Friday, December 27, 2013

Now What?

If we have not already done so, most of us will soon be packing away the remnants of another Christmas. The tree is at the curb or stashed in a box. The family decorations and lights are boxed and stored out of sight. Christmas is over, but now what?
As we begin a new year, may this prayer of Howard Thurman help us keep Christmas every day.

The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled

When the star in the sky is gone
When the kinds and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flock
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Are you the kind of person who has all of their Christmas gifts bought and wrapped by July?  Or, are
you like the many last minute shoppers?   I saw an article suggesting simple gift ideas for last minute shoppers.  It included such things as a keyboard decal and Corkcicle wine chiller. Who knew there were decals for your keyboard? Apparently they come in all different colors and customizations.  The Corkcicle wine chiller was intriguing, you put it in your bottle of wine and it keeps both red and white at the recommended temperatures. The gift idea list went on and on with more things I've never heard of.

There are, however, some gifts this list did not mention. These gifts are not available online at Land’s End or at Macy’s or even Tiffany & Co. These are gifts you cannot buy, but should give.  They come from inside of you. The gift is you!

I wonder if there is anyone on your Christmas list that needs the gift of encouragement this year?  Or someone who needs the gift of a visit or phone call, just to let them know you are thinking of them?  What about the gift of understanding or listening? Kindness is a gift that fits all sizes, and so is patience. Hope is a gift that never goes out of style. Laughter and hugs and kisses don’t need any ribbons or bows. Come to think of it, the Bible has a great gift idea for all shoppers.  You can find it in I Corinthians 13.  It is the gift of love, because love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.  Love never ends and that’s the gift we all hope to find this Christmas. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why Pink?

This week we lit the third candle in the advent wreath.  It was pink; the other two are purple.  Why pink?   I chuckle when folks ask me that question.  Some think it is because we ran out of purple candles. One child said it was because Mary and Joseph really wanted a little girl.  

Here’s the real explanation. Advent is a time of repentance and reflection, and the purple candles reflect this mood as we prepare for Christmas.   While the first two candles in the advent wreath are purple, the third week is pink (or rose) and is the color of joy.   The pink candle gets its name from the Latin word,   gaudete, which means rejoice.   The early church recognized it was spiritually appropriate to rejoice and experience a little joy  the third week  of Advent, before returning to a more reflective mood the week before the birth of Christ.

We hear a lot these days about the stress and hassles of the season, but it seems to me there is also much joy to experience.   Of course the Bible is clear in its rejoicing of “ Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  I wonder what else is it that sets your feet a-tapping and your soul rejoicing?  Love to hear what it is that brings you joy.   

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stress Level

As we enter the second week of Advent, how is your stress level?  Oh I know, every year we promise to not get caught up in the frenzy and hassle of the season, but it never seems to play out that way.   No matter how hard we try,  the stress and anxiety return every year.

Howard Thurman reminds us that something special also returns every year: Christmas! In his book, The Moods of Christmas he offers this prayer for all of us:

Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.
It is the time of lift to the spirit, when the mind feels its way into the common place, and senses the wonder of simple things: an evergreen tree, familiar carols, merry laughter.  It is the time of illumination, when candles burn, and old dreams find their youth again.  It is the time of pause, when forgotten joys come back to mind and past dedications renew their claim.  It is the time of harvest for the heart, when faith reaches out to mantle all high endeavor, and love whispers its magic word to everything that breathes.  Christmas returns, as it always does, with its assurance that life is good.

Yes,  Christmas returns as it always does,  to tell us how much we are loved by God.   I’m glad Christmas is coming. Are you?



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Advent Quiz

No sooner do you clear and clean up the dishes from Thanksgiving Day dinner and everyone’s thoughts are now in full Christmas mode.   Same thing happens in church.

This past Sunday we lit the first of our candles in our Advent wreath.   I thought I might offer a little Advent Quiz to tickle your fancy.  

