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H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks

You may not have heard that expression, but if you imagine the basic shape of a hockey stick, you can figure out that it is a lighthearted way to try to spell “Hell.”

People have varying reactions to the idea of Hell. For me, as a kid, I was raised in a church that was strong on legalism, and as a youth, I found myself scared to death that I would mess up my life and end up there.

For others, and perhaps for most people today, Hell isn’t even an idea that crosses their mind. For those who don’t claim to be Christians, this absence of concern makes some sense (they don’t know any better). However, for those of us who claim to be Christ Followers, the whole “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks” idea totally misses the mark.

There isn’t anything all that light-hearted about Hell. While many Christians want to avoid thinking about it, if they really want to be in touch with Jesus, it is important to know that no other Bible personality talked about Hell more than He did.

Why? I’d suggest two reasons; first, Jesus preached about Hell to create a driving awareness of this place of horrors to motivate people to avoid it at all costs. Hell is real, and an eternal destination for far more people than who realize it. Jesus warned us about the dangers of sin that can lead to eternity in Hell; perhaps the compromising disposition of today’s Christians would be less so, if we lived like we want to be sure to avoid Hell ourselves.

Second, I suspect Jesus preached on the reality of Hell to be a motivator for those who know Jesus to do all we can to share this good news (Jesus came to be our savior) with people who are otherwise damned to spend eternity in that place Jesus described as a place of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25: 45-46).

Sadly, the ‘evangelistic temperature’ of far too many Christians is ‘cool’ at best. Where our friends, neighbors and coworkers will spend eternity rarely crosses our minds, much less influences our behavior.

The Bible tells us that “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23). Thankfully, we can escape the fate we deserve through putting our hope in Jesus, “For the wages if sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you haven’t asked Jesus to be your Lord and savior, prayerfully do so today…if you have, let your light shine to encourage others in your life to accept Him as well.

Changing C-h-u-r-c-h

Ok, so this a thought that will encourage some, and aggravate others: One of the un-noticed byproducts of the past “Covid-year” is the gradual alteration of the very meaning of the word “Church.”

In the original language, the word for church is “ecclesia” and it literally means “Gathered together.” Sadly, a pandemic hit, and we have stopped the “gathering together” of what we know as Church. I’m thankful for online technology that allowed us to stream services when all public gatherings were stopped (check out clcdayton.com). However, we must realize and remind ourselves that this is a temporary fix.

There is something uniquely human about “presence.” There is an intangible, almost unexplainable dimension of being with someone “in person.” You can actually “feel” things like compassion, support, encouragement, joy, disappointment, and disagreement when you are in someone’s presence.

Such “feeling” is drastically diluted online. I’ve done zoom meetings, and even been part of zoom discipleship groups; while they are a good temporary replacement, and we at CLC (as most churches) are doing our best to “get good at online engagement,” I believe that nothing can replace “the real thing.”

The Bible reinforces the importance of being together. We read that God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3, KJV), and that where two or three of us are gathered in Jesus’ name, He is “in our midst.” (Matthew 18: 20, NASB).

We are further instructed in Hebrews 10: 25 to “not forsake” our assembling together! The pastors I’ve spoken with share a common concern; when we get back to “sort of normal” (I don’t think we will ever go back to pre-covid February 2020), what will “Church” look like?

Many people may trade their favorite seat at church for permanently watching online with pajamas and coffee. Don’t settle for that.

Use your best judgement with good health-safety practices, but when you discern that it is “ok” to go back to church, go back to church. No online experience is better than being with friends who share your faith, hope and love.

Until then, find creative ways to “connect” with others…texts, calls, social media, and maybe even an old-fashioned hand-written note or two!

Butterflies in the winter

We’ve been dwelling on the theme of “the Butterfly Effect.” The phrase was coined in the 1960’s after a scientist (mathematician and meteorologist) curiously quipped, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, could it set off a tornado in Texas?”

The short and answer is “no”…not exactly, in fact, not even close. There is no evidence that butterflies are to blame for tornados, or birds somehow cause blizzards. BUT, the math behind the butterfly effect does exist. Simply put, a small change in one time and place, can result in a significant change someplace else, over time.

This is intuitively obvious to us in everyday life, we just fail to appreciate it. If you walk just a little faster on your daily exercise route, over time you will lose weight. Save a dollar every day, and in a year, you’ll have over three hundred dollars! If you were flying a plane, a small change of direction, over time, could land you in an entirely different location! (I think you get the gist.)

