Reflections and Readings

Tuesday, November 27 – Sandy’s Day

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Early this morning I started to write – “fateful” – day, the day our son died 37 years ago during heart surgery.

Sandy would have been 58 now, and still, I am sure ,handsome, caring, fully striving, making a difference as ever.

And he is that even now in me and his family. And others, like the woman at Great Harvest last week, who I had never met, but who said, as she handed a loaf of bread to me, “I remember Sandy. I never met him. But I knew about him and how God used his life.”

So this is a “faithful” day. He, I’m sure, would have been faithful as he was during his 21 years, faithful as son, friend, follower, leader in Your way.

So I trust You as his Lord and ours to be faithful as You have been, and will be.

Today Jeanie and I thank You for Debbie and Kevin, and their spouses, and for the many sons and daughters in the faith who have been given to Jeanie and to me, like Steve Johnson and Scott Sunquist, who received our first Sandy Ford Scholarships – the first fruit of many who are still running their races for the Lord.

So not a fateful day. Painful still, yes. But also full and fruitful and faithful.

A Radical Thought

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We’re taught that adopting certain ideas or identities will empower us. We’re told that following certain leaders will make us great. It’s this world that Jesus turns the tables on. He calls us, over and over and over again, to join him and respond to him in weakness. He assures us we have nothing to fear when we’re weak, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

-Br. Lucas Hall
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Remembering Billy

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This week Billy would have turned 100 – and his life is being well remembered.

Here are some choice thoughts sent to us by our friend Rich Stearns, president of World Vision. as they looked back on the service celebrating his life:

We watched the service earlier this week and thought Jeanie did a wonderful job.  She seemed calm and in control of her message. Her humor helped to break the ice and relax the crowd.  It had to be amazing for both of you to have been eyewitnesses to the phenomenon that Billy became.  You had ringside seats.

Think it can only be explained by God’s supernatural anointing.  Lately I have been reflecting on just who God selected in scripture for the most important jobs.  And he never looked at resumes.  He almost always chose the unlikely, the humble and the willing so that His glory cold be revealed.  Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Peter – none were especially remarkable but all were willing and obedient.  I like to say ‘they were involved in what God was doing but it did not depend on them’.

I feel like that a WV – we are involved with what God is doing but it does not depend on us.  As Mother Teresa famously said: “God did not call me to be successful, he called me to be obedient.”

Billy was obedient.

All Saints Day – A Day Early

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This Sunday was All Saints Day at church, when we remembered those who have gone before us this year. But for me All Saints came a day early.

On Saturday I went to Great Harvest to get a loaf of their fine cinnamon chip bread for Jeanie. A woman handed it to me who I didn’t remember seeing there before. As she did, she said, “I always remember Sandy.”

I was startled. It’s been 37 years since he died during heart surgery, a long time to be remembered.

“You do?” I said, “Thank you for telling me. How do you remember him?”

” I never met him,” she said, “but I knew about him. I read your book about him. I’ve always been so thankful for him.”

Of course I was deeply moved.

She went on.

“There are a lot of people that we never know who do important things. Some people, God shows us to us so we might be reminded of his grace, And Sandy was one of those in his faithfulness to his Lord.”

I thanked her. I left. I received from her a loaf of bread, but even more a word of grace for my soul, for God’s light shining through Sandy, and all saints.


Eugene Peterson

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Monday was my birthday. It was also the day Eugene Peterson died. He was two years younger than I am. I am grateful for his life.  I am thankful that he influenced my life, especially his A Long Obedience in the Same Direction which I read many years ago.  And of course The Message, which put God’s everlasting and holy words into such accessible style, with true respect.

From his New York Times Obituary:

The Rev. Eugene Peterson in an undated photo. A beloved pastor, he was also a prodigious writer of religious-themed books, most notably “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.”via Baptist News Global

The Rev. Eugene H. Peterson, a Presbyterian minister who challenged the mass marketing of Christian evangelism and wrote a shelf of books on religion — notably “The Message,” a series that recast the Bible into everyday English — died on Monday at his home in Lakeside, Mont. He was 85.

Amy Peterson, his daughter-in-law, said the cause was congestive heart failure. Mr. Peterson, who had dementia, had been in hospice care.

For most of his life Mr. Peterson was a small-town pastor and college professor who spread the Gospel with paperback books and with his sermons and ministrations to a few hundred parishioners. But he became an influential voice of American evangelism in his 70s, after the publication in 2002 of his full translation of the Bible, which sold 15 million copies worldwide and lifted him out of anonymity.

While televangelists like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones Sr. and Joel Osteen reached millions with more impersonal and lucrative mass-media techniques, Mr. Peterson deplored modern megachurches, virtual religions online, televised preaching and what is known as the gospel of prosperity, which propounds the popular notion that God rewards the faithful in material ways.

“A pastor in personal relationships is not just trying to find ways to make people feel good, loved, whatever,” Mr. Peterson told the PBS program “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” in 2011. “This is a kingdom of life we are living. It has to do with salvation. It has to do with justice. It has to do with compassion, and you can’t do that wholesale. You just can’t.”

