Sabbath morning prayer

O gracious and compassionate Lord, it is only by your mercy that we find ourselves in the morning of a new Sabbath day.  But we would take this gift of a new day in vain unless we grow in grace and increase in our knowledge of your Word.

May we use the day to better understand who you are, O Lord, and help us to love you above all else, and to serve you wholeheartedly.  We pray that this day we would allow our wills to respond to you.

We recognize that the power to obey your commandments does not lie within us, but comes only as a fruit of your grace.         

This morning we give you our empty hearts that you might fill them with the excellent gifts that only come from you. We give you our empