Choosing Love

 

When something happens like in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston where people were gathered together in love – sharing that love by welcoming a newcomer into their church and then to have violence erupting, we ask why? The answer is painful, it happened because someone hated the color of their skin.

After all we think if we just love our neighbors, do what is right and accept each other than we will be loved in return, except it doesn’t work out that way. Wednesday night June 17 proved that. I read where the shooter said he almost did not go through with it because they were so nice, yet he did. He did not show their love in return because he had evil in his soul.

Countless number of men, women, children are being killed every day, around the world because of their faith in Christ or their ethnicity. Sadly it is not only in Charleston and it is not always black and white, it is everywhere.

Let us put aside our nationality, others accents (lets face it we all have accents) and put blinders on so we do not see color of skin or hair, or if someone is rich or poor. Instead let us focus on the person. Who are the people we see every day; the person standing in line with us at the store, the person who is sitting next to us at the lunch counter, the person walking down the street or the person who we pass to get where we are going?

How can you beyond what you see on the outside and instead see the heart that is beating inside of him or her?

What can you do to change your heart to truly see people instead of their differences, again lets face it we are all different.

What can we learn from this young mans life? What happened to him to make him so full of hatred? How can we heal from this horrific act especially those who were affected in Charleston, in the Middle East, in Africa and our own cities who face this every day?

There has to be an answer. Money is spent on programs, ministries and awareness yet nothing seems to be working. Each day the hatred in someone’s heart grows and does the unthinkable.

No matter what we do we cannot force people to “love” each other. We can do our part, show God’s love in practical ways, be a light of hope in this troubled world, but ultimately we all have free will to choose who to follow; God or satan. God = Love; satan = hatred

I have always liked this verse to me it represents the image of God.  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV). God’s love is not fickle like our earthly love, here one moment and gone the next. God’s love is blind to the outward appearance but sees the heart of a person and goes into the depths of our souls.

Just like what Paul was telling the Corinthians and us today, Gods love goes far beyond what we think love is. God’s love is the image of God.

Loving someone who walked into their church doors, almost worked. The image of God was in the hearts of those people. But a young person choose hate. He turned his back on God and choose instead to kill.

Gods love spoke on Friday and again on Sunday. God’s image shone brightly through the families, the pastors and the citizens of Charleston. The families showed us Gods love by forgiving that young man and asked God to have mercy on him. In that act they presented to the world the image of God – His love that went beyond their grief and suffering.

Should we stop trying to “love one another”, putting money into programs, volunteering in ministries or being advocates by making people aware of the problem. No, because maybe the next time someone will choose Love.

What about you which do you choose? How will you love your neighbor?

God’s Love can break down the barriers of hatred but we all must live it not just say it. Start by looking beyond the race, religion or accent – look into the heart and see God’s love beating there – it is the same love that is beating in your own heart. It is the image of God

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Giving Tuesday

Giving-Tuesday-BannerWhat is “Giving Tuesday“?  A few weeks ago my denomination, the Presbyterian USA issued a challenge to all of its Synods, Presbyteries and Churches to participate in Giving Tuesday. I had no idea what this was, but the more I read the more excited I became.  It is one day set aside from the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping to donate money for worthy causes.  One day to take the focus off of ourselves and to focus on the needs of our churches and communities.  Isn’t this what the Christmas season is all about?  

Although it is a very worthy day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we do this all year long?  Imagine how many families, homeless people, abused women and children that we can help not to mention the many people we can feed when the food bank donations around the country go down after the holiday season. 

My challenge to you is to participate in Giving Tuesday on December 2 and then to continue that giving all year long.

The following two quotes are from the #GivingTuesday and the PCUSA Giving Tuesday webpages.  Click on the links for more information.

“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.” {quote from Giving Tuesday.org}


“How refreshing to start the Advent season with a focus on the blessings we have been
given by God. Your gratitude for God’s blessings can be reflected as a
gift to support our mission.

