Writings and ramblings about life, God, faith.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022



Every year, on Ash Wednesday, many believers enter their church to take part in a ritual that has been performed for many centuries. The minister dips their thumb or finger into a bowl filled with black, powdery ashes and makes a sooty sign of the cross on each believer's forehead or hand. As they do so, they remind each person individually of their own mortality by saying the words God said to Adam in the Garden long ago—"remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 2:7).  This ritual foretelling our ultimate future connects us with our ancient past. From the beginning of time all of humankind suffers the same inevitable end.

If you happen to live in a house with a basement that has windows, on some bright, sunny day descend into this underworld without turning on the light. (We're talking storage basement here, not family room.)  Look at the sunlight penetrating the semi-darkness through the windows. There, in the sunbeams. Can you see it? If you're in my basement you can't miss it. Dust. 

Within the beam of light, the dust floats, constantly moving, never ceasing. Dust that is visible only because of the illuminating light. And, amazingly, it is transformed by the light. It sparkles. It glitters. It dances and leaps. Though it may not compare to "The Nutcracker Ballet", I have sometimes stopped what I was doing simply to watch the dust dance.

I remember one time when my family and I sat in the balcony of a school auditorium waiting for a play to begin. My daughter, Abby, eight years old at the time, looked over at the spotlight beams shining from the projection booth just beside us.

"Look, Daddy, you can see the dust floating in the light," she said. Never stop looking for the simple joys in life, little girl, I thought, as I sat mesmerized by yet another performance of the dust dance.

 This time I noticed something I hadn't observed before: maybe it was the air currents in the auditorium but in its waltz through the light the dust mostly moved upward. I watched the dance for several minutes, tracking each particle's ascent until it reached the limit of the beam. Then, it disappeared into the darkness.

Without light dust is invisible, unless it accumulates on a table where I can write my name in it. But then it is dull, gray, still. There is no dance. There is no reason to stop and watch. It doesn't sparkle or glitter or leap. It certainly doesn't mesmerize. It is lifeless, good for nothing more than to be swept off the table, or at least pushed around from one spot to the next.

But look! As some dust falls, escaping the clutches of the dirty rag, it is caught by a sun beam and magically becomes a glittering, sparkling jewel, dancing and leaping as it is transformed by the light that transports it aloft.

Perhaps that explains why believers in Christ continue to line up at the altar rail on Ash Wednesday year after year. We don't mind being reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. 

We are not afraid of death, for we know that because we have the Light of Jesus within us, our dust in the end will be caught up in his Light, transformed by his Light, and we will ascend - glittering, sparkling, dancing, and leaping for joy - in the presence of the Light that created our dust and gives us life eternal.

Sunday, September 5, 2021


 "The first duty of love is to listen"—Paul Tillich

If I love someone I will listen to them. If I love God, I will listen to God. If I love my spouse, I will listen to my spouse.

To listen—truly listen—I must pay attention to them. For that moment I must put aside myself, my own thoughts, my own worries. I must focus on their words and not the words jangling around in my head. 

If I listen closely enough, I might even hear God's whisper.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


The parking lot was empty, and for that I was grateful. I had come to the neighborhood park for my lunch break. After a morning of chaos at work, I needed to renew my soul, and I couldn't think of a better way to do that than to surround myself with God's creation in solitude. A park bench situated on a hill overlooking a grassy area shaded by maples, pines, and dogwoods looked like a perfect spot.

I grabbed my lunch and Bible from the front seat of my car, got out, and walked over. The bench warmed my legs as I sat down. I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun. Taking a few deep breaths to calm my spirit, I thanked God for my food and asked him to open my heart and mind as I read his word.

I pulled my sandwich out of its bag and took a bite as I opened my Bible to the Psalms. The word "psalm" comes from the Greek word psalmos, meaning "a poem sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments."

Since the book of Psalms is essentially the prayer book of the Bible, it contains some of the most beloved writing in God's word. The emotions expressed in the Psalms run the gamut from joy to sorrow, exultation to despair, anger and disappointment to happiness and peace.

When most people think of the Psalms, however, what usually comes to mind is peaceful praise, making it the perfect book to calm one's soul and foster a reverent attitude.

