morning (January 22) I attended a prayer breakfast hosted by Alpha Women’s Center, a ministry the congregation and I have supported for over seventeen years in Flagler County, FL. I had been invited to say a prayer for the center as well, something I readily agreed to do.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I don’t believe they have had an event like this before. But under the leadership of the current director, Wilma Williams, they are working hard to encourage and expand their footprint in the county.
The event was held in a very small church cafe in Flagler Beach, just barely big enough to hold the thirty folks who attended. At least four other pastors attended, plus representative from a number of other congregations. The meal of quiche, fruit, muffins and oatmeal was just right and delicious.
The guest speaker was Cindy Johanson, the executive director of the Central Florida Pregnancy Center in Deltona, FL. The occasion of her talk was a sober reminder of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade was handed down on January 22, 1973, lifting restrictions on abortion in the United States. Since then, the lives of over 60,000,000 children have been ended by abortion.
Her words were also encouraging. Currently, there are over 3,000 pregnancy centers in the United States. There are 800 abortion clinics. The work of so many for life has increased dramatically.
She pointed out that when someone is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, all they see is a life or death issue. The birth of a child often threatens plans for education, career, and relationships. Those who work to protect and preserve life know that there are many more options, and are glad to speak about the possibilities with any who seek out help. While those who end life make a profit, those who work to save it do not make a penny. Rather, we make great sacrifices to provide these services.
None of what Alpha does would be possible had not God placed a burden for life in each heart who lifted up prayers today. We pray to the God who gives us life and breath and everything else, that he would continue to bring life to our families and communities. We pray to the God who came to sacrifice his own life for us so that we could live. We pray to the God who accompanies us through the valley of the shadow of death to life.
As I was about to leave, I overheard a conversation between a college student and her pastor. She had used her wonderful musical talents to play a few songs for the meeting. But I heard her say, “Remind me again what Roe v. Wade is.” What an important reminder to keep talking about the issues, the history, and our part in it. We cannot assume that all have heard or understand the issues. We cannot assume they know what is at stake. Communication and information are powerful and essential. The opposing side works hard at this. So must we.