Today’s Joy: Year 2019

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

House Cleaning 2019
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” — Psalm 51:2

It is time to pull up the dumpster and clean house for 2019. It is time to put 2019’s garbage out and decide what we are going to take into 2020.

There is a large box labeled “Summer Resentments” which is the first to be taken out. There are the airline tickets, emails regarding the Raleigh TA conference, the vacation plans in North Carolina and Virginia, August 25 sermon notes, dreams, and all hurt from canceled plans. That is a heavy box that takes up much of the dumpster.

Next is a box marked fears. The hip surgery fear is a big part of this box. The hospital fear from August regarding my colon. Other fears about learning to walk again and the normal daily fears make up the remainder. 

As I look through the calendar, I find another box marked ANGER that came into the events of the year. Some anger is in the resentment box. The SAD box with many sad times is on the top of the dumpster pile.

With the dumpster nearly full, I must decide what I want to carry with me into 2020. There is a large box marked memories that are full of joys, laughter, and excitement.

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of my ordination is memories that I plan to bring with me. The joy of walking better with a new hip will make the trip into 2020. I will bring the discipline of writing “Today’s Joy” as I cross over midnight into 2020. I will bring the things I love and the people I care about into my heart in 2020. 

I need to remember to call the haulers to take away the dumpster on January 2. 

What is in your 2019 dumpster and what will you bring into 2020?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Joy Is Behind Dark Clouds
“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!” Palm 148:14

A 16th century priest wrote, “The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see; and to see we only have to look.”

I found this quote in last year’s Christmas card from my friend, Lucy Ramstad. She remembered this quote which was used by her late husband, The Rev. Phil Ramstad. I knew Phil and Lucy when they lived in Grinnell, Iowa. I served the rural churches and Phil served the town church.

As we come to the end of the gloom and darkness of 2019, I suggest that we can find joy behind the dark clouds. I preached for the first time is quite a while. I celebrated Christmas with Psalm 148 which talks about praise for God’s universal glory.

Many friends in the congregations assured me that I still have have it. Their joy warmed my heart dearly. It was good to “be back in the pulpit again.”

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Continue Celebrating
“Praise the Lord from the Earth,” Psalm 148:7a

The Christian Calendar calls today The First Sunday after Christmas. The assigned scriptures lift up the continuing the Christmas celebration in Psalm 148 and the work of Christmas in Matthew 2.

Psalm 148 has the theme of a Christmas carol. The creation is mentioned in several carols. In verse two of Joy to the World, we sing, “Let all their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plaines repeat their sounding joy…” “Angels from the realms of glory,, wing your flight o’re all the earth; you who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth…” “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing or’er the plains, and the mountains echoing their joyful strains.”

Psalm 148 continues the Christmas joy, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!”

Here we continue to celebrate the Birth of Jesus with hymns and scriptures from the Psalms with great praise and joy.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Basic Christmas Message
“Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for the crowd because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”—Matthew 15:32a

I want you to meet Howard Thurman who was an influential Baptist preacher, theologian, and author. He was the grandson of slaves who believed education was a way to success. He was the valedictorian at Morehouse College. He held degrees from Rochester Seminary and Oberlin College. He served as a minister and taught theology at Morehouse and was a chaplain at Howard University. He founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. He wrote many books and was a distinguished scholar in the African-American Community. (Source Encyclopedia Britannica)

I believe he wrote the most important Christmas message. 

The Work of Christmas
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

May we go forth and make music for the heart.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

“And all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise.” First Kings 1:40

Many of my African-American friends are celebrating Kwanzaa today. I asked Siri, “What is Kwanzaa?” For once, she understood me.

I learned that Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of the African and the African-American culture. It begins today and ends on January 1. Maulana Karenga started the celebration in 1966. The holiday was designed to re-affirm the culture’s roots in African culture.

The seven values of Kwanzaa: ONE: Umoja, or unity as it relates to family, community, nation, and race; TWO: Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination which encourages people to define ad speak for themselves; THREE: Ujima, Collective Work and Responsibility—building and community and helping others; FOUR: Ujamaa, Cooperative Economics — working and supporting each in the economics; FIVE: Nia, or Purpose —building and developing community; SIX: Kuumba, or Creativity—to leave the community more beautiful than before; and, SEVEN: Imani, or Faith‚the last night to reflect on faith in people, family, and leaders.

Kwanzaa’s values could be used by all of us.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019 (Christmas)

Joy to a Long Nap
“Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals.” —Job 4:13

We slept in until 9 a.m. this morning. It is the latest our household has slept in a long time. You may be surprised that a preacher would be writing about a nap on Christmas morning. I woke up feeling relaxed and joyful.

I thought about all the workers in retail who worked long hours in the stores. The workers in the transportation industry who process passengers in the airports and the pilots and crews who fly the planes, drive the busses and work in the rental car places. There are those who staff the travel stops on the interstate. 

The secretaries, musicians, and religious leaders who led services over the past few weeks. Whoever you are, many persons are ready for sleep and naps. I remember sleeping Christmas day in the afternoon and acknowledged that my body needed to rest.

Joy to taking a long nap. Those of you who have worked long hours. Take care of yourself and enjoy the nap. It was my favorite time when I was working as a pastor.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Top Priority, Christmas Eve
“For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6

Worship is my top priority on Christmas Eve. My high school friend, Terry, invited me to the late service at the local Episcopal Church. He sought permission for me to take the Eucharist for only members could receive the elements. One priest agreed and the next one didn’t. I was moved by the service.

Bick, my Bay Area roommate, and I worshiped at our local United Church of Hayward in the early evening. Then, we drove to San Francisco to Grace Cathedral for their magnificent service. We were lucky to find a parking place on Knob Hill near Grace. The organ music, choirs and prompt were moving. All were welcomed at the Table. It was a powerful service that touched my heart.

My first UCC church in Baker, Montana, taught me how to lead worship on Christmas Eve. The music was special. The choir sang, “Birthday of a King,” and members’ family came home to supply excellent solos. Holy communion began at 11:45 p.m. and frequently I said, “Merry Christmas” at exactly midnight.

The following fifty years of ministry have set Christmas Eve worship as a top priority. In retirement, I plan to worship at the 10:30 p.m. service at my Westchester UCC.

I don’t care when the family gathers to eat and opens presents. It may be Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. My top priority is Christmas Eve worship. I prefer the later service where we close in candlelight singing “Silent Night.” Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2019

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good;” — Genesis 1:3-4a

The light that shows from the first candle on the menorah last night was the same light as shown from the fourth Advent candle yesterday morning.

The Jewish community lit the first candle on the menorah last night as their celebration, Hanukkah, began. The Festival of Lights lights goes from sundown on December 22 until nightfall on December 30. A candle is lit each of the eight nights with the singing of special songs and eating foods fried in oil. (I encourage you to search the internet for more information.)

The Christian Community lit the Fourth Advent Candle during Sunday worship. Many Christian Churches light candles in a wreath during the four Sundays of Advent. The lighting of the fourth candle in some churches lifts up light. Faith, joy, and peace are the other themes used. In my tradition of the United Church of Christ, each church follows a similar pattern that varies from church to church. This was an important part of my worship during my ministry.

Light is the theme of both celebrations during this time of the year. Light is the Creator’s gift so we can see. Light is one of the essentials of living on this planet. 

All persons on the planet earth are dependent on light. Hanukkah and Christmas give thanks for the same light. May the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas bring the light of the Divine into the darkness of evil in 2019.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Joy Service Leaders
“Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” —Psalms 58:1a
Joy to the leaders of worship this Sunday.
Joy to the pastors, priests, and leaders of worship this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Joy to the lay readers who help read the lessons for worship this weekend.
Joy to the musicians who play the music of Christmas.
Joy to the singers who lead worship in song this weekend.
Joy to the parishioners who adorn the pews to worship the with words and songs of Christmas Joy.
Joy to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship services.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Ba Humbug Time
“applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be.” — Ecclesiastes 1:3

There is a time during the holiday season when everything appears to be TOO much. The media is wishing repeating holiday greetings “ad nausium.”

Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want for Christmas is You” has played so frequently that I stopped singing along with cries for stop playing it.

“Deck the halls with advertising ……la….Christmas has two S’s and both are dollar signs…” (“Green Chri$tma$” Stan Freberg)

I am at the point where I have had enough of the hype and busyness of the season.

I need the sound of a harp playing quiet music for an hour or two. I am hungry for a time away from the frenzy. Perhaps, you are too. When we reach the “Ba Humbug” phase, we want to take a deep breath and be quiet for time to calm down.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Soup Weather
“Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him.” — Jeremiah 36:22

The cold winds blow outside and the palate is ready for winter soup. Elaine made bean/ham soup. The soup tasted wonderful.

I searched “winter soups” on the internet and found up to 50 different soups that contained vegetables, seafood, meat, etc. The photos showed Salmon Crowder and several other salmon based soup. Squash, vegetable, chicken noodle and many other soups find their way to our table during the course of the winter.

I remember one family in my congregation that served oyster stew on Christmas Eve. They lived next door to the church and I joined them for the soup before services.

I admit that my favorite soup is chili. Elaine makes it with ground turkey which is quite tasty. I will order it at restaurants during the wintertime. I had a friend who likes spicy chili. He kept Tabasco sauce in the trunk of his car. If he judged the chili “wimpy,” he would go to the car for Tabasco.

I hunch that you, too, like soup these cold, winter days. Please post your favorite soups below.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Keeping Your ID Safe
“You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked,” — Psalm 12:7

I hear so many people panic when your cell phone, your tablet or your computer has an update. I think most of the panic is made without understanding the reasons. I will attempt to explain two-party authentication.

Apple Computers and I have determined an Apple ID for my account with them. Any time I make a change or add a new device, Apple will alert me with a text message. The text says that a new entry my ID has used. If that is you, you do nothing. If it isn’t, contact Apple immediately. The bad guys are seeking your identity.

