“Which Road Will You Walk?”


This is the message that I gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen (Grace UMC, Newburgh) on Saturday, September 21st for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 8: 18 – 9: 2, 1 Timothy 2: 1 – 7, and Luke 16: 1 – 13; I focused primarily on the passage from Jeremiah but used thoughts from the other two readings as well.

If I were to list my favorite things, as a poem I would use Robert Frost’s poem “Two Roads”. It speaks of two roads diverging and the writer having to make a choice as to which road they will walk down. One road is well traveled while it appears that no one has ever traveled down the other one. How often is this choice the one we have to make, of choosing the road that everyone else is traveling or taking a new path, one that has never been tried.

Sometimes you have to take the road every one travels; if you want to get to Beacon from Newburgh, you almost always have to take the Newburgh-Beacon bridge. But that’s not to say that you can’t go down to Bear Mountain and cross over there; or go up to Marlboro and cross over to Poughkeepsie. But it is so much easier to use the Newburgh-Beacon bridge because it is shorter and more familiar.

How much of our life is like that, where we will take the easier path, the shorter path, the one that everyone else takes? Sometimes, it is the best way to go but often times, just because everyone else does it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do.

In preparing these notes, I turned to my prayer guide for some thoughts to help my thinking and writing. I don’t know who James Allen was but in his book, “As A Man Thinketh”, he wrote the following.

The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires, and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.

Following the inmost desires, aspirations, thoughts, by which one allows oneself to be dominated (pursuing the will-o’-the-wisps of impure imagining or steadfastly walking the highway of strong and high endeavor), a person at last arrives at their fruition and fulfillment in the outer condition of life.

The laws of growth and adjustment everywhere obtain.

This says to me that we have two choices, one that will lead to the good life and one that will lead elsewhere. Now, this good life is not necessarily that “good” life of the secular road. That’s what leads Jeremiah to cry out over the imminent destruction of his people. They have been chasing the “good” life and now they will reap the penalty.

I go back to something that I have said before but it is always worth repeating, when you come to this place, you leave your baggage behind.

This is a place of renewal, a place to find that one thing that will turn your life around. Last week I spoke of the transition of power that was taking place, of Paul’s retirement (actually, his impending execution) and Timothy taking over the mantle of leadership.

In that portion of the letter that is part of this weekend’s lectionary, Paul continues instructing Timothy on what he is to be doing. Timothy is to continue telling everyone about the Good News, that Jesus Christ came for everyone, not just a few people but for everyone.

He, Timothy, is also to pray for everyone including the leaders of the community so that they make the decisions which will allow each one of us to live the life we are supposed to live.

And that leads me to the other note that I found in my preparation. It is a prayer by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and scholar. It speaks to what we must do, both in prayer and in life. Hear this prayer,

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. I probably know more about prayer, meditation, and contemplation than most Christians do. I have read many books about the Christian life, and have even written a few myself. Still, as impressed as I am, I am more impressed by the enormous abyss between my insights and my life.

It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometimes I even have the painful feeling that the closer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon.

Am I doomed to die on the wrong side of the abyss? Am I destined to excite others to reach the promised land while remaining unable to enter there myself? Sometimes I feel imprisoned by by own insights and “spiritual competence.” You alone, Lord, can reach out to me and save me. You alone.

I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel dark; to keep writing about you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

Now, I will be honest. Those words perhaps mean more to me and my own struggle in the faith than they may have meant for you. But if one pauses and thinks about one’s own life, those words, perhaps in a slightly different tone, are words that you might have spoken.

What if you were one of the those whom Jeremiah was crying out about? How would you feel? Would you not wonder where your hope, your salvation might be?

There are a number of instances where Jesus alludes to the abyss, the distance between each one of us and Him. And it is clear that we cannot shrink that distance, no matter how hard we try. But Jesus has the ability to bridge that gap and bring to us that which we seek, if we just reach out to Him.

In those times when we feel alone, or helpless, or powerless, we know that Jesus will be there. We also know that He will be there in the times of plenty and bounty, times when we are apt to ignore Him and think that we did it ourselves.