I tried not to let crumbs fall onto the pages as I munched and began reading Psalm 119, the longest of the Psalms. A reference note in my Bible informed me that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem, and is the most elaborate of the nine acrostic Psalms. (The others are Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, and 145.)

An acrostic poem is one in which each line begins with successive letters of the alphabet in order. Psalm 119 is composed of 22 sections of eight lines each, with each line of a section beginning with the Hebrew letter corresponding to that section. For example, all eight verses of the first section begin with the letter aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All eight verses of the second section begin with beth, the second letter; and so on, through all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

What a neat way to write a poem, I thought. Enjoying writing poetry myself, I thought I'd give it a try. I finished my sandwich and began chewing on carrots as I wrote in my notebook: All my days I will praise the Lord.

Well, that was easy. What about "B"? Because he is my refuge and strength, I will sing his praises forever.

Hey, not too bad. What will I do, though, when I get to letters like "Q" and "X" and "Z"? I guess I will just keep writing and see what comes out.

I got as far as the letter "F" and realized that "F" might stand for "fired" if I didn't get back to work. I gathered my things and headed back to my car.

Over the next few weeks, during lunch, I continued to work on my acrostic psalm. First, I read a couple of psalms for inspiration. Then, I meditated on my readings, and stilled my mind and heart enough to listen to God's whispers. Finally, I wrote down my feelings about God, letting his Spirit guide me in the process. I never failed to return to work refreshed and renewed for the rest of the day. My only regret was that I couldn't linger longer with my Lord.

After several weeks I completed my acrostic psalm. I encourage you to write your own psalm, in whatever manner you wish. Make it an acrostic psalm, or begin every line with the same letter, or with the last letter of the previous line. Or, stay away from the cute and fancy altogether, and just write what is in your heart.

However you decide to write it, know that quietness and solitude are most conducive to psalm writing. It is difficult to communicate with God when life's distractions surround you.

So, grab a pen and notebook (or your laptop), find a secluded spot outside your home or office, and spend some intimate moments with God, praising him for his blessings and for his goodness.

All my days I will praise the Lord;
Because he is my refuge and strength, I will sing his praises forever.
Come, all who trust in God, and join in praise to him.
Delight yourself in his law, for his word is sure.
Eternal and steadfast are the statutes of our God,
Forever leading his people in the direction they should go.
Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise.
He is our rock, our fortress, and our redeemer;
In him is our trust and our hope for all our days.
Just as all creation sings his praise, let us with our lips shout to God on high.
Knowledge and wisdom, blessing and honor, power and strength belong to you, O God.
Like a father loves his children, so the Lord blesses all those who love him.
Mercy is in your right hand, grace in your left—a double portion of love for your sons and daughters.
No temptation shall conquer us, not trouble overcome those whose trust is in the Lord.
Oh great God, with whom can we compare you?
Patiently you lead your children;
Quietly you speak to us in whispers of love,
Revealing to us your infinite compassion.
Softly and gently, as a mother hen gathers her chicks, you draw us close to your breast,
Tenderly holding our fragile lives in your everlasting arms of love.
Unto you, O Lord, our refuge and strength, we lift our hymns of praise;
Voices join with harp and lyre, trumpet and flute, to magnify your name.
Wondrous are your works and the gifts from your hands.
Xeroxing a thousand copies of every poem, every song, every word ever written to praise your name would never be enough to show our love for you.
Your name is above all names, for you are matchless in power, unparalleled in mercy, the height of love, the
Zenith of wisdom and grace, to whom be all glory and honor forever and ever.

This piece first appeared in Positive Thinking, November 2002, published by Peale Center for Christian Living

Friday, August 2, 2019


 Image result for Greeting Card model

Seen on a greeting card:

What is success?

Setting goals, but not in concrete.

Staying focused, but turning aside to help someone.

Following a plan, but remaining flexible.

Moving ahead, but not too fast to smell the flowers.

Taking a bow, but applauding those who had a part in your success.

THAT is success.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


One never knows when or where God may put a person in your path that could impact the lives of both of you. Or at least make your day a bit brighter.

I didn't want to start my day with a re-check on a patient's prescription, especially one who had just walked in five minutes after I arrived at the office. But what a great start to my day it turned out to be. Thank you, God, for bringing that patient into my life.