Apple and many others are requiring a two-part identity process. I sign in on my Apple or other accounts and a box appears for my code. The second step is that the merchant automatically texts or emails me a code of numbers. I enter 664432 in the space and the account will let me access it.

I take this process of letting me know my Apple ID is being used or I am going into my account. I want to keep my identity safe. A friend told me that he got a bogus email from me.

I remind myself and all of you that the bad guys from here and around the world are lurking. They want to get into my and your bank account. They will use my or your ID to steal us blind. I write to remind myself and you to protect your identity.

Let us have a great holiday season without bad guys taking over our finances and ruining our holidays. Be safe and follow the prompts to keep your ID safe.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Reminder
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” — Genesis 1:27

A week from tonight is Christmas Eve. For many, families gather for the Christmas celebration. For me, the Christmas Eve Worship service has been a mountain top experience.

Each church that I served does the service in a similar order. My first years in the ministry. The choir always sang, “The Birthday of a King” which is a difficult anthem. Children who grew up in the church provided as young adults offered special music during the service.

In each parish, musicians, young and old, stepped forward to offer beautiful music. Holy Communion is served and the service is concluded with “Silent Night” sung as candles are lit in the darkened sanctuary.

The service and the entire Christmas season is a reminder that we are created in God’s image. We belong to the God of Creation. The Birth of Christ child comes into the world again in the not so subtle reminder. You are very precious in God’s sight.

Monday, December 16, 2019

ALS Continues
“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” — Matthew 8:6

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a fatal disease. “Pete Frates, who helped popularize the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ and raised millions of dollars for ALS research, died Monday (Dec. 9) of the disease. He was 34 years old.”

I had two friends die from ALS. Both chaplains I worked with at the California State Prison at San Quentin died of ALS. George Tolson and Byron Eshelman were at SQ when I was on The Garden Chapel staff. Both of them had retired when ALS took over. I spent time with them on my vacation and watched these friends as ALS took over and paralyzed their bodies.

I wonder if they contracted ALS by working in a cinder-block building which was the building that housed the Garden Chapel. They worked for many years in offices side by side. Byron lived in a home inside the prison complex and George lived in his father’s home in Berkeley. I wonder if the environment is a factor in the spreading of this disease.

News says research has helped toward the cure of ALS. ALS continues to paralyze and kill others. As I learn of Pete Frates’ death, I remember my colleagues who were close friends. I sadly remember them as these men were swallowed up by the disease.

On the other hand, I give thanks for the lives of these chaplains who faithfully served the inmates and staff of San Quentin so faithfully.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent: Lesson Learned
“I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:” — Proverb 24:32

A well dressed African-American man visited my church office one afternoon. His pitch was that he was a college graduate of Morehouse College. He knew about college. I asked him if he knew Coach Hunt. (Hunt’s wife was a bridesmaid at our wedding.) He said that he came to the college after he left which was true. He wanted to borrow money until he got his first paycheck. I gave him money.

I learned later that several of my colleagues had fallen for the same pitch as I did. I called Morehouse and talked to the registrar’s office. They never had heard of him. I was livid. How dare that imposter. I was angry that I fell for such a polished scheme. I admit the guy was convincing.

I told the story in a clergy group. One of the wise ones told me to stop being angry at myself for falling for the scheme. She suggested that I gave in good faith to help a person in need. It was the responsibility of the “Morehouse” man to ask in good faith. Her pastoral advice was a great learning experience for me.

I am only responsible for my own actions. I am not responsible for another’s actions—honest or dishonest. Sometimes you will be “taken” in acts of giving. Don’t stop serving others though sometimes others take advantage of your generosity.

In the season of giving, I am called to be wise in my Christmas giving. I am also called to accept the person who might take advantage of me. I am called to love even the theft.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Big Hearted God
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” — Proverbs. 11:25

I am late writing this morning because I choose to join my coffee buddies before I wrote. I had not been out of the house since Tuesday afternoon. I wanted to see others in my life.

A nurse said to me after her blood test, “Merry Christmas; Happy Hanukkah; Happy Kwanzaa; and, Happy Holidays. Whatever you celebrate, may it be good”

Her comment was said in a comical vein. My heart agreed with her and started my thinking about the nature of God. My core belief is that God is a big-hearted God.

God’s heart is big enough for Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and UCCs. God’s heart accepts Roman Catholics, too. God’s heart accepts other religions as well as mine.

My view of God is an all-accepting God. If my God has a big heart, I am called to also have a big heat toward all religions, races, creeds. I don’t have to accept their doctrines nor codes. I must accept all people as Children of the Almighty.

That’s a hard task to accept all people as brothers and sisters. This is my Christmas insight, my new awareness.

If I believe in a big-hearted God, my heart is called to be big hearted, too. Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Advent Calling
“Do not hesitate to visit the sick, because for such deeds you will be loved.” — Sirach 7:35

I fondly remember many pastoral calls made during the Advent season. I called on every shut-in during the Advent season. I would give them time to visit and share what is going on in their lives. I would serve Holy Communion. We concluded by saying the Lord’s Prayer.

One older man in a nursing home had severe dementia appeared to connect with reality when I gave him communion. I started the Lord’s Prayer and he loudly repeated the prayer word for word.

One woman owned an apartment house. She used a wheelchair and she had pastries for every visit. She paid her church pledge for the year. I gave her communion and prayed.

Another woman I called on every year moved from apartment to another apartment to a nursing home. One year in the nursing home I couldn’t find her in the dayroom. I finally looked outside. She and her grandson were out on the cold benches smoking.

I joined one family on Christmas Eve for their gathering and dinner. Before I left to lead worship, I invited family members to communion. One year I had a bad cold and didn’t call. She called me on the phone and wondered where I was. I told her that I didn’t want to give her my cold as a Christmas gift. “At least, you could have called.” I learned the visits were important to her.

I fondly remember each of these visits. These visits brought me a significant gift of the Christmas spirit and memories of these delightful people who were bound to their homes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ten and Counting
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” — Isaiah 7:14

The big electronic billboard displayed in blazing letters, “Ten days till Christmas.” I started thinking about how people read this sign as they drive down the expressway.

The high powered businessman: “Good! I have ten days left before I have to buy gifts.”

Another will think, “I. will be glad when all of this Christmas mess is over.”

Frantic shopper, “I have got a few days left to get Aunt Mary’s gift.”

Student: “Three more days before the Christmas break begins.”

Child: “I can’t wait until then to see what gifts I get.”

I reflect that there are many folks who will pass this billboard and each will read it differently. I am wondering what your response will be? Post your reactions below.

Tuesday, December 10. 2019

“Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.” — Psalm 40:4

The theme of trust has my attention recently. Trust is important in relationships.

Recently, I purchased Christmas presents online. The seller asked me to meet him at a business at a specific time and day. I agreed. I arrived at the location on time. I received a call from the seller who identified himself and gave me the items I had purchased. Then, we went on our separate ways. Trust was the glue that made this transaction possible.

I think that trust is one of the things that is lacking in our world today. It begins by teaching trust to children in our homes. Parents first must trust their spouses. I believe trust is an attribute that can be taught. It is the first thing to consider in a relationship.

I saw a TV ad for gasoline recently where a man runs out of gas on the way to pick up his junior high daughter at school. He ends up meeting her with his wheelbarrow from work. The last clip has him walking down the street with his daughter in the wheelbarrow with her face expressing disgust. He made an agreement that he held up his trust.

Trust is a must in all relationships from home to business to the world stage. May we trust one another more.

I trust you will be here tomorrow and I plan to honor that trust with another “Today’s Joy.”

Monday, December 9,2019

Proud Memory
“O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” – First Chronicles 5:8

Winter approaches and memory from years ago surfaced. I was proud of my congregation who took the role of servant to stranded motorists.

I was serving as an interim minister at Sloan, Iowa, on Interstate 29, near Sioux City, along the Missouri River, bordering Nebraska. The temperature dropped several degrees on a rainy, wintery Monday. I-29 was icy and motorists became stranded at the travel mart off I-29.

Travel mart workers called a church member and said we have several folks here and need help. The member called me and asked if we can open the church to the stranded. I immediately said yes. I walked over to the church and opened the doors. Shortly after, about 40 or 50 people showed up and got settled in the fellowship hall.

Our congregation mobilized others. They brought TVs and began to fix an evening meal. We served them and had a good time. The temperature warmed and several people decided to drive home. Several college students decided to accept our invitation to spend the night in our church. We found blankets and they found spots on the pews or in the fellowship hall. We had 20 who stayed the night. We fixed them breakfast and sent them on their way.

The Wednesday morning Sioux City daily paper had a story about the icy I-29. The article was a long piece quoting me and how our church housed, fed, and slept those stranded. Later in the day, the Sioux City ABC television newsroom called me and told me they wanted to make me their “Person of the Week.” I agreed to do an interview if the church was made “The Persons of the Week.” They did and the interview appeared on their Friday newscasts.

The church became a Servant Church in this act of housing and feeding the stranded. They were The Church. I was proud of them. This is a memory that I am still proud of. Be the Church, folks!