Each person comes to this point on their own and they must make the decision about what comes next on their own. But each of us, having in someway been there, can help find that path, help each person find Christ in a world that often doesn’t want us to find Him.

We come to a crossroads in life and we must decide which path to take. That is the call we make this morning, “which road will you walk?”

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When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned


As Bob writes, you may not be a follower of the Cardinals like Bob and I are but this is something that goes beyond sports.

A Grace-Filled Life

Every one of my readers has been in the situation of things not going as planned. Maybe it was a sweetheart in high school who didn’t see life as we did and went another way. Or a job that didn’t pan out as we expected. Or health concerns rearing their ugly head at the absolutely worst time of our lives. I could go on–the list is endless.

I realize the majority of you don’t care for baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals but I am asking you to put that aside for a few minutes and read this story about one of the Cardinals’ player, Jason Motte. Back in spring training this year, Motte injured his elbow and needed season ending surgery.

The shelf life of a professional athlete is very short, so for Motte sitting out this year has been difficult. It could have been the most depressing time…

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“Texas On My Mind This Monday Morning”


Yes, I know that there is a song entitled “Georgia on my mind” and I was probably thinking of a version that Willie Nelson sang. But the one that should have come up was the Ray Charles version. And it checking this out I discovered that the original song was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in the 1930s.

It has been suggested that Gorrell wrote the lyrics for this song with Carmichael’s sister, Georgia, in mind. But the way the song goes, it could easily be about the state of Georgia as well (which is how I have always “heard” it).

What this does though is speak to the issue and the reason for having Texas on my mind this Monday morning.  There are times when what we know is not always the case.

If you don’t know by now, you need to know that I have lived in Texas on two separate occasions in my life. And those times, coupled with growing up in the South, have provided a different view of this country and this world. I just wish that other people had a wider view of the world but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

We tend to see the world in terms of where we are and how we grew up. We figure that things happen the same way everywhere and we don’t realize that is not always the case.

The Texas Board of Education is once again thinking about science textbooks. And this means that members of the board are, once again, looking at the inclusion of creationism and intelligent design in science textbooks (both biology and elementary level).

Now, why should this matter to you, especially if you don’t live in Texas? First, the decisions that the Texas Board of Education makes concerning textbooks affects every public school in the state. And because of the number of books that this represents, publishers tend to follow the decision very closely. This means that decisions concerning textbooks in New York will be affected, influenced, and decided by the decisions made in Texas. So Texas should be on your mind this Monday morning.

I have some other thoughts about what it is that we believe and what we know, both in terms of the Bible, religion, faith and education in general but I will hold onto those thoughts for a while.

Let’s just say that we need to look at the direction our educational process is taking and asking if it is preparing us for tomorrow and the solution of problems that haven’t yet developed. Our educational process does help solve problems but only problems for which we already know the answer. What will we do when we are faced with an entirely new problem, one we have never envisioned or encountered?

“A Reflection Of A Past Life; A Vision Of A Future Life”


This is the message that I presented at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen this morning, Saturday, September 14th. I am using the Scriptures for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – Jeremiah 4: 11 – 12, 22 – 28; 1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17; and Luke 15: 1 – 10 – but am focusing on Paul’s words to Timothy.

We served some 93 people this morning. My thanks to the 10 volunteers who helped serve the people and then clean up. Please contact me if you are interested in being a part of this ministry in some way.

I had a choir director a few years ago who was always encouraging us to sing with a little more feeling; so that it meant something to us. This was, to be sure, a departure from the way most of that particular choir had been raised in the Methodist Church. And that in itself was a little unusual because one of the things that early Methodists were known for was their singing.

But over the years that part of Methodism seems to have disappeared. I see this in both the traditional and modern hymns we sing and how we sing. There is no feeling to the song, just some words put forth with a musical accompaniment.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a piece about music or singing but rather about how one feels, whether it be in singing or in everyday tasks. It is about the life that we have and the life that we lead. How do others see us? Do they see us as individuals who struggle with life, very sad, often angry, and certainly not blessed? Or perhaps they see us as people who are able to love, in spite of their present status or troubles, patient in trials, rich in hope, strong in adversity. Can they bear witness to the knowledge that every day God is present in their lives and that He has provided for them as He does for the sparrows in the sky?