Take time to observe and appreciate this idea in your life…take a few minutes to recall small things you’ve done that made a difference in the life of someone else, or small kind deeds someone else did for you, and the lasting impact it had. I remember when a man in our church stopped by the office one day and borrowed my car keys (yes, I trusted him), he brought my car back all clean inside-and-out! That gave me a good feeling then, and still does, 25 years later. His kind gesture speaks to me today, take the time for small acts of kindness, they WILL make a difference.

So, even though I’m writing this in February (the weather forecast for this week in Ohio is single-digit temperatures and snow!), you can still exercise the “butterfly effect” in your life. Take the time to notice opportunities you have to do small deeds of kindness for someone else. “Flutter your wings of kindness” and you just may be surprised the impact you have!

What to do without good news?

It’s hard to believe we are already in February 2021! When a new year arrives, we tend to get our hopes up for wanted change, and “turning the page” in life. Perhaps no year in recent history had our hopes up like 2021.

I believe most of us were weary of 2020; from a pandemic to politics, social turmoil and economic troubles, 2020 is not missed. However, the problems of last year are proving to be resilient. Vaccines that promised health bring their own questions and distribution problems. Looking across the landscape of society, unrest still continues on every front.

If we aren’t careful, we can get overwhelmed, pessimistic, or even depressed. The Bible explains the emotional aftermath of seasons of struggle that show no resolve:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

In any area of life, when we get our hopes up, only to have them unmet, it can make us “heart-sick.” Call it depression, disappointment or frustration…the longer problems and struggles go on the harder it is for us emotionally. You may have noticed this in yourself. Perhaps you are more irritable than usual, sarcastic or even lethargic or depressed. As your hopes of returning to “normal” are deferred, you are getting heartsick.

Take comfort, and focus on the next half of this verse:…”Desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Most of us would agree…when dreams come true, when plans work out, or surprises are pleasant, it is life-giving. Such good news improves our mood, our energy levels and even our relational connectedness.

You can experience less heartsickness, and more “life” by choosing your focus. The Bible tells us that during a really hard season in King David’s life, when everyone seemed against him. When you read that, don’t just think that people were talking bad about David, the Bible describes it like this:

“Moreover, David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him (to death), for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and daughters. But David encouraged (strengthened) himself in the Lord his God.” 1 Samuel 30: 6,7

Can you imagine how David must have felt? The very people he was leading had turned on him and wanted him dead! On top of that, this outrage was because while David and his army were away, their enemies had come and destroyed their homes and taken the women and children captive and stolen their possessions. Talk about hope deferred…yet, the amazing thing we learn is that King David didn’t give in to discouragement. Instead, when no-one else had a kind or positive word, David encouraged himself in the Lord.

So…as 2021 starts as a slow, continued grind from 2020…don’t give in to discouragement. Even if there is no good news, or you are surrounded by pessimists, you can encourage yourself in the Lord.

Try it now, out loud, tell yourself three things (big or small) that went well today; add an explanation as to why they happened, and conclude each with a summary sentence “I am thankful for…” In addition to “your three” say a prayer of gratitude (out loud) to God for four blessings (2 “big” and 2 “small”)…you’ll be surprised at what that can do in you.

Add to your gratitude, people you are thankful for because of their impact on you in the present, or your past. Send them a text (right now). It only needs to be two or three sentences, but go ahead and text them something like “I was just thinking about you, and I’m thankful for how you have impacted me”….conclude your thoughts…and hit ‘send.’

Giving thanks for good things, thanking God for blessings great and small, and expressing appreciation to people who matter to you are just a few ways to encourage yourself (did you notice that encouraging others is still helpful to you?)

Make it a good day!

Can you make a difference? Really?

Supposedly there was a conversation between some scientists, and one posed a question: “If a butterfly flaps his wings in one remote location could it cause a tornado in another?” (Not an exact quote, but think Tokyo and Tennessee.)

It’s a cool and intriguing idea rooted in what is called chaos theory, but the bottom line truth is “not exactly;” in fact, not even close. No, a butterfly flapping its wings doesn’t cause tornadoes across the world; BUT, small actions can indeed cause larger, sustained ones.

If a butterfly is too much of a stretch, maybe think ‘ripple effect” like a big rock thrown into a pond. The encouraging application of this is that you and I can be the rock (or butterfly wings) that cause an after-effect.

Your seemingly small kindness toward someone today can make a BIG difference in someone else. Taking a few minutes to reach out to someone could be remembered for YEARS to come.

