Handwriting on the Wall

The hand was just behind the lampstand, and the king could see it writing. He was so frightened that his face turned pale, his knees started shaking, and his legs became weak. ~Daniel 5:5b, 6

I had some dreams and visions while I was asleep one night, and I wrote them down.
~Daniel 7:2

Twenty-five weeks ago something miraculous happened. My daughter and my son-in-law conspired to conceive our first grandchild, a boy to be named Henry once he makes his appearance in our world sometime in late July.

A part of this miracle is that my daughter, who suffers from Lupus, was told that it would be very difficult to conceive and next to impossible without the help of modern medical science. They had visited one of the very best fertility specialists in Houston and they were just about to commence with the first protocol to make the impossible possible. Once the doctor learned the news that without his know-how a baby was on its way, this marketing specialist asked my daughter if she would tell her friends that she had merely walked across the threshold of his office and had become pregnant.

Last week, at twenty-four weeks, Henry became viable. In other words, if he were born prematurely he could survive, with medical assistance, and eventually lead a healthy and normal life, barring any complications. This was particularly exciting to me since I have been praying for Henry since I heard of his conception. In fact, the week that I heard I had a dream. I dreamt that this young man, our grandson, was taking my wife and me on a tour of a place already familiar to us but a place that is dear and special to our family. It obviously had become the same to him as an around fourteen year-old boy in my dream. I knew then that that baby was a boy and about ten weeks later it was confirmed.

I pray for Henry everyday. I pray for his health. I pray for his life once he is born. I pray for his safety and I pray for the young man and man that he will eventually become. I pray that he does not make the same errors that I have made and most of all I pray that he will be a passionate follower of Jesus, the Christ and Savior of us all.

The joy of Henry’s impending birth has been transforming us as will his life to our entire family. Yet, early this morning I woke up thinking of the millions of children that our modern society has murdered through abortion. I also thought of the millions of childless couples who suffer the loneliness and grief of an empty nest too early in their lives.

Something is wrong here. It is not just wrong but it is akin to the evil that has caused unspeakable atrocities during the history of mankind. Genocides and holocausts have come from the likes of this evil. For a time, these have seemed right to those who perpetrated them but eventually they were uncovered and literally unearthed as some of the most chilling acts of violence imaginable. That is what modern-day abortion is all about.

Our forward thinking and modern society justifies it by playing a game with us. First, the unborn baby is renamed tissue. Second, individual choice is made an idol and placed far above the sanctity of life. Third, those that disagree with the first two are shunned and ridiculed by intelligent and modern thinkers. Strangely, this formula sounds like one that took root in northern Europe less than one hundred years ago. As a culture we refuse to make that connection though. How deep this evil runs in our humanity that we repeat the atrocities of the past without remorse.

The image that will probably be the most appropriate one for our society is that of the red plastic desktop “Easy” button that has been popularized by an office supply retailer. You press and it and it responds with the words “That was easy.” We want the solutions to our problems to be just that, easy. We have divorced ourselves from all moral and spiritual moorings on a voyage that is real and treacherous. Yet, we really do not want to find our way for it too difficult. We prefer easy and quick solutions to deep and complex realities about ourselves and about others.

Maybe Henry can help us find the way. Maybe all of those children snuffed out of this life through abortion could have helped.

Plowing…..

I clipped this out of Smithsonian magazine a few years ago. I love the way it is written, the words and the pace, and I love what it says about life and faith….

“…..I live on a beautiful, difficult, windblown farm, and I have an old John Deere tractor. Starting it at 20 below takes the patience of Mr. Rogers. And yet, when it snows you must somehow coax the ice-cold engine to life and then you plow. When you’ve plowed and think you’re done, you put the tractor away, and it snows again. And then you have to plow again, and then it snows again. But the lesson I have learned is that if you keep on plowing after each snow, eventually you will get to spring.”

A tribute to Don Parker

Death truly is the equalizer of all men. Sometimes it provides us mortals a little insight into coming attractions of that judgment to come.

