Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Memorial Day Weekend is an interesting time in Landisville and Salunga and the surrounding suburban neighborhoods. It's when Main Street begins to resemble Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennesee. Wall to wall "stores" and bumper to bumper traffic. This is the big Yard Sale here. It is bookended by a flea markets at Salunga Park and A. Herr Park. Almost everything imaginable that once graced someone's house or "collections" goes up for sale--along with food stands featuring fruit smoothies, a variety of egg rolls plus good old fashioned hamburgersm, hot dogs and french fries. Even the little kids across the street had a lemonade stand. (The lemonade was a very reasonable 50 cents. The "advice" was free if you are into taking advice from a seven year old.)

In the past I have used this day to look for trucks to add to my collection and Dianne has sought out lighthouses for hers. Our budget is a little tight this year, so we passed on this. This year we were looking for baby items like a Pack n' Play, a high chair, car seat, etc. since our grandson Jake is flying in next week with his mother and we needed to be prepared. Gave me a whole new perspective on all the stuff needed for parents on infants and toddlers to move even a couple of blocks from their houses.

I also use the day to meet my neighbors. Landisville itself is not a big town, but it is part of the suburban sprawl growing out of Lancaster. In this day of cell phones to occupy people's attention and the habit of driving everywhere (which also isolates us), it is very hard to meet--let alone know your neighbors. The yard sales, with their slower pace and obvious dialogue, make a wonderful opportunity for this. I even have a chance to carry on longer conversations with church members who often breeze by me on Sunday mornings at the door.

I am reminded that spending time with our neighbors and getting to know them is at the heart of neighborliness. When all is said and done, it is the first step towards being a community.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


In my morning devotions Wednesday, I came across a great verse in 1 Corinthians 15. The way it is expressed in The New Living Translation I find particularly helpful. "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless." (1 Corinthians 15.58)

"Nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless." What a reassuring promise! So often we labor and wonder if our efforts are worth the effort. Or what we do appears unnoticed and under-appreciated. The Lord sees and knows and heaven applauds our faithfulness and heart.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A great debate has raged these past few weeks at the University of Notre Dame. President Obama was slated to be the commencement speaker. The controversy arose when the University decided to grant an honorary degree to the President. For the general public, the controversy may have seemed a non-issue but for American Catholics it was a huge issue. At the heart of the debate was President Obama's clear position as an advocate for abortion rights and recent actions taken by his administration to strengthen that position. His position, however struck at the heart of Catholic core values about the sanctity of human life. The Church has clearly stood by the position that life begins at conception and that what we often call "the fetus" is a human life worthy of being valued and defended. The American Bishops have taken the stance that Catholic institutions should not given platforms to and bestow honors on those persons whose values go against the core values the church holds and teaches.

The reason is simple. Such honoring sends a contradictory message to a world that is often morally confused. How can you say human life is sacred and then honor someone who says only
some human life is sacred or that human life is sacred provided certain conditions are met.

In the middle of this debate has been the local bishop, John D'Arcy. I first met this man more than 15 years ago while serving as a pastor in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One morning at ministerium, this blue-eyed, affable man sat down next me and humbly introduced himself, "Hello, I'm John D'Arcy." His Massachusetts accent gave him away as a "foriegner" to the midwest. I soon learned that he was the newly appointed bishop to the Archdiocese of Fort Wayne and South Bend (the latter, the home of Notre Dame). He had already established himself as a man of integrity for his leadership in the child abuse scandals that had rocked the Catholic Church in Boston in the 80's and early 90's. I never knew him as a leader to "throw his weight around." Instead, he worked with great humility and integrity to see that the Church under his care operated with consistency and a clear moral compass.

Bishop D'Arcy boycotted the commencement at Notre Dame, not out of disrespect for the President because of the position that Notre Dame itself was violating the integrity of its Catholic heritage and using its prestige (a prestige gained in part by the generous support of American Catholics) to treat with contempt the core value of the the sanctity of human life. Bishop Darcy wrote several public letters to the University's President, Father Jenkins, one of which I quote here in part: "President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life is sacred. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the office of the presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith 'in season and out of season,' and he teaches no only by his words but by his actions. My decision is not an attack on anyone, but it is in defense of the truth about human life."