While we can’t prove the impact of a flapped butterfly wing, we can personally prove the ‘ripple effect’ of kind deeds and words. What are some of the memories YOU have of kind things people said or did to you? Think back, as far back as you can.

I know I remember when I was just 5 years old, I was walking home from school on a snowy, winter, Cleveland day. I slipped on the ice and went down…no sooner had I landed, a man walking behind me just reached down, grabbed my coat by the shoulders and bounced me back up.

He paused just long enough to see that I was ok, and off he went. I never knew his name, couldn’t recall his face, yet I remember that encounter that was maybe 90 seconds long, almost 60 years later!

When the moments present themselves today, say the kind word, do the small kind gesture…you never know what memories you’ll create or ripples you will start! YOU can make a difference for someone else today.

Your daily gift for 2021

I had the privilege to speak at the chapel service of a local elementary school this week. The 15 minute drive brought back memories of when I drove our two kids there in elementary school on my days off. (In fact, I stopped at McDonalds and bought me a sausage McMuffin with egg in memory of the weekly ‘treat’ I used to buy us on the way to school.)

During the chapel service I shared a fun exercise from my book “Who Am I?” and then landed on Psalm 118: 24 as my theme verse: “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This well-known verse is a daily reminder that God gives each of us the gift of life EVERY DAY.

God made TODAY and gave it to you! Did you gladly accept it as the precious gift that it is? Did you CHOOSE to be joyful, regardless of your circumstances? This is really the admonition of the verse. Every day, God gives you the gift of life; you have a daily choice of your general attitude and the way you will respond as your day unfolds.

Choose a default of gratitude, gladness and joy! Each of these desirable inner qualities really don’t depend on your circumstances…they depend on the attitude you choose. This week celebrates the sanctity of life; one way to affirm the divine gift that life is, is to personally choose to enjoy the gift of life God has given you today.

Some final words from my friend Dave Saylor

Last Saturday I had the honor of officiating at the goodbye celebration (funeral and graveside service) of David Saylor. Before moving to Dayton, Dave grew up in the hills of Kentucky; we’ve been friends since my wife and I moved here 37 years ago.

“Doing funerals” is part of what I do for a living as lead pastor of a large church; I’m sure I’ve done hundreds over the years. Experience tells me the older you live the smaller your “home-going” is. This is because relationships drift over the years, and as David hit 84 years of age, he simply outlived many of his friends and relatives.

Covid has added restrictions to funeral gatherings, so it was no surprise when I held a service at the funeral home for about 18 relatives; it included his wife Vessie (they were married for 63 years!), their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and one of Dave’s brothers and sister in law.

I rode with the funeral director to the small hillside cemetery, and had to smile when we arrived. The graveside service was open to the public, and the place was JAMMED. The funeral director had to drive the hearse on the grass to get the casket to the graveside; he narrowly missed driving between cars on the drive and gravestones close to the winding driveway.

Scattered across the hillside, patiently awaiting the hearse that was over 15 minutes late were scores of men, women and young people…all Dave’s friends. It was a bitter-sweet gathering. As I spoke of the ever-present twinkle in Dave’s eyes, the smile he so freely gave to everyone, the fact that he never met a stranger, and that he made his love for Jesus obvious to all of us, it felt like we were all assembled in a chorus of gratitude that we got to be Dave’s friends during his 84 year journey on the planet.

As we said our final prayerful goodbye, I shared a thought Dave shared with me when I visited he and Vessie at their home the Monday before Christmas. Short of a miracle, all three of us knew that Dave didn’t have long on this earth. Vessie drifted off to another room to “give you guys some time to talk.” Dave and I proceeded to share some laughter and a few tears.

It was a rare and precious moment when I could glean a few final thoughts from this dear friend. (David only came up to about my shoulder when I hugged him, but he was a giant of a man to those of us who knew him.) He told me the secret of a 63 year marriage was determination. “I’m sure there were many times Vessie wanted to walk out the door, and so did I. But you have to ask yourself ‘What am I going to?’ and “What am I leaving behind?'”

The most compelling advice was more about life in general, and was an obvious guide to how Dave lived: “Plan like you’re going to live to be 100, live like you are going to die today.”

I shared this thought on that little hillside cemetery, inviting Dave’s loved ones to savor those words of homespun wisdom, and allow him to positively impact their lives one more time. Whether you knew him or not, regarding your past, present and your future…and in every area of life, it’s good advice to live by. I won’t forget Dave, when he comes to mind. I’ll smile at the memories, and once again try to heed the echo of his words to live by…”Plan like you’re going to live to be 100, live like you are going to die today.”