This week, the week before Memorial Day, a friend of mine, a man who I have not known well but who I have had the privilege of knowing through his daughter, through his good friends and through his faithful service to others, died in a very tragic bicycle accident as he was riding his bike to work one morning. A truck swerved on a Pittsburgh road and Don Parker’s life ended. At 52 he left behind his wife of twenty-nine years and three children.

I write this in part as a tribute to Don and in part as an observation on what truly makes men and women great, makes them people whose influence and whose life provide value and fodder for generations to come. I believe that Don was one of those people.

For several decades now I have been employed as a fundraiser, someone who works to raise money on behalf of charitable organizations. One of the greatest benefits of this work has been that it has made me a fairly keen observer of people. You need to become a keen observer to understand what will motivate someone to part with their riches, in my profession those riches are most often merely monetary.

A couple of years ago I attended the funeral service of one of philanthropy’s blue bloods at one of those blue blood churches in Pittsburgh. It was a very sad event for two reasons. First, although maybe 300 people filled this oversized, gothic and dark church on the Eastside no one seemed to really know the person who had died. Second, most of them, as educated and prominent as one would believe them to be, did not have the slightest clue of what to at a funeral service. The readings and the hymns were foreign to them. My sense was that they attended not to “pay their respects” but to be seen and to network with others who might have the same size bank account as the decedent or at least had access to such. That is why I was there as a fundraiser.

Saturday was Don’s viewing and yesterday was the memorial service. Over 500 people attended the memorial service and countless streamed through King Funeral Home on Saturday over a five-hour period of time. The service was held at the auditorium-style Christian and Missionary Alliance Church on the Northside. People clutched tissues in their hand, moist eyes and not so private expressions of sorrow were evident everywhere. It was very evident that every last person who attended either of these memorials knew Don and that Don had touched their life in a significant way.

I woke up this morning thinking about who was the greater of these two men. It was clear to me. Although Don had not attended the private New England preparatory school nor the ivy league university, he was a Penn State graduate, he had truly invested his life into the lives of others in a way that the Eastside man had not. I would venture to say that the money that the other man had provided through gifts and grants was most likely a wasted investment and that it only served to make him and those associated with him feel important and powerful.

Don Parker was not that kind of “great” man. He was a man who took great pride in others. For years, many years beyond his own son’s involvement in the program, Don volunteered with the Boys Brigade program at his church. This is a program that provides boys, many of them fatherless boys, with adult role models who share with them their commitment to faith, service and leadership. Don gave his time unselfishly to Brigade, to serving as a deacon and as an elder at Church.

He worked as a manager at the same company for 28 years and was genuinely loved by his co-workers. In fact, his passion for biking grew out of his commitment to one of his co-workers who was diagnosed with muscular sclerosis a few years ago. Don organized a team to ride the MS150 from Pittsburgh to Erie each year in support and honor of his co-worker. An eight-mile silent bicycle ride is being held today, Memorial Day, in remembrance of Don.

And, yes, his family; it was mentioned this weekend that Don walked with his wife, Jan, every morning and as they walked they prayed together. He loved to have his children’s friends over for barbecue and game nights. I can recall numerous occasions pulling into his driveway to drop-off or pick-up my daughter, a friend of his oldest daughter. He loved his wife and his children and he loved what they loved too.

One of the things that probably made Don one of the greatest men I have known was his quiet and servant spirit, not to mention his warm and genuine smile and greeting toward all. He was not a man who was, nor had to be, “front and center.” He was a man who served others, listened intently to others, loved others and loved God, a true follower of Jesus. On countless occasions I would encounter him waiting for one of his children or for his wife in the lobby at church and he always had a smile on his face and he greeted me with a warm handshake and hello. I will miss that and will think of him as I walk through that lobby from now on.

Jesus was correct when he said that “the last shall be first.” Don Parker was one of those great men who put himself last and the people who had the privilege of knowing him will be the ones that will push him to the front of the line at the Judgment and say “No, Don, you go first, Jesus has something to say to you.” Then they will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Ten Untruths that Our Culture tells us Are True

1. That people who believe in Jesus Christ; his life, death, resurrection and his continuing work in and through the Holy Spirit are not to be trusted and are not intelligent people.