John Wesley called this holiness, the act of living a life that displays an active love of God and neighbor that penetrated every part of their life. Those passing by could see the fruit of this holiness.

Now, we need to understand that holiness is not an all or nothing thing. You may have some holiness but you need to continue working on it, otherwise you risk losing what you had. Now, you also have to understand that you cannot gain this holiness by doing good works. Lord knows, Wesley tried and he failed.

I think we know many people who think that they have this holiness, if not because they are doing good things, then because they walk around proclaiming how their lives are blessed, and by contrast, yours is not. That very attitude, which I saw growing up and which I still see today, almost drove me from the church.

That sort of attitude is very closed and not open to life and what we might encounter each day. And a closed life fails to recognize that we need to have an openness to the creativity of life to which God calls us.

But in our move to a truly open society we must be always ready for the surprises that will spring forth, both those that assist in the creative process and those which threaten to destroy the creative process.

We must be aware that there is more to life than just what happens each day. If we are not willing to look for that which is beyond the boundaries of our thought, we can find ourselves quite easily caught in the present, with no hope for the future.

We have to ask ourselves if there is some power that breaks through into our lives and frees us from those forces that would limit what we do and constantly threatens us with destruction?

When we hear of the life of John Wesley, we know that he had developed a method for living, a method for achieving the knowledge that salvation was his. But we also know that this method did not work because it lacked one singular item, the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It would not be until that moment that we have come to Aldersgate that John Wesley would know that one could not work at gaining that feeling; that it came with an open heart and acceptance of the knowledge that Christ was the truth, the way, and the life.

It was that singular sensation of his heart being strangely warmed that told him of the presence of the Holy Spirit and that gave him the ability to take the Methodist Revival to a higher and more successful plane.

I chose the reading from 1 Timothy for this morning because we have Paul telling Timothy that his life had changed because of Jesus. It does not matter what translation of the Bible one reads; Paul points out that his life was pretty worthless before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. And how many of us have a life like that, one full of invective, arrogance, hatred and ignorance? How can we ever expect anything good to come out of a life like that. And yet Paul says that because of God’s grace he was able to be saved.

In the passage that we read today, Paul is passing on to Timothy the mantle of leadership. And each one of us, whether we know it or not, whether we truly understand what lies before us, also receives that same mantle. Each one of us understands and knows in our heart the evil, the sin, and the violence that encompasses this world. And in accepting Christ as our Savior we are able to cast aside, as Paul did, that evil, that sin, that violence and rely on the merciful God who can bring good out of evil.

We are now in a position, as was Paul, to received forgiveness and then be in a position to pass it on to others.

When John Wesley began the Methodist movement, he did so by looking out to world. It was when he took Christ into his heart that his life began to change and the Methodist movement began to change the world.

My challenge to you today is look at where your life is at today. Perhaps you need to bring Christ into your life. Now is the time to do so, to say that I repent, I cast aside all that I once was and begin a new, with Christ in my life.

If you have accepted Christ in your life, then you need to seek ways that will enable your own holiness, your own love of God become more visible.

Without Christ, our lives will always be a reflection of our past; with Christ, we have a new vision for the future. Our challenge will always be to decide what we want to see.

Thinking Outside the Box


As one who works in two areas, I always am on the lookout for papers and thoughts that discuss the idea of “Thinking Outside The Box”. While you may not understand some of the terminology that is used in this paper, you should be able to grasp the significance of what Alison is talking about.
It is interesting that I discovered this paper by accident (though serendipity may be a better word) but some of my research would overlap what she is interested in.

a1tg

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference that is completely outside of my field of study. I study bioinorganic chemistry and do most of my work on small metalloproteins, so I spend a lot of time thinking about fundamentals like inorganic spectroscopy, biophysics, and biochemistry.  I managed to have some interdisciplinary experiences early on and these likely influenced my choice of a Chemical Biology program over the more traditional programs that I was also admitted to.