The Bishop later wrote, "It would be one thing to bring the president here for a discussion on healthcare or immigration, and no person of good will could rightly oppose this. We have here, however, the granting on an honorary degree of law to someone whose acitivities, both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born ..."

The media has made much of this debate, often at the expense of the Catholic Church and its core values. Perhaps John Darcy's words will shed a little different light.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Thursday is generally a free night for me at home. I am free to do whatever I like. The reason? It's an important TV night for my wife. She watches several shows faithfully (sometimes even in reruns). One of the biggies is Gray's Anatomy. It's a hospital show. Like House they pratice some pretty outrageous medicine. Unlike House the show is primarily about the lives of the cast rather than medical problems to solve.

I confess that I am not a fan of Gray's Anatomy. Occasionally the human interest dilemma of the patients in the background appeals to the pastoral counselor within me. But the doctors and nurses of Gray's Anatomy are some of the most dysfunctional humans I have ever seen. How they practice medicine in spite of their constant emotional traumas is a mystery, except to the screen writers who make all this stuff up. I would never admit my loved one's to the care of Seattle Grace Hospital.

Unless they were the patient of Dr. Bailey. Dr. Bailey is an African-American resident now deciding between surgery and pediatrics as her specialty. For a number of years she was the doctor supervising those awkward and hormoned up interns. Dr. Bailey is happily married, loves medicine, genuinely cares for her patients, is self-disciplined and centered. In short, Dr. Bailey has a powerful moral compass.

Hers is a life and values worth imitating. She has her own emotional struggles and personal issues, but they grow from being a sensitive human practicing medicine in an imperfect world. Dr. Bailey is a representative of all the fine teaching physicians across America who continue to make this the premier medical system in the world.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Jesus saves!

Why, is he trying to buy a new home? Was he taught to be frugal as a child? When we say someone is saving, it usually has to do with an investment or a collection in order to possess something in the future. Delayed gratification or comfortable retirement come to mind.

When Christians say "Jesus saves," they are referring to his primary mission--to save us from our sins, or more particularly, to rescue us from the consequences of our sins.

The very name Jesus has that meaning, "He shall his people." Philippians 2.1-11 tells us that this is what Jesus was doing when he left the precincts of Heaven to take up residence on Planet Earth. Someone once said, from palace to shack. Someone else once said, from throne room to out house. Nonetheless, Christians do not believe that Jesus came simply to be a great moral teacher and a model of human love. We see Him as the One who restores us to a relationship with God, to remove the stranglehold our sin has upon our lives to make us free to live at peace (in wholeness) with God. We see Him as the Only One who can do this because he was the only one righteous enough to replace our sin with His holiness.

Paul calls this (in 2 Corinthians 5) God being reconciled to us in Christ. As Christians we believe we are agents of reconiliation. We know the consequences of living without God and the joy of living with Him. And that makes Christians dedicated to and passionate about people "being saved." More about this idea in a future post.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Last night there were more than 23 tornadoes in the Midwest. For many years I Iived in the area of that region known as Tornado Alley. It was a place where those monster storms could come roaring through the night capricously reaping destruction. A house would be gone here, a row of trees there, a car dumped four streets over; and a dog house left untouched and unmoved. When the summer days were hot and a cold front started arriving, you began to watch the skies for thunderstorms rolling in. A storm front could easily carry those ominous funnel clouds that would drop to earth in a heartbeat to start a path of destruction.

The irony, however, was that people living in Tornado Alley did not live in fear nor were they preoccupied with the possibility of sudden disaster. By and large you simply went about your daily business in normal ways even in storm season. Anxiety would only make life unbearable. It would drive you to the storm cellars instead of the fields where there was work to be done. Yes, you were alert and yes, you made provisions for a quick trip to shelter when conditions became threatening; but you went about life with confidence and contentment.