Sunday, December 8, 2019
Advent 2-Joy
“and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; – Psalm 15:11-12
Music defines Christmas for me. The music spans my entire life with the joyful message of Christmas.
I joyfully remember the first album in my musical library was Gene Autry’s “Christmas” with “Here Comes Santy Claus” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I was ten or eleven. Since then my musical experience has bloomed to vast musical tastes.
The plateau came Friday night as I worshiped at Elmhurst College’s Hammerschmidt Chapel, “The Festival of Lessons and Carols.” The service ranged from mass choir selections with orchestral accomplishments to congregational singing as the service unfolded the Advent journey.
At home, I listen to Christmas music of a wide range from classical (“Hallelujah Chorus”) to Stan Freeberg’s satirical “Green Chri$tma$.”
I remember Christmas Eve in Iowa. After two services, we would drive to grandma’s house, three hours away. I drove the last leg listening to the complete Handel “ Messiah.” I flashback to Montana listening to the tape of the Christmas Eve service. A soprano sang “I Wonder as I Wander,” accompanied by a twelve-stringed guitar.
The joys of Christmas come whether or not you are singing “Rudolf” or listening to Bach’s “Jesu of Man’s Desiring.” Christmas opens your emotions and the heart to the joy of New Life.
Friday, December 6, 2019
Dangerous Gas
“So Hermon suffered an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes wavered and his face fell.” — Third Maccabees 5:33
Carbon monoxide almost ruined actress Anna Faris and her family. The family was celebrating Thanksgiving at a rental in Lake Tahoe, California. The family of 13 began suffering symptoms shortly after their arrival.
Symptoms include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, or loss of consciousness. Carbon monoxide is a colorless gas that gets in the bloodstream and is life-threatening if exposed to too much of it.
Carbon monoxide is produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, or other fuel without proper ventilation. A minister friend was in a life threading situation in his parsonage which used propane to heat the building. Luckily, he got some help after a doctor diagnosed his symptoms. After that, we purchased CM detectors.
Most hardware stores carry smoke detectors carbon monoxide detectors. We were checking ours out yesterday. Readers make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. They could save your life.
Thursday, December 5, 2019
My Craving
“They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied.”— Psalm 59:15
I woke up this morning with a craving for peanut brittle. I can almost taste the savory, crunchy sweet. I requested PB be picked up at the grocery store. The response was that I will make it later.
I looked up the recipe for PB: 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup light corn syrup, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ cup water, 1 cup peanuts, 2 teaspoons of softened butter, 1 teaspoon baking soda. You follow the recipe directions in mixing and baking the food.
I enjoy having PB in a bowl in a promanent place in the house. You walk by and munch as you go about your activity. It is a tasty candy to have around during the holidays.
Parishioners have given me plates of PB that didn’t last very long around the parsonage. My late father-in-law used to make a big batch of PB which was excellent. I will miss him and his PB this Christmas. Hopefully, his daughter will take care of my craving for peanut brittle.
What are you craving are you experiencing this morning?
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Your Self Care
“for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” — Second Timothy 1:7
Self-care is important as time marches toward Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate.
A friend asked me why does all of the bad stuff seem to come during the holidays? I will start by saying that most of our emotions are out front and thus we are more vulnerable. People are fired up in anticipation for parties, family gatherings, gift exchanges and the drama of holiday activities.
I know several people who are being treated for cancer. I know others who have serious medical issues. I know others whose friends have died recently while others are facing difficult challenges. These events are magnified during these holiday times.
1. Remind yourself that you are valuable and take a few moments to be by yourself alone. Take deep breaths and close your eyes and be silent for 3 minutes. Let your mind rest and stop thinking or worrying about problems for a few minutes.
2. Have one friend you can relax and goof off with for a few minutes. The friend who you can tell anything—who listens, laughs and cries with you. Find a time you can meet at least once a week.
3. Eat and sleep regularly. Sit down and eat healthy foods. Avoid eating on the run. Take time to walk or workout regularly.
4. Go to a movie, theatre, sports event to an environment where you will be away from your problems.
5. Worship in your synagogue, church, or religious space where your emotions and intellect may be refreshed. If things get desperate, talk to your rabbi, priest, minister or therapist to help you deal with the difficult times you are facing.
Care for your selves Find attenton, appreciation and affection during the stressful times. There is only one of you and our God calls us to love ourselves and embracethe joys of life.
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Tuesday for Giving
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” — Second Corinthians 9:7
Today, I am especially proud of my denomination, the United Church of Christ. Their emphasis on Giving Tuesday is helping erase the medical debt.
Medical debt contributes to more than 60% of all bankruptcies. Numbers show 75% of all individuals in medical bankruptcy have health insurance coverage. About 43 million Americans owe about $75 billion in past-due medical debt. (Source: UCC website)
“Medical debt is an economic justice issue, which causes people to cut back on non-medical necessities, cuts people off from needed medical services, and sinks people into a health-poverty trap.”
My past parishioners have struggled with medical debt. Fellow pastors have told me about folks who have had to choose between rent, groceries, utilities or doctor bills. This is a real problem.
I wrote about this in Today’s Joy on Sunday, October 27 when several Chicago South Side churches picked up 5,888 families medical debt. They purchased their debt from collection agencies. One lady got the check to cancel her deceased mother’s debt. She gave the money back to Trinity UCC to help another person’s medical debt.
Today, I highlight one of the ways to respond to valuable charities on this Giving Tuesday. Regardless of who you support, support one helpful one. I am proud of the focus of my UCC.
Monday, December 2, 2019
Advent One—Hope (2)
“In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” — John 5:3
The powerful voice of hope spoke loudly as I watched a Sunday news profile of Alec Cabacungan, the national spokesman for Shriners Hospital for Children.
The eight-minute clip caught my attention for my son, Aaron, who was a patient at Shriners for Leggs-Pethese disease when he was in kindergarten. The disease is a childhood condition that cuts off the blood supply to the hip in growth. He received excellent care at Shriners.
The small 17-year-old Alec said, “I used to be known as that kid in the wheelchair, and now I’m Alec in those commercials, and that’s special to me.” His personality lights up the screen with his small stature.
Alec has a brittle bone disease which severely limits his mobility. His ribs could crack with a sneeze. He is treated by Dr. Peter Smith, my son’s doctor. He said that he’s healthy now so he can stay away from Dr. Smith —he says with a laugh.
His spirit and Shriners commercials have made him a star. He appears on his podcast, “Smart Alec on Sports” which has gotten him interviewed on national TV sportscasts. He knows sports in and out. He plays wheelchair sports—basketball and softball.
He drives his own handicapped van which was given by his parents and has a driver’s license. He wants to be treated like a normal teenager. He is a teenaged star for good reason. He speaks on behalf of disabled children who are treated free with the latest medical know-how. Alec featured the Chicago Shriners Hospital that I know well.
I watched this video clip with tears flowing down my cheeks. The only problem with Shriners is that you have endured the smell of the Mars candy factory next door as you come to and go from Shriners.
Sunday, December 1, 2019
Advent One—Hope
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” —Psalm 42:11
The first candle is lit today on the Advent wreath for hope. Where do we see hope with so much strife in the world?
Signs of hope on the surface appeared in our home as Christmas decorations were brought out of storage. Christmas lights are appearing on homes in neighborhoods. The stores have had decorations up for weeks. Christmas music sounds fill the media.
These are external signs of hope. I pray that hope will rise from the hearts of the individual. Hope comes from when hearts are touched by love and goodness and respond outwardly by giving to and serving others.
I witnessed a memorial service for Bruce (Today’s Joy, Nov. 1, “My Friend Bruce”) yesterday. The service was a true celebration of life. Our pastor reminded us of his kindness, his love of nature, and his work ethic plus his quirky sense of humor. He had a saying “Oh, boy” that gave us a smile. The sermon started out with Pink Floyd’s “Money” played over the sound system. He used this song title as a mantra when money was spent. The service was a supportive celebration. I see hope in the spirit which service touched my heart.
I think hope comes by surrounding yourself with a hopeful community and allowing your heart to be open to hope. Let love instruct you to be aware of hope in your lives. I hunch there is more hope around us than we think. Let us look for hope under our noses.
Friday, November 29, 2019
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;” —Psalm 66:1
 THE JOY STORE (always open)
All items listed below are completely FREE WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED
SMILE—Take a moment and give a smile to a weary shopper. They will receive joy.
HUGS — Pick a random person in a store and ask them if you can give them a hug. It will brighten their day.
SING—Play “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night on your device and start singing as loud as you want. It will bring joy to your heart and those around you.
DANCE—Do a little jig while you walk between stores or where ever and it will lighten up space around you.
 MEDITATE—Sit down on a bench or chair along with an open space in the mall, the airport, or any place. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths and relax for three minutes (set your timer on your phone or watch).
 You are free to use one or all of the items above to make your Black Friday a more joyful experience.
(An adaptation of a previous Lenten Program by Debra Drasal Wesolowski and me.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Holiday Blues
“Frustration is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart.” —

My cousin is a teacher for the allied forces in Germany.
Terry is in a hospital for a problem with her knee. They will release her tomorrow. She returns in two weeks for a second surgery to correct the issue. The sad part is that she will miss traveling back to the states to see her family at Christmas.

I read her notes this morning and felt sad for those who are in the hospital on this Thanksgiving weekend. The hospital staff will provide holiday meals and surround patients with a holiday spirit. However, it is not like being home with family and friends.

I knew people who did not like holidays because they didn’t have children or relatives. They went with friends who didn’t have anyone, to a restaurant. They were able to support one another.

The weather is bad in many parts of the country. Flights have been canceled and snowy roads may keep families apart for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving celebration. We have dry, windy weather in the Chicago area with calm coming on Thursday. Weather in every direction away from here is bad. It may hinder travel.

We live in a wonderful electronic age. Families can get together on video calls. I suggest if a member of your family will not be with you on Thanksgiving, reach out and make a contact with them and tell them that you miss them. Change the frustration and sadness into a smile and laughter.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Holiday Blues
“Frustration is better than laughter because a sad face is good for the heart.” —

My cousin is a teacher for the allied forces in Germany.
Terry is in a hospital for a problem with her knee. They will release her tomorrow. She returns in two weeks for a second surgery to correct the issue. The sad part is that she will miss traveling back to the states to see her family at Christmas.

I read her notes this morning and felt sad for those who are in the hospital on this Thanksgiving weekend. The hospital staff will provide holiday meals and surround patients with a holiday spirit. However, it is not like being home with family and friends.

I knew people who did not like holidays because they didn’t have children or relatives. They went with friends who didn’t have anyone, to a restaurant. They were able to support one another.

