Meditation on My Back Deck… “in thy light we see light”

I was sitting on my deck the other morning as the sun was just coming up over my neighbor’s house.  I noticed its rays shone at such an angle that I could see a whole new world of single-strand cobwebs running from the deck chairs to the deck itself, from the deck to the trees, and from branch to branch among the trees. It looked like a system of super highways that was built over night. I had never noticed them before nor did I see them any longer after the sun had risen to another angle. My point is that I would not have seen them at all unless the sun was shining just right.

While you could call this a “Meditation on the Back Deck,” CS Lewis wrote a more perceptive essay  on the same topic called “Meditation in a Tool Shed.”

I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specs of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree moving outside and beyond that, ninety-odd millions of miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experience.

Psalm 36:9 reads “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light.” (NASB) It is interesting that Columbia University (NYC) has this for its logo In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen, “In thy light we see light.” At one time Columbia (as so many colleges) was founded upon the conviction that God’s Word formed the very basis of understanding the world and therefore of all knowledge. In fact the seal of the university depicts a woman seated on a throne holding an open Bible in her right hand bearing the inscription Logia Zonta, “The Words of Life.”

Things have changed quite a bit at Columbia U over the years, but what remains the same is what we read in Psalm 36:9 that God is not only the source of life but His truth forms the basis of understanding the world and is the context for knowledge.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12  In the context, the Pharisees were in the toolshed of unbelief. They saw the Light and even saw some pretty miraculous things by it, but most of them did not step into it to believe and follow.

Stepping into the light of following Christ means that we will see things differently. It is a life of wisdom and discernment not governed by the way our culture thinks but by the truth of God’s Word spoken in Scripture and embodied by the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, we have a different core from which our thinking starts. We may come to a similar conclusion (or not) as our culture, but for reasons that flow from having the “Light of the world” at our core.

I marvel at all the protests and cultural movements that I have seen impact society in my lifetime:  the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-war movement during Viet Nam, the Women’s Liberation movement, Black Power movement, Black Lives Matter, Free Love movement, Gay Rights movement, Anti-nuke movement, Pro-choice and Pro-Life movements, Occupy Wall Street movement, Social Justice movement, #MeTo movement, to name just a few. These movements have always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me as a citizen, a Christian and a pastor.  I always wanted to understand the truth in each movement and the issues raised and not merely reacting against the movement because of the politics of its advocates nor adopting a position of support just because it was consistent with my own political views.

Invariably, as I looked at these issues in the light of God’s truth the first thing I saw was my own sin and need for repentance. I saw how I had failed by omission or commission to live according to the light of God’s truth in a lot of these areas that were being pointed out by these cultural movements. I had become a part of a system that helped create an injustice that was being pointed out by protest. In other words, I needed to deal with my own sin and complicity before I could speak to the hypocrisy and double standard of my culture.

For example, how do I respond to the #MeTo movement? I honor and respect women as equals before God not because of the movement, but because I live in the light of God’s truth spoken by Scripture and lived out by Jesus in his relationship with women. However I also recognize my own flawed heart and repent of the times I’ve objectified women and failed to be sensitive to how other men talked about women more as conquests than as people. I have also failed to see the brokenness of those women who have suffered sexual abuse and predatorial fears since childhood, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. It is the oppression of the powerful against the powerless, much like what is mentioned in the Bible about the oppression of widows and orphans by the rich. The light of God’s truth helps me to see this.

Yet, the light of God’s truth also enables me to see the hypocrisy of our society that in all of its protests it still seems to be driven more by power and wealth than by justice and equality; more about winners and losers than healing, more about revenge than forgiveness, more about getting ahead by destroying others. Why is there no movement to put an end to any media advertising that objectifies and uses women in sexual or suggestive ways in order to sell products? We did it for smoking, why not for this? To prevent cancer is important, but to prevent the moral cancer of our cultural soul is even more a priority.

In keeping with this, why can’t we prosecute the purveyors of pornography? Is it really “free speech” or “artistic expression” protected by the First Amendment? Most thinking people will agree that pornography is obscene and is not in keeping with any community’s standards. But then our toolshed culture argues about the very definitions of obscene and prurient. At the same time prostitution is still against the law in most places. I’m not advocating for its legalization but is this not a double standard? Some say that pornography is victimless and actually cuts down on rape and unwanted sexual advances in our society. Oh really? If you think that porno has not had an impact on the lives of the sexual abusers that have been exposed and deposed by the #MeTo movement, then you are living in a dark toolshed indeed!

There is also the double standard of those in Hollywood and the entertainment industry  who are the most outspoken supporters of the #MeTo movement.  It seems like these very same celebrities are oblivious to the fact that the movies they make and the clothes they wear at the Emmy’s continue the culture of objectification and violence against women.

We may live in this toolshed culture but we do not need to live in its’ darkness. “In your light, we see light.” God’s light enables me to see the need for repentance and owning up to my sin. God’s light also helps me to see the sin and hypocrisy of my culture so I can be a part of the solution to the very issues raised. We have stepped into the light, let us live like it!