Take Tom's Advent Quiz and let us know your score!

1. The word ADVENT comes from Latin and means what?
a. To cook
b. To come
c. To rest
d. To sing

2. The liturgical color for Advent is what?
a. Purple or violet
b. Green
c. Red
d. Red and green

3. The observance of Advent probably started in:
a. 1492
b. The 6th century
c. The 1st century BC
d. 1776

4. Who was it who said, “Prepare Ye the way of the Lord’?

a. Santa Claus
b. The Heavenly Host
c. John the Baptist
d. Home Depot

5. The “mood” of Advent is:a. Hectic
b. Stressful
c. Repentance and Reflection
d. Full of holiday cheer

Long ago,  the exhortation of John the Baptist was to “prepare” for the coming of the Lord.   How are you and your family preparing for the birth of Christ?   What preparations are we making to welcome His coming into our hearts?    How might prayer, quiet time, reading Luke’s story of Christmas, and attending worship help you reflect and prepare yourself spiritually for the greatest gift of all?

Quiz Answer Key: B, A, B, C, C

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Tradition of Memories

With Thanksgiving upon us, I was just looking back on some of my childhood Thanksgivings.   I wish I could say I was as filled with a grateful heart to God, as much as I was with the turkey and all the fixing.  I grew up in a large family with four sisters and a brother, all of us squeezed into a 900 foot square house, with one bathroom, and only three bed rooms.   As the old saying goes, we didn’t know any better.   It never dawned on me that everyone should have their own bedroom.  We were happy and had parents who loved us.

I remember all of my buddies and I would meet at the school yard on Thanksgiving morning for a totally unorganized pick-up game of tackle football.  The fall air was crisp and the drizzle of rain made it all the more fun.

I remember the smell of the turkey in the oven and my mom rolling out fresh dough on the kitchen table for pies. Later in life I was also introduced to the most wonderful, homemade orange glaze rolls that Corrine’s mom made on Thanksgiving Day- best in the entire world.

On Thanksgiving Day, my dad, my brother and I would lug out the old extension ladder and began the annual process of stringing Christmas lights all along the roof line and porch railings.   It didn’t compare to McCaddenville or the Biltmore House, but it lit up the neighborhood. 

As I think back, I don’t remember anything spectacular or dazzling about Thanksgiving Day, just that feeling of warmth that comes with family, friends and home.   Come to think about it that is pretty spectacular, and a good reason to give thanks!

What about you?  What are your childhood memories of Thanksgiving Day?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What’s in fashion, long or short hair?

I don’t pay much attention to fashion, and especially not hair dos.  I never know what’s in style, long or short hair. 
However, I have noticed how many professional athletes are sporting long hair, both on their faces and heads. It seems odd to me to see such flowing locks of hair dangling out of a football helmet, like Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As one writer put it, “For more than ten years Polamalu’s luscious locks have made him one of the most visually identifiable players in the NFL. He even got a shampoo endorsement out of it.”
Well, last week he got a haircut!  He trimmed his famous head of hair as part of a fundraiser to draw public awareness in the vital work of those who care for our nation’s veterans. I was also impressed when Nikki, our Director of Communications, cut her hair and donated the ten inches of blonde locks to a program called Beautiful Lengths; a program that makes wigs for cancer patients. I never knew how much good could come from a haircut.

Most of the Biblical characters had long hair, including Jesus. We remember how the long curls of Sampson got him into trouble and how a tree branch snagged the hair of King David’s son, Absalom that led to a sad ending.  One of the best stories of long hair in the Bible is found in Luke's gospel; when a woman of the street interrupts a lavish dinner by bathing the feet of Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair. This totally upset the host and everybody else attending the dinner. Jesus simply responded by saying to the woman of the street "Your sins are forgiven." 
Seems to me, doing something kind for others and offering forgiveness never goes out of style. Let us all try to do one kind thing each day for someone along the way, and if there is someone waiting for you to forgive them, there is no better time than now.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Rubber Duckie

Did you know there is a Hall of Fame for toys? This years’ two new inductees are the rubber duckie and the game of chess. Talk about extremes.