The weather is bad in many parts of the country. Flights have been canceled and snowy roads may keep families apart for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving celebration. We have dry, windy weather in the Chicago area with calm coming on Thursday. Weather in every direction away from here is bad. It may hinder travel.

We live in a wonderful electronic age. Families can get together on video calls. I suggest if a member of your family will not be with you on Thanksgiving, reach out and make a contact with them and tell them that you miss them. Change the frustration and sadness into a smile and laughter.

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.”— Genesis 4:3

I have usually had turkey on Thanksgiving. Some times I have had ham. I remember my family had both turkey and ham on Thanksgiving. I like them both.

I grew up in Texas with cornbread dressing. Elaine’s family has made sage dressing and she does too. I have forgotten what cornbread dressing tastes like since it has been a while since I tasted it. The dressing on the table has always tasted well.

Some cooks cook a blend of fresh cranberries. Others serve the cranberry sauce from the can. Elaine makes a cranberry/jello salad that I really like.

Mashed potatoes appeared on my Thanksgiving table. One family member serves garlic potatoes which are a family favorite. There have been sweet potatoes for some holidays. I have eaten mashed potatoes on the first round and sweet potatoes on the second helping.

Pies have been a staple of dessert on “Turkey Day” as some folks call it. My family tradition over the last years has been to have plenty of good pies. My preference is a small slice of both apple and pumpkin with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

We begin the feast with shrimp, shrimp sauce, crackers and dip before dinner. Later in the afternoon kolaches, cookies and peanut brittle were around to munch on. I remember a maze of good food and abundance.

I thank God for all of the time, expertise, and culinary skills that will be amassed in the next several days to create wonderful, succulent feasts at dining room tables around the country. This is my favorite maze of food. What is your favorite food maze?

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Beautiful View

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:43

A wonderful experience followed an uneventful shopping trip following worship. We went to see a movie that I strongly recommend, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Tom Hanks plays the part of Mister Rogers whose friendship with a journalist enhanced the writer’s life. It is based on a real-life friendship between the writer Tom Junod and Mr. Rogers.

Tom Hanks captured Mr. Rogers with precision in his performance. The trailer has a New York subway car people singing the television show’s theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, ” to him and the writer.

This was not a “feel good” movie in my opinion. The storyline was a powerful drama that revealed a major division between the writer and his father. Mr. Rogers helps him come to terms with the pain and healing his trauma.

This movie delves into child development and trauma that most children experience in growing up. The story grabbed my innards when my dad suddenly died while my mom was in a mental hospital. The movie correctly displays what most children need from their parents, “you are important” and have an environment (neighborhood) where they are accepted.

“It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” offers a message to the little child inside us, no matter how old or young, that can be heard. I invite you to place it as a “must-see” movie on your bucket list.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Be Perfect
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” —Matthew. 5:48

My wife baked a “perfect” lemon/blueberry bundt cake on Friday for our church Harvest Festival. She followed the recipe to the letter. The dough tasted “real good.” She baked it and let it cool. She turned it to let it slide out of the pan. It stayed in the pan. She took a knife and gently loosed it around the pan edges. She turned it over and the cake broke leaving the top section of the cake in the pan. The cake was “topless.”

I suggested she take it with a sign “The Perfect Tasting ‘Imperfect Cake.’” The cake stayed at home and it tastes divine.

The cake is a parable about perfection. We work hard to “be perfect” in every way. Most folks miss the words of Jesus. We attempt perfection in our lives. No matter how hard we try, we miss the mark. I am not a perfect writer, a perfect speaker, nor a perfect anything.

After the above passage, Jesus talks about loving your enemies. He says the rain falls equally on everyone. He means that God is perfect love. Strive to love perfectly as the Heavenly Parent loves.

I think we are called to do tasks well. I am called to write so that people can understand my ideas. I am called to love people who I don’t necessarily agree with me or I like. God loves them as much as God loves me.

I feel like singing, “Jesus loves the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The cake tastes divine even though it looks strange.

Friday, November 22 2019

Revelation Decoded
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” —
Revelation 21:1

With gleeful joy, I read Matthew Laney’s “Still Speaking” devotional yesterday. He gave an honest read on the Book of Revelation. It is a coded book from John on the Isle of Patmos to the early Christians on the mainland. The message is “to keep the faith.”

I have listened to scary and angry interpretations of this book. Some think it is a book of doom predicting the end of the world. I have encountered evangelical bullies who have determined for me that if I don’t agree with their view of God—I am condemned to Hell. I have to join them NOW! They think Revelation is about the end of the world. Their pitch completely turns me off.

I agree with Laney that Revelation is about God renewing the world after injustice and corruption destroyed the world. The book is about hope and renewal.

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was in Dallas on that day in a seminary classroom studying, “The Nature and Destiny of Man” by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr. Fifty-six years later the world still faces many of the issues faced on that dreadful day.

Revelation is decoded. The message of reconciliation and hope that John gave the early Christians on the mainland is still the same message of love, renewal, and hope we are given today. We are eternally important.

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Walking Billboards
“I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” — Psalm 22:22
Most of us have sweatshirts and tee shirts with logos of our favorite team and other words on them as walking billboards.
Our family has Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Cubs tees and sweatshirts. My son gave me a “Da Bears” tee-shirt with a reminder of the famous Saturday Night Live sketch about a Chicago restaurant. I have a very warm sweatshirt about my alma mater, the Southern Methodist Mustangs.
I have seen funny tee shirts and others with pictures of their pets and grandchildren on the front. Each of us has a tee shirt or sweatshirt with our favorite sayings on them. Some businesses have their sayings and logos on their shirts.
Dean from Saint Petri-Chicago designed a logo with the inscription, “Established 1885.” His family gave me a coat with my name on the front and logo on the back. We wore the shirts during fund-raisers and special events. I wore the coat and sweatshirt to denominational meetings. You knew which church I came from.
Yesterday, I wore a tee-shirt that was a sermon when you read both the front and back. FRONT: “3 Great Loves for a Just World for All/ BACK: “The Love of Children. The Love of Neighbor. The Love of Creation.”
What does your favorite tee or sweatshirts say? All of us have billboards in our clothing drawers.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
 Today’s Repeated Rant
“And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?—Numbers 14:11
How Long O Lord?
A year ago my rant came after four people were killed by a shooter at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. I know that hospital where I have called on parishioners. In the last year, there has been many more mass shootings—recently in California and Oklahoma.
How long O Lord will time pass before people stop using guns to solve problems?
How long O Lord before people will stop feeding their anger with revenge?
How long O Lord before human life is respected.
In the middle of the Thanksgiving season, these questions must be answered in our society!

Today’s Joy & Thinking
Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Problem Solving 101
“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” — First Corinthians 14:20

I think there should be a mandatory class for all of us, Problem Solving 101. The course would teach us how to use words and feelings in a creative way to solve issues.

The goal of the class is to teach students how to rationally solve problems solely with their words logically without violence.

First, self-care is to how to use our minds with logic and sensitivity. Next, teach emotional awareness and using emotions with moderation. Third, how to use critical thinking and nurturing judgments. Four, how our bodies respond when fear and anger take charge compared with gentleness and compassion.

The next section is to teach how to interact with other people and how to solve problems by consensus. Logic would be a major component in this section. The art of debate would be used. The goal of this section is to teach how to get “what I want” and how to figure out what is the most important issue that both sides can agree with. How to master the process of consensus.

The final section is teaching how to parent children to solve problems.

The course work and the field education would go hand in hand. As I write this, morning television is talking about the new movie, “Mister Rogers.” Mr. Rogers may be a template for this course.

I would put the course in elementary and high school curriculums. Perhaps this course shouldn’t be an elective course if our society is going to survive as a kind, more gentler world.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Thanksgiving Season

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” —First Thessalonians 5:18

Over the next two weeks, Thanksgiving will be the theme with our families, churches and our country.

I remember as a pastor I had a full worship service on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. The opening hymn was “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” and continued to follow this theme. Parishioners brought food to re-stock local food pantries. And, children would bring can goods to Children’s Sermons. I was involved with one church that had a Thanksgiving dinner following worship.

Several communities I served in had community thanksgiving services. Several congregations came together on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for a service at a designated church. One community service highlighted several different languages and cultures in this Chicago neighborhood.

And, I preached for the first time in a Roman Catholic Church in a rural community. The service brought tears of joy to one lady who exclaimed, “Thank God, thank God, it’s about time. Farmers work together and I’m glad the churches are finally working together.”

I echo my sermon theme frequently during my ministry. I am glad we give thanks every year at this time. I believe we are called to ALWAYS GIVE THANKS during the entire year. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Thanks with Joy
“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” — Psalm 95:2

I recall a maternal family story about my great grandmother. She overheard a new daughter-in-law tell her husband that she was going to reform this family. She told him that she was going to teach them how to be religious.

Great-grandma waited until the next meal. She promptly said let us have grace. “Bless the food, damn the skin, all back your ears and pitch in.” Then, she looked over her horned-rim glasses at her new daughter-in-law.”Now we will say grace correctly.” She, then, offered a more serious prayer.

Fast forward, I used to verbally play with my sons. They would say, “Dad, say grace.” I would say the word, “grace,” and my guys would say we can eat. Their mother requested I say a more formal grace.

Doesn’t God accept playful prayers as well as serious prayers? My great grandmother’s first prayer was her playful thanks to making a point with the new member of the family. My sons’ verbal play was a happy way to give brief thanks to God for our bounty.

I suspect God receives playful and serious prayers equally. I believe God accepts playfulness as an expression of joy.

We are taught that fun and playfulness is not “holy.” I offer that God accepts fun and playfulness more than anger, meanness, and hate. The innocent playfulness of a father and son gives thanks to God with a chuckle.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Frigid November Start
“Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest are faithful messengers to those who send them; they refresh the spirit of their masters.” — Proverbs 25:13

Someone posted on FaceBook that fall came and went in one day. The first 15 days of November have had one day with an average temperature of 55º and the average snowfall is 0.8 inches. Every other day has been below average in highs and lows.

