If you have stumbled here by accident let me first insist that there really are no accidents in life. If however, you came on your own free will then please by all means open your hearts and your minds to the "New Wine" that God has prepared for you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Coffee and cranberry scones

The sun was just coming up over the mountains as a steady stream of droopy eyed customers repeatedly opened the swinging door into the coffee shop. Outside tables were being filled with various groups who were busy discussing their kid’s soccer games, what they watched on TV last night or the latest gossip circulating around town. Off to one side, the Ridge Lake Christian men’s group was meeting for early morning prayers and devotions. Hot coffee and cranberry scones were being devoured as fast as the waitress could haul them out. However, most folks sat motionless in their chairs gazing into an endless sea of laptops, notebooks, IPads and smart phones of all shapes, colors and sizes.

“You Know” paused one of the men from the church group to a woman sitting at a table behind him. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”

“Yes, I’m sure your right” smiled the woman who was distracted and not desiring conversation turned back to her book.

“But I’m not sure you know the same Jesus that we do” continued the man with his line of questioning and who seemed to recognize the woman as belonging to a different spiritual fellowship located down the street from Ridge Lake Christian. 

“Oh, well, I wasn’t aware there was more than one Jesus?” snapped the woman politely yet with a smidgen of annoyance at the man’s persistent inquisition.

Soon, pleasant conversation came to a halt, bibles slammed shut and all eyes became focused on the woman with spot-on, pin-point accuracy. Their glare was so intense, like red lasers in a laboratory experiment, that you could almost feel the heat and see a wisp of smoke rising from their target. The group of penitent older men had quickly dissolved into a vicious pack of young, hungry wolves and as the sun was rising they began to slowly circle their prey. All the men joined in the feeding frenzy that escalated into a shouting match across tables. Verses were now being hurled from memory, out of context, demanding that their own particular knowledge, theology and dogma were the only way to reach God. 

As providence would have it a young Jewish rabbi, sitting nearby, closed his copy of the Torah and began blocking the men’s rhetoric like a giant shield held high above one’s head during a bright storm of flying night arrows. 

“Anyway, we Jews would have to disagree with all of you” said the rabbi adjusting his round, Harry Potter looking spectacles up towards the bridge of his nose. “And I believe the fact that you are arguing with one another is proof that you don’t know what real love is. None of you know the first thing about God and the great love that He has for His creation. You see, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” stammered the rabbi.

The preceding story is completely factious; any similarities to actual people, places or events are strictly coincidental. 

Two thousand years ago, Nicodemus, a religious leader of Jesus’ day, under the cover of darkness, came secretly stating the fact that God must be with the young rabbi.  Jesus replied saying “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus went on to say that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so shall the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believed and trusted in Him would be saved. All one has to do, to be forgiven by God, is to look up to the cross, believe and to behold Jesus, God’s One and only Son. He alone has paid our debt in full by becoming the payment for our sins and transgressions.  

The questions we must all ask ourselves are: Have we really been born again? Are we truly transformed? Do we really love people? Are we ready to reach out a hand to someone in real need or are we quick to shout out “Be warm and be filled” but don’t stop to render any assistance. 

Maybe we are like some of the men in this story who are more concerned about being right, getting our own way and burdening others with long lists of pseudo rules and non-essential regulations. If we surrender to God, He will transform us to be like the young rabbi who stopped to show kindness and love to a total stranger. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Don’t you love getting to the mountain top? There’s always a breathtaking 360 degree view, fresh wind gusting through your hair and a sense of peace as if you were physically closer to God. It’s a feeling like you’re alone on a deserted island surrounded by water where nothing evil can get to you. The glory of God shines brightest at the top; it’s as if all the cares in the world are forbidden entrance. The only problem is when your experience is over you are forced to go back down into the valley.

Thirty-five hundred years ago Moses was living as a shepherd in Midian where one day he climbed to the top of Mount Horeb. Suddenly, while at the top, he discovered the glory of God emanating from a burning bush. God spoke from the burning bush telling Moses to remove his shoes for the ground on which he was standing was holy. The eighty year old shepherd was completely exhilarated until God mentioned the fact that he wanted him to go back down to Egypt and tell pharaoh to release his people.

Six hundred years after Moses, a prophet by the name of Elijah climbed Mount Carmel. Elijah had one of the most glorious mountaintop experiences any human being has ever witnessed. In a challenge to Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, he called upon God to demonstrate His omnipotence. God answered Elijah’s call in a majestic display of awestruck wonder as fire descended from heaven totally consuming his sacrifice. The prophet then slaughtered four-hundred fifty of Jezebel’s priests. Now, that same day, when his life is threatened by the queen, Elijah turns and runs for his life down the mountain and into the valley of the shadow of death.