GIVINGTUESDAY is a global initiative devoting one special day to Giving.
We invite you to make a donation on this special day and don’t stop
there…encourage your family and friends to also make a donation.
Here’s the challenge – On Tuesday, December 2, join us online anytime
during the 24 hours to support your church or the Presbyterian Church by going to PresbyterianMissionExchange/GivingTuesday”  {quote from PCUSA Mission Exchange}

giving tuesday

Little League Baseball Unites The World

Carl StotzEvery year for two weeks children unite the world with a game called “Little League Baseball”.

It all started in 1938, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania when a young man by the name of Carl Stotz organized the first Little League Baseball League. In 1947 the first National Little League Tournament was held. The Maynard Midgets of Stotz’ hometown of Williamsport defeated a team from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, to become the first Little League Tournament Champions. From there the series would change from a regional baseball league to include teams from all 50 American States, and eventually be televised on national TV. “By 1950, the first international Little Leagues had been established at either end of the Panama Canal and in Canada, prompting the National Tournament to be renamed the Little League Baseball® World Series.” 1 And in 1957 “Monterrey, Mexico, becomes the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series”2.

LLBaseball

For two weeks out of the year we see cultural differences, hear foreign languages, and see the children of our future play together in a sport called Baseball. Year after year I watch the teams come together forming friendships and sharing an experience of a lifetime. I see firsthand the people of Williamsport and the surrounding communities welcoming the teams and their families.

We complain about the traffic, joke about not eating out at the local restaurants for 2 weeks and claim we will stay away from South Side (South Williamsport) where the games are now held. However by the end of July the town comes alive as the city plans for the teams arrival.

Before we know it, chairs start to line up on the parade route the night before as The Little League Grand Slam Parade begins and Williamsport welcomes the 16 teams.

Since 1975 when I moved to this area with my family, I have watched teams come from all over the world to participate in the Little League games. And during that time political and cultural differences are set aside as young boys and girls come together from as far away as Australia connecting the world by playing baseball.

Through the years teams from Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, South America, Africa and Russia to name a few, arrive in our little city. Those of us in the stands cheer and applaud the teams from abroad as if they were from our own hometowns. We do not see Asian, Mexican or Russians, we see young children coming together having fun and determined to do their best to win the championship title.

1408043155008-phxdc5-6gln00seb5k1k164ycsw-originalAs the world around us burns with unrest, these teams and their families show the world sportsmanship and team work. They show the world that people from different nationalities can indeed get along. So often I see the crowds stand up and applaud, supporting all the competing teams.

For two weeks in August the ball players, their families and the local community all come together as one.

There is a lesson to be learned from these two weeks– if those young ball players can bring the world together for two weeks out of the year why can’t world leaders find a common bond and come together the rest of the year? Can it be as simple as a baseball game?
Note: To find out which team will hold the 2014 Championship Title, you can watch the final game on Sunday August 24, 2014 on ESPN.

 

1http://www.littleleaguebiglegacy.com/Little_League_World_Series/About_the_Little_League_Baseball__World_Series.htm
2 http://www.littleleague.org/learn/about/historyandmission/chronology.htm
For more information: http://www.littleleague.org/learn/about/worldserieshistory.htm http://www.northcentralpa.com/article/origin-little-league-baseball

When God Weeps

 There is not much more I can say that has not already been said about the tragedy in Connecticut. I have cried with the rest of the world when I saw the faces, names and ages of the victims.  My heart aches for what is lost.  There is so much that was lost to all of us that day.  Nothing will ever compare to the loss the parents and families are experiencing right now.  Their pain goes deep within their souls, their hearts scared and empty forever. 

But we do see the loss of lives and the loss of the future these children would have had.  There is loss of relationships as families and friends say goodbye to those they loved.  We have also lost our sense of security as we go about our daily lives. Most importantly we witnessed again a loss of innocence. With each violent act we lose more of the decency and integrity that is in each of us, and those things that separate us from the evil one.

Our country has gone down the wrong path for so long that no one sees what we have lost as a nation, as a people.  Just see what is on tv, in the movies and the music the younger generation is listening to and you will see the decline of our morality.  We have become numb to violence and this is the result. Through the generations we have turned away from God and all that is good.

Because of this we weep, and God weeps with us.  God weeps with us as we turn away from Him.  He weeps when we hurt each other, at what His children can do to each other.  God weeps for what is lost and for the world He created.