Leadership: A Simple Perspective

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a community of frogs who wanted a leader. They bothered Jupiter so much that he finally dropped a log into a pond and told them this was their leader. They loved the log- they could jump on it and bounce up and down and it never complained. Pretty soon, however, they got tired of their leader because it didn’t do anything except float back and forth on the pond. So they once again complained to Jupiter that they wanted stronger leadership. So Jupiter replaced the log with a stork. It was stately and tall, and strutted back and forth making all kinds of noise. The frogs loved it, but were horrified when the stork began eating them.

Leadership is often viewed in terms of one of these two extremes—wishy-washy or tyrant, with the ideal being somewhere in the middle. However, my understanding of leadership is much simpler. A leader is someone who has followers and has an influence over them (for good or ill). By that definition, just about everyone is a leader. This might sound crazy, but while I was changing my little granddaughter’s diapers one day, the  thought came to me, “I’m a leader and my granddaughter is a follower, and I am having a significant influence over her for good.” Believe it or not, the thought dignified an undignified task.

However, I have had  a few other leadership positions over the years (other than diaper-changing) and thought I would distill a few simple things that I have learned about developing as a person of influence:

  • Continue to develop a healthy and godly interior life. Just as most of an iceberg is submerged, so most of what makes a person of influence lies beneath the surface. Daily times in prayer and in God’s Word, keeping short accounts by confession and repentance, and being a person of character. Persona is what you look like on Facebook and in your resume, but character is what you are in private as well as in public. To put it in the words of Will Rogers, “Live your life in such a way that when you die they can give your pet parrot to the town gossip.”
  • Surround yourself with strong and gifted associates. As Captain Dick Winters of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers) said, “Delegate real responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs.” Some of them will do so well that you might feel intimidated and even struggle a bit with jealously, but your leadership will be demonstrated by forming these gifted individuals into a great team and making them into better leaders than you. Andrew Carnegie wanted his epitaph to read: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”  I have had some incredible associates on my staff teams over the years and have had pangs of jealousy. However, there was also a deeper commitment in my heart to making these younger folks better pastors than me.
  • See yourself as a servant- not a log or a stork, but someone who wants to help others grow and accomplish certain goals. When Jesus heard his disciples arguing which of them was the greatest and in Luke 22 he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over the people…but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.” Haven’t you been influenced most by people who have taken an interest in you, cared for you, and imparted vision to you? These are people who have humbled themselves to listen to you, affirm you, and encourage you. These are also the kind of people who lead and motivate others.  Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who led 3 expeditions to the Antarctic. While he was never successful at being the first to reach the South Pole, his reputation as a leader of teams which overcame unimaginable odds became the major contribution of his life. His leadership focused on relationship and not power, and he was able to take the greatest malcontent and make him a valuable team member by spending time with him and encouraging him.
  • Practice MBWA- a term coined way back in 1982, in a book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. It means “Manage By Wandering Around.” It was one of the key leadership principles of Abe Lincoln. It was said he spent 75% of his time meeting with people; he has visibility and availability. Lincoln once relieved Gen. John Fremont from his command because, “his cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him, and does not know what is going on around him.” This is essential to being a person of influence- you must be around your people and know them.

One final thought: care for yourself spiritually (as we have already stated), but also physically. Since my cancer diagnosis in April 2017 and resultant surgery to remove the tumor in October 2017, I have been dramatically reminded how important it is to exercise regularly and to be careful what I eat. It is also important to take time away, to read widely, to build a Sabbath rest into your schedule, and to establish spiritual disciplines in your life that nurture your own spirit. As they always say on the airplane—”put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your loved one.” It sounds selfish, but it is a necessity if you want to be around long enough to serve others.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a very famous and powerful Scottish preacher lay dying at the age of 29. He confided to a friend, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse (referring to his physical health) and now I cannot deliver the message.” No one is irreplaceable, but God has made us instruments of his influence. The more in tune the instrument, the more profound and lasting the influence. But that is just my opinion.

May God bless you as you lead today!

Thoughts on Getting Older…

When I was a young minister, a funeral director asked me to hold a grave side service for a homeless man with no family or friends. The funeral was to be at a cemetery way out in the country. This was a new cemetery and this man was the first to be laid to rest there. I was not familiar with the area and became lost. Being a typical man, of course, I did not ask for directions. I finally found the cemetery about an hour late. The backhoe was there and the crew was eating their lunch. The hearse was nowhere to be seen. I apologized to the workers for being late. As I looked into the open grave, I saw the vault lid already in place. I told the workers I would not keep them long, but that this was the proper thing to do. The workers, still eating their lunch, gathered around the opening.

I was young and enthusiastic and poured out my heart and soul as I preached. The workers joined in with, “Praise the Lord,” “Amen,” and “Glory!” I got so into the service that I preached one of my best sermons actually. When the service was over, I said a prayer and walked to my car. As I opened the door, I heard one of the workers say, “I never saw anything like that before and I’ve been putting in septic systems for twenty years.” (Fooled you didn’t I? I’ve presided at graveside services where no one was present except the funeral director, but never for a septic tank.)