The Bible warns us that an anxious spirit is a destructive one. Philippians 4 tells us, "Be anxious about nothing." This is not a Pollyannish naivete. It is a confidence in God's providence and protection and provision. "But in everything with thanksgiving, present your requests you to God, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

A healthy Christian is not anxious. A mature Christian approaches all situations placing their trust in God. This does not mean we are not concerned or careful, but we do not let worry define our lives. We have Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I was getting ready to mail a letter today and the thought struck me that this was near the day the postage rate was going up. It was, so I had to look and see if I had a "forever stamp." I made the comment that they're driving more and more of us to email. The person responding said, "Yeah, if they can't manage delivering a simple letter without needing more and more money ..." Then they added, "You're probably really upset with what they (the government) are doing to Christianity these days."

To be honest, I have paid little attention to the news lately. I have some rumblings through a couple of Facebook acquaintances that there seem to be some government actions that are threatening Christianity, but I haven't investigated them.

And here's the reason ... I don't worry about these things.

No, I'm not naive nor am I apathetic or apolitical. It's just that there is not a whole lot I can always do about these things, and obsessing about the limitations on my Christian witness often drain time and energy and focus from actually witnessing.

Besides, church history clearly teaches that Christianity has thrived in times of its greatest difficulties. The church really didn't start pursuing the Great Commission until they were chased out of Jerusalem by the persecutions to Antioch. There is a tremendous and vibrant church in China today despite 60 years of constant and often virulent attack by Communist governments. The early church turned the world upside down during the years the Roman governments were throwing Christians to the lions.

Our problem in America is that we believe the effectiveness of our witness and the health of the church is dependent upon its acceptance by the culture and the cooperation of the government. The reality is that the ease of our witness and the costlessness of the gospel is dependent upon that acceptance. The power of the Gospel is often weakened by such comfortable, friendly surroundings.

Barak Obama may be the president and antiChristian politicians and institutions may be emboldened to make things tough on Christianity --- but God is still soveriegn.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I want to apologize about a mistake that I made in a scripture passage several days ago. I said that a master is not greater than his slave, when I should have said that a slave is not greater than his master. Jesus uses this statement to try to get His disciples to understand the fact that because they are below Him, they should act as He should. They should follow Him... like a student follows a teacher. He wants them to humble themselves. He wants us to humble ourselves.

However, in another gospel, the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that a leader must be like the servant. (Luke 22) The message of Jesus is very clear. He wants us to humble ourselves as leaders and rulers. Not only do we need to humble ourselves, but we need to have respect for the people and the things that we lead. As far as the creation of God goes, we have a duty to humble ourselves and care for it. But more importantly, we need to humble ourselves and care for people in general. By caring for God's creation and caring for people we are loving God. But the most important part of humbling ourselves is to love God.

I read a post on Dan Kimball's Vintage Faith blog. He was talking about how he encourages postmodern people to become theologians. By this, he means exactly what the word means. We need to become enthralled with the study of God. But it is much more than just studying God, it is about knowing who He is and knowing why He loves us.

We live in a world where people are hurting. If we don't know who God is, do we actually have the ability to share Him with the world? When we focus our minds on God, we begin to know who He is. When we learn who God is, we can better share Him with others.

If you have trouble reading the Bible, take it in small pieces. It is not a race... it is a journey. Get a translation that reads well, like the TNIV, the NLT, or even the Message. Whatever you need to do, do it. Reading the words of God is really the best way to learn who He is. Read the notes in your Bible, just read a verse, read a whole chapter, read a whole book, whatever you need to do to be in the Word. We live by the words of God, the words that come to life. It isn't just the words, it's the action and the meaning of those words.

The Bible doesn't do any good if it just sits on a shelf. At that point it is no different than any other book. But when we pick it up and read it, it gives life, and new meaning to the world around us. Tell me about some of the things that you have read and found intersting! Read on.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 30, 2009 at Thursday, April 30, 2009 and is filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

note from Steve: a couple of you picked up on this "misquote" from the blogger ORANGEFAITH. Rather than personally launching into a response, I thought I'd let you read his response.