We have had 8.3 inches of snow this month. Normally, I remember the first snow falls around Thanksgiving.

We have had to get out of our winter coats and gloves early. We have had to clear ice and snow off the walks. Every building I have entered this month has ice-melting salt on the walkways. Our village’s snow clearing trucks have been on the roads at least twice this month.

I hear other places east of the Rockies have had a blast of Canadian cold. My friend in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada has warm temperatures. Her mother in Quebec got the same cold as we did. Friends in Buffalo, New York, got snow early, too.

Today’s weather is ten degrees warmer than yesterday with above freezing for the first time in several days. I give thanks for the warmer temps. I hope it will be warmer where you are. I pray that winter will hold off the frigid weather until January.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Forever Learning
“My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; …” — Proverbs 2:1

This morning I saw a FaceBook post that a person that requested that supply filled backpacks be given at their funeral rather than flowers. A photo of backpacks was at the altar and at the end of each church pew. I hunch the deceased was a teacher.

I developed a passion for learning throughout my life. My dad only had a third-grade education and my mother went through the eighth grade. Their church was the most important institution they supported. All the ministers who served the Columbia United Methodist Church in West Columbia, Texas, were well educated.

My academic struggle began in the first grade and lasted through graduate school. My parents’ lack of how to navigate the educational system was passed on to me. Neither of them had enough emotional or intellectual tools to adequately guide me in school. I don’t blame them for they did the best they knew how.

They pointed me to scholarly models in the preachers in my formative years. Gradually, I began to find people who were thinkers. I chose to make friends of bright people who made up my circle of friends. I grew in this community.

The electronic information age helped grow enormously in the past 25 years. I found excellent sites that helped me preach better sermons with scholarly Bible studies. I started editing web sites and sending out e-newsletters during the week.

Here on the internet I have have been fed by sites with bright people and listened to mind-stimulating lectures. I thank my friend, Roxanne, for noticing that I think fast. “You are the only person I know who thinks as fast as a computer.” Our teacher, Natalie, taught me that this was ”precious information.” I was drawn to this brilliant woman’s every thought and feeling.

This morning I give thanks to my parents who were basically uneducated and pointed me in the right direction. I have ended up having a passion for life-learning.

Wednesday, November 13, 20219

When I Was Vulnerable…
“May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion.”— Psalm 20:2

Two times in my life, I have been especially vulnerable— during a divorce and when a tornado came.

Two ministers and their families come to mind. I was in Baker, Montana, during the divorce in 1974. The Rev. George Barber (conference minister) drove from Missoula to Baker, 568 miles, to support me at a church council meeting. He used my home as a base to do work with other churches in the area. His support was deeply appreciated.

Rev. John McClelland and wife, Louise, called me the Saturday night before Easter. They said, “It must be hard to write an Easter sermon tonight.” These words comforted me during this rough time.

My friend, Denton Roberts, came up from LA and with Sister Betty and Sister Sharon comforted me in my grief at their mission in Southeast Montana. These friends comforted me.

Fast forward to June of 1978 when a tornado destroyed my church and severely damaged the parsonage in Manson, Iowa. My people were supportive and comforted Elaine and I. One memory specifically stands out. The morning after at 6:15 a.m. I called the conference office in Des Moines to leave a voice mail to say we’re okay. The Rev. Scott Libbey, Conference Minister, answered the phone and asked, ”Bob, how are you and Elaine?” Scott’s words felt very comforting at that moment.

Each of us has times when we are vulnerable. I think it is important that a minister can accept help from others. I was vulnerable and my friends came to my rescue.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Privileged Responsibility
“For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” — Psalms 9:18

I slept in this morning to 7:30 a.m. in a warm bed and home with a working furnace that keeps working while the temperature is 7º outside.

I remember that there are thousands of people here in Chicago are homeless. Other cities have their homeless, too.

The Night Ministry in Chicago ministers to many homeless 12 months a year with a bus with a nurse, social worker and minister aboard. The crew offers hot coffee or cocoa, medical help, and social services. The bus travels to different parts of the city each night. Their ministry is extremely important last night and this morning.

My former congregation has baked cookies that went on the bus to be passed out to those on the streets of the city. They have other ministries that offer housing and other essentials.

Other cities have their homeless ministries, also. You are encouraged to support them to serve the homeless in your city.

We who live in warm homes are called to serve the mission outreach of your church, synagogue, or charity to take care of the homeless in your city. With the privilege of warm homes, the Divine calls us to provide warmth for those who are cold.

Monday, November 11, 2019

My Personal Vets Remembrance
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations, you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”—Exodus 12:14

This morning on Veterans Day I share my family and pastoral involvement on this day.

WORLD WAR ONE: My dad, Willie Hempel, was stationed at Camp Stanley in Brownwood, Texas. He drove a wagon carrying supplies with four mules. He loved this activity. I received a flag at his burial service in West Columbia, TX, in April of 1949. It was given by the local American Legion.

WORLD WAR TWO: My first wife’s father, Virgil Treberg, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. He only saw Karen when she was a baby. She was six months old when he was killed.

PASTORAL SERVICE: My first baptism was held at the Naval Base in Vallejo, California. I took part in many vets programs on this day during my ministry.

I witnessed many burial services which concluded with a memorial service by local veteran’s groups— followed by a 16 gun salute.

I performed two committal services at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elmwood, Illinois. The first was for James Rietz, Senior. His son, Jim, was/is the Apple guru in my local DuPage Apple Users Group. The second was for Earl Burger who was a long-time member of my last church, St. Petri UCC on Chicago’s East Side. Earl lived most of his life on the East Side.

I remember my dad and my first wife’s dad on this Veterans’ Day. I remember those veterans whom I have served as a pastor. I give thanks to those veterans served by The Church on this day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Easy Entrance for All
“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” — Luke 14:13

The scriptures teach us to invite everyone to our gatherings. Yet, the structure of many buildings makes entering an obstacle course for those who have difficulty walking, seeing and hearing.

I went to a church recently where I planned to use my walker to navigate through the place to get to the dining hall. I had to leave the walker and use my cane to climb down two separate stairs to reach the dining hall. The building was built long before there were accessible codes. There seemed to be no person interested in helping or giving directions for an easier navigation. I was disappointed.

My UCC recognizes one Sunday per year as handicapped Sunday. It offers prayers and gives thanks for accessible churches. Besides prayers, they have specific plans and guidelines for making places of worship easier for people like me who walk with aids.

I was recently impressed with a department store which gives the wheelchair symbol with buttons that automatically open the doors. I can hear many trustees saying that it won’t be used that much and it is not economically feasible. One the other hand, the absence of these accessible tools may be why more people don’t come.

One of my late family members told me I was better off divorced from my first wife because she was a “poor helpless crippled thing.” My moral anger bristled at that remark. Her polio limited her navigation and I didn’t have any problem there. The relative’s remarks were well-intentioned. Yet, those old thoughts keep my ex and others in a box. Her appearance raises a barrier to keep from getting to know the person. I suspect some of those thoughts are still around.

Awareness needs to be constantly brought out into the open to give accessible churches and buildings where all people can worship, learn, dine, and fellowship together.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mixed Feelings
“for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”— First Timothy 4:8

A significant chapter in my life will end today. My last physical therapy session is scheduled for 8 a.m. this morning.

I normally go at 9 a.m. and this was the time the facility had available. With January temperatures outside on this November morning, I don’t relish going out.

What I will miss the most is the great relationship that I have formed with these younger physical therapists. They have shared their lives with me and me them. We have laughed and supported each other.

I knew the exercise routines well. I ride the stationary bike for 10 minutes. I go to the table where the therapist uses massage techniques on my legs, knees, hip, or back. Next, I have four table exercises—one with weights on my ankles. I move to several things along a wall. I use my arms to pull with bands in four positions. Last I do a series of three step up and step downs of raised step.

I visit with the receptionist and grab several peppermint pieces from her desk. Then, I check and see if my ride has arrived. I go down the elevator to the waiting car outside in a crowded parking lot. My wife puts in my walker in the trunk. Sometimes we have other tasks. When I do go home, I frequently take a nap which can lasts from a half-hour or longer many times.

What I will miss the most is the positive environment where positive technicians guide you through the process to gain strength. Everyone tells me that I am walking better and standing straighter. The hip replacement regained my ability to walk better. The PT time has helped me actualize walking, standing, and improving body strength. I can open heavy bathroom doors much better.

I write to support physical therapy when doctors prescribe the process for you after an injury or hospitalization as in my case. The hip surgery and later hospital stays sent me to PT.

I will miss my trainers and the good situation. How will I continue to excise? I do better in a tightly supervised environment. Stay turned.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

27º Arrives
“The cold north wind blows, and ice freezes on the water; it settles on every pool of water, and the water puts it on like a breastplate.” — Sirach 43:20

The cold air arrived in our part of the world at 27º. The average low temperature is 38º and the high temperature is 55º. The high is expected to be 33º —5 degrees below our average low in La Grange Park, IL.

I remember when I first moved to Montana and my first winter living in cold weather. I had lived in Texas and California until the move. I adapted with a warm winter coat, gloves, and boots.

My mom came up for my ordination at Baker, Montana on October 18. It snowed the day before she was to fly back to South Texas. She panicked and told me she didn’t want to be stuck “up here.” I drove her to the Rapid City, S.D., airport with a light cover of snow. Her flight got her back to Houston before more snow and cold arrived.

Several years later, she moved to Iowa where she would spend the last five years of her life. We got her a good warm coat, gloves, and warm boots. She got along quite well with the Iowa weather. Her first winter went much better than she expected. She got to know the people and we helped her walk to the car and to warm buildings. She got used to Iowa weather.

Everyone back in West Columbia, her home, commented about how cold it was “up North.” She assured them that she “got along mighty fine.”

