Saturday, October 31, 2015

Angels Rejoice

I tell you that in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:7-10 (NASB)

Within days of starting my new job I knew Claudia was the reason I was there. I didn't know specifics until a few months had passed and she started asking me questions. Not just questions - QUESTIONS. What do you do when your co-worker comes in Monday morning and says, “I read the book of Revelation over the weekend”??? She asked tough, theological questions, and many days I would hide in my office thinking, “Please don't let her ask me anything today!”

The amazing thing was, no matter what she asked, God gave me an answer. My mouth would open and words came out, and afterwards I thought, “Where did that come from?” I think the Lord taught me more through Claudia, than she ever learned from me.

Claudia didn't like Jesus. Her past had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and many of her questions were trying to reconcile Jesus and his place in the Bible. But God has promised that if you seek Him, you will find Him, and she was certainly seeking. After several months she went with me to a revival service and prayed to receive, Jesus. Satan attacked her with doubts almost immediately, and since she lived 35 miles from me and no longer worked at my office, it was difficult to encourage her. Her letters asked still more questions, but I could tell with each one that she was truly saved and the Holy Spirit was working in her life. When she was dying from cancer, she wrote me a letter in which she gushed about her love for Jesus. They were words I never expected to hear from her, and I was humbled to see what God had done in her life.

What God taught me through Claudia was to let Him work. I honestly had my doubts as to whether Claudia would ever get saved, but God taught me to get out of the way. Let Him do the talking, let His Holy Spirit do the work. Many years later I learned something else about how God works.

Since moving I've kept up with things back home by watching the online newspaper. A few weeks ago I saw an obituary that brought me up short. More than twenty years ago I worked with a man - we'll call him Brad – who obviously needed the Lord. I witnessed to him when I could, but it wasn't long before he moved on to another job. Still needing the Lord.

I hadn't heard anything about him in those twenty years, though often the Lord brought him to my mind, and I prayed for him. And then I read his obituary. The opening words led to an outburst of joy.

“. . . went home to be with his Lord.”

Seven simple, beautiful words. And I rejoiced.

Someone asked me how I knew it was true. After all, it could be just something the family put in. I told them, I knew it was true. The Spirit confirmed with my spirit that it was true, and there was no doubting the joy I felt. I had questions, though. Questions that will only be answered in eternity. How long had he been saved? For years? Or did he get saved during his fight with cancer that the obituary mentioned? How had the Lord changed his life?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I learned something else about how God works: It's not on our timetable. I didn't get to see the results of my prayers, but that wasn't what was important. Brad's salvation and his eternal life in heaven were what mattered.

Then I started thinking about all the other people I have worked with over the years. I never hid the fact that I was a Christian and active in my church. To some I gave a testimony, but never saw the fruit. What about Norma or Marilyn? They were in their 50s at the time, and it's been 30-odd years, so they've probably already gone on. Did they come to know the Lord?

And what of the others? The ones I never gave a word of testimony to. They far outnumber the people I spoke to. They knew I was a Christian, but was my life an adequate representation of the Lord I served? In many cases – far more often than I would like to remember – I know that it was not. What of those people?

As much as my heart rejoices in Brad's salvation, it also breaks for the people I failed. What do I do about that? Paul – who hunted and jailed Christians and stood by while Stephen was martyred – wrote in Philippians 3:13 “. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

Just as I continued to pray for Brad over the years, I need to continue to remember the other people who have been part of my life in prayer and just let God work. Paul went on to say in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Like the woman who looked for her lost coin, I need to also keep searching. For the next Brad or Norma or Marilyn or Claudia that God might bring into my life. The angels rejoice over the finding of these “coins.” Our hearts should break so much for their lostness that we do not rest until we have found them. And then we get to rejoice with the angels.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Good Neighbors

And He answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I would add, “Better yet, good neighbors make good neighbors.” And I've had a lot of them. Of course, when you live in the country, “neighbor” takes on a new meaning. I count as neighbors people who lived up to two miles away. As Jesus went on to explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan, being a neighbor is a state of mind. Or should I say, heart?

I spent a lot of time with my neighbors. We rode our bicycles around the yards, up and down the road, even to the local market one mile away. My best friend Holly and I often rode the 3 miles to Rockwood. It was uphill coming back, so we always made Dad come to pick us up and bring us home. We spent a lot of time on the road. It was a secondary road with little traffic, so it became our playground. Either my mom or their mom knew approximately where we were, but in those days it wasn't necessary to keep a real close eye on your kids. Although I do remember there was a kidnapping about 25 miles away, and afterwards my neighbor's mom made us practice screaming, “No, no, no!” and running away.

A lot of freedom came with life in the country. Jacy and Kellie Snyder and their niece Mandy and I spent a lot of time walking in the pasture and woods behind our barn. I don't recall ever telling Mom when we went off on one of our hikes. Those were the days.

The first leg of the hike was through open pasture. Somewhere along the way we would encounter the cows. When I was a kid we usually only had 4 or 5 cows, and they were quite docile. They stared bullet holes into us as we walked by and once in a while would follow us for a short distance, but unless we were offering food really couldn't care less about us.

There was that one time, though . . .

Cows can be dumb, but they do seem to have an internal clock, and usually headed back to the barn when it was milking / supper time. If they didn't show, someone would give a call, and it wouldn't be long before they would come strolling through the pasture. Every now and then, however, if they had an extra good patch of grazing or if they just decided to be childish and ignore us, someone would have to go find them. At that time my brother was milking 16 or more cows, and one day my nephew Glenn and I had the task to go get the cows. We found them at the far end of the pasture, nearly a half mile away. They needed some encouragement to head home, and Glenn “encouraged” them by running at them and yelling them into a stampede. Not a bad idea. UNLESS YOUR AUNT IS STANDING IN THE DIRECTION THE COWS ARE STAMPEDING. I had only seconds to react with my own yelling and arm waving and managed not to get trampeled.

But I digress. This is not a cow story.

More than half of our fenced-in pasture area was wooded. There was a makeshift road that could only be traversed by a tractor and farm equipment. Or a pickup truck if you're feeling brave. At the far end of the road was a large field that alternated between hay, corn and oats. We wouldn't be going that far, though.

But first we had to survive the “road.” There were two areas where runoff from a marshy area ran through. Depending on how much rain we'd had, these areas could have standing water, or more often 6 or 7 inches of sticky mud. At the side of the road some old boards had long ago been placed to cross the mudhole. The boards sank into the mud when you stepped on them, but they kept you from losing your shoes.

