The Saddest Words

This traveling month I’ve heard words that tasted delicious:
In Ohio, “I’m having another baby!”
In California, “You are courageous!”
In Maryland, “You are such a good friend!”
In West Virginia, “Thank you for coming so far!”

I’ve experienced things that brightened the rest of my day:
In California, I watched the Sierra Nevada Mountains for miles and miles as I drove through the Central Valley.
In Maryland, I met my friend’s teenage son whom I had never seen.
In Indiana, I ate at an Amish restaurant where I tasted raisin pie for the first time in many years.
In Kentucky, I saw astonishing ice “waterfalls” in the gorges where the highway is carved.

I’ve also heard words that felt like stubbing my toe:
“Your luggage didn’t come on your flight.”
“That’s all we had. There’s no more.”
“There’s no outlet.”
“You can’t pay that way.”

But on the road there is one question that sucks the air right out of me:
“Table for one?”

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Two Americas: Local vs “Chain”ed

Ripley-I77-DowntownTwo Americas are on display here in Ripley, West Virginia, population 3,252. By Interstate 77, on the fringe of town, you can experience “Chain”ed America, and in the old part of town you find Local America.

My Quality Inn overlooks the freeway and looks the same as 10,000 other Chain hotels across the country. Walking a few blocks, I can eat cookie-cutter meals at Shoney’s, Ponderosa, Bob Evans, Long John Silver, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Arby’s.

ripley-crabby-patti-sThere is a different Ripley just over the hill, down by the river. If you want to eat downtown, you can go to the Downtowner Restaurant. If you want your hair cut on Main Street, head to the Main Street Barbershop. The Alpine Theater is under renovation. There is innovation too. My lunch today was cooked from fresh crab at the recently opened Crabby Patti’s. Try finding that at Shoney-Evan-Ponder-Silver-McWendy-ArbyBell.

By my informal investigation, Ripley has one antique store per 813 people. I guess while marching forward to an unknown future, people like to stay connected to an authentic past.

Ripley-race-Alpine-TheaterYou may not have experienced Ripley, but Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have each spoken here. Yep, they spoke in the real, authentic, Local America part of Ripley, not in lookalike national clones.

My biggest decision tomorrow: Lunch at Crabby Patti’s again, or should I try out the Downtowner Restaurant? As a confession, dinner tonight was a national chain salad, but I’m eager for lunch tomorrow back in Local America.

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Disappearing Babies

The value of babies is plummeting in the West and on the Pacific Rim. Multiple children have become a liability, a social sign of failure, and an impediment to hope.
When life centers on self, babies disappear.

In Germany, urban planners are focused on how to depopulate cities according to Jonathan Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. With a shortage of babies, they are working out how to demolish square blocks and replace brick and mortar with green space. Because there are so few people, wolves are approaching towns and cities in eastern Germany for the first time in 400 years.

In Russia, for every 10 live births there are 13 abortions!

In Japan, he reports that people now buy more adult diapers than baby diapers. Japan’s population is on track to decrease by more than 50% by the end of the century.

Why has the value of babies radically declined? Last combed through mountains of data in a national long-term study that tracks a host of factors about families. He discovered a telling correlation: 100% of the families with more than 3 children go to church or some worship center. Not “some,” not “most,” not “a high proportion”—”100%!”

I spent yesterday with Muslim friends whom I had not seen in several years. What a joy to get acquainted with their wonderful teen-aged children. When the father asked me to pray before dinner, I read Psalm 127, and I thanked him for supporting me when my first child died.

Psalm 127
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.

People who look to God see babies as a blessing. “Blessing” is the word my Muslim friend used yesterday about his children.

However, where people have lost sight of God, babies are disappearing!

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Great Days for Youth Ministry!

Adults over 30 grossly underestimate the impact of the Bible on youth!

Young adults are twice as likely to believe that the Bible has “a lot” of impact on American youth than adults 29 and older, according to the annual Bible survey from the American Bible Society and the Barna Group.


Adults aged 18-28 are far more likely to believe that the Bible has even “some” impact on American youth than adults 29 and older—50% more likely!

The attitude of young adults regarding the Bible’s impact on youth shows that middle-aged and senior adults are unnecessarily pessimistic about reaching young people with the Word of God.

According to the survey, these young adults are more interested than other adults in what the Bible has to say about each of the following topics:
• Illness and Death
• Family Conflict
• Dating and Relationship
• Romance and Sexuality
• Dealing with Divorce
The State of the Bible, 2013: A study of U.S. Adults
Research commissioned by American Bible Society, Research conducted by Barna Group

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What Is Baptism Anyway?

Baptism is a command of Jesus. Baptism is something about which Christians argue and over which they divide from each other. This video presents baptism in a way that allows Christians who disagree to talk together. I serve a Lutheran church, but the video is from Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. Christians talking together is good.

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Who Is the Holy Spirit?

“The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a means of experiencing fellowship with the triune God. That is, the Holy Spirit is the part of the Godhead that personally interacts with us. He is the voice we hear when God speaks to us. He is the wisdom we receive from God’s Word. He is the helper in our time of need. He is the comforter in times of grief. He is the one who increases our faith. He empowers us to overcome our flesh. He gives us the courage and the words to say to make Jesus known. He guides us on how to live this life for God’s glory. When we pray to God to enter into our lives, situations and conversations, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to intimately engage with us, and us with him.


“The Holy Spirit also plays a significant role in convicting us of our sin. After Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to us to convict us of our sin (both unbeliever and believer) and to draw us to Christ, and then to empower us to be His witnesses to others….

“He can empower us to be bold witnesses for Him. He is the one pursuing lives around us. He is the one who will convict people of sin and their need for a Savior. He is the one who will open their eyes to the truth of the gospel and change their lives. But what’s so wonderful is that He uses us in the process, and He invites us to participate when we follow His lead.”

(Holly A. Melton, Follow My Lead, Regal Books, Ventura, CA: 2013, p. 14-15)

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Fire Within 1.5 miles

Direction makes all the difference!

Camarillo Springs
Early Thursday morning a spark ignited into a small flame along U.S. Highway 101. The fire began only 1 ½ miles from my house in Camarillo, California. Hot winds were blowing in from the desert, and the temperature was over 90. Less than three days later, 45 square miles of terrain have burned, more than 11,000 hectares. More than 2,000 firefighters have worked in danger and exhaustion to preserve life and property.

Yet the fire was invisible from my home. Some of my family did not even know about the fire when it had burned more than 15 square miles the first day.

The fire burned away from my home. I live 1 1/2 miles north of where the fire started. The fire burned south.

Direction makes all the difference—not speed, not efficiency.

People and organizations get unnecessarily upset with themselves because they have not met their goals. They are not where they want to be. The bigger question: Are we moving in the direction that we want to go?

Other people and organizations lose their future to complacency: “Look what we’ve done! Look what we have accomplished!” Yet they do not measure their current progress. They may even miss that they have stopped moving forward.

When I taught in Chicago, I would ride the train in and out of the city. Occasionally, glancing up from my computer at the train window, I would think we were going forward when in fact the neighboring train was the only one moving. “Facts” lie if one is looking at things wrong.

Are you going in the direction that you want to go?

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