An article I read about the toy Hall of fame said the two beat out ten other finalists: bubbles, Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, little green Army men, the Magic 8 Ball, My Little Pony, Nerf Toys, the Pac-Man video game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the scooter. Did you ever own one of these toys?

The whole thing started back in 1998 when the first to make the Hall of Fame were Etch-A-Sketch, LEGO block, the Erector Set and Mr. Potato Head. Since then only 53 toys have been bestowed this honor, including alphabet blocks, the jump rope, playing cards, Scrabble and the stick. Gosh, I remember playing with most of these, except the My Little Pony, and those of a later day, like Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As a child, after hearing about Robin Hood, I tried to bend a stick and with some string make a bow and arrow, just like Robin Hood.  I also designed an amazing fishing pole with a stick, some thread and a safety pin as a hook. Neither one  actually  worked, but it was lots of fun trying. 

Soon, parents will be looking for toys to fill Santa’s bag. I’m not sure what the hot toy items are this year. One thing is for sure, the technology will be far superior to what went into making a rubber duckie. Yet even technology cannot replace something as simple as a stick. It is the toys like the stick that allow a child to imagine and wonder and transform it into something new every time.

Theologian Sam Keen talked about the loss of wonder among adults. Isn’t it interesting that the root word for wonder is the same as worship? Do you think Jesus was hinting at this when he said we all must be like children when it comes to faith and worship?

I hope we always have a sense of wonder and imagination. Maybe we all need to have a child take us on a walk through the woods to find a stick. How is your sense of wonder and imagination, and worship?


Monday, November 4, 2013

From Cars to Cell Phones

I heard a commentary about how NASCAR is losing its popularity.  While Americans have always had a love affair with cars, today’s younger generation has a love affair with their cell phone! I think the same love affair holds true for most of us.  I love my cell phone, but…..

I was impressed with one of the youngest members of our staff, Nikki, as she shared her thoughts with me about cell phones.

She said, ‘Do you remember those nights going to Blockbuster with the family and trying to make a decision on what movie to take home?  Remember dad divvying out the pizza, mom popping some popcorn, brother “popping” the movie in, and sister snuggling up with the dog; and all lying around the living room, enjoying the movie you picked out as a family?’

‘Now we can stream movies from high definition televisions that are in each bedroom, our laptops and even our cell phones.  So now each family member is in a separate room doing separate things.  Sometimes at dinner, dad is watching the football game on his phone, sister is sending tweets and texting, brother is playing Angry Birds and mom is on Pinterest looking up home improvement ideas. I wonder if it is time to put the technology away for a while and get back to the simplicity and joy of some basic family time together?’

Gosh, for such a young person, Nikki sure has a handle on life.  Perhaps that is exactly what the Bible means when Paul, at the end of his ministry, told young Timothy, “let no one despise your youth…”  ( I Timothy 4:12)

Let us all turn off our cell phones for one night and see what happens!


Monday, October 28, 2013

A Theological Chorus Line

Some of you have asked me how I enjoyed my 40th class reunion last week at Princeton Seminary.   A quick answer would simply be, “It exceeded all of my expectations.”    And yes, everyone was older, and most of us were not in tip top shape, including me.  Yet old friendships were immediately rekindled.  It was nice.
An experience like my reunion makes me think that life is like a big chorus line, with each dancer doing their part in step with all the others, as they link arms and kick up their heels.   So for instance, seminary could be thought of as a theological chorus line.   At the reunion, we were gathered in graduating decades under one big tent, class reunions from the ‘60s up to today’s budding young theologians.  I was in the class of 1973, and my son, Andy, was in the class of 2003.  He walked the same campus sidewalks and sat in the same lecture halls and classrooms that I did thirty years earlier. Even separated by 30 years, Andy and I are part of the same line, dancing to the same tune. Both of us were as impressed as we met first year students and those about to graduate come May.  These newly minted theologians are in the chorus line too!