A short distance later there was a turn-off that led to the natural gas pipeline easement that went through our property. Then it was back into the woods and onto cow paths for the best part of the walk. If you've ever seen cows walking anywhere, you know that cows walk in single file (unless my nephew has stampeded them!). There's a designated leader, usually the pushiest one of the group, and the others dutifully follow. Whether it's in open pasture or through a wooded area, they almost always follow the same path. You would think cows would make a nice wide path. After all, look at the size of them. But their feet are relatively small, so the path might only be a foot across. It still made hiking much easier.
These are not my rocks (but I like the picture).
Unfortunately, we never thought to take pictures
of our little paradise.
Some tour guides we would have been.

From this point on, the path led down to a creek crossing. The cows waded through the shallow water, but our preference was to walk across the large rocks in the middle of the creek. We didn't always make it across. The rocks were the right size for several people to sit on and enjoy the sound of several miniature waterfalls. Really miniature: maybe only a foot drop, or several falls in a row of only a few inches. To us it was paradise.

On the other side of the creek and just off another cow path there was a gigantic wonder: a trailer-sized boulder jutting out from the ground. Years of rain and snow had made the top smooth, climbable, and a great place to have a picnic or just hang out. We thought our nature scene was so remarkable that we discussed having a park there and charging a fee for guided tours on the cow paths.

Many years later I looked for these magnificent vistas of my past. No cows had been in the woods for years, and the cow paths were grown over and barely discernible. I made it down to the creek and looked for my faithful rocks and waterfalls. The thing about running water, especially in a climate where the water freezes and thaws in the winter, is that it causes erosion. My rocks weren't so impressive now, and the waterfalls mere dribbles. And the trailer-sized boulder didn't seem so big anymore either. Are water and weather powerful enough to shrink my majestic rocks? Or was my memory playing tricks on me? People didn't carry cell phone cameras in their pockets in those days, and sadly I never thought to take pictures, so the only images that remain are those in my head - whether distorted or not.

I'd like to give a shout out to the wonderful country neighbors we always knew we could depend on for a helping hand. In many ways, though separated by several states, we know we still can. So here they are: the Snyder's, the Ansell's, the Berkey's, the Beener's, the Spangler's, the Schrock's, the Gerber's, the Pletcher's, the Lyon's. Many of the older generation, like my Mom, have gone on. In some cases total strangers now live in their houses, or the houses are no longer standing; but in my memory the houses still stand and the neighbors live on.

I have new neighbors now. Both the physical kind and the biblical kind. But the neighbors of my childhood will always have a special place in my heart. We had no need for fences.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Story of the Dead Dog

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

There was a big, white dog that lived in my Mom's room for several months. I never had to feed it, never had to walk it, never heard it bark. In fact, I couldn't even see the dog. But Mom could. Many mornings I walked into her room to get her up, and she would tell me about the big, white dog. I told her there wasn't a dog in her room, but she would say, “Yes, there is. I see it.” After a while I stopped arguing with her.

Mom had her first serious stroke in May 2014. I think she'd had some small ones over the years, because she would lose certain abilities, often from one day to the next. But with the stroke in May, she lost her ability to feed herself, to stand on her own, and some ability to communicate. As the year went on the losses continued to grow.

She had other hallucinations, even before her stroke. They usually occurred when she was running a fever or fighting a UTI. Human instinct is to try to clear up the delusions. Some of the things she told me I thought might have been dreams that she thought were real. I tried to tell her that, but there was no convincing her otherwise. I found that the best thing to do was to change the subject. There was a lot of changing the subject after Mom's stroke.

Mom didn't always respond to us when we talked to her, but as we waited while she sat on the potty, I would talk to the family member who was helping me that day, and she listened. We knew she listened, because every now and then she would say something that was right on topic. Often if we were talking about needing to pick peas or beans or tomorrow, she would say, “I'll help you.” And we knew that if she were physically able, she would have.

That was probably the most difficult thing about Mom's illness. She was a hard worker. She loved to cook and garden and grow her flowers. I've taken over all of those hobbies. Working in the yard and garden during her illness was my therapy. I've also become the pie baker in the family, so when I get a craving, one or more of the other households reaps the benefits.

Mom lost most of her ability to express emotion with her stroke. It was months before she laughed, and the source of her amusement was her great-granddaughter. Nothing could brighten Mom up like a visit from McKayla, who was 1 ½ - 2 ½ years old during mom's illness. She came with her mom nearly every morning to help get grandma out of bed. She loved to push the button to lower the bed and learned to pull the blankets back. She knew the routine, and woe to us if we tried to depart from it. McKayla also learned that I usually had “lots” in the house. That was her word for chocolate, and she rarely left the house without asking for lots.

My favorite memories are the glimpses I got of the mom I knew before the stroke. When the children from church came at Christmas to sing carols, Mom sang with them! On another evening we had just put her to bed, and I was talking to my sister-in-law about making chili for supper. Mary Ann commented that my brother Ron didn't like it. I was surprised – I know mom made it often as I was growing up. So I asked mom, “Didn't Ron eat chili when you made it?” She said, “Sure, he did.” And it was her clear, lucid voice talking.

One other night after she was in bed I was looking for a band-aid. I couldn't find any in the bathroom, and knew there were some in her room, so I slipped in. When I saw she was awake I told her I needed to get a bandage for my thumb. She said, “What's wrong with it?” Again as clear as a bell. I told her I had a paper cut. She said, “Oh, that gets sore.” As the 11 months of her illness went on those moments became few and far between.

And the white dog? One morning it was dead. She told me when I walked in her room. “There's a dead dog in my bed.” After a few attempts to convince her otherwise, I told her I would call my brother to bury it. That seemed to satisfy her. When my brother came to the house, the first thing she told him was about the dead dog in her bed. He said, “I took care of it.” We never heard another word about that dog.

In February of this year I began attending a Caregiver's Support Group - Lunch with Ray. We don't really have lunch, but usually get some of Ray's delicious cookies. We meet at Sunnyside Baptist Church the 1st Wednesday of each month. At the moment the time is 10:30 a.m., but we're considering adding an evening meeting for people who work. It's a great ministry, and if you live in the Toccoa, GA area and are a caregiver, or know a caregiver who needs information or emotional or spiritual support, this is the place to be. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home or doesn't even live in the same state, you still have the burdens and concerns. We've received some great legal and financial information. Not to mention fellowship. Check the facebookpage for updates and information.

It's been six months since mom passed, but I continue to go to the meetings. It's a morning out, there are good cookies and great company. Most of all, it's an excuse to see Mr. Ray Whiten, our fearless leader and a beautiful saint of God. Even if you don't have any dead dogs in anyone's bed, you'll find the group worthwhile. We all need a helping hand when we're going through the valley of the shadow of death with someone we love.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men. Colossians 3:23

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1

It's a sure sign of the end of summer: Big Brother has crowned a winner, and Survivor has opened a new season. Best of all, The Amazing Race began tonight. I confess, I'm hooked on these reality shows. Add to these America's Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars and Hell's Kitchen, and you have a pretty good outline of my television viewing habits. You will not find any batchelors/ettes, Kardashians or housewives on my viewing list, however. I have to draw the line somewhere.