Philippians 4.13, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." What does this verse mean to you. Let's start a discussion. Tomorrow I'll tell you what it means to me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


It's Sunday afternoon as I write. Crash time for pastors except when they have to do some pastoring. I am fortunate to serve a church that has very few Sunday afternoon activities so that is often personal time for me. Having poured out almost every ounce of physical and relational energy into my Sunday morning work at the church, it is often best to veg out Sunday afternoon--enjoy a baseball game or golf match on the television, take a nap as I "watch," or play around on the computer. Blogging is actually one of the most "productive" things I choose to do with Sunday afternoons. Since my wife Dianne enjoys a LONG nap Sunday afternoon, I don't even need to concern myself with relating to her. I have spiritual issues with doing yard work and household projects on Sundays, lest I disturb my neighbors or encourage other people's disregard for the Sabbath, so I don't feel guilty that my gutters need cleaning out. There is just a freedom to "waste" time that comes with Sunday afternoons.

Many years ago Ken Prunty described how I feel about Sunday afternoon. He called it "freescence" - the time and the attitude of mind when you are free of the constant responsibility to work, to relate, to feel responsible. He said that was liberating not because it was irresponsible but because it expressed you realization that you can let go at times knowing God is in control. You can bask in the freedom that Christ has given you. Mark Buchanan calls this living out the Sabbath principle of the Bible. What is "lawful" on the sabbath. If it is "necessary" do it in the six days ordained for work. If it is "unnecessary," it has to do with resting your body, restoring your soul, taking a break from your work--then that is what you allow yourself to do on the Sabbath. (It really wasn't NECESSARY to blog, it just is something I felt the "freescence" to do as I waited on the latest report from my fantasy baseball team, the Landisville Sluggers. Time now to return to the MLB website.)


Saturday, May 9, 2009


Chuck Swindoll once said "The family is where life makes up its mind." In God's created order the family is the place where character is formed and a person learns how to live responsibly. It's where a child "learns the way he is to go" and is encouraged to embrace the way for which God has created him. It is the initial place where faith is formed.

There was a time when this was easier. John Westerhoff, in his excellent book Will the Children Have Faith? describes at least six other groups or influences that helped a parent plant and nurture faith in the lives of their children. First on that list was the church. But Westerhoff wrote almost thirty years ago and times have clearly changed. Now the church is the only remaining support to the family in this faith forming responsibility--and because many families have a yet unformed faith themselves--the church may be the only place.

Parents try, but they need all the help and understanding they can get. We're not on Walton's Mountain anymore. That's where a lot of us age 40 and older had our faith formed, in that easier, simpler environment--when families were living in a healthier, less threatened environment. It's also where we learned our "answers" to raising children, many of which no longer work. We're not on Walton's Mountain anymore.

Tomorrow at our 8.15 and 10.45 worship gatherings at the Church of God of Landisville, I am going to share a message on how the church can help families today be sure that their children will have faith. It's titled--you guessed it- "We're Not on Walton's Mountain Anymore."

Directions to the church can be found at the website www.coglandisville.org


A life verse is a passage from the Bible that describes something foundational upon which we build our lives. It is a verse that expresses our outlook on that life and the promise by which we act as a Christian in this world. Mine is this:

"In all things God works for the good of those who love
him and are called according to his purpose."
- Romans 8.28

To paraphrase Capital One, "this is what's in my wallet" that I draw upon to go through each day.

What's in your wallet?

Friday, May 8, 2009


This Sunday we will observe Mother's Day in the church. It is appropriate even if it doesn't really have liturgical significance. Mothers are to be honored according to the Ten Commandments. Good and godly mothers are a particular blessing to us. Not only do they sustain our lives in the womb, but they spend many years helping teach us to be good and godly, helping shape us to become responsible adults. My own mother, Marilyn Dunn, is one of my life hero(ines).