Well, I am getting along mighty fine with the latest Canadian chill. I got a new warm coat yesterday and I will do fine in the record cold this week.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Early in the Morning.
“Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord;” Genesis 9:27

Early in the morning is a good time for me. I awake and lye in bed thinking about the many things the day will bring.

Today is my next to the last day of physical therapy. I think about those who provide the program to help me regain strength after my summer hospital time. I have become friends with the therapist who guides me through repetitive exercises. I have gotten to know the routine. I hear their praises and attempt to comply. They tell me I am getting stronger. The only gripe is the survey that Medicare asks. They use pain as the criteria for accomplishing tasks. I wonder who wrote this dumb questions. It is not the pain that stops me from doing tasks. It is a lack of energy and stamina the slows me down. After all, I am an 82-year-old male. I appreciate the good environment.

I have adapted to the move from daylight savings to standard time well. I have been looking for a new winter coat in the store and online. I have tried on several at the store. I downloaded a large department store app. I think I spotted an excellent one for 40% off and it is available in the Oak Brook store.

I think about all of these things. And, then I get up and grab my favorite robe, turn the heat up, and turn the coffee pot on. I pick up my iPad and look over the morning Sun-Times with the stuff that is happening in Chicago. Then, I start the process of writing my joy.

I am a morning person and enjoy thinking over my day and its blessings. The coffee is done and I am ready for a cup. What is it like for you in the early morning?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Wise Words @ 103
“Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still;” — Proverbs 9:9

Last night I watched in awe a video interview with Dr. Fanita English who at 103 years old spoke wise words with clarity as she has always done. (a video on FaceBook)

She talked fluently about the modality of Transactional Analysis and it’s principles. She said therapists should get their contracts completed and therapy is done. (TA is a positive psychotherapy movement developed by the late Dr. Eric Berne, M.D.)

She talked about the principle of being in the here and now. She was in the here and now as she answered Alexis Brink’s questions. She said that it was not important in therapy to go on an archeological dig (talking about past experiences). The important task is to see how the past affects the present.

Fanita said she is sad about the loss of most of her friends. The last time I saw Fanita was about 20 years ago. I had breakfast with her, Morris and Natalie Haimowitz in Kenosha, Wisconsin at the Haimowitz retreat center. Both Morris and Natalie have passed away.

My friend Denton Roberts would ask me to sit in Fanita’s Amnesty International’s booth that Fanita hosted at many ITAA Conferences. Denton has left us too. Denton introduced me to Fanita and I respect her wisdom and guidance. At 103, she was happy to learn that many youths were at the recent Raleigh TA Conference.

I am a Christian minister who has used TA as a tool in my 50 years of ministry. You don’t have to know TA to recognize that anyone who is 103 and still speaks words of wisdom with clarity is a person who deserves to be seriously listened to.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Contemporary Zacchaeus
“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Luke 16:5

Recently, I remembered a sermon I submitted at a workshop on preaching in Switzerland. I used a story form to bring Zacchaeus into the present day.

“Jesus was going from town to town. He was been driven by a pastor to the Jericho county seat. The pastor told him about the young Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who foreclosed on a poor widow who had to move to her daughter’s home because she couldn’t pay taxes. He sold a farm from a disabled man for taxes. The young man was nothing like his grandfather who was kind and worked out payments. I’d like to see you do something with that young rascal.

Zacchaeus heard about the healer Jesus come to town. He got on the fire escape outside his office to get a view of Jesus when he drove by. The pastor driving Jesus looked up and told Jesus he was the one on the fire escape. Jesus got out of the car and said, “Tax collector Zacchaeus! Come down, I am going to your house for lunch today.”

He called his wife Mary and she was upset. “This is my bridge day and we are having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” He said he had to hang up for he was meeting Jesus at the moment. As they drove to his new home on the edges town, he apologized for having PB and J sandwiches. Jesus said he ate many PB and J sandwiches when he was a boy.

They had a good modest lunch. After a while, Jesus told him that he had heard about the farmer who was forced off his farm and the poor widow who had to move in with her daughter and family. Jesus told Zacchaeus that people say you are not as kind as your grandfather. “They say you are mean and you think more about collecting their money than about their struggles in living.” He felt guilty and said that he would have to do better. “I guess I want to more like grandpa.”

The driver came to take Jesus to the next town. Mary went to her bridge game. Zacchaeus. went back to work. The driver told Jesus that the ministers were angry that he didn’t come and talk to them. They were upset that he spent time with a crook rather than them. Jesus said, “The tax collector had more need of him than the pastors.”

A few weeks later Zacchaeus’ reputation had changed for the better. The poor widow returned to her home with his working with senior services to help with her tax. He stopped the foreclosure of the handicapped farmer. Other farmers and Zacchaeus helped him find a way for him to stay on his farm.

The years that followed showed that Zacchaeus was dramatically changed when he had PB and J sandwiches with Jesus. People said he became more like his kind, merciful grandpa. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Good Bye and Welcome
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason.” — Ephesians 1:15

This time of the year we remember those who have joined the Kingdom Eternal with All Saints Day or Totenfest, or Remembrance Sunday. Each church and denomination handle the observance differently.

The last church where I was pastor developed a Totenfest service where we lit candles for those in that community who had died during the past year. We added a ritual of “Welcome” as we lit candles for the babies that were baptized during the past year. The service opened a way to give thanks to those lost and a welcome to new children.

The service added a feeling of celebrating life’s cycle that honored death and birth. The service including the families of those lost and those gained. The gain was that the church practiced inclusion that lifted these families lives in worship as well as the baptism and funeral services.

I have used the word Totenfest twice. Wikipedia says, “Totenfest, is a Northern German and Dutch Protestant religious holiday commemorating the dead. It falls on the last Sunday before the First of the Sundays of Advent.”. This congregation used the last Sunday of the Church Year for this celebration.

The service is a part of the fabric and an important Sunday in the life of the Protestant Church. Your congregation may celebrate it early in November or late in November. Whenever thanks be to God for those who have joined the Eternal Kingdom and hello to those who have joined the Cradle Roll. Amen.

Friday, November 1, 2019

My Friend Bruce
“A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.” — Proverbs 17:17

I met Bruce at the family church. His dad, Ray, was still alive and Ray was a colorful man who knew everyone around. My sons verbally spared with him about his Packers and their Bears.

Bruce was quietly in the background as I got to know him at the fish fry, worship, and other church activities. We served on a church committee together. We talked more and more when we saw each other.

Elaine and I spent Labor Day weekend in Door County a year ago. She said that Barb, Bruce’s wife, invited us to their home on Washington Island — an island in the northern section of Door County. Sunday morning, we took the ferry to the island. They met us at the dock for a wonderful day.

Bruce and I sat on his deck and looked at the beautiful view of Lake Michigan. We caught up with each other. We were frequently visited by their two dogs. He gave a detailed history of how he got his home. The place was a great “getaway” for him and his family. I took a picture of the view and sent it to our Pastor Joe. The caption said, “making a pastoral call on Bruce & Barb on Washington Island, WI.” Bruce delighted in my note to our pastor.

We ate a late afternoon lunch and openly talked about his struggle with Myotonic Dystrophy. (A genetic and long-term that affects muscle function. Source: Google Search). Bruce has slowed down with this disease that claimed his sister’s life.

They returned us to the ferry. We saw them at church activities. We saw Bruce less frequently. He seemed to grow weaker each time I saw him. Last week, he died as First Responders sought to save him. I am truly sad for I lost a good friend. Barb and our church family grieves.

I offer thanks to God for the life of Bruce. I appreciated my visits with him at the Men’s Group, fish fries, and other church events. My day on Washington Island with him is etched in my memory forever. Rest In Peace, Bruce, my good buddy. Amen.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Holy Ghost
“…and a time to laugh;” — Ecclesiastes 3:4b

I once went to a Halloween party dressed in a white sheet and cross hung around my neck. I had an eye, nose and mouth holes in the sheet to navigate. Most people laughed and named my identity, “The Holy Ghost!” That was correct.

A friend told me that she was going to a costume party where you were to be dressed as a circus or carnival people. Her husband was going as a carnival knife thrower. Her costume had knives sticking out. She reported that their costumes worked well and the party was fun.

I remember at one church that I hosted a haunted house for youth. Several parents helped plan a scary event. I got the Lutheran minister’s daughter to be the corpse that woke up. I had a tape of sounds from a haunted house. We took each blind-folded youth one by one through the basement maze. The final stop was in the morgue. The youth’s hand was placed on the Lutheran’s foot. She screamed and we took the blind-fold off. The youth stayed and took part in making noise for the next youth. We had refreshments of witch’s brew and fun things. I admit it was a fun evening for the youth.

Today I will hand out candy to children who come to the door. We will have a small group. I am hoping I get a few M &Ms and Reese’s pieces. That’s about all the excitement I will have today. Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18

Several years ago, I served as interim pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Vallejo, California. Vallejo is on I-80, 32 miles north of San Francisco.

Sunday, the fire came near Vallejo. My friend, Nancy, writes, “Some very close on Sunday. One huge fire literally jumped over the Carquinez Bridge. That means the fire jumped from Vallejo to Crockett, which is over a mile…. got word that our power to our house was shut off for two hours. Fortunately, the power was on when we got home.”

I fondly remember the people in the Vallejo church. Several people in that church wrote Christmas notes for several years. A youth wrote to me once in a while. The last I heard she was a senior at a college in Northern California. She was in elementary school education. I hope she and her family are safe.

This morning the news from both Southern and Northern California is scary. The Santa Ana winds are slowing down in the north, but still raging in the south.

I ask that you join me in prayers for those in the wake of the fires in California. I am especially praying for my friends in Vallejo. May all be safe.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pumpkin or Apple?
“with the choice fruits of the sun, and the rich yield of the months;” — Deuteronomy 33:14

The fall fruits of apple and pumpkin are in abundance at this time of the year.