The reality shows are sometimes the only tolerable choices for the Christian viewer. At least for someone who only has antenna reception. Even these shows sometimes get on my nerves. I could hardly stand to watch Survivor the two seasons that Russell-jerk was on it. Why in the world didn't they vote him off????

There's something else that bothers me. Every season we can be assured there will be at least one token Christian on each series. I don't know that the producers look at it that way when choosing contestants, but it seems to happen. And every season I cringe at the behavior of the Christians. I remember one Christian mother and daughter team on The Amazing Race who were the most hateful, backstabbing, name-calling people in the race.

Several seasons ago there was a youth worker on Survivor. He played the game just like everyone else - the lies, the backstabs, the broken promises – and in the end when he was asked what the youth in his church would think of how he played the game, he was sure they would understand that this was “just a game,” and how he lived while he played the game was totally separate from his life in the “real” world.

This season of Survivor gives a 2nd chance to players who were previously voted out. On the season opener one Christian contestant said that after the first time she played, people in her church asked her why she didn't play harder, and they've encouraged her to do what she has to do this time around. So she says, “I'll lie and backstab like everyone else, and when it's all done I'll pray for forgiveness.” 

I'm not condemning these contestants. They may be totally committed Christians outside of the games they are playing. I do want to point out that if they (or we) start rationalizing one area of our lives, what's to stop us from doing it in any other area of our lives? Doesn't it give us a license to sin? Can't the spouse now say, I'm going to commit adultery, and then I'll ask for forgiveness? Couldn't the teens watching their youth leader interpret his example to mean, I can cheat when I'm playing football, because it's just a game? Can't people put a little box around their jobs and think if they lie or steal it's okay – that's my work life. It has nothing to do with my life in the “real world.”

I say everything we do IS the real world. Take a look at our focus verses at the top of the page. They say WHATEVER we do . . . Not just what you do at church. Not just what you do at home. Not just what you do when there are other Christians around. WHATEVER you do. The kicker is, of course, the verses that tell us to be imitators of God. Let me hearken back a few years and ask the question: “What Would Jesus Do?”

God didn't give us compartments in our lives, though most people try to create compartments. The Holy Spirit doesn't just dwell in the part of us that wants to live right. He indwells the Christian completely. The problem is, most of us have trouble listening to Him. And if we hear Him, we're even worse at obeying.

There's not just money on the line for participants in reality shows. For the Christian there is also the responsibility to live as Christ commanded us to live. If that means being the first person voted off, so be it. The example you set to a nation in that one episode might be worth more than a million dollars. It might be worth someone's eternal soul.
Not many of us will ever appear on national television, but we have the same responsibility to live our lives for God. Remember the warning Jesus gave to anyone who causes someone to stumble (if you need a reminder it's in Matthew 18:7). Non-christians know we're supposed to be different. In fact, they seem to know how a Christian should live better than we do. They have high expectations of us, and the world loves it when we fail. But as Jesus said, “Woe” to us if our failure, especially when it's deliberate, causes a non-christian to turn from God. And woe to us if it causes a young Christian to be misled to believe that it's okay to sin.
As Christians when we strive to “outwit, outplay, outlast,” we need to remember that we outwit using the Bible's wisdom. We outplay following the Holy Spirit's lead. And we outlast for all eternity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel

This is a continuation from last week's Remembering 9/11. This article focuses on the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel near Shanksville, PA.

One month after the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, PA, Rev. Alphonse Mascherino, a former priest of the Catholic Church, was looking for a place to build a spiritual memorial to the fallen heroes. He chose Mizpah Lutheran Church, located about 4 miles from the crash site.

Mom's mother and father's gravestone
in the Mizpah Lutheran Church Cemetery.
I have childhood memories of being in the car as Dad drove past the old church, slowing down to get a good look, sometimes stopping to walk around the cemetery. Though we had family five or six miles from the church, to the best of my knowledge it wasn't really on our way to anywhere. Mom and Dad liked to take the scenic route. Mom often talked about how her grandmother would walk a couple of miles every Sunday to attend church there. The accompanying cemetery is the final resting place of many of mom's family. Her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother. The names are like an honor roll of my family heritage - the Mostollers, Stutzmans, and of course, Fiegs.

The church opened in 1902 and served a Lutheran congregation for 70 years. Then it was used as a seed warehouse. In recent years it had stood vacant. Vacant and waiting. Waiting for a new sacred purpose.

When news went around that the old church was going to be remodeled into a memorial chapel, we were thrilled. I love history and love to see old buildings with a story to tell repurposed, rather than demolished. Rev. Mascherino worked on the chapel himself, sometimes with the assistance of Boy Scouts or other volunteers. He nickel and dimed it with his own money until donations started coming in.

It was several months before Mom and I were able to visit the chapel, and the first time we met Rev. Mascherino he was in blue jeans and a work shirt. He was charming, charismatic and passionate about the work he was doing. And he loved Mom. No matter how many months went by between visits, he always remembered her and greeted her warmly, usually with a “How are you doing, Sweetheart?” I used to tease her about her “boyfriend.”

His vision was for a non-denominational place where people could come and find spiritual solace as they honored the lives of the 40 people who sacrificed so much. As the one year anniversary of 9/11 drew close, he wasn't sure he would have the chapel ready. Word of his work at the church spread, and people and businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania came together to raise "Thunder Bell" into its tower and to finish the remodel so the public could be received. (There used to be a website that told the many stories associated with the bell, the murals inside the chapel and so many other ways people became involved. I haven't visited that site in many years, and haven't been able to find it. I can only guess that without Rev. Mascherino it was not maintained.)

This was the Reverend's dream. He knew the National Memorial at the crash site would take years to complete. In fact, it took a few years just to agree on the design of the memorial. He wanted something on the ground ready for the public as soon as possible, and the one year anniversary of the crash was a milestone for him.

Over the years, the Boy Scouts and other organizations have placed little memorial gardens on the grounds around the chapel. Every time we went back it seemed something else had been added. My favorite place, however, was the little room just off the foyer of the church that had perpetual candles and photos and histories of each of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. I used to stand in that room surrounded by 40 heroes. I looked at each picture. Read each biography. Wondered what went through their minds during the last ten minutes of their lives. I stood in awe and wondered if I would have had their courage in the face of such an impossible situation.

(Photos of the room and other views of the chapel are available in a 2011 Post-Gazette article. Follow the link to also fine a more complete history of Rev. Mascherino. Note that the goal mentioned in the article of moving the chapel closer to the National Memorial never materialized.)
Flight 93 Memorial Chapel.
Thunder Bell in its tower.
The front right corner is where t
he car struck the building in 2014.