“The Message,” Mr. Peterson’s colloquial translation of the Bible, sold 15 million copies worldwide.

He added: “American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had, because it’s so materialistic and it’s so full of lies. The whole advertising world is just intertwined with lies, appealing to the worst instincts we have. The problem is, people have been treated as consumers for so long they don’t know any other way to live.”

Mr. Peterson’s entire pastoral career unfolded in a single small church that he founded in 1963: Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Md., a suburban town of 8,000 northeast of Baltimore. Affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, his parish began with a few dozen people; decades later it had only 500 members and Sunday service attendances of about 250.
He liked to be called Pastor Peterson or Pastor Pete. “Ours was an informal congregation, and except for the children and youth, most of the people in it were older than I and addressed me by my given name, Eugene, which was fine by me,” Mr. Peterson wrote in “The Pastor: A Memoir” (2011).
That book recounted his years of service as the pastor of Christ Our King, a long panorama of births, deaths, ceremonies, sermonizing and counseling that seemed somehow to be embodied in a crowd of children that suddenly appeared at his living room window, trick-or-treating on his last Halloween night as he retired from the ministry in 1991.
“Masked and costumed, their noses pressed against the glass, they were unrecognizable as the children I had baptized, children of parents I had married, children whose grandparents I had buried over a span of three decades,” Mr. Peterson recalled. “But they recognized me: Pastor … Pastor Pete.”
Giving up the ministry for an academic life, Mr. Peterson was the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 1993 to 1998. He continued teaching there as an emeritus professor until 2006.
Mr. Peterson published a memoir, “The Pastor,” in 2011. His entire pastoral career unfolded in a single small church in Maryland that he founded in 1963.

He began writing books in the 1980s, at first commentaries on religious subjects, like “Run With the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best” (1983). He later took up pastoral themes, including “Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager” (1994) and “Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians” (1996).
Mr. Peterson, a linguist who once taught Hebrew and Greek to seminarians, wrote more than 30 books in all, including a number of volumes that were assembled into his best-known and most successful work, “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language” (2002).
Written and published in many segments over a decade, Mr. Peterson’s literary centerpiece was a translation and paraphrasing into idiomatic English of early Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts that were the basis for the King James Version of the Bible, which first appeared in 1611. He used poetic expressions, slang and other modern literary devices.
His stated goal was to render texts that had been obscured by time and modified by other translators into fresh meanings accessible to American readers. The collection was well received in evangelical circles; one volume, “The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary Language,” won the Gold Medallion of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in 2003.
Many readers wrote to Mr. Peterson, and to his publisher, the NavPress Publishing Group, to say that the work had given them a spiritual catharsis. But some Bible scholars said Mr. Peterson’s free use of breezy slang, colloquialisms and eccentric paraphrases, along with colorful expressions that bordered on cartoonish, had distorted much of the meaning of the original texts.
Following are two passages, one from the King James Version, the other Mr. Peterson’s.
The 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Mr. Peterson’s:

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13):

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Mr. Peterson’s:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best —
as above, so below.

Eugene Hoiland Peterson was born in East Stanwood, Wash., on Nov. 6, 1932, to Robert and Evelyn (Hoiland) Peterson. Eugene and his siblings, Karen and Kenneth, were raised as Pentecostal Christians in Kalispell, Mont. Their father was a butcher, their mother an ordained Assemblies of God minister.

A Birthday Post

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Today is my birthday, so I spent some time this afternoon taking a walk and reflecting along with my dog Buddy.

Next door to the Avondale Presbyterian Church is a labyrinth path which was an invitation to walk and pray on this lovely October day.

As I began, I thought bank across my life from the day I was born until now, so many years later.

With each step I recalled the various turns and twists and directions of my life. It was a very deep time of remembering and being thankful.

When I got to the very center of the labyrinth, I saw engraved on this stone circle these words from Psalm 105.

“Thy Word is a light to my feet and a lamp to my path.”

As I stood, I breathed a prayer of gratitude to God for His guidance then and now, and in the times yet to come.

(And also wished all those who sent words of birthday greetings today could walk with us!)

BASS LAKE – The progress of a painting

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I’m sometimes asked about how I develop my paintings. Here is an example, my new painting of Bass Lake, near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

We’ve had a number of retreats near here and on a fall afternoon, when all the trees were blazing. I took a walk around the lake with a friend. As I saw the fog creeping down the hill around Moses Cone Manor. I was captivated.

So here’s the painting based on some photos. I took – the first an earlier version. Then a  second version underway. And finally the third completed this week. At least I think it’s finished! I guess as an artist I must sauy that I think it’s finished!

In any case, I hope you enjoy seeing this. It was a joy for me to do the painting.


P.S.: I am often asked how long it takes to do a painting. In this case about fourteen hours over a number of weeks. I guess it must be like that for the way the Lord develops his “image” in us. It doesn’t happen overnight. So he must be very patient until we are finished! I’m glad he doesn’t give up.