Starting in 1980 I wrote a Christmas story every year for years. This year's edition is entitled "Empty Christmas" The PDF version of the story is available for download below. I hope you will enjoy
Tomorrow begins my 43rd year of involvement with volleyball! Between now and November 4 I have 91 high school and college matches that I am scheduled to officiate. Last week we confirmed that I have a complete tear of the medial meniscus in my right knee, so this year promises to be interesting to say the least.
Today I was just cleaning out my officiating bag and resetting it for the year. Somewhere in the last couple months I've lost my chain for measuring the net, so I had to order one today. My chain is gone!
Last Sunday I spoke from John 9, about a blind man Jesus gave sight. Once he was blind, now he can see. His chains are gone! My chains are gone! I've been set free... if you know the rest, feel free to sing along in your minds!
As someone who spent years working at Asbury College and living in Wilmore, Kentucky, I have watched with interest the events unfolding the last few weeks and all of the commentaries people have been offering. I enjoyed my drive through town last week and it was interesting to see people everywhere, including the woman who almost got hit by a car who went running through the middle of the street without regard for traffic, so she could go hug an an old friend. Fortunately the driver was paying attention and was able to avoid hitting her.
I believe that something unique is happening there. I believe that moments like these can be refreshing and renewing. People from the 1970 revival are coming back and renewing their vision. Young people are getting a glimpse of the the kingdom.
But, I also believe that this event in and of itself will only find real value if lives are truly changed and if in the years ahead those that are there now in this mountain top type experience are living lives transformed by the Spirit of God and making a difference in whatever part of the world God leads them to.
The story feels good now and is encouraging, but the true test and greatest value is not in what happened in the last two weeks or what happens in the next couple. The true test is when we look back years from now and we answer the question, "What difference did this revival have in making disciples of believers and bringing people to Jesus who may never have heard the Good News otherwise?"
Joel 2:8, Acts 1:8, James 2:26, Hebrews 11:1, James 2:17, Ephesians 2:8-10
Do with this incident what you will, but after ruminating on it for a few weeks I believe it must be shared.
In 2017 I worked at Dayton United Methodist Church, Dayton, Indiana (just outside of Lafayette) for a brief time. I enjoyed my time there and met some wonderful people and made some good friends, and am sad it did not last longer. The church has since left the UMC and is now known as Gathering Point Church.
I got invited the weekend of January 20-21 this year to officiate a volleyball tournament in Lafayette. I drove up on Friday and around noon was in Dayton so I decided to go by and see if anyone was in. When I arrived around noon, the door was open so I went int. There was no one in the office so I walked around the building to see if anyone was there. During my time there we had renovated the gym, so I walked back to take a look at it and pray a prayer of thanks for that time.
I continued through the building and past all the offices, but no one was there. I also stopped to use a restroom, and then at the front entrance to wave at the security camera to say hi, and even gave them a thumbs up for what I though was their good mission there, and left.
Later that day there was a phone call from the Dayton police on my phone. The next day the Dayton Police started following the Facebook page of my current church, something they continued to do with a different account for three straight weeks. The Tuesday after my visit I was leaving my house when a Greenwood City police car quickly pulled in and blocked my home driveway. An officer approached my car and said that the Dayton Police wanted me to know if I ever set foot on The Gathering Point property again I would be arrested for trespassing.
I called the current pastor of the church and he said, “I called them and told them to tell you that. I didn’t like that you came to the building. I think you did it one other time years ago when no one was here and that you even left a note.” I just hung up on him.
My thought was, “well duh, I left a note because when I came by NO ONE WAS THERE. This time, although the church was open, NO ONE WAS THERE, so I waved at the cameras and left.”
At the time I had numerous connections on Facebook from that church. I sent them a message that because of the actions of their pastor I would be disconnecting from them unless they still wanted to remain friends. With three exceptions, there was no response at all. We as a people are often apathetic unless it happens to us, I have learned.