Sardis, too, is one big chorus line of believers, stretching back to 1790 and even before. Every time we observe All Saints Day I think of those who came before us with gratitude, and hope that those who follow after us will look back and say that we were faithful in our time.

We are all a part of some chorus line. Which ones are more important to you?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What A Class

I don’t know how many of you attend your class reunions.   I have never attended a class reunion.  There were close to 1,000 members in my graduating class from Penn Hills High School. I enjoyed those days at one the largest high schools in the state, but sometimes I envy those who had small classes and continue to stay in touch.   I’m told they demolished the old building and have a state of the art new one, so I will never walk those old halls again.

After I tossed the tassel at Slippery Rock State College, Corrine and I moved on to our new life as newlyweds.   The funny thing about our courtship is that she and I attended the same high school but never knew each other.   Truth is I knew who she was, but she didn’t know me.   We met ‘officially” on the first day of college.   Best thing that ever happened to me.   You would think we would have made it back for a reunion, but no.   Slippery Rock is now a university, which makes no sense to me.   But I was pleased to see one of the players for the St. Louis Cardinals was drafted out of Slippery Rock!

I graduated the first time from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1973.   The second time was when I received my Doctorate of Ministry in 1990.   The class of 1973 was once labeled, “the worse class ever to come through seminary.”    In some ways the recognition is deserved.   Those were turbulent times.   The summer before I arrived the students had locked the Trustees in the library conference room and would not let them out until they made a statement condemning the war in Vietnam.   Eventually the trustees survived the ordeal but never made any public announcement.

Members of our class often led the community protests and three of our own were  arrested by the FBI for pouring cement onto a railroad switch in an effort to prevent the construction of munitions at the at the foundry in Pennsylvania.    Like I said, turbulent times to study the Bible and theology.

And yet, out of the class of 73 came some of most amazing people I have ever known.  Many went on to lead large and prestigious churches all across America.   Some moved on to become professors, or lawyers, a College President and heads of major foundations, like the Lilly Foundation.   It was quite a class and I’m proud to be a part of it.

So, for the first time ever, and thanks for the gift you provided, I will be attending my very first class reunion, the 40th Anniversary of the Class of 1973 from Princeton Theological Seminary.   The seminary even lassoed me to be on the “Reunion Committee”.    It’s been fun connecting with my old class mates inviting them to the reunion, which will include the Inauguration of our new president,  Dr. Craig Barnes.   You might remember, Dr. Barnes was with us a few years ago and remembers Sardis fondly.   I will give him your best wishes. Have you been to a class reunion? What should I expect?



Thursday, October 10, 2013


I don’t believe there is such a word as “Sticktoitiveness,” but my old mentor Dr. Robert Holland made it up and said it was the most important ingredient in life.   Nothing of lasting importance ever happens without sticktoitiveness, the ability to “stick with it.”

Last week I read a great article that tells a story really demonstrating this quality.  Construction began on the La Sagrada Familia, a famous basilica in Barcelona and “one of Europe’s most popular  tourist attractions,” in 1882. Not sure how long they thought it would take to complete this architectural masterpiece, but it’s still not done, and won’t be complete until 2026, 13 years from now and a full 144 years after construction began!

Antoni Gaudi, the original architect of the basilica, was known as “God’s architect.” He is quoted in the article as saying of the basilica, which was only one-quarter completed at his death in 1926, “my client is in no hurry.”

How good are we at sticking to it?  It takes sticktoitiveness to keep a marriage intact, to raise a child, to chase a dream or to build a life.   In the book of Hebrews, the author talks about the importance of “perseverance” in life and faith: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, with our eyes kept on Jesus.”   

