Already Decided

Collision at Home Plate
Hebrews 11:1: Now, faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

I don’t know if you follow the Nationals like I do, who this year have been a reminder of the observation that baseball can break your heart. Their play hasn’t been consistent: they leave men on base; they don’t get the hits they need; they make Little League quality throwing and catching errors; and their pitchers oscillate between brilliance and throwing gopher balls at the worst possible time. Still, I’m a loyal home town fan and have suffered through this summer. It’s not as bad as a couple of years ago when I was happy that they didn’t finish in last place.

I probably agonize a little too much about a game in which the Nats lead by six runs for most of the game and then fritter the lead away by a series of bonehead plays. Then it’s tied up, and they go into extra innings. Sometimes they pull it out; other times they lose, generally to the Braves, who have owned them this year. I shouldn’t get so emotionally involved, but it makes me sad when they lose. Conversely, there’s a spring in my step and a song in my heart the next day when they win. I know, I’m extremely lame.

Last week, the Nats won in satisfying fashion, coming from behind to take the game at the last minute. The station rebroadcasts the game the next day, and since I heard the last inning on the radio (I forget why—I think I was driving somewhere), I watched the last couple of innings of the replay to see what happened. I was the picture of serenity. I knew what was going to happen, so I didn’t worry and I was happy!

It occurred to me that this experience is something like the life of faith. God knows all and sees all, and so we need not worry about the outcome of whatever is troubling us. Scripture tells us that the great conflict between good and evil has already been won and that the victory has been won. We can live our lives with this great assurance. As Jesus says, “Be of good hope! I have overcome the world!” Thanks be to God for this great comfort for those who are his children.



Gathering In

Isaiah 127:5: It will be as when reapers harvest the standing grain, gathering the grain in their arms.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that summer is different. It’s something I’ve noticed. I know, the weather is warmer and school is out, which make for some big differences. But summer is also different in that many of us have the opportunity to do some things we ordinarily don’t do in the other seasons. We may go on vacation or visit relatives or go to special events and conferences or have a schedule that is out of the routine. One characteristic of summer is that it involves, for many people, a going out—going out to other places, other experiences, other opportunities.

Then, about this time in August, we begin to sense a change. Some school systems begin classes. Back-to-school items appear in the stores. For that matter, Halloween candy appears in the aisles. The days have grown perceptibly shorter, and nighttime temperatures cooler. We can feel a change coming.

Just as summer means a going out, this time of year involves a gathering in. Families return to a regular schedule, and events are more routine. We are more settled and closed in. In a sense, we come home.

I would suggest to you that this going out and gathering in is characteristic of our faith experience as well. As disciples, we are sent out to a world in sore need of the Gospel. We go and tell. But then, we also gather in the harvest—the souls that God has won and grown to full fruition. The Lord of the Harvest send workers to reap the harvest and all will be safely gathered in. We, too, are set on our way until we reach our journey’s end and God gathers us in. Our Creator and Comforter walks with us every step of the way and when that way comes to an end, gathers us up in his everlasting arms. Praise and thanks be to God for the sending out and for the gathering in!

Farewell to Mr. Bob

I am sad to report the passing of long-time Manassas Baptist Church and Sanctuary Choir Robert Wine on Monday afternoon after a short illness. He was 81.

Bob was one of the first people to welcome me when my family first started attending the church in 1970. I had sung in the choir at our previous church, and Bob made sure I was comfortable in the choir. I soon was a part of that group.

A life-long resident of Manassas and a quiet man, he was known for the custom houses he constructed. And today there are hundreds of homes in the area with beautiful custom cabinets he crafted in his shop. I had occasion to see him working on a cabinets and other projects and knew that I was in the presence of a master craftsman. I asked him once about the tolerances he worked to with his cabinets, citing the 1/8″ gaps that I always seemed to come up with when I was working on something like a wooden fence. He looked puzzled and said, “Zero tolerance–there are no gaps.” And there never were.

Bob seemed to take to this new kid. He stood out in several ways: his gait was distinctive and he was prematurely bald, but he joked about his shining pate and sported a succession of the coolest hats I have ever seen anyone wear.

His name for me was “Dan-o” after the character on Hawaii 5-0. No one else called me that. I returned the favor by calling his “Roberto.”

His words were few but they were for me invariably kind and helpful. He told the choir one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard. In his memory, I’ll share it here.

There was a construction worker who brought a thermos to work with his every day. One day a new man came on the job, fresh from the back woods. The first man poured himself some coffee, hot out of the thermos. The other man had never seen such a thing. “What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a thermos.”

“What does it do?”

“It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold.”

“Well, I’ll have to get me one of those.”

The next day the new man showed up with his own thermos. “I see you got yourself a thermos,” said the first fellow.

“Yep, got it last night,”

“So, what’s in it?”

“A cup of coffee and two Popsicles.”

I think Bob would want us to laugh in memory of the jokes he told and to do something kind for someone else as he did for so many people over the years. Rest in peace, Roberto. We’ll see you again.

Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven

Almost Heaven

Matthew 18:5-6: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” 
“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

It is probably no surprise to any of us that children in this life are frequently in danger.  All over the world, children are exploited, used, molested, abused, taken advantage of, injured and even killed, all through no fault of their own. Such treatment rightfully outrages us and most of us work hard to protect and nurture the children in our care.

I have been thinking about children a great deal this summer, largely because I spent two weeks with a lot—and I do mean a lot—of children.  Now, working with children is not one of my talents. I much prefer teenagers, which is mystifying to many, but to me, the miracle workers are the ones in our midst who work with the children.  I saw them at work in Lynchburg at Eagle Eyrie during the state music camp and right here during our summer music camp.  It’s amazing how small children who can barely walk or talk can be led to sing and dance and play instruments. I have the greatest admiration for those who work with children and lead them to do marvelous things.