One response came that I did like, “Why should I pay for his actions?” I’m still friends with that person.
So why do I share this story? Because we as a church have to be better than that. This world is turning cold and hard, and nothing turns people off to Jesus more than the actions of Christians.
I know I have done things in my life that have not reflected well on Christ, and I can only hope and pray this incident was just a really bad choice by someone who is called to be a church leader and not an indication of deeper problems in that place.
More than anything, I pray that I can learn from his poor example, and not be someone to so poorly represent Christ, and I also pray that when I do fail, that people will see past me to the God of grace and mercy.
IN 1972, 50 years ago, I was a boy growing up in Canton, Ohio. I still have, somewhere, a picture of Mrs. Matthews who was my second grade teacher. She was the one that convinced that I was smart and had a big future ahead. Life was simple then. I road my bike up and down Monica Ave, often to Gary’s house after school. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we watched Ultra Man as he saved the world those days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we watched as Giant Robot and the forces of Unicorn fought against the Gargoyle Gang and the Emperor Guillotine in the same time slot with similar results.
(As an aside, some 50 years later, I am pleased to say that I own all the episodes of both shows, either on DVD or digitally.)
School was fun and came easily. Prairie College Elementary still existed in those days, and we often had arguments in class, and at recess, and at lunch, over who ruled the playground, the boys or the girls. I still remember one day working out a compromise with Lynda Steckman, who represented the girls, after a week of discussion and multiple notes in class, that would allow us to take turns ruling. Everyone agreed it was a great plan.
(Another aside, Congress today could learn a lot from us about how to negotiate things to everyone’s benefit.)
Of course, I also found out in 1972 that I was incredibly stubborn and determined. One day at lunch they served us tomato wedges. I had never eaten tomato wedges, and they did not appeal to me at all, so I decided I would not eat it. Mrs Matthews insisted that I would. I insisted I wouldn’t. We had a standoff. She then told me if I didn’t take at least a bite I would not be allowed to return to class. Talk about motivation to not eat a bite. They left me in the cafeteria. She came back and I was still sitting there. She took the fork, sliced of a piece put it on the fork. I covered it with my napkin. I never went back to class that day. I still have never eaten a bite of a tomato wedge.
The summer of 72 I was going to play baseball on our little league team based out of the school. The start of a Hall of Fame baseball career was in the making. I can still remember how excited I was that I was going to play second base. I wasn’t the most athletic guy in the world then, and I knew it, but somehow, I had made a team and had a place and it was the beginning of something great. That dream fell apart when someone (an adult) forgot to turn in our team roster, and we were not admitted to the league. I think my major league career was totally derailed in that time.
The fall of that year I started third grade. Mrs. Phillips was the teacher. On our street some important things were happening. We had always ridden old bus number 18 to school, but that bus was being phased out and new bus number 28 was brought in. I remember the first day on that busy and how new and modern it was, and how thick the seats were compared to the old one. I shared the bus stop with the three girls from next door and the two from across the street. For a couple weeks we had serious discussions about who was in charge at the bus stop each morning, and we finally agreed it should be in age order. I was fourth on the list, so I was prepared to bide my time to be in control, not even aware that a year later we would be moving away.
My parents had multitudes of friends it seemed, and on Fridays and Saturdays would take us in the car and we’d go to one of their friends’ houses, have supper, hang out with their kids, and then they’d put all us kids to bed around 8 pm. They would warn us not to get out of bed and to go sleep, and they would always separate us into different rooms.
Then they would go to the other room, or downstairs, depending on the house, get out the card table and play cards for hours, making so much noise we could never sleep. They’d check on us every now and then to make sure we were where they put us. Often, we were at the house of mom’s lifetime school friend Deloris. They had grown up together and gotten into trouble together for years. She and her husband Jim were great friends with mom and dad, and their kids were fun to hang out with.