Thanks David.

P.S. If you are one of those who knew Dave, PLEASE feel free to leave a memory or thought about him in the comments below.

Troubling Times

We say “Happy New Year” amid record coronavirus cases, a questioned election and more civil unrest. I must confess feeling deeply troubled at the state of our world.

We’ll begin a new sermon series this weekend at CLC: “Hindsight is always 2020…a healthy re-set for a new year.” Oddly enough, in this series I’ll try to unpack ways that 2020 can actually be good for us as people of faith in Christ.

Feel free to join us or log on to clcdayton.com Until then, consider the words of Jesus that he shared on the eve of the most chaotic and troubling time in His life (the day before His crucifixion):

“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14: 1-3

I find that I am most troubled in life when I forget this final unfinished promise of Jesus. My prayer is that God will help me keep my heart focused on my final home, and for me not to get too overwhelmed along my Earthly journey. There is much beauty and joy and many blessings in this life, along with heartache, injustice and pain. We were never meant to “handle it all.” That’s why Jesus came, sent us His Holy Spirit to help us in this life, and why He promised us a better place in our eternal life.

2020 certainly helped me “loosen my grip” on a world I can’t hold on to anyway. Cheers.

At least one positive “takeaway” from 2020

I am typing this on December 31, 2020 shortly before midnight. I just turned off the TV showing an empty Times Square that is normally filled with a million partiers. It is a strange ending to a strange year.

I wish I were one of those people who meticulously journaled their year, and always had a profound reflection on December 31…I’m not. I occasionally journal, try to have reflective moments, but sometimes life leaves me wondering and waiting for an “aha” moment that helps it all make sense.

Looking back over more New Year’s Eves than I would like to admit, there are many question marks in life that still don’t make sense to this day. A quick review of 2020 has loads of questions that may never be answered. “Will we see the last of covid and quarantines? Will political turmoil work out for everyone’s good? Will we see more civil unrest in 2021? What will the financial markets do? What will the rest of the world look like a year from now?”

Funny, I found myself getting anxious just typing those questions. Many more began filling my mind but I made myself stop. The point is, 2020 was a rougher year than normal for most of us. Unfortunately, on this New Year’s Eve there is no indication that the stress and strain of 2020 will soon subside.

The one positive takeaway from 2020 is this, we live in an uncertain world where health, wealth, peace and our way of life are all more fragile than we anticipated. Skeptics among us may ask “And how is THAT a positive?”

The good thing to come from the uncertainty of horrible 2020 is that it reminds us of the timeless truth shared as words of advice from ancient King Solomon; he was revered as the wisest man of his day:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge HIm, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away form evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3: 5-8

When life is filled with uncertainty we are forced to either panic on our own, or trust; and 2020 has shown us the futility in trusting anything or anyone but God. Hopefully 2021 will be a huge improvement over its predecessor; on the other hand, it could even get worse! Regardless, choose to trust God. He promises peace in our pandemics, hope instead of hatred, and joy beyond our circumstances.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and the antidote for anxiety. Through the centuries, God has proven Himself trustworthy, He’s not about to fail us now.

Happy New Year!

Two words they wish they hadn’t said at Christmas

Christmas is less than two days away from the time of this post and the first Christmas is over 2,000 years ago. Looking back, I’m sure there were at least a few people who said two words they learned to regret; we know at least one person did.

I suggest it was the innkeeper who told Joseph and Mary those famous regrettable words, “no room.” It seems that as soon as shepherds showed up at the manger (directed to do so by angels) that the innkeeper must have realized his horrific mistake. He literally told the mother of the son of God that she must bed down (and give birth) in a barn!

If that wasn’t the only inn they stopped at, then other innkeepers most likely had the same experience of regretting their words as well. They had to wish they said something different, like “I’ll make room” or “You can have our room.”

Thankfully God is a god of grace, and He showed it from the moment His son was born. There was no retribution for saying those regrettable words and turning baby Jesus and His parents away.

I’m thankful God is forgiving like that. There are so many words I’ve said and things I’ve done that I later regretted. I have found that my simple request for forgiveness from my repentant heart, and God wipes the slate clean.

Decide NOW (just before Christmas celebrations) to not be like the innkeeper in one way; be mindful of your words this Christmas, avoid saying things you will later regret. Speak peaceful and joyful words that match the songs that celebrate the season. Let love and kindness flavor your speech…even with difficult relatives and in moments of fatigue or frustration. ..and have a merry Christmas.