Don’t quit, don’t ever quit.   Remember, our client is in no hurry.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Beatles and the Bucs

Clint Hurdle
Even if you hate sports, you need to know that something happened in Pittsburgh last week that hadn’t happen for twenty-one years! The Pittsburgh Pirates made the major league playoffs. It is quite amazing that one on the most pitiful and losing franchises has had such a dramatic turnaround.  
Clint Hurdle
There are lots of reasons for the renaissance of the team. Good players always help. Yet most insiders credit the manager, Clint Hurdle. He knows baseball inside and out, but more importantly, he understands people and life, and is a master motivator. He was accepted at Harvard on his academics, but instead choose to play baseball. At one time he struggled with staying sober, so he went to AA and started to read and take his Bible seriously.  It turned his life around.

As the “Skipper of the Pirates” he sends daily inspirational and encouraging text messages on his smartphone to his players. Often he quotes Shakespeare or the Beatles.  They love him for it.  As he once said, “They never care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 Here is a quote from John Lennon that Hurdle has framed on the wall in his office at PNC park:  

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down, “happy.” 
They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. 
And I told them they didn’t understand life.

P.S. I’m pulling for my Pirates. Even if they get clobbered by St. Louise in the division playoffs, they at least made it out of the basement. Go Bucs.

Monday, September 30, 2013

It's That Time of Year...

One of our members, Jim Monroe, once gave me an excellent piece of advice on how to have a plush green lawn. He said, ‘I only know two things about grass seed.  It won’t grow if it is still in the bag and it needs water.”  

 Well, it is that time of the year when many folks are plugging or aerating their yards, spreading grass seed, and clothing it with a thin layer of straw, all in the hopes of having a great lawn come spring.  Growth never happens overnight.   It takes time and care and patience.
I’ve thought about what Jim shared and think it applies to most of life:  “It won’t grow if it’s still in the bag and it needs water. “  Jesus said the same sort of thing about seeds and life and growth.  The sower has to sow them; they won’t grow in the bag.   Children and youth, and all of us, won’t learn the Bible and grow if we are not in Sunday school or attending a Bible Study.  We won’t worship God if we’re not in worship.  We won’t experience the warmth of Christian fellowship if we don’t participate in all the wonderful ministries like Mustard Seed Groups and Circles, Youth Fellowship, Senior Link and the other myriad choices.   Like grass seed, we won’t sprout and grow and come to life if we stay in the bag.

And then comes the water.   Now, to be honest, I am jealous of my neighbors who have sprinkler systems that automatically water their lawn.   I have to lug out the hose and sprinkler and keep moving it around.   Most of the time I just leave it up to the good Lord to water my lawn.  

I think it happens a lot like that in church.   We lean on the goodness of each other, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit to quench our thirst; we let God do the watering.   No wonder Jesus talked about “living water” that comes from Him and Him alone.

Yep, Jim was right.  “It won’t grow if it is still in the bag, and it needs water.”   Same with us.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Oh, the Good Old College Days!

One of the books on my summer reading list was Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz.   It was made into a movie, but was a box office bust.   I am not a movie critic, but in my humble opinion I would not rent the movie at Red Box for even a dollar. The movie was nothing like the novel.

The story is an intriguing one that gives you a peek into the complex admissions process at Princeton University.   Like a lot of great universities, Princeton has a huge treasure chest of talented and superbly qualified applicants hoping to be in the next freshman class.   It is a tough task discerning who gets in and who gets the thin envelope.

Since Corrine and I lived in Princeton for three years, I was familiar with a lot of the local color in the book, like the little out-of-the-way hoagie shop on Witherspoon Street where the sandwiches will make you feel like you are dining in heaven.  Or the Small World coffee shop that will give Starbucks a run for their money, and where on any given day you might bump into John Nash, the Nobel Laureate winner profiled in A Beautiful Mind.

I think every town has wonderful little spots that are known only to the locals.  It’s where you find the best food in town, without prices that will melt the plastic off your credit card.  Every college town especially has places like these, and they become a part of our lives.