(Aside number three, Mom and Deloris both passed away a little over a year ago just a few months apart, friends for almost 70 years)
So in 1972, 50 years ago, I learned things about heroes saving us from monsters and heroes, and about teachers who had lifetime impact. In that year I learned about compromise and working together. I see now that I learned that being a guy meant I had to respect girls. I learned that some friends last a lifetime, like mom and Deloris.
One other thing happened in 1972 that changed my life. Dick Carpenter was Minister of North Industry Christian Church. As he was speaking one day, the truth of Jesus hit my young heart. On May 7 of that year I was baptized as a believer. Over the years I’ve failed to live up to the faith confession more times than just about anyone I know. I’ve often struggled with doubts, even in years in ministry. Yet, here I am 50 years later, and I am even more sure than I was that day in 1972. Thing is, God has never faltered in that time.
Fifty years later, I am beyond grateful for 1972.
Life has been filled with so many different emotions and occurrences lately for me, as I am sure it has been for everyone. I have some strong and definite opinions about things that are going on in this country, but at the root of it all I know we have a need for Jesus.
I recently had a place that I have long loved and cherished, and a place I gave 11 years of my life, do something that hurt me to the very core, and they did so without remorse or explanation. I struggle with that, and I know that sooner or later I will need the mercy that can only be found in Jesus.
People have been brought into my life recently that have great physical and material needs for basics, such as food, and it has been a blessing to be part of helping those situation, but ultimately, at the core, they need Jesus.
So, two things happened recently that reminded me how we need to stay grounded in faith.
A church in another part of the country reached out to me about possibly coming there to serve as their executive pastor. They sought me out through a mutual connection convinced that my gifts and skill set were what they needed. Part of that position included being part of the church's teaching team. They got back to me a few weeks later after watching some of the recent sermons. The comment was this, "Your preaching style isn't what our people are used to. You use a lot of scripture in your teaching."
Let that sink in a little. A church no longer was interested in me, because my style of sharing God's word is to actually use God's word, read God's word, and see what lessons from God's word apply to us today. I find that I stand unapologetic for that, and sorry for them that they will be spending their money to bring in someone who doesn't do that.
Also, today as I was updating the website I realized that the way we have set the camera angle for Sunday mornings, whenever I am speaking, the cross on the wall of our church can be seen clearly over me. I am doing all of my sharing of the Gospel under the shadow of the cross.
So, Here are a couple things:
We stand fully and completely on the word of God.
We do all that we do, in the shadow of the Cross.
I am good with those things.
The summer of 1971 was the one that changed everything. Ohio, America’s heartland, had been shattered by the surprising shooting at Kent State, and the Vietnam war was threatening to rip the very fabric of America. But I was unaware of any of that. It wasn’t until years later that I even began to understand what Vietnam was all about. The world was coming apart around me without my knowledge in 1971, so it seems only fitting that my world would also be ripped that year.
My life was changed forever by a lady known as The Blue Streak. She entered the world the same year I did, 1964, so it seems inevitable that our lives would be destined to cross. When she was presented to the public that year you could hear the collective gasp as people saw her for the first time. Few babies ever entered the world with such anticipation and astonishment. The years have passed now, dimming the luster and the memory of that moment, but for a brief time she was hailed as something special, the biggest, fastest, meanest wooden lady ever. Each year my family would make it’s pilgrimage to the shores of Lake Erie, to the great amusement park that still looms larger than all of them in my memory. Cedar Point, aged like Abraham and Sarah, had stood for some 94 years before giving birth to that special lady who would always be part of my life. An anticipatory pride filled the air with the arrival of the new child, and in those early years she was revered by all.
By today’s standards she’s nothing special, an old worn out relic of 57 years, but it was her freshness, her presence and her daring that breathed life for all who would come after. Now as the years have passed there is a revived interest in the simplistic endurance she has displayed.