“Illinois currently holds the No. 1 spot for pumpkin production in the nation, producing three times more pumpkins than any other state.
Mohammad Babadoost, professor for ACES, said that Illinois grows and yields more pumpkins than any other state. The state has around 25,000 acres of pumpkins while other states have around 6,000 to 8,000 acres.” (Source: The Daily Illini)

Pumpkin pancakes that my wife fixes is the best pumpkin rendering I have had this season. You pour pure maple syrup over them. They are very tasty. We have a pumpkin pie that we had for dessert last night was good.

My favorite apple rendering has been some apple cider doughnuts that we found at an apple orchard we visited near DeKalb, IL. We had hot apple cider with our fresh doughnuts. Yummy!

Elaine makes an apple crisp which is a family favorite. The best apple strudel I have eaten was in Germany. We were driving on the Autobahn toward Munich. We stopped for a bathroom break and saw several young adults eating strudel. We found the nearby bakery and purchased the last on their shelves. It was still warm and I say I haven’t tasted any better since.

Which do you like? Apple or pumpkin? My answer is both. Remember your pumpkin probably comes from Illinois and the apples may be from Michigan.

Please had me some hot apple cider as I eat my pumpkin pancakes. Later!

Monday, October 28. 2019

Monday’s Notebook
“then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,”— Proverbs 8:30

Today is Monday and several things are brewing in my mind.

The memory of yesterday with worship, lunch with friends, watching the Bears implode and watching “God Friended Me” filled my day. I drove a car for the first time yesterday. I still know how to drive though I felt a little uneasy at first. I took a friend home from church and returned to get Elaine who was at a meeting. It had been a long time since I drove. I eased into the drive and I felt good.

We depend on cars for getting around our world. I must say that as I write this I am moved to give thanks to my wife for driving me everywhere. She will drive me at 9 a.m. to a physical therapy appointment. A friend will pick me up for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

Elaine has been driving me everywhere for the past several years. Recently, we got away to view the fall leaves. The two days we saw fall leaves in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. We drove down the winding roads of the Red Arrow Highway from Michigan into Indiana.

We drove through and viewed our church camp, Tower Hill near Sawyer, MI. We looked at the new cottage that was about completed. I noticed that a meeting was in session with several cars at one building. Elaine showed me the recent work to improve the buildings.

We drove in heavy driving rain on the freeway en route home. It had rained as we drove along the shore of Lake Michigan, leisurely looking at the beaches and inland waters. The rain became more pronounced as we entered the busy interstate traffic.

Monday, I give thanks that I can drive a little bit again. I also give thanks for Elaine’s safe driving that has taken us everywhere we have gone and go now.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Great Gifts
“Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” — Ephesians 4:8

Last Sunday while some of the UCC were celebrating my 50th ordination anniversary, an announcement of great gifts was happening at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side.

This good news was for 5,888 families who will receive a letter around Thanksgiving that all of their medical debt has been paid with the wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving.

More than $5,000,000 in medical debt was wiped off announced in a press conference at Trinity UCC. New York-based non-profit RIP Medical Debt worked with several churches on this project.

With joy, I am proud of my colleagues who truly have “cared for the least” of God’s people. The announcement truly furthers the Kingdom of God here upon this earth. Amen.

Friday, October 25, 2019 

Life Is Valuable
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.”
—Psalm 119:50

I believe my life is sacred and a gift from God. I have had my ups and downs in life. I have mountain top experiences like last weekend when I celebrated my 50th anniversary of ministry. I reached a point when I went through a low place during a divorce. I certainly have had medical issues most of my life.

I am sure that suicide crossed my mind once or twice. I soon realized that my life is sacred and valuable. The lives of others are valuable, too. I believe and teach that I am okay, and you are okay.

I have heard recently that many police officers have committed suicide. Many veterans have found life unbearable and took their own lives. Teens and others have added to the many statistics of those who have killed themselves.

I had a close friend who committed suicide. He was an implement dealer in a small town. The implement manufacturer’s representatives forced him out of business. He talked about it once with me for an hour. I moved from that town and after he took his life.
I felt awful about losing him. He was a moral and kind man. He went to church regularly. The pressure and power of others had on finances got to him. I wish someone had intervened.

I was taught by Ms. Mary Goulding, M.S.W. and her husband. Dr. Robet L. Goulding, M.D., at the Western Institute for Group and Family how to get a “no suicide” contract with a suicidal client. First, make sure you have a psychiatrist or doctor who will hospitalize the client if won’t comply. That person is your backup. Second, you ask for an agreement that will not take their own life; or harm themselves or others. Third, get them to agree. If they refuse to agree, call your back up to hospitalize them. Some therapists ask clients to sign the contract that they will not kill; harm themselves or others. Period.

I have had people say that won’t work. I say yes if it is done with trained professionals. If you observe someone who is talking about taking their own lives, get them to a mental health professional ASAP.

I believe all of life is valuable for I am valuable and you are valuable. God has created each and every person in God’s image.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

“Back in the Saddle”
“I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them an abundance of prosperity and security.” —Jeremiah 33:6

Our cousin, Judy, posted a story about a barrel racer that got “back in the saddle” after a tragic accident. I am familiar with barrel racing as a sport in rodeos. I attended many rodeos when I lived with a family that produced rodeos.

Barrel racing is limited to women who ride a horse that circles three barrels in the far area of the arena. The person who rides the fastest around the barrels to the back to the starting lines wins.

Amberly Snyder was a world champion barrel racer at 18. She had been riding horses since she was young. She had a car accident six years ago that left her paralyzed from her waist down. She told the physical therapist she planned not only to ride horses again and barrel race again.

Quickly she mastered the wheelchair. The PT brought her saddle to the therapy room and she began the difficult task to get back in the saddle. The balance was the hardest part of recovery. She gradually solved her physical issues and began to ride horses again. Her horses had to adapt, also. She had to use her hands and voice to give her horse commands. Snyder said that her horses are super sensitive to her cues. She has recovered and has begun to barrel race again.

The media has picked up on her recovery. Television has interviewed her and there is a movie about her incredible story. A movie about her, “Walk. Ride. Rodeo” may be seen on Netflix.

I am impressed with her determination to ride and race again in the rodeo. Stories like this remind us all that we have gifts of thought and a passion to accomplish great things.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

From the Mountain Top
So Moses went down from the mountain to the people Exodus 19:4; “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Matthew 17:9

The celebration (50th ordination service) is over and it was a mountain top experience for me and my home church. Now, it is time to come down from the mountain.

Moses came down from the mountain after he received the Ten Commandments. He didn’t have a camera person. Hollywood and Charleston Heston would take care of that later. After the Transfiguration, Jesus didn’t have cameras to record the event. Media would attempt to portray the event in film and on television.

Cameras were present and posted elsewhere on FaceBook for my event. The electronic signs pics have drawn likes from around the world. My journalist friend, Brett, posted pictures on Sunday.

I have come down from the mountain. There is a letdown. My body system turned off the adrenaline and has started to relax. Monday morning brought an intensive physical therapy brought me down. Meetings, nurse appointment and the regular chores of daily living are on the schedule.

I have experienced this before. I go to the mountain top and feel high. I attempt to relate to people as though they have had the same experience. Today’s Joy came from such a mountain top experience, the 2017 UCC General Synod in Baltimore. The closing sermon challenged us to go back down the mountain and make a difference.

I renewed my commitment to proclaim joy to my FaceBook readers. Like Moses’ and Jesus’ ministry, not everyone has the same experience. Some will like my joy message. Others will silently read. The millions of other FB-ers will not read my piece. My task is to reach as many people as I can with fresh, honest and truthful posts that will speak to people.

I can only write what is in my awareness. What FaceBook readers do is not in my control. I can only pray that I speak to the ones who read my joy words.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Queen of Gymnast
“and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed …” —Romans 2:18

Simone Biles’ amazing physical fetes in past weeks signal pure joy as she competes on the world stage —breaking record after record in her sport.

I am impressed with her moves and details that she brings to perfection in her sport. I am in awe of the ways she twists her body to accomplish her goals. Her parents tell her to focus on what she does in practice as she performs

She has been a sensation in media after she has broken records. I watched her an interview on The Today Show. The hosts, in awe of her accomplishments, ask their questions and she shows a genuine poised and sweet as she answered their questions.

I clicked Google and found several sites about her. Wikipedia has extensive facts and information. Then, I discovered that she has her own website. The pages on the site are home, bio, book, sponsors, contact. Here book, “Courage to Soar,” can be purchased on the site. She has several sponsors which are listed on the site. The contact page has a person listed with complete details. She is very organized.

Simply, I am in awe like most of the world is with her physical abilities to accomplish record after record with a pleasant personality. Simone Biles, WOW!

Monday, October 21, 2019

The BIG Day
“ Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?” — First Corinthians 6:3

Yesterday, we, my wife and I, arrived at church for a
big day of celebration for the 50th anniversary of my ordination. We were greeted by the electronic sign which read, “1. Congratulations Rev. Bob Hempel, 2. 50 Anniversary Ordination, 3. Worship, 10 a.m.” That is the very first time my name has been up in lights. WOW!

I enter the church and find my dear friend, Loy Asbury Williams, and his wife Pam. He will read the gospel lesson. He and I robe (red stoles) and select front pews for the crew, Pam and he plus our family.

Joyce Kelstrom plays an organ prelude. Carol Hoppe, liturgist, starts the service with announcements. Pastor Joe Mills lists many prayer concerns with many offered from the congregation. We sing the gathering hymn. (I select 3 hymns by contemporary hymn writer, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. She writes excellent words, set to familiar hymn tunes.)

Pastor Joe discovers that four children (children’s sermon) combined ages are fifty. Then he teaches them about serving God. Then, he introduces Loy, Pam, and my family. He asks Pam and Loy how long they have been married—37 days. They were married in worship service and served ice cream afterward.