2. That the college or university that you attend or those schools you are admitted to determine how intelligent you are and how successful you will be in life.

3. That our current culture, body of knowledge and ideas are actually more advanced than culture, knowledge and ideas that preceded this current age.

4. That there are no absolutes except that there are no absolutes.

5. That each individual is his/her own final authority.

6. That men and women are interchangeable and all gender identity is culturally determined.

7. That the only people who are talented, smart or of value are those who are “beautiful” as defined by their physical appearance, political affiliation, environmental perspective, views on “choice,” celebrity status, etc.

8. That all cultures are good, they are just all different from one another.

9. That the correct political system or party will solve all of our country’s and possibly the world’s problems.

10. That God is not personal and that He is silent.

A Wonderful Sermon

Actually, I would call this one of the best sermons I have heard.

I attend an urban church in Pittsburgh that has grown from an all-white congregation of 300 people who were ready to flee to the suburbs in 1983. Today it is a broadly diverse (economic, racial and politcal) congregation of 2500+ who attend each weekend. My family and I have worshipped there since we moved to Pittsburgh thirteen years ago. Actually, the weekend my wife and I were in town for my job interview and that I was offered the job we would move for, was the first time we visited this church. At that time, I was undecided whether or not I wanted to take this particular job. Midway through the service I turned to my wife and said, “Susan, I am taking the job here in Pittsburgh because I really want to worship here every week.” She agreed with me and that was two jobs ago!

This morning, the part-time pastor for adult ministries preached. He is a very bright college graduate and has no advanced or seminary degree. The sermon moved me profoundly. I hope that you enjoy and benefit from it as much as I did.

The Sermon is entitled “The Beautiful Feet”

My Cactus Addiction

A few of my cacti and succulents

A few of my cacti and succulents

I have an addiction. To cacti and succulent type plants. I have attempted to explain why to friends and family. I think some understand or maybe they just humor me with a smile and a nod as I give them my rationale for collecting cacti when I live in western Pennsylvania. Oh well, this is a photograph of a part of my collection. By the way, my wife has outlawed me from bringing home any more cacti.

Akeelah and the Bee

What did you do for New Year’s Eve? I watched a movie I had not seen for a couple of years, maybe even a little longer; Akeelah and the Bee. If any of you have seen it you might wonder why a fifty-two year old might be writing about this very G-rated and family friendly movie about a spelling bee, or you might not, because you have seen the movie.

It is one of those movies that chokes me up a little. It is about a little girl who against the odds wins a national spelling bee. Better yet, it is about a little girl who teaches others to hope and to dream. As the credits ran at the end of the movie tonight (if you attend a movie with me that moves me you will know you must sit through the entire credit listing–my way of honoring those who helped to produce something good) I thought about what made this such a good movie for me. After I first viewed it a few years ago I remember badgering my staff to go see the movie. I remember that I wanted everyone who I valued and respected to see this movie because it captures those three essentials that make us all so human, so wonderful and so glory-filled; faith, hope and love.

Those three things keep us persisting in life, they keep us from giving up and becoming cynical. I have a friend who I met with for a beer yesterday after work. He plays the cynical game with me. You know, poo-pooing any and all of my playful ventures and ideas (in the sense of play as C.S. Lewis describes in his sermon The Weight of Glory). I often call him a cynic to his face and he laughs at me and I laugh back. My optimism and over a decade of seniority on him tells me that beneath that thin cynical veneer that he is, or at least he longs to be, filled with the same faith, hope and love as Akeelah and me!

So, enough said this year about Akeelah and the Bee. Go watch it and then come back and tell me what you thought of it. My hope for you is that it will help knock some of that cynicism right out you, help you find that child inside that still plays and loves to play without fear but with much faith, hope and love.

Blessings to you for 2009! Happy New Year.