Each year as we made our way to the park I would beg my father to let me ride that fearsome coaster. I was just a boy, a mere child, but inside there was a fire burning, longing to show I was a man, and that passion found its mark in the Blue Streak. She was a thing of exquisite beauty and as I watched year after year the happy faces of those who would board her with such glee and leave her breathless with excitement, I fell in love. My life revolved around the day I would be able to join her on the magic ride and feel the joy and love she would give me. But I was always too small, never quite reaching that required minimum height. My physical size seemed to be all that stood between me and happiness.
Finally, the day arrived. The lady and I were both seven years old. She had not grown any in those years, except in terms of reputation, but I had grown, and my day had come. We, my father and I, got in line and waited for what seemed like eternity. The moment arrived as we reached the front of the line. The great Blue car roared into where we waited. I watched in amazement as the bars released allowing her passengers to disembark, and opening the way for me to enter the place I had always dreamed of. The gates swung open, and I was barely even aware of my father next to me as we sat down.
After that I don’t remember much in the way of details. For some reason I have blocked it almost entirely from my mind. Occasionally I get vague images of us riding to the top of that first hill and reaching the crest, but the rest will not come to me. What I do remember is that when the ride ended I scrambled as quickly as I could to leave my seat, forgetting my father. Running down the exit ramp I could be heard screaming at the top of my lungs as I tried to get away from that dreadful beast.
The only thing that remains with me from that ride after all these years is simply this: Fear. Fear caused by the fact the thing I had wanted more than any had tossed me about in a way I had never conceived of, caring not how I felt as we hurtled through space together. As I child I don’t ever remember fear prior to my encounter with the Blue Streak. I remember jealousy as my sister was born when I was four, and pain when I slammed my thumb in the church door at age two, and I remember disappointment in missing the fire a school in the first grade because I was having my tonsils out. But prior to 1971 fear, unadulterated terror, and a world that could toss you about so mercilessly was alien to me. The Blue streak gave me that fear, and fear has never left me.
50 years later I’m not afraid of the Blue Streak anymore. Until the day my health said I could not ride anymore, I’ve ridden bigger and faster coasters, been turned upside down until I thought I was going to vomit. And found joy in the ride.
I even went back to that place and conquered the Blue Streak, but never have I come close to regaining the innocence I held when I first took the step of becoming part of her. I had looked at her with all the love and passion a seven year old child could muster. She was waiting for me patiently for those seven years until I grew to the point where I could ride her and when I came to her I knew she was going to bring me joy. But I was wrong, physical growth had not prepared me for the emotional ride, and as I plummeted down that first hill, not only was my stomach ripped away, so was my heart. She had betrayed me, or had she?
There never had been any promise that the journey would be smooth. In fact if I had paid attention even as I child I would have noticed that there were twists and turns, peaks and valleys, changes speeds. I would have seen that sometimes there would be long slow chugs to the top of the hill and the experience of being on top of the world, only to be followed by an intense plummet that took your stomach away.
In fact the only promise I can see, all this years later, was the promise that if I got on board and road the ride, then she would be under me, supporting me all the way to the very end of the journey.
Original Version: October 23, 1995
Revised: July 24, 2021
For the last few weeks during services we have been doing a series entitled Seeing Jesus: Stories from the Road that is all about how and where we see Jesus in the everyday of our lives. For me I have had the opportunity to retell some of my favorite stories. Many of these stories, now told in retrospect, make people laugh and smile. Hopefully in the midst of them they have also seen the presence of Jesus.
This journey we are all on passes quickly. A couple years ago I realized I had more Christmases behind me than I had in front of me. The same is true for birthdays. We blink and in a moment our babies are 16, or as is the case for many of my friends, their babies have babies.
I was reading a little in James this week and came across this verse:
whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life, It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. James 4:14 NKJV
I was reminded how short and fleeting all of this is, but then I also remembered this verse:
But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:7 NKJV
Now for some of us it is easier to count the hairs on our head than it is for others, but God reminds us not to worry about life and even the shortness of it, he knows every part of creation, and we are more valuable than any part of it. We are to simply enjoy the journey and to see his incredible guiding hand in all that we are and all that we do.