So yes, lets pray and comfort each other and support the families in every way we can.  But let us also honor the children and teachers by refusing to see the violent movies, stop listening to music that is about killing and raping, and turning off the news as they play over and over again the details of these violent acts.  Let us honor all of those that were killed that day in Connecticut, Oregon and in the small church in Pennsylvania by reaching out to each other in God’s love.

“Let there be peace {and love}and let it begin with me”….by walking away from all that is evil and walking towards the goodness that is found in the light of God.  It begins with one person, let it begin with you…

Tragedy At A Church

ChurchToday I was going to decide which article to write to start off the Advent season.  An article that would prepare our hearts. Instead I am overwhelmed with questions.

As I prepare for His birth my heart is filled with a longing for the peace that only Jesus can give.    The peace of the Advent season has been replaced by the sorrow of tragedy.

Today as I went into work I was given the news about a shooting at one of our churches.  It is a small country church in the area I refer to God’s country, near the NY border.  I do not know most of the details, but from what I was told and read, it happened during the worship service.  A few minutes after church started a gunman entered the church, pushed the pastor aside and shot the organist, his ex-wife.  He left the building only to come back and shoot her again, as he said, to make sure the job was done.  The pastor and a few of the parishioners subdued him and held him until the State Police arrived.

Today the church is trying to find answers and make sense out of what happened.  Through our Presbytery, our Synod and PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance), they will get the assistance they need to rebuild their lives and the church and the community is being sheltered in our prayers.  But the hurt and pain caused by this violent act has left a permanent scar on the family of the victim and the community.

In this season of joy and peace, I ask why?  On the first day of Advent this man took a life in a most horrible way.  I am asking, why didn’t God intervene?  The same questions I have asked over the years, when my brother was tragically taken from us at the age of 19, when my father and mother died at an early age, with my cancer diagnoses, and other events that brought such pain and suffering.  Why, Lord?

I am not a theologian, but I love my Lord.   I do not know why God allowed this to happen. I know He did not cause it, but for reasons we may not know until we stand before Him, He allowed this violent act to happen.  As much as we hate to admit it, evil is all around us, even during this season of peace,  evil rears its ugly head and threatens to destroy us.  Lives are destroyed and shattered. And through it all God cries with us.

I am reminded of the story that was circulated after the attacks on Sept 11.  It was sent over the internet and asked the question where was God when the planes crashed into the towers, the pentagon and a quiet field in PA.  I don’t remember much of that article, but basically as I remember,  it answered the question of where was God, by saying God was there, in the planes, in the towers, and in hallways of the pentagon. He calmed their fears as He led them home and comforted those that survived.  So I know in my heart that God was in that sanctuary and He calmed the fear of the organist as He reached out to her and took her home, He gave strength to the pastor and the congregation to  subdue the ex-husband till help arrived and He is there to comfort those who grieve. God is in each of us as we pray and minister to those who will mourn the loss of a mother, a sister, a friend and mourn the loss of their security.

Today my faith was questioned, as to why our God, our Lord would allow something like that happen.  He allowed it because He gave us all free will to choose Him or to choose evil.  But with that freedom he also gives His promise to never leave us.  God our Father in Heaven will always be with us, in times of joy, sorrow and tragedy.  He will bring healing and comfort to those who suffer.  So I may not completely understand why, but I choose to believe His promises and that offers me hope in this broken world.  And isn’t that the real meaning of the Christmas season, to give us hope in a little child, the baby Jesus.

The Calm After The Storm

A road in Montoursville (a little north of where I work) Picture courtesy of: NorthCentral PA.com

First I would like to say thank you for all your well wishes and prayers. Yesterday we watched the storm make landfall in NJ and NY we were all anxious of what the next phase of Super Storm Sandy would be as she made her way up into Pennsylvania. 

We are thankful that we did not lose power and were spared a lot of damage from the high winds and rain. Although the center of the storm center will hit us this evening, the worse is over. 

Tonight into tomorrow our creeks and the Susquehanna River will rise so there will be some flooding in the low lining areas but the prediction is for minimal flooding.  Considering most people living along the creeks and our river have recently returned to their homes that were damaged in last years storms, that is good news, indeed.