She was such a happy, charming, funny person I would never have guessed that she had 26 surgeries in the past 30 years or so, mostly for colitis and other GI issues. But in the course of talking to her she mentioned that her troubles are for the glory of God, because she uses them to talk to others about God and his faithfulness to her in spite of her trials. She mentioned that she's ready to be with God any time because she loves him so much.

I said, "I say the same thing to people, too. I know where I'm going so I'm ready any time. Like Paul says—"To live is Christ; to die is even better." If God has more for me to do here, great, but I'm ready to be with him any time."

Her expression changed as I was talking, and tears formed in her eyes. I'm sure she wasn't expecting her eye doctor to say such a thing. She said, "Oh, I'm so glad God brought us together today. I needed this so much. I needed to hear that. Who would have thought I would have found such hope from my eye appointment?"

We talked more about her church experiences. She loves the Lord but has been essentially shut out of churches because of being gay. She was very involved in a church for four years, singing with their worship band. She mentioned that she is "an awesome musician and gifted songwriter", and she wanted to lead the worship band but the church leaders would not let her because of her lifestyle.

"I haven't dated in 10 years," she said, "but that didn't matter. Being gay goes against their teachings. So, I left the church. But I need to be part of a church. I need the support of others in my faith, and it helps me learn more about God."

I was able to tell her about the United Church of Christ, which welcomes all people, including gays. The slogan of the UCC is, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." Some of the UCC congregations are Open and Affirming, meaning they have gone through a two-year process to talk about homosexuality and spirituality and have voted as a congregation to welcome gays without judgment, even agreeing to marry them in the church. She said, "I'll have to check it out. Going to Reading may be worth the drive."

She again expressed how happy she was about our encounter. "I'm so glad I met you," she said.

"Well, this was a wonderful way to start my day," I replied.

She started to cry and said,"You've given me such hope." I reached out and gave her a hug.

Both of us had our faith strengthened and our joy renewed from a "chance" encounter that God knew all along would happen.

Thank you, God, for the people you put in our path, some of whom are the least expected to be part of your kingdom.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


When the rains of life beat upon you, when tragedies come, when trials get you down and you wonder where God is through it all, listen closely, and you may hear God's beating heart as he enfolds you in his arms and whispers to you, "I love you. And nothing will ever stop me from loving you."

"I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, NLT)

Sunday, January 11, 2015


William Self, in a book called Defining Moments, relates the story of a "Middle Eastern prince who fell in love with a beautiful peasant girl. Eventually he proposed marriage and she accepted. Such an event should be marked by a gift of rare beauty, so he searched the empire for the most beautiful diamond to give to her. Obviously, the most beautiful diamond demanded a specific box of rare beauty for the presentation of the precious gem. For this he commissioned the royal cabinetmakers to make the most beautiful box in the kingdom for the diamond.

"On the day the diamond was to be presented, appropriate servants, horsemen, and soldiers were summoned to march in the entourage to the peasant girl's cottage. The neighbors and family gathered as they approached. When the prince presented the kingdom's most beautiful diamond, nestled in the kingdom's most beautiful box, they were amazed and awed at the spectacle. The peasant girl studied the gift at length, and then startled the crowd by discarding the diamond and keeping the beautiful box."

William Self writes, "This is not unlike what we have done with the miraculous story of the creation given to us in our text [from Genesis]. We have spent our days debating the scientific inadequacies of the story. We have completely missed the beauty of the gift that God has given us in this great story." (William Self, Defining Moments: First Lesson Sermons for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, cycle B, c 1999, CSS Publishing Co., Lima, OH, p. 61)

The Biblical story of creation is a great story. And I am not here to debate the scientific inadequacies of the story or try to prove how God created the world or how long it took. I don't care if it took God six literal days or six billion years. The Bible is not a scientific text; it is a book of faith.

The Bible is not answering how—how the earth was created or how long it took; it is answering who—God.

In the beginning God…

God was in the beginning.

And the Bible is answering what.

What did God create? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Specifically, God created the universe.

But more generally, God created order out of chaos. The earth was formless and void. Peterson describes it this way in The Message: "Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God's Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss."

And then God took that nothingness, that emptiness, and created a world out of it. He dispelled the blackness by simply speaking, "Let there be light," and there was light.

I will put forth a little evidence, so to speak, in support of it being a creation and not just an accident.