It's been several years since I visited the chapel. I watch the online local newspaper to follow a little of what's happened. In November 2014 there was a tragic car accident at the busy intersection beside the chapel, and a car slammed into the corner of the building where my favorite little room was located. Sadly, one person died in that accident.

Rev. Mascherino himself passed away in 2013. He made provisions before his death, and control of the chapel was turned over to the Catholic Church of the East. There's a new face at the chapel. I'm sure it's being well cared for. Organizations still use the facility. The anniversary of 9/11 is still celebrated. In many ways nothing has changed, but I can't imagine visiting the chapel and not seeing Rev. Mascherino's broad smile and weathered hands outstretched in greeting. He was the chapel's voice, the chapel's vision, the chapel's spirit. In my mind the two will always be intertwined.

If you plan to visit the Somerset area and the Flight 93 National Memorial, I would encourage you to make some time to visit the chapel, as well. It's not far from the National Memorial, but the route from one memorial to the other isn't quite a direct route. You won't regret taking the extra time, however. As I found out as a child, the scenic route is often well worth the trip.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering 9/11

Fourteen years ago this morning the world changed. Most people over the age of 30 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Today memorial services were held in New York, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, PA, and memorials have been built in those cities, as well as other cities across the country. The entire country was affected, not only because there were passengers on those four airplanes from all over the nation (as well as many from other countries), but because the audacity of the terrorists was so mind-boggling and the results of their actions were so utterly devastating that for a few weeks at least, we as a nation were united.

While the incidents in New York and Washington are usually thought of first when 9/11 is mentioned, and rightly so, the crash of Flight 93 hit me a lot closer to home. Literally closer to home.

I was at work in Somerset, PA that Tuesday morning. Does everyone remember it was a Tuesday? That fact is etched in my brain. The weekend before I had enjoyed The Farmers and Thresherman's Jubilee in my home town of New Centerville. The tractor and truck pulls, antique threshing demonstrations, and lots of good food, the sights and sounds and smells, always took me back to my childhood. Back to a simpler, more carefree time. I always felt sad when I left the Jubilee grounds for the last time late Sunday afternoon.

Two days later I went to work at a social services agency as usual. It was a slow day in the office, and I was just killing time until our 10:00 staff meeting. We had no radio, and I wasn't on the internet, so the first indication I had that something was going on was when Tanya ran into my office and told me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. My mouth dropped open and two thoughts went through my head. First of all, I had to think for a moment what the WTC was and where it was. "New York" and "skyscrapers" was enough of a mental answer to know this was bad. My second thought was, “This was no accident.” One airplane crashing could be an accident. Two airplanes – no way.

Not too long afterwards rumors started floating around the office that the Pentagon was on fire. It was difficult to get accurate information, but we knew something terrible was happening in our country, and fear was beginning to set in.

Business still had to be conducted, however, so we gathered for our 10:00 meeintg. There were five of us in Diane's office, and our meeting hadn't been going on for more than fifteen minutes when police and fire engine sirens began to wail. Our office was located in between two major highways, and we seemed to be surrounded by sirens and the blaring honk of horns, pushing traffic out of their way. The sirens went on. And on. And on. There was a lull, and then more sirens sounded, as outlying fire departments began to respond. We all looked at each other and said, “WHAT is going on?”

Could these sirens be related to the events happening in New York and Washington, D.C.? Surely not. After all, this was SOMERSET. We were a rural community; probably not on a terrorist's “Top Ten Places to Hit” list. Which led us back to the question: What is going on?

That question was soon answered, though with the same hit-and-miss amount of information as the other attacks. Word went around that a plane had crashed near Shanksville, a sleepy little town less than ten miles away from us. Shanksville? If Somerset wasn't on a terrorist's hit list, I guarantee Shanksville would not be. Details were few and far between. How close to town was the crash? Was anyone killed? The local hospital put in action its emergency plan, calling in all off-duty personnel to prepare for the casualties they expected to receive. But sadly, no casualties came.

And as more questions came than answers, some panic began to set in. There were people who had children in the Shanksville school. Phone lines were overloaded, and in those days most children didn't carry cell phones anyway, so there was no way to contact the school or their children to check on their safety. My friend and co-worker Claudia asked me with fear in her eyes and voice, if the world were ending. I had no children, and I knew my Bible well enough that I didn't think the world was ending, but I still felt the fear and chimed in my voice with those asking to be allowed to leave and go home.

(Speaking of the fear that overtook us, I want to take a moment to remember a dear elderly lady who worked with me as church secretary several years earlier. Marilyn Hay passed away on 9/11. A fact that was probably lost on all but her family and close friends. I've been to her house, and I know that she always had the TV on, and my thoughts on hearing of her death were that she had been frightened by the horrible events she was witnessing and had a heart attack. I don't know that to be true, but it seemed more than a coincidence to me. Regardless, I want to pay tribute to this lovely lady who liked to eat her strawberries “barefoot.”)

We were granted permission to leave work early, and I stopped at a store on my way home. I didn't know how bad this attack would be or if more were coming. and there were a few things I wanted to get. I discovered that we were not the only business closing down early.

Meanwhile, my brother and his wife in Georgia and my niece (7 months pregnant with her first son) and her husband in Arkansas were desperately trying to reach us. All they heard on the news was the crash happened 9 miles from Somerset, PA or 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Either description could put the crash right on top of our house. After a couple of agonizing hours they were able to get through to us. We weren't able to give them much more information than they already had, other than that we were fine.

I turned the radio on in my car, and listened to the first reports about Flight 93 as I drove home. At this point they didn't know how many passengers were on the plane. They guessed as many as 240 people. That drew a groan out of me. Could all this really be happening right here in Somerset County?

What a contrast to the beautiful weather of that day. I was struck by how clear and blue the sky was. Not a cloud anywhere. Only later did I realize there were also no airplane contrails.

The other piece of information I heard on the radio was the theory that the flight was intended to hit the Capital. Without hesitation I said to the radio, “They brought that plane down. Those people were heroes.”

Flight 93 Memorial Chapel. A privately owned memorial
not far from the crash site. More on this place next week.
As the facts came out, it became clear that 40 people on that flight were indeed heroes. Within days, a temporary memorial was built some distance from the crash site. When the forensics people were finished with the crash area, the temporary memorial was moved within view of the actual crash site. I visited that temporary site often. It was a wall on which visitors from all over the world left little pieces of themselves. A poem, a picture, a message, a cross. Benches were added by donors. Rocks engraved with messages or painted added to landscape. Tens of thousands of items that were left at the memorial have been catalogued and stored.

I haven't been to the new National Memorial. I'm sure it is wonderful, but a part of me wishes it could have remained as the spontaneous expression of a nation's gratitude that the temporary memorial provided.