Now we have the calm after the storm as we put the past 36 hours of preparation behind us. Water jugs will be emptied, debris from trees and neighbors yard decorations will be cleaned up, and flashlights stored away as we resume our lives.

It is still raining – a steady, heavy rain that seems to cry along with us at the devastation of our eastern shores.

Unlike the Southern, New England and Canadian coasts we were spared.  Our hearts go out to those who lost their homes and to the families who lost loved ones.  It is a long road to recovery – not only rebuilding homes but in rebuilding their lives. I pray for those who lives were shattered, that they will experience God’s presence during this difficult time and find the peace and comfort of God’s love as they begin to pick up the pieces and put their lives back together.

The Calm Before The Storm

A view of Williamsport from our lookout on Rt 15 from South Williamsport.

As you are all aware, Hurricane Sandy has turned into the biggest storm in app 150 years.  As I sit here typing, we are getting some rain from this storm front and she has yet to make landfall.  The scope of this storm as it converges with two other fronts is beyond anyone’s imagination. 

We are on the path of the storm, here in North Central PA.  As a matter of fact last I heard the center is heading right for us.  So although we do not live in a flood area we are only minutes from the Susquehanna River.  The city of Williamsport was prone to flooding in the past.  Today we have a dike system that has held up in the worse of storms and floods from years past.  Last year at this time we had the rain effects from Hurricane Irene and there was concern that the dike would not hold and it did.  As Hurricane Sandy moves up and leaves disasters in her wake, we pray that again our dike system holds up.

Pennsylvania has already been declared an State of Emergency, along with 8 other states.  And tomorrow into Tuesday we are on alert for high winds, power outages and flash flooding from the rivers and creeks.  Once Loyalsock Creek overflows her banks I will have only one way into work.  If we get the amount rain they are forecasting we are likely to get flooding from backed up storm sewers that will surely overflow as the rain comes down faster than they can drain. But for now, my office is closed and I am able to wait out the storm at home.

This may be my last post for a few days if we lose power.  So for now we are battening down the hatches as we prepare for the worse and hope for the best.

As bad as it will get here in PA, the folks along the New England and Canadian coasts are going to get the brunt of it.  Our prayers are for everyone that is in this storms path, from North Carolina to New Jersey and New York City, through Pennsylvania and right on up to Maine and into parts of Canada.

The 2011 Flood

On Tuesday Sept 6 to Thursday Sept 8, 2011 it had rained over 9 inches.  Our area had 3 months of rain in less than 3 days.  In this time the lives of over 100,000 people have been shattered as their homes and their sense of security have been lost and people begin to rebuild what they had lost.

Here where I live, we have been spared most of the damage and heartache.  It seems surreal as I sit here deciding what to have for dinner, complaining because I will spend an afternoon ironing or having a house to clean.  And all around me, people are going back to their homes to find no home to go to or finding their homes knee-deep in mud and destruction.  People are stranded in their homes with no water, phone or electricity as the flood waters destroyed roads and made them impassable.

Today the rain has stopped; the river, creeks and streams have all gone back to near normal levels. All that remain now is the mud, the devastation, the loss of personal treasures, the unbelief, and the lost dreams.

It was this picture of muddy footprints that I came across that I was able to see God in the midst of this tragedy.  God never promised us that life would be easy.  Bad things will happen, and God promised he will always be with us as we go through life’s trials.

We have seen God in each of the volunteers that are in the shelters and with each person in the rescue teams.  We see God in every person throughout our communities that prayed and now bring food, water, clothing, and are helping with the clean up.  We will continue to see God as lives are rebuilt and dreams are restored; as tears are replaced with joy and hopelessness turns into an anticipation of a brighter future.

Life will go on for those of us not affected.  We will wake up the next few weeks and go about our day.  The last few days will be but a memory.  But for those that will wake up each morning and have no homes to go to, their days will be filled with picking up the pieces and starting over.  They can be reassured that God goes with them, He will not leave them.  Even in the midst of their tears, anger and frustration, God promised He will be with them.  And like the Footprint poem expresses, it will be during this time of their lives that they will see only one set of footprints, which are God’s footprints as He carries them through this time.