Stephen Hawking, the eminent physicist, admits that if the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had varied by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed. If the nuclear force in certain atoms varied by only a few percentage points then the sun and stars would not exist.

Life on earth today depends on similarly delicate fine-tuning: a tiny change in gravity, a slight tilting of the earth's axis, or a small thickening in its crust would make conditions for life impossible.

Confronted with the staggering odds against random existence, Richard Dawkins, one of the world's most famous atheists, simply shrugs and says, "Well, we're here, aren't we?" (Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace)

Yes, we are here. But why?
That is perhaps the most important question the Bible answers.  

Why? Why did God create?
Why did God go to all the trouble to create the world and everything, including us, in it?

Because of love.
Because God is love.  That is the whole reason for all of creation. Love cannot exist without somebody to receive it.
God needed somebody to love.

While I was writing this I kept thinking of that old Queen song, Somebody To Love. Some of you know that song and now that I mention it, it is probably going through your head, isn't it?

Somebody…somebody…Can anybody find me somebody to love?

Maybe that's what God was thinking when God was all alone in the beginning. God was thinking, "What am I going to do with all this love that I have? I need somebody to love. But there is nobody. So I will create somebody to love."

But God also knew that the somebody that God created would need a world to live in, so God had to first create the world for the objects of his love to live in.

All of creation came about because God needed somebody to love, and God wanted somebody to love God in return. We are not only part of the story of creation, we are the whole point of the story of creation.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, paraphrases Ephesians 1: 4 this way: "Long before [God] laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love."

Long before God created the world, God was already thinking of us and loving us. We are, and always have been, the main reason for God's creation.

I took a look at the lyrics for that song, because I really know only the chorus part that has been buzzing in my head for the past three days as I was writing this. And I was surprised to find that it is really a prayer, or a conversation with God. But it is really a depressing song. They dress it up in a catchy, infectious, upbeat tempo, and the great harmonies that Queen is known for, but the words are sad.
Each mornin' I get up I die a little
Can barely stand on my feet
Take a look in the mirror and cry
Lord what you're doing to me
I have spent all my years believin' you
But I just can't get no relief, Lord
Somebody, somebody
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
I work hard every day of my life
I work till I ache my bones
At the end I take home my hard earned pay all on my own
I get down on my knees
And I start to pray
Till the tears run down from my eyes
Lord, somebody, ooh, somebody
Can anybody find me, somebody to love?

I thought, if you're looking for somebody to love, how about the One you are praying to, who loves you more than anything, and is also the One who wants your love in return more than anything?

Look around at this world. Look at the beauty, the artistry, the grandeur. It is all for you. God created all of this for you. God loved us so much that he literally gave us the world.

It always amazes me that the God who created this vast universe would love me.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 8, which includes these verses: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. (NRSV)

I have read that there are over 350 billion—BILLION—galaxies. A God that powerful loves me and loves you.

And think of the other end of the spectrum, the tiny, intricate workings of our bodies, with everything going along like clockwork. The atoms and molecules that we can't see but that are always there. Incredible!

"Did you know that a caterpillar has 228 separate and distinct muscles in its head? That's quite a few, for a bug. The average elm tree has approximately 6 million leaves on it. And your own heart generates enough pressure as it pumps blood throughout your body that it could squirt blood up to 30 feet. (I've never tried this, and I don't recommend it.)" (Francis Chan, Crazy Love)

And the God that designed all that loves us. Amazing. Amazing love.

If God loves you so much that he thought of you before he even created anything, and if the main reason God created was to have somebody to love, do you think maybe God wants to be a part of your life?

And if God can create order out of chaos, what do you think God can do with your life?  

 If God can fill the bottomless emptiness at creation, don't you think God can create new life within you?

The Spirit that brooded over the waters at creation is the same Spirit that came down on Jesus at his baptism, and it's the same Spirit that comes to us at our baptism, and dwells within us throughout our lives.

That voice that spoke everything into being is the same voice that said to Jesus, "You are my beloved son."

And it's that same voice that says to us, "You are my beloved." God says to every one of us, "You are my beloved child."

That is amazing love. Don't ever think that you can't find somebody to love because there is one who loves you so much that he created the world for you. God loves you so much that he would give you the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything in between.

May you know the amazing, incredible, incomprehensible love of God. And may it create new life within you.