Once home I found it difficult to leave the television. I watched in horror as the images of the airplanes striking the buildings was played over and over. And then the pictures of the collapsing buildings, the black, billowing clouds of dust that pursued people down the streets of New York. Stories were told of firefighters and law enforcement running into the burning building as others were fleeing. The estimate was given that more than 200 rescue workers had perished in the collapse of the buildings. It was overwhelming. I felt I should cry. Surely if any situation deserved tears, this one did. But tears would not come. The pain and the horror were too deep even for tears.

It's hard to believe that this present generation, children in elementary and middle school, were not even alive in 2001. They have no memory of life before 9/11 – before long lines in airport TSA checkpoints. Before heightened terror alerts. Before metal detectors in courthouses and other public buildings. The only memories they will have of the tragedy of that day are the ones we impart to them. We must share our stories. We must make sure they know and remember the heroes of Flight 93,
the hundreds of firemen and police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty, the children who have grown up without a father or mother or grandparent, the spouses robbed of a loved one, and the parents who have lived in loneliness after the loss of a son or daughter.

We must tell them, and we must never forget.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Dwire Family Labor Day

Monday is Labor Day. It's a day off from work and school, but what else is it? We think of it as the unofficial end of summer. Tons of Labor Day sales, almost as bad as black Friday. A chance for one final camping trip. NFL football season begins (finally!!)

I think we all have mixed feelings about the holiday. We love the three-day weekend, but it also marks the downhill trend towards winter. But does anyone even think about the “labor” part of the day? Its creation was encouraged by leaders of the some of the Labor Unions. After some unfortunate labor strikes during which the government sent in troops and a lot of people were killed, President Cleveland made the holiday officially the 1st Monday of September. Thanks, Wiki for the info. And that explains why (yawn!) we don't think about the “labor” part of the day.

My family didn't either. It was just another day, and on the farm that meant every day was a labor day. One Labor Day, about 25 years ago, however, changed all that. In one 24-hour period, a new story was added to the Dwire family mythology. It's a story that regularly comes up at family get-togethers. In fact, it's right up there with the story about my youngest niece sleeping in the doghouse - literally.

If you were looking for a devotional tonight, I should warn you that try as I might I just couldn't come up with a “moral of the story,” so you'll have to take it for its entertainment value only.

There was a cow. (Yes, it's another cow story. Sorry, it's part and parcel of my life. But I think you'll find there's more human interest here, than cow interest.) This particular cow was a long-legged black and white holstein steer. My brother was no longer operating a dairy farm, and the bulk tank in the milk house stood empty. He did have a couple of beef cattle, and this unnamed steer was among them. This steer was so tall he could just about step over the barbed wire fence. A fact which he discovered on the day in question. He also discovered that the grass is greener on the other side.

I'm not sure when the chase began. I do remember that a long-legged steer runs a lot faster than a human. He ran around the outside of the pasture. He stepped over the fence and continued to run inside the pasture. When we thought we had him back in captivity, he stepped over the fence and ran outside the pasture – again.

At this point my brother decided that since he couldn't keep the steer in the pasture he would try to get him in the barn and stable him there until the weather got cold. That probably requires an explanation. You see, we did our own butchering. So we needed to have cold weather so the carcass could be hung in the garage a day or two to get chilled. Here we were walking - or rather running - around on this Labor Day with no coats on. It didn't qualify as a cold day.

We proceeded with my brother's plan to herd this recalcitrant animal into the barn. Or at least we tried. Someone forgot to inform the steer about our plans. It would have been a cozy gig in the barn – no more nights in the rain. No sleeping on muddy ground. Plenty of food and water with very little effort. Unfortunately, he had not been briefed on these benefits and continued to elude capture.

Two members of Somerset County's Tractor Buddies
 - a group of intrepid tractor drivers who have figured
out how to make them square dance.
They do not, however, jump creeks.
It was a hopeless quest. In desperation we got out the tractors. My brother was on one, and I was on the other trying to keep pace with this racehorse. However, tractors don't spin on a dime, and they can't step over fences or jump creeks, although for a few minutes I was certain my brother was going to try.

It wasn't long after that near fiasco that my brother threw up his hands and said, “Go get the gun.”

Cold weather or no cold weather. We were about to butcher this steer. My apologies to any vegans out there. It's a fact of farm life. It's what you see in the meat department of the grocery store, we just did it for ourselves. Don't worry, I won't go into the gruesome details. In fact, after the chase was over, there are only a few details that I remember.

One had nothing to do with the cow. My brother told me to get Dad's truck. It was an old GMC. No power steering. Standard transmission. And while I had driven it many times in the past, this day I was under duress. I tried to drive between the barn and the corn crib, pushed in the clutch to change gears and found myself sliding on wet grass into the corner of said corn crib. It did only a little damage, but I didn't tell anyone about my mishap for several days.

The great dilemma we faced was what to do with two halves of beef in warm weather. How could we possibly chill them and keep them cold until we were able to process the meat? It occurred to me that there was a big, empty bulk tank in the milk house. It was meant to chill milk, but could it be used to chill meat? There followed a frantic few hours cutting the meat into pieces that would fit into five-gallon buckets. The buckets went into the bulk tank, partly full of very cold water. Problem solved.

The days following would be spent processing the meat. Cutting steaks, grinding hamburger, canning some of it, but the labor of those days are long since forgotten. What we remember is the adventure of coming together as a family to find a solution to a long-legged problem. And I guarantee, sometime during this Labor Day weekend, someone in the family will mention it!

You know what, I was wrong. There is a moral to this story. And it's about family. It's about valuing the time you spend with your family. Time spent NOT using some electronic device or updating your social status. It's about making a family memory. Even one as outlandish as our Dwire Family Labor Day.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Touched By An Angel

When I was writing Miracle at DormelFarms, there was a sidebar story that many writers would not have included in the book. Cows have been a major part of my life, however – when I was a toddler my brother would sit me on the back of the cows as he milked them, and a connection was made that just won't go away, so naturally I had to include this little story.

In July of 2002, America was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. When nine miners were trapped in a flooded mine under a farm in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the country – and even the world – held its breath.

At one point the rescue workers wanted to use seismograph to try to locate and communicate with the miners. The order went out for total silence. They didn't even want people to shuffle their feet, because the seismograph was set up all aroud the area and the microphones and equipment were extremely sensitive.

This was taking place on a farm, remember. In a field, just up the road there were forty-five cows that could potentially stompa hoof or moo or munch on grass and mess up the test. One of the volunteer firemen was sent to “make the cows stand still and not make any noise.”

I don't know how well you know cows, but picture trying to do this with 45 preschoolers. The challenge is the same. It's not so much that cows don't understand logic; it's that they fundamentally dislike logic. Ever try to get a cow to go back into a pasture through the same hole in the fence by which it had escaped? It ain't happenin'. So as the fireman walked up the road that day he wondered what in the world he was going to do.