Christians have a special charge to make sure that children and the vulnerable are led and nurtured and not exploited. Jesus said in Matthew 18,   “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

It occurred to me that these two weeks were a picture of the kingdom—one in which the young are led by shepherds to safe pasture.  All of us can do this for each other and when we do, there is something of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Now, I am not suggesting that the children are totally innocent or that those who work with them are angels.  But they come as close as we’re likely to see in this world.

William Blake, the English Romantic poet, wrote about much the same theme  in his poem, “Holy Thursday” in 1789.  It was the custom then to dress children from the charity schools in London in bright colors and have them process to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service celebrating the ascension of Jesus 40 days after Easter. As I watched the children do their musical last Friday evening, they were dressed in their red camp shirts, singing as they were watched by parents and friends, and I thought of this poem.

Holy Thursday

‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two & two, in red & blue & green,
Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.

O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Multipliers and Encouragers


Acts 4:37: Barnabas, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

I spent a couple of days last week at a satellite feed for the 2013 Global Leadership Summit sponsored by Willow Creek Church located near Chicago.  Our church was a “Premier Host Site.” which we have been for several years. The summit brings together  leaders not only from religious institutions but also people with proven track records in encouraging excellence and achievement in their field while at the same time they nurture the human element in these groups.

The speakers were uniformly excellent, with incisive insights into their topics. I could focus on the learnings from any one of them, but I was particularly impressed with Liz Wiseman, who talked about “diminishers” and “multipliers” in organizations. We all have known both in our experience. Diminishers try to lead by belittling, withholding information, scolding, gossip and a dozen other strategies we all know too well. As a result, the people they are trying to read do not put their energy into the process or product: Wiseman’s research indicated that their energy level was around 43% of what they could contribute. On the other hand, multipliers work by sharing power, knowing their people as human beings, keeping them informed, praising and offering help when needed. People are willing to give 91% of their effort to people like this.

We were invited to think of both kinds of leaders, and I’m sure you can do this for both. I had had (mercifully very few) teachers who should not have been teaching. They made me hate their subject; I didn’t put much effort into it and I didn’t do well as a result. I have been blessed to have many more multipliers, including numerous excellent teachers who cared for me and for their subjects, and a long string of principals who were some of the most phenomenal multipliers on the planet. I hope the same had been true for you.

It occurred to me in listening to these leaders that the Bible has been there first.  Jesus spoke of the importance of treating others as we would be treated, in knowing the each others’ needs, of being there for each other. If I had to put the lessons of the Summit into one word, it would be encouragement. Speaker after speaker spoke of the difficult times that come to every organization and every individual and of how important it is to keep pressing on, to not grow discouraged and to encourage each other.

I pray that we might indeed do all these things.

A, B, C’s



Alphabet for Life

John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Accept differences

Be kind

Count your blessings


Express thanks


Give freely

Harm no one

Imagine more

Jettison anger

Keep confidences

Love truly

Master something

Nurture hope

Open your mind

Pack lightly

Quell rumors


Seek wisdom

Touch hearts


Value truth

Win graciously


Yearn for peace

Zealously support a worthy cause

Pressing On

Pressing On

Philippians 3:14: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 I don’t know if you saw the recent story in the Washington (or is it the Post about 21-year-old Josh Powell, a young man who recently enrolled in Georgetown University. However, he didn’t follow a conventional path to get there.

Josh Powell had been home schooled by his parents under Virginia’s religious exemption law that allows parents to educate their children if they feel the school system conflicts with their religious beliefs.

By the time Josh was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.

Not only are children like Josh excused from attending school — as those educated under the state’s home-school statute are — but they also are exempt from all government oversight.

School officials don’t ever ask them for transcripts, test scores or proof of education of any kind: Parents have total control.

He asked his parents whether he could enroll in school. When they said no, he researched Virginia law. He found that was their decision to make under the law.

In 2008, he wrote to Buckingham school officials, telling the board that he didn’t share his parents’ religious objections to public school and asking to enroll.

He said the administrator he spoke with was kindly but dismissive.

Finally, Josh wrote to the Buckingham County School Board again, telling it that he had siblings who wanted to attend school and that by law, officials must consider their views as well as his parents’.

It said no.

He Googled “financial aid” and applied to Piedmont Virginia Community College. A neighbor gave him a ride, an hour each way every day, until he had earned enough to afford an apartment nearby. It was terrifying, he said, as he was unsure how to behave in a classroom or whether he was going to embarrass himself answering questions. But he was thrilled.

Josh eventually found a way to get several years of remedial classes and other courses at a community college. “With the addition of lectures, the structure, the support, the tutoring — things just finally clicked. I remember my first semester sitting in my developmental math class. No one wanted to be there except for me. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I have a chance to learn!’ ”

Now he’s studying at Georgetown University.

He still feels like he’s missing some fundamental knowledge, with gaps in science, history and English. “Not having read any of the standard high school literature, people make references I don’t get,” he said.

Most of all, he worries about his siblings: There are 11. One, old enough to be well into middle school, can’t read, Powell said.

Now he’s trying to get his brothers and sisters into school, to ensure that they don’t have to work as hard as he did to catch up — or get left behind, as he almost was.

As we’ve been thinking about determination this week, I think that Josh Powell is the embodiment of determination. He overcame what seemed to be insurmountable odds to achieve what many of us take for granted. We can learn much from him as believers, when it seems that that whatever we are trying to achieve is faced with incredible obstacles. As Paul wrote, “I press on.” Josh Powell pressed on and, by the grace of God, so should me.