 I think about our college students, especially our freshmen, who are now starting to feel more confident and able to find their way around campus without looking at a map.  I hope they have found the right friends and are getting a feel for their classes.   I hope they miss home, but not too much.  I hope they are enjoying all of the wonderful fall festivities that come alive on a college campus.   I hope they know how much they are loved.  I hope they know we miss them.

More than anything, I hope you will join with me in praying for our college students.   It does not matter where they were admitted; they all need our prayers.   It’s not always smooth sailing at school, so a little spiritual support goes a long way.  

Anyone up for joining me in praying for our college youth?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sunset at Montmajour

I was fascinated to read  that “the Van Gogh Museum says it has identified a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh painting that spend  125 years in a Norwegian attic because it was thought not to be authentic." Makes me wonder what’s in my attic!
The painting, “Sunset at Montajour”  is of a dry landscape of oak trees, bushes and sky with the classic thick brush stokes that only Van Gogh seemed to perfect. They have been able to pin point the exact day it was painted, because Van Gogh described the painting, which he had done the previous day, in a letter to his brother, Theo.  
What caught my interest, was that Vincent expressed in two different letters that he considered his painting of “Sunset at Montajour” a failure. In fact, he felt the same way about one of his most famous paintings, “Starry Night”. I had to chance to see “Starry Night” when we visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It will take your breath away. Can you imagine thinking it was a failure?
You could spend a life time trying to figure out all of the complexities of Vincent Van Gogh, far too many for me to explore. But I wonder  about the powerful sense of failure  inside of him that seemed to be the canvas on which he painted his life. He painted approximately 900 paintings in his lifetime, but only sold ONE during his life time. I find that unbelievable, but also amazing. He kept on painting when no one else seemed interested  or cared about his art.

 It takes a real passion to do what you love , especially  when the rest of the world passes you by without a glance of recognition. I admire individuals who follow their passions. For Van Gogh, It was painting. What’s yours?


Friday, September 6, 2013


A special thank you to all the summer guest bloggers who filled in for me. Their blogs were so well written and interesting. They have raised the blog bar!

Hope you had a chance this summer to enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation.   Corrine and I, along with our daughter, Sarah, had two great getaways.  We went to the mountains for a few days and enjoyed the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There is something mysterious and serene about the mountains that cannot be explained, only experienced.  One night, there was an amazing thunderstorm that lit up the sky as the lightning danced in the moonlight across the mountain peaks.  The best way to experience a thunderstorm is atop the clouds in the Blue Ridge Mountains.   Anyone else make it to the mountains this summer?

A week later, we headed south to our favorite spot at Litchfield beach.  As I have mentioned before, my time at the beach is defined by reading a few books, soaking up the mesmerizing rhythm of the ocean waves, and trying out new cooking recipes.  A great combination to refresh the mind and soul.  

A couple of years ago we reconnected with Corrine’s college roommate who lives in the Litchfield area and is a turtle volunteer.   I think the name of the organization she is involved with is South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts, or SCUTE.  Each day at 6 a.m., from June to October, Norma walks a three mile stretch keeping watch for baby Loggerhead turtle nests.

Each morning she looks for turtle tracks that will lead her to a nest.  She checks on the nest each day, where the mother has laid between 80-120 eggs,  until that special night when the tiny turtles emerge, chasing the moonlight into the sea. They follow the light that takes them to the place they were destined to enjoy.   A few of them get confused, and that is when Norma and the other volunteers gently pick them up and point them towards the light that leads to life.

Sometimes even we humans need a helping hand to show us the light that leads towards being all that we are created to be as a child of God.   I am grateful for folks like Norma who help turtles follow thelight, and I am grateful for the people in my life who point me in the right direction, check to make sure I am OK, and let me see the light.   And as we start a new fall season, I thank God for all the wonderful volunteers we have at Sardis, who let the light of Jesus Christ shine for all of us to see.