This past week I saw some talks at the Goldschmidt, which is one of the largest geochemistry conferences. While there, I spent most of my time at the bio-geochemistry talks, since that’s what’s most interesting to me, and stuff like vulcanism (it’s a thing, I swear) and mantle chemistry is totally out of my reach. I have long had an interest in applying some of my skills to environmental problems and…

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Cakes and Quacks: Do Evangelicals Worship Democracy More Than Christ?


This is a very interesting piece to read and then, perhaps more importantly, think about. Dr. T

Mercy not Sacrifice

Wedding-cake-two-brides[Guest-post from fellow Virginia UMC pastor Jason Micheli: please check out his blog Tamed Cynic!]

Trolling the news, two separate but related stories have stuck in my theological craw of late.

Two stories that strike me as adventures in missing the plot. The Gospel plot.

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“Where Do We Go From Here?”


A few years ago I wrote a piece entitled “Maybe We Study War More Often” that still remains as the most commented piece on my blog. A few years after I posted it I found out that I was arguing against a bumper sticker and I am still not sure what that infers. But I do know this today, we definitely need to study war more often, if for no other reason than it will help us to know what to do at times like these.

We have failed to understand the lament of Robert E. Lee after the battle of Fredericksburg, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow fond of it.”

Now, I do not consider myself a pacifist or a conscientous objector. But I am adamantly opposed to war, if for no other reason than I have read the words of my grandfather’s diary from World War I and can sense how he felt, know some of the comments my father made about the war in the Pacific and what might have happened, and grew up in the shadow of B-52 bombers on the ready ramp and Titan II missiles ready to roar out of their holes in the ground during the 1950s and 1969s.

But there is something about this culture of ours that seems to feast on war, to send our youth off to foreign lands to be killed, wounded, maimed, and forgotten. And now we are on the verge of declaring war on Syria, if not by words, then by our actions. And it seems like almost everyone, their neighbors, and their friends want this war.

But are we prepared for what will happen? Are we totally prepared to take any sort of offensive action and not expect some sort of response somewhere in this world? Our leaders may say that we are taking out the Syrians’ ability to use chemical weapons but that doesn’t mean that they won’t respond by some other means. You mean to tell me that we know where all the nuclear weapons ever manufactured are and who has them? You mean to tell me that there won’t be some sort of response?

I was only 6 when Freedom Fighters in Hungary sought to overcome the communist dictatorship that ruled their country. It is my undestanding that this country refused to act in aid to those individuals, despite our own anti-communism stance, because we were afraid that the Soviet Union might just possibly use nuclear weapons.

All you have to do is go back and look at either “Thirteen Days” or “The Missiles of October, part 1″ and “The Missiles of October, part 2”; you decide if the world would still be here today if we had taken out the Russian missiles in Cuba as the military had suggested.

We keep thinking we are pushing the envelope but we may very well be pushing a balloon and sooner or later that balloon will burst. Then what will we do?

And you know something else, whatever we do, no matter how good our intentions are, we will be at least two years late in dealing with this problem. We should have done something two years ago before the civil war in Syria got to the point it is at today.

Yes, I know that it is a civil war but it was started in the fires of the Arab Spring that brought democracy to Tunisia and Egypt. We should have provided assistance then; instead we let the people of Syria suffer while their brothers and sisters fight for their freedom.

I am not arguing for intervention then nor now but I am saying that we should have been doing things that would have kept this day from arriving.

And if we don’t radically change our thinking now, we might find that there will never be any chance to do anything at all.

Let’s face it; we spend more money on war and destruction than we do on peace and construction. And as long as we do that, we will never be in a position where we can offer a path to peace.

I don’t want this country to go to war, be it deemed legal or not. But if we do go to war, then we had better be prepared for the consequences of this act. I am afraid that the dogs of war are barking so loud that one cannot hear the soft cooing of the doves of peace.

And while we prepare to go to war, we must also prepare to place a world of peace in its place. We cannot afford to keep going to war every few years just to satisfy our urge to settle differences violently. Each time we do this, we diminish the chance for true and lasting peace.

So I ask, “where do we go from here?”