: Joyce plays a beautiful arrangement to “God of Grace and God of Glory” for the offertory. After the Gospel reading, The Rev. Kim Wood says is filling in for Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis who is ill. The Acting Associate Conference Minister for Eastern and Fox Valley Associations preaches a touching sermon, “It Matters.” First, she sings a song of joy from her childhood. Then, she shares portions of my Today’s Joys. She goes on knit a word tapestry with threads of my joy writings, the scripture and a story from a seminary.

After I pronounce the benediction. We head downstairs where Elaine has organized a zillion finger food with a fantastic cake. There is plenty of visiting and well-wishers. We quickly drive to Elmhurst College for a band concert. Son, Ed (trombone), and wife, Kim (clarinet), and a hundred musicians give an excellent concert. Then, we head home for the scared Sunday nap.

Today, I awake very excitingly that yesterday was a true celebration of good worship with The Word proclaimed and a great fellowship. My cup is full.

It was strange to hear Kim read the words that I wrote here. I became aware that there are many “silent” members of Today’s Joy congregation who don’t check “like.” My doubts about folks not reading my words were quilled yesterday. The greatest learning from yesterday was, TODAY’S JOY MATTERS!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

(I think today of my friend and colleague, Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis, when I read the story told by Rev. Rufus Jones in a sermon, “Live and Let Die” -Sunday, September 29 on Day1)

One Powerful Story
“He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ ²⁵ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.”. Luke 15:24-25

I heard a story a couple of years ago about a pastor in Chicago. He’s a friend of a friend, it’s an actual story. He had a nice family including his oldest son who had just graduated high school, who he loved very much. After his son graduated high school he started to distance himself from his family and plunged headlong into the drug culture in Chicago. Over a year goes by. They don’t hear from him. They don’t hear from him in over 18 months. And then one Saturday night at 2:00 a.m., actually more like Sunday morning, they get a call and it’s the police. “We have your son. He’s had a DUI. You have to come pick him up.”
The pastor gets out of bed, goes down to the precinct, and explains who he is and that he’s here for his son. They look at him perplexed. They have no idea what’s he’s talking about. OK, it’s Chicago, I’m sure there’s a lot of precincts. So, he goes to the next precinct. Same thing. They have no idea what he’s talking about. He goes to two more precincts. All of a sudden, it’s 4:00 a.m. Church is in a few hours. He’s not going to go back to sleep. So, he decides to go the last place he remembers his son living, which was in a derelict part of town, it was a crack house.
He goes in and people are sleeping all over the place. He looks around and he locates his son sleeping on a mattress in a back room. At 5:00 a.m. in this hell hole his heartbreaks. He falls to his knees, then he kisses his son. And then he gets up and leaves.
About four months later the son shows up at the house. Then he shows up again three weeks later. Then again two weeks later. Soon, he’s there all the time. Slowly, he’s integrated back into the life of the family. His father asked him one day what the heck happened. What transpired that took you out of the life you were in?
The son said, “Dad, don’t you know? It was that night. You know the night you got the call. It was one of my friends playing a prank on you. We all laughed thinking about how you, getting ready for church, would have to spend your night in precincts looking for me – imagining the look on your face when you go to the officer’s desk.
“But the one thing we never imagined is that you’d come to the house where I lived. Dad, we saw you coming down the street and we all dove for the beds. I wasn’t asleep that night. When you walked into my room and found me, I knew you’d be so furious at me. I was readying myself for you to kick me as hard as you could. Do you want to know what changed me? You didn’t kick me. You kissed me. You kissed me and that changed everything.”
The Kiss of God. That’s what saves us. And to receive it, we need do nothing but acknowledge our deadness and receive it. When we attempt to make a name rather than receive it, God’s presence feels like it’s kicking us. But when we take the name Lazarus and God is our help, the Kiss of God raises the dead.
The Rev. Scott Jones is a popular podcaster and minister ordained in the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Philadelphia, PA area.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Joyful Twosome
“these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, …”—Isaiah 56:7a

Last summer over a plate succulent BBQ, our best man, Loy, introduced us to his new love, Pam. Both of their spouses had died about two years ago. Both had known each other for years at the Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, IL.

Yesterday, we gathered with Pam and Loy, their families and friends, and the worshipers at the FVPC for their wedding which was embedded in the regular Sunday morning worship.

Toward the end of the service, a ten minute ceremony united them in a touching and loving service that involved both familily and church. After they were united, we sang the closing hymn and heard the benediction.

The couple treated the congregation with Graham’s Ice Cream, a local creamery, with a dish for everyone. A Sunday of joy for Pam and Loy, their families, and the FVPC congregation.

This is a model for the rest of us—performing services for members in the midst of worship. I once conducted a funeral during a regular worship. The grieving family shared their grief in the context of worship.

Pam and Loy will be spending their winter in Mason, Texas, building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Habitat is a passion of Pam’s which Loy easily embraced.

I give blessings to Pam and Loy, and the Fox Valley Presbyterian Church for a joyous Sunday worship.

  1. Sunday, August 18, 2019

Life’s Internal Operating System

“So God created humankind in his image—Genesis 1:27a; “The fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”—Galatians 5:22

I fantasized that our lives may be compared to the smart phone and its operating system. We have the basic operating system that we are born with and download our parent’s apps to use as we navigate on our journey through the world. The basic operating system feels, thinks, and judges—critically or nurturing. I think we are born with the joy app.

As we grow older, we download the apps that our parents use. We depend on our parents to keep us sheltered, fed, cleaned and safe. Mothers offer food, warmth and gentleness as babies. Fathers care for us by cuddling, carrying and providing for our basic needs.

Some moms work and the baby learns that she is busy with other activities. The child downloads the app that those around them use the most. Some use the family of apps that are kindness, gentleness, joy, patience which are loving. Babies enjoy other babies and adults around them.

Other families use apps from a family that do not work well: anger, hate, meanness, and other babies seem strange and not good. The adults around do not like other adults nor themselves. 

Like the smart phone we get notifications when our systems are not working well. When we get sick and throw up, we call the doctor We call tech support when the smart phone acts up. 

Children grow into adults and are likely to use the same apps that their parents used. The Divine apps of love, thought, empathy, hard work, gentleness are used in their lives. They like themselves and others.

Those using the world family apps of power, greed, hate, and mischief will become corrupt and stop working well. Hackers are out to hack just about everyone. Hackers peddle their apps on every corner. The correction is a software life reboot to purge the operating system of malware.

The human needs to update frequently so life will function well.  Apple updates my devices every week or so. Life systems need to get the Divine Update regularly.

Let those who have eyes to see the message be blessed with an new way of looking at life as though we were smart phones.

Friday, March 22, 2019

“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” -Psalm 25:21

Joyfully, I maintain integrity when in a disability state.

The other day I waited outside of a restaurant for my friend to pull his car to the curb. I stood still with my walker in tow. All of a sudden a man grabbed the walker and started pulling the walker over the curb.

He assumed that I was stuck didn’t ask if I needed help. His assumption angered me. Instead, I said,” Wait!” I informed him that I was waiting for my ride to pull closer to the curb.

My memory returns to my learning about assumptions. Gestalt guru, Fritz Perls, taught assumptions were destructive. He said to “assume makes an ass out of you and me.” This is true. Uncomfortable feelings are left when someone doesn’t ask before jumping in to help when I didn’t ask for help.

This is my request to everyone. Ask before you offer help to people. Please don’t start helping before you know what’s going on with the person you are helping. The person who grabbed my walker could have knocked me down.

I will maintain my integrity by quickly telling you what’s going on with me.

Today’s Joy
Monday, January 14, 2019
I have baptized you with water; …“ —Mark 1:8a

Many churches talked about baptism yesterday as the baptism of Jesus comes in the day’s scriptures.
My mom told me that I was baptized in September following my June birth. I was baptized by a minister in the United Methodist Church.

As a United Church of Christ minister, I baptized both of my sons when I was pastor of the Congregational -UCC Church in Manson, Iowa.

Baptism in most families is a rite of passage for children. I taught as a pastor that baptism was an acknowledgement that a child is a gift from God and the parents covenant to raise the child in ways of God. I tell the adult or youth that I baptise
that they covenant to follow the ways of God in Jesus Christ.

It means to love self and love neighbor by treating all people equally. I believe in worshipping in a community of faith and doing the work of that community to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, release to the captive and proclaim the year of our Lord.

Too often, parents baptize their children and a party follows. Then, forget the vows they made for the children.

One church I served had worshipers repeat the vows of baptism once a year during a service in January. If you are a Christian, I invite you to renew your baptism vows today.

Today’s Joy
Sunday, January 13, 2019
“a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”—Proverbs 31:30b

A Special Day 

I write about church things usually on Sundays. Today, I am taking a moment to celebrate January 13 for it is a joy in my family.

Marie Edith Tinsley Hempel, my mother, was born on this day at Rosenberg, Texas, to Olga Mae Campbell Tinsley and Henderson L. Tinsley. She had a difficult life in those days. Her mom died of scarlet fever, I believe, at an early age. Her grandmother raised her, her sister (Florence) and her brother (Ira) with her own children.

She attended school until the eighth grade. She told me about riding in a wagon to the Presbyterian Church in East Columbia. She met and married my dad when she worked at The Fair, Inc., a clothing store in West Columbia.

Every Sunday morning she sat in the same pew at the Columbia Methodist Church in West Columbia. After I left home, she lived with her cousin, Margaret, on her ranch with another relative, Bee. She came to Iowa for the remainder of her life after a hospitalization in Wharton, Texas.

She lived with Elaine & I for a time and then in senior housing before going into a nursing home.

I called her this day 35 years ago from Trinity Regional Hospital in Fort Dodge,Iowa, to tell her she had her first grandson, Edward Garold Hempel. Her response was, “That’s mighty fine.” He was named for his grandfathers.
She watched him as he grew. Ed pushed her around in her wheelchair on evening visits. She died a couple years after Ed was born.

I remember my mom this morning who lived a good life and who knew both of her grandsons before her death. Happy Birthday, Marie and Eddie.