Some Thoughts on the Perks of Aging:

  • There is nothing left anymore to learn the hard way.
  • Things that you buy now won’t wear out.
  • Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
  • Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them anyway.
  • Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the guy on the television.
  • Your eyes won’t get too much worse.
  • You can eat dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon.
  • In a hostage situation you are the most likely to be released first.

An elderly couple went to dinner at the home of some friends, also elderly. After dinner, the wives went into the kitchen and the two men were talking. One said, “We went out to dinner last night at a really good restaurant. I’d highly recommend it.”

The second man said, “What’s the name of it?”

The first man thought and thought, then said, “What’s the name of that flower you give to someone you love, the one that is usually red that has thorns?”

“Oh, you mean a rose?” said the second man.

“Yes, that’s it,” said the first man. Then he called to the kitchen, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

Some more thoughts (more serious) on aging: Recognize that aging is normal and that your response to it is part of God’s sanctifying work in your life. Aging is a part of the “all things” of Roman 8:28.

Either you manage it or it manages you. We must learn to become a steward of our aging (like a steward of our other resources) or aging will control us.

Keep the core of your life healthy and move the deterioration to the periphery. If our outer man is decaying and our inner man is being renewed daily, guess where I want my main investment to be? {2 Cor. 4:16 says “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”}

Develop new interests and get rid of old habits. It really is never too late to learn and you can certainly teach the old dog new tricks.

Accept you current realities and limitations. Don’t join the “used to” club and think more about what you used to do as to what you can do now. I can’t throw the shot put as far as I used to, but my focus is one throwing it as far as I can now within my current realities.

Develop long term friendships that are not based on your job or the fitness center.  You want friendships that are portable- that you can take with you or keep no matter where you go.

Be useful. Now is not the time to become selfish thinking you already gave and now it’s your time to get. You are still parents to your kids and grandkids, and you can have a great influence on the younger folks  around you.

Make long range plans. When you die, you want found at your post, not sitting around thinking of all you intended to begin.

Enjoy this time of life and set an example for those who will soon follow of how a Christian properly grows old and deals with things beyond their control. Show them that you believe that nothing comes into your life without first passing through the Hand of your Heavenly Father. Don’t let them down.

Remember that old age is a privilege often denied to many.

How Can I Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?

The title of my blog is from Psalm 137 where the Hebrew exiles, while sitting and weeping by the waters of Babylon, were scornfully asked by their Babylonian captors to sing some of their Jewish songs. They responded by hanging up their harps and lyres in the willow trees and asking this question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Last Tuesday I had my third set of CT scans (I get them every three months) since my cancer surgery back in October, 2017. While my previous scans in June cancer revealed no cancer, they did reveal a couple small nodules in my lungs. Thus this set of scans would show if these little suckers were growing. As I sat in the waiting room drinking that horrible barium masked as a fruit drink, I continued to wrestle with my fear and uncertainty. By the way, it hasn’t gotten any easier to deal with these apart from a fresh exercise of trust and surrender. My prayer was this:

Once again, I surrender myself into your loving care, Heavenly Father, trusting in your plan for my life and your thoughts for me. Please encourage the faith of others, especially my children, by a good report and I pray for more years of service in helping to build a future generation of your disciples…nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.

I knew that the next day I would preach to our graduate school chapel community this message from Psalm 137 on how to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land. In other words, how does one continue in the faith and grow in his or her salvation in the face of difficult situations which make us feel like we are exiles in a strange land?  My target audience in chapel is especially the new students, many of whom are internationals, who have been here only a week. They have come to live in this very strange land of academia for the next 2-5 years depending on their program – far away from home and the familiar. It must be so difficult for them. But as I sat waiting for my scans, I knew that no matter what the outcome, I would also be preaching to myself living in the strange land of cancer.

I realize how easy it is to “sing my song” in the familiar and while the sun is shining, as Matt Redman suggest by the lyrics to his song: “Blessed be your name when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all as it should be, blessed be your name. ” It’s far more difficult to sing, “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.” In fact, how can you sing at all?

And so the next day (Wednesday), I was sitting in chapel alone as students, staff, and faculty were arriving. I was  praying and preparing my heart to preach when I got a text message saying that I was still clear of cancer and the nodules in my lungs had not grown and remain unremarkable (this was just confirmed today 9/10/18 by my oncologist PA). Just then, chapel began and soon I was preaching my message with a conviction mixed with relief.

What were the bedrock beliefs that enabled exiles like Joseph, Daniel and his 3 friends, and Ezekiel to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land when no doubt they were also tempted to hang up their harps? I’ll give you my main points, but my entire message can be found on

  • They believed that God was Sovereign and that nothing came to them except through his hand.
  • They believed that God would always keep his covenant promises and would never leave them.
  • They believed in prayer and maintained their spiritual practices. (By the way, thanks to those of you who have been faithfully praying for me!)
  • They believed in the community of fellow sufferers and did not pull away to suffer alone.

I cling to these. These are weighty matters. Take them to heart no matter in what strange land you find yourself… and keep singing!