“God, I need a little help here,” he prayed.

When he reached the field, he was astonished when every one of those cows stood as still as statues and stared at him without a sound for ten minutes. This fireman was a farm boy – he knew this just doesn't happen.

I have a theory about that incident that I didn't put into the book. I don't think the cows were staring at the fireman. I believe they were staring behind the fireman – at the angel with his finger on his lips.

I have no evidence to prove my theory. (Animals do seem to be sensitive to the supernatural world. Take a look at the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22:22-33.) There were a lot of miracles associated with the successful rescue of every one of the nine trapped miners. Cows standing still for ten minutes might not sound like much of a miracle, but it was a piece of the puzzle that made the rescue as a whole possible.

I've mentioned this theory to a few people, but have never put it into writing. Angels played a big part in Scripture, and nowhere does it say that they stopped being active in post-biblical history.

You may have your own angel story. I have two. I was driving in to work one day on icy roads. Icy roads are one of the factors that influenced my move to Georgia. Not fun. I wasn't going very fast because of the road conditions, and as I was coming into town a big truck in front of me stopped. I touched my brakes which promptly locked up, and I started to slide. When you're locked up, there's just no stopping. I prayed out loud, “Lord, stop me!” And He did. I think in those situations He sends His angels, and one just stood in front of my car and stopped it.

The other occasion probably required a couple of angels. I was stopped on a two-lane highway to make a left turn. There was a small rise in the road behind me, but there was no reason why the tractor trailer driver couldn't have seen me in time to slow down if he had been going the speed limit. Unfortunately, he was flying. I couldn't move because traffic was coming from the opposite direction. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that big rig barreling down on me and just knew this was the end. Somehow he managed to get far enough off the road to zip past me. The whole car shook, and I'm sure the angels standing arm-in-arm around my car had brushburns. But I lived to tell the story.

Lest I be misunderstood, I'd like to make a few points about angels. Don't take my word for it – look up the verses I refer to.

1 - Angels are created beings and are not to be worshipped. 1 Peter 3:21-22 - “. . . Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Read the whole chapter for context. All creation, including angels will be subject to Jesus, and Hebrews 1:6 exhorts angels to worship Him. In Revelation 19:10 an angel admonishes John for falling down to worship him. And do I need to remind you of the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:1-6.

2 - Angels are called “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). They serve God and follow his orders. In Daniel 6, God sent an angel to protect Daniel in the lion's den. In Acts 5:19-20, an angel opened the prison doors to release Peter. The examples in Scripture are numerous.

3 - Christ didn't die for angels, so they cannot be saved. That's why the devil and his demons are fallen angels for all eternity: in Revelation 20:10, the devil is thrown into the lake of fire. See the fall of these angels in Isaiah 14:12-14. 1 Peter 1:12 (again read the whole chapter), in speaking about salvation tells us that angels long to look into the mystery of salvation. Imagine their amazement when Christ, who they worshipped and obeyed allowed Himself to come to earth and go to the cross for measly old human beings!

4 - Please don't tell your children that “grandma went to heaven to be an angel.” Humans do not become angels. Remember, angels cannot comprehend the whole idea of salvation. 1 Corinthians 15 gives a long dissertation on the ressurection and in a potentially confusing passage explains that our human bodies will be exchanged for imperishable bodies. Don't get lost in the perishables and imperishables. What it all boils down to is that we will have a glorified body like that of Jesus Christ, not that of an angel.

Why have I given you this theology lecture? Because we're exposed to a lot of misinformation about angels, and people are too quick to worship anything other than God. It's vital that we know what the Bible says about this or any other subject we're exploring.
I don't carry an “angel in my pocket,” but I do believe God sends His angels to protect us, minister to us or otherwise help us. There may be times when you are“touched by an angel,” but don't confuse the messenger with the God who sends that messenger. The miracle at Dormel Farms was aided by angels, but the God of those angels was the One who performed the miracles. And He alone is worthy to be worshipped.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

It's Just Ducky

We had a beautiful four days of revival services this week at my church. It was exhausting, and I lost track of what day it is, but four teenagers got saved and that made it all worth it. Perhaps you're wondering that it means to be saved. The verse above tells us about God's love for us even when we were or are sinners. I hope today's blog will give you some insight into just what that means.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5: 6-8 (NASB)

As an animal lover, I've gone to some extremes to take care of my pets. I've bottle fed kittens. I cared for my ailing llama for a month until I was finally able to admit that he wasn't going to make it. And I've jumped into the creek twice to rescue my ducks.

I know what you're thinking – don't ducks like the water? Yes, but in both cases there was a very good reason. And fortunately, unless there's been massive rain storms, the creek is usually less than 18 inches deep.

The first occasion was when a dog or some other nasty critter dragged my duck out of the pen. I looked for her a long time and finally found her in the creek, bloody, but alive. What else was there to do? I went in after her. Performed some ducky first aid, and she survived.

Years later a different duck got caught in a muskrat trap. Again, the search, and when I found her I went straight in and pulled her and the trap out of the water. It was an effort to get the trap off of her leg, but once we did it was again time for ducky first aid. That was followed by a call to the Game Commission. Did you know there's an identifying number on traps? There is, and since the guy had #1 - no permission to put the trap on our property and #2 - it was within 500 feet of the house, he was blessed with a $200 fine. The Game Commission officer told me the fellow was thunderstruck: “All this over a stupid duck!?”

But she was my stupid duck. By the way, ducky first aid isn't easy. In the photos you see that same duck on a later occasion when she damaged her wing. The only thing we could think of was to cut the leg off a pair of long underwear and use it as a splint. Somehow the duck always managed to get out of it. We have no idea how. Just call her Houdini.

There have been a number of illustrations given of why Jesus came to earth as a man. This is mine. I went into the creek, shoes and all, because I loved my duck. Jesus came to earth as a man to suffer and die, to bear the sins of the world on His holy shoulders because He loves us.

Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

God is holy, and we fall short of His glory. So then how can we be saved? On our own we can't. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There's our choice. Eternal death or the free gift of eternal life. It seems like a no-brainer. Who would choose eternity in hell? Any thinking person would opt for eternal life. Here's the thing: you can't work for a free gift, and the Bible says there is only one way to heaven. Jesus is the “way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” John 14:6.

Good news! It's Christmas, and a gift is lying there under “the tree.” All you have to do is accept it. I invite you to pray and ask Jesus to give you this free gift. There's no “magic prayer”, but you can use this as a guide.

Heavenly Father, I know that I'm a sinner. I know there's no way for me to save myself. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I accept the free gift of eternal life you have offered me, and I ask you to come into my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life and make me the person you want me to be. In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you've prayed this or a similar prayer, please email me. I can direct you to further information so that you can live your life in the future for the God who loved you enough to jump into the creek for you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Talking Animals

I'm going off the reservation this week.  Rather than a devotional, I'd like to share some memories of animal friends, many of them long gone. What brings this to mind tonight is the loss of my niece's dog, Monte, after a long illness.

Don't worry - I'm not going to be morbid. What I've been thinking about is how my mom related to animals.  On the farm we had cows, pigs, dogs, ducks, and of course, barn cats. What we didn't have was animals in the house.  Not officially, that is. I loved my cats and would always have a special one or two that I would bring into the house for a few minutes . . . or an hour. Sooner or later Mom would say, "Put that cat out."

They loved to walk all over "Grandma".
 At lower right under her arm is Oksana -
I still have her 21 years later!
As an adult I had my own apartment and for the first time a bona fide house cat. When it became necessary to move home, there was no question about Cindy moving in with me. It mushroomed from there. Together Mom and I bottle fed six kittens (not all at the same time). The deal was that they would stay in the house until they were old enough to go out to the barn.  Somehow they never got old enough to go out to the barn.

We had an initiation process for all of our dogs. Mom had an old plaid scarf. She wore that thing on her head for most of my life. At some point it became (my) tradition to bring the dog in the house and put the scarf on its head. There is nothing so funny as a dog wearing a granny scarf. I literally fell over laughing when I put the scarf on my dog Sara's head. Sara laughed, too (I swear she did) and ran over to Mom to get an opinion.

My animals all called my mom Grandma. And they spoke to her -- using my voice, of course. I've always made my animals talk. Some people might find that a little crazy, but it certainly helped out when I wrote my first children's book

What was funny was that when they asked Grandma a question, she never answered me. She looked at the animal who was addressing her and answered it. I remember one time we were doing first aid on a duck (more on that next week) and Joey the cat came over to sniff the duck. 

Joey said, "Grandma, I like this, this -- what did you call it?"

Mom picked Joey's front legs up, looked him in the eyes and said, "Ducky Lucky."

This from the woman who always tried to act tough when it came to animals. In many ways, she was as bad as me!  It wasn't unusual for me to have a cat or two or three in bed with me. They make great foot warmers in the winter.  But Mom always said she didn't like animals in her bed. That is, not until Daniel came along. She (yes, I know - we made a mistake on the gender, but she learned her name and I couldn't change it!) was one of the kittens we bottle fed. We nursed her through an illness and was the sweetest little thing. She always stayed petite, which made her even more endearing. When Daniel decided she wanted to sleep in Grandma's bed at night, Mom didn't chase her off.  Mom got a towel so Daniel could sleep on one corner of the bed.
"Grandma" and Sparkle

At Mom's funeral we brought an electronic photo album that we let run for the visitors. Many of the photos included not only her human family, but animals, as well. Almost against her will she became known as an animal person.

As my family bids farewell to Monte, I think Mom would have been sad, too. I doubt she would ever admit that she loved her animals. She always said, "You can't love anything that can't love you back." Her actions throughout her life spoke louder than her protests, however. And as any animal lover will tell you, animals do love you back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Like A Magnet

I can't help but follow up Friday's blog about the Macedonian call. I encouraged you (and me!) to heed God's call. Sometimes it's not easy to know what that looks like.

I thought about that today. How many times had I heard or read someone's testimony: “I know God wanted me to talk to that person.” And they proceeded to share the gospel and met a need or introduced the person to the Lord. I've never been very good at just jumping in and starting a serious conversation with total strangers, and there have been times when I thought, “Should I say something or not?” Afterwards I wondered, did I miss God's call? How does one know God is telling you to talk to someone?

I think I finally know. My church is having revival services next week, and we have some flyers to hand out. That's still out of my comfort zone, but it's much easier to walk up to someone and hand them something than to feel obligated to start a conversation. Still, I haven't been as enthusiastic about it as I should be.

Yesterday I was pulling in to a gas pump and saw a man standing off to the side with a sign: “Homeless. Family will work for food.” I always wish I could do more to help someone like that. I know some of them are scam artists, but others are genuinely victims of circumstances beyond their control and need a hand up. I thought about him the whole time I was pumping gas. I only had about 80 cents in my wallet. That wasn't enough to buy anything to eat or drink. What could I do for him?

As I got back in my car and turned the key, I knew I had to stop. I had no choice. I was like a piece of steel being drawn by a magnet. I pulled around the corner and walked over to the man and poured my change into his hand. Then I noticed the word “family” on his sign. I asked him if he had children in the school system. As part of our revival services, we were giving away school supplies. I went back to the car and gave him a flyer. I invited him to church Sunday to get a free meal and school supplies.
I drove away knowing God had told me to talk to that man.
Will he and his family come to church Sunday? Maybe, maybe not. That's not my job. The Holy Spirit will work in his heart, and then it will be the man's choice to listen or not. My job was to respond to God's call.

What does that call look like? This is just one of ways He speaks to us. Trust me, when you feel the pull of that magnet, you'll know God is calling. All you have to do is respond.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Macedonian Cow

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9-10 (NASB)

I can still hear Mom's voice calling the cows. She stood either behind the barn or often on the front porch and let loose, “Come, Boss! Come, Boss! Soo-oook! Soo-oook!” Her voice could be heard a half mile away – far enough to be heard in the back pasture. Within minutes the obedient Bossy appeared leading a line of cows.

Like most farmers, I have a lot of cow stories. In particular, “the cows are out” stories. Those words bring mixed emotions. On the one hand, our day is interrupted and the cows have to be dealt with. Cows don't like being dealt with. On the other hand, it was a nice break in the hum-drum day-to-day routine of farmlife. As a kid I enjoyed the adventure. You'll be seeing several of the memorable adventures of the Dwire farm, but here I'd like to focus on a couple of wanderers.

Cows can be downright dumb, but young steers – like most teenagers -- are especially adept at making poor decisions. One pair of young steers broke out of the pasture and went on the run. A neighbor spotted them near a sawmill about a mile away. Unfortunately, there was also a large wooded area and nothing to slow them down. We searched for hours, and for the first time ever, Mom's cow call failed to draw them in.

I thought of those steers last Sunday as my Pastor preached on the Scripture text above. He pointed out verses 6 - 8, where Paul desired to turn east into Asia to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit let him know that east was not the right direction. So Paul decided to stick to cities on the west coast of Asia Minor, but that wasn't God's plan for his ministry either.

Verses 9 and 10 share the vision Paul had of a man across the Aegean Sea beckoning him to “Come help us.” We know it as the Macedonian call, and countless sermons have been preached on it.

I glanced ahead to the following verses in chapter 16. Paul and his team crossed the sea and their first ministry stop was in Philippi. There we find another story that has been the topic of many sermons and books - the story of the Philippian jailer. You know how it goes. Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the Gospel. They were beaten and jailed and in the midst of the miserable conditions and sufferings they sang hymns of praise.

Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey
The Lord responded with an earthquake that blew the doors of the cells open. The jailer hurries in, is about to kill himself because he knew what punishment he faced if the prisoners escaped, but Paul's voice stopped him in his tracks. The jailer and his family are saved as a result. Was the jailer the man Paul saw in his vision pleading for help?

The story of that Philippian jail begins with the Macedonian call. Paul's response to that call set off a series of events that led to the spread of the Gospel and took him all the way to Athens. If not for his obedience to the Spirit's call we wouldn't have the books of Philippians, Thessalonians or Corinthians, for all of these cities were stops on Paul's 2nd missionary journey in Macedonia

What does this have to do with our missing steers? Those stupid steers ignored Mom's call and so were left wandering in a strange woods, crossing roads, jumping over at least one person's car and dealing with other frightening experiences. Three days after their escape, a neighboring farmer called to say they had broken into his pasture and were relaxing with his cows. My brother retrieved them without incident, but whether they learned their lesson or not is a matter of opinion.

How often do we ignore God's call and end up in a strange wilderness? Sure, Paul's response to the call also got him a beating and thrown in jail, but would Paul say the suffering was worth the harvest of souls that came with it? We find his answer in Philippians 1:18 (Philippi, remember - the place of his beating and jailing). “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”\

The first call you need to heed is the call to salvation. Tune in next week to learn more about that. If you've already answered the call to salvation, then God is calling you to His service, whether across the ocean or across the street. Do you hear His call?

“Come Christian! Come Christian! Soo-oook! Soo-ooook!”

Friday, July 31, 2015

Pineapple Zucchini Cake Recipe

Makes 2 small bundt cakes or 2 bread loaves.

3 ½ Cups flour
1 ½ tsp Baking Soda
¾ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
4 eggs
1 cup Oleo Margarine
2 Cups Grated Zucchini
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
½ tsp Vanilla
1 – 20 oz. can Crushed Pineapple


Cream oleo, oil and sugar together. Add vanilla. Mix in beaten eggs.

Add grated zucchini.

Drain crushed pineapple and add pineapple to mixture.

Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixture.

Pour into cake or bread pans. Make pans 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 – 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

The cake is moist and light. Serve with or without icing or whipped topping.

Pineapple and Cheese

Pineapple and Cheese

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 (NASB)

I remember the first time I heard about pineapple and ham topping on pizza. “Yuck!”was my immediate reaction. Pineapple with cheese?

Many years and a move to Georgia later, I attended a potluck dinner at my church. One of the dishes was a pineapple and cheese casserole. I was skeptical, but tried it. Who knew it would be delicious? Apparently someone did.

Pineapple has continued to be a source of surprises. A few years ago, in the midst of a zucchini population explosion, Mom didn't have raisins to put in the zucchini bread, but she did have a can of crushed pineapple. Zucchini and pineapple cake. Surprisingly good.

There are other things that don't sound like they would be good together. Bacon and chocolate. Peanut butter and banana. Pickles and peppermint sticks (for real - do a Google search!)

In the spiritual realm there are combinations that don't seem to go together. Die so you can live. Be poor so you can be rich. Be last so you can be first.

God's will and my will.

Whoa. That can be a tough one. Most Christians give lip service to wanting God's will for their lives, but if push came to shove and a choice had to be made, the lip would start trembling. Most of us have struggled some time in our lives with knowing God's will. It seems like a deep, dark mystery. What's the secret? What are the 10 easy steps?

There's no mystery. No secret. No 10 easy steps. Trust me, I've read countless books, heard numerous sermons, but what it boils down to is by all human interpretations an odd combination. God's will and my will. Can they be one and the same? Can they exist together in harmony?

After many trials and multiple errors, I've become convinced that in the Christian life they MUST be one and the same. Isn't that what it means to pray in Jesus' name? Isn't that the essence of being filled with the Spirit? It sounds so simple. And it is simple. It's just not easy. Each of us must come to the point in our lives where we're able to say, “Whatever you want me to do, Lord, I'm yours. I'll do it. I'll go there. I'll be what you want me to be.” No reservations. No qualifications. No discussions.

That's a scary thing. It's scary to say, “Lord, if you want me to sell our family farm and move to Georgia, I'll do it.” “Lord, if you want me to write a book, I'll do it.” Those were two of my moments of surrender. For everyone it will be different. God might ask you to go into the ministry. Or go to Africa as a missionary. Or stay at that job you hate because there are people there who need the Lord. He might ask you to walk across the street and share Christ with your neighbor. Yikes!

And yet, He asks us to say, “Anything, Lord. Anything.”

But how do we know what God's asking us to do? He speaks to us in many ways. There are two important ways. First, is His Word. The Bible is filled with details about His will for us. Maybe not what job you should have or who you should marry, but it gives us principles for life and it's the first place to look when seeking His will. If you're not obeying His will as it's revealed in the Bible, how can you expect Him to trust you with any additional information?

The second place to start when seeking God's will is prayer. Obvious, right? Don't forget that prayer is a conversation. It's not just the time you lay out your wish list, then go on. Stop. Wait. Meditate on God's Word. Listen for a word of confirmation or direction.

What if I don't like what God is asking of me? Examine your heart. And never say never. Twenty-odd years ago when my brother and his family moved to Georgia, people asked me, “When are you moving to Georgia?” My response was always the same. “Never!”

In 2008, my mom and I moved to Georgia. And you know what? I WANTED to. God works in our hearts if we let Him. If we are willing to be molded and used, at some point our will becomes what He wills. And it is the best place in the world to be.

My will and God's will. They go together quite nicely. Sort of like pineapple and cheese.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Check out Pastor Jesse Colbert's latest devotional "The Parable of Saturday Mornings."


Welcome to my blog. I'm a free lance writer and the author of two books: What Kind of Cow are You? and Miracle at Dormel Farms. You can find out more about them at my website.  I'm a member of Sunnyside Baptist Church where I teach a Sunday School class and play the organ. I hope to be able to share some guest blogs by my pastor, Jesse Colbert, from time to time.  My own blog will be updated every Friday evening around 10 p.m., so check back weekly.

This past year has been a difficult one. My mom had a stroke in May 2014, and the family and I agreed that we would care for her at home. As part of the care process we found ourselves reminiscing about our lives back home in Pennsylvania. Though Mom wasn't always able to participate in the discussions, we knew she was listening.  As the title of my blog implies, I'll be sharing some of those memories with you, but I want to do more than that. The Lord taught me a lot throughout the past year, and I want to share those lessons with you as well.  So more than a blog, this will be a weekly devotional, and I hope you will share it with others. 

So welcome.  And be sure to stop back.