But I also know that Mother's Day is painful. I once had a church member who stayed home that day protesting a "holiday created by Hallmark." That was historically inaccurate hyperbole, but it did reveal a truth. Not every woman can be a mother and her worth as a human being is not diminished because of infertility or even the decision to be childless. And for many, the mother that should be honored is not their biological one, but their spiritual one. There are many woman in the church, who cannot bear children, but are the life-shapers of the biological children of others. They should not be overlooked in the celebration.

Perhaps you'd like to honor a mother by posting a comment on this blog. If not, at least send her flowers or a card or buy her lunch or better yet--tell her how much you appreciate her.


Arlen Specter, senior senator from Pennsylvania, switched parties this past week. He had increasingly earned the dislike of Republican voters in the Commonwealth for positions that were not in keeping with the values of many in that party. Desiring to hold onto his position of power in the Senate, Specter decided to take his fate out of the hands of his party's voters and take his chances with the general population of the state. Pennsylvania is definitely a "blue state" thanks to the voters of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Democrats were elated at this defection. It will give them an evening stronger position from which to govern. I have little doubt that Mr. Specter will keep his parking space at the Capital.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge asked how Specter could make such a move after accepting the support of Republican voters and campaign contributors for more than 20 years. The answer seems less than noble. Specter appears more concerned about Specter than anyone else. His positions, although close to the Democrats, are not identical. There might have been more integrity in declaring himself an Independent, as did former Democrat Joseph Lieberman. He may not be the Benedict Arnold that Republicans view him to be--but any sense of being a great statesman has dimmed quite a bit.

Many years ago in the denomination in which I serve, one of our church's university professors began to espouse theological positions that were clearly at variance with the church. Academic freedom allowed him that right. The irony is that he gained that faculty seat in part by being ordained by the parent denomination. Many thought he should be fired. Many thought he should have been defrocked. He seemed to have no problem claiming the privileges of being one of our pastors without the responsibility to keep his ordination vows to teach the doctrine of the church. He had intellectually "switched sides" but did not take the step of relinquishing the privilege of being called one of our pastors. Given the climate of the school at that time, he would have retained his seat on the faculty. He was a good and respected teacher.

We have the responsibility as people of integrity to be truthful and faithful to the values we hold, especially when we have made a promise to do so. That means that sometimes we must "switch sides." We just need to have the integrity to relinquish the position and privileges that we obtained because of the "original position" we took. Trying to have it both ways smacks of the insincerity that causes people to view all leaders with a jaundiced eye.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


An epidemic of swine flu has broken out, a particularly dangerous and deadly strain. People are quite naturally concerned and taking extra precautions to avoid infection. Politicians are riding the public transportation systems to ease people's fears and to make a statement about the dangers of paranoia. Public health announcements admonish us to be alert and wise. These are good things. Countries are closing their borders to people they think might be dangerous. A group from the School District of Lancaster had to cancel a trip to Japan because their hosts were concerned about such matters. Sometimes caution can also border on insanity.

But there's also a bit of truth we must come to grips with. You cannot totally immunize life against death--certainly not by quarantine or vaccines or medical precautions. Such measures are insurance against accidental infection and thoughtless endangerment. But they are not assurance.

At church yesterday one of my worship leaders asked if we wanted to tell people NOT to shake hands during the greeting time. I said, "Leave it up to their own judgment." We have had similar comments regarding bread taken from a common loaf at communion during previous flu seasons.

In worship or in the practice of our faith, trying to create safe and sterile conditions can easily take the life out of what is done. Somehow we need to sense that God in His supernatural power protects us when we are about our Father's business. The 1st century church captured the respect of Roman when believers cared for plague victims and the elderly that Roman citizens had literally abandoned in the gutters as a public health risk.

I am also reminded of the words of John in Revelation 12 about the overcoming power of believers who "did not love their life so much as to shrink from death."

Let's all pray for the sanity of the Spirit in times like these.