Nine hundred years after Elijah, Jesus Christ would have a mountaintop experience at His transfiguration; that is when He was miraculously changed into His glorified heavenly body. “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked to Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:28-37.  What a mountaintop experience that was for the apostles Peter, John and James. After this incredible glimpse into eternity these men didn’t want to leave the mountaintop.

The story continues “Now it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him.” As Jesus, Peter, John and James come down from the solitude of the mountaintop they were immediately thrust into a throng of needy people, one of which was demon possessed. For the next couple of days Jesus is forced to listen to the disciples argue about which one of them was the greatest and then is rejected by an entire Samaritan village.

The plain truth is that while we will occasionally have mountaintop experiences where we see the glory of God, we eventually have to come back down the mountain and walk through the valley. Yes, it would be great to build booths at the top and continue to bask in God’s glory but there is work to be done by the man or woman of God back down here on earth. Jesus said “In this world you will have trials and tribulation, but be of good cheer because I have overcome the world.”

It’s during our darkest times, while we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that we need to remember the promises of God. For on that final day, after climbing our last mountaintop, we too will receive our glorified bodies. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

In the words of King David from the 23rd psalm “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

In passing

The hospital corridor was cold, stark and oddly empty for eleven in the morning. As I walked towards room 504 I began thinking about what I would say to Grandma Vie. She wasn’t really my grandmother and I was actually on a pastoral visit, but to everyone in our small church she was known as Grandma Vie. 

When I found the right room I pushed on the door and let myself in. The lights were off but there was a bluish glow about the room. I noticed it was exceptionally warm in contrast to the chilly hallway I had just walked down. I was carrying my guitar and thinking about several old hymns that I might play to cheer her up.

As I came into the room all eyes became fixed upon me. They all seemed to be squinting and glaring as if I had opened the door into a movie theater. Vie was lying flat on her back surrounded by many younger women from our church. Her eyes seemed to have doubled in size as I looked at her through the coke bottle lenses that filled the frames of her glasses. She was perspiring profusely, and as a woman wiped her forehead the heart monitor began sounding like it was playing the mambo. 
As Vie tilted her head, straining to see who it was that had come in to see her, she angrily said “Oh it’s just him” and lay back down struggling to cling on to whatever life was left in her body. 

On another totally different day I was driving home from church, happy to get home and out of the undersized suit that was halfway suffocating me. We live out in Japatul Valley where it takes a good twenty minutes to get into town. The road is narrow and was never designed to accommodate cars, trucks and bicycles. Motorcyclists too love to speed up and down the winding road that leads to and from town.

As I approached the hair-pin turn several people motioned for me to stop. “There’s been an accident and a man is lying in the road unconscious” said one of the cyclists.  “The paramedics have been called but they are twenty minutes out” said another man who had been riding with the injured cyclist. When I said that my wife was a nurse and I was a minister they asked if we would go and pray for this man. “Don’t move him!” they all shouted in unison. 

We left our car in the middle of the road and walked up the hill to the where the man was sprawled out on the rough pavement. His bike was lying in a twisted heap of scrap metal and I’ll never forget his labored breathing and how he struggled for life and each new breath. His eyes were open but he was not responsive.

As I knelt down, I felt a bit awkward praying for someone who might not be able to hear or understand what I was saying. My wife looked at me and just shook her head he was probably bleeding internally and there was absolutely nothing we could do for him. I began to pray for him as if he could hear me, trying to give him some comfort and direction into eternity for he was in definitely in God’s hands.

Life is short. That cyclist never knew that this particular hair-pin turn was going to be the last image he would see in this life. Are you ready for eternity? Jesus warned us that a man must be born again spiritually if he wants to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus also told the penitent thief on the cross next to him that this day, after he suffered, he would be with him in paradise. 

Before the death of Jesus on the mount where He was transfigured an eye witness account suggests that Jesus became instantly glorified. That is, that he went through a metamorphosis changing into his eternal body. His robe turned the brightest white and glistening. It was like the appearance of lighting and two men were also seen talking with Him about his imminent death. 
The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s throne “I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” The shepherds too saw the heavens opened and the glory of the Lord shown all around them at the first advent.
So when you pass, you will have a choice, you can go in anger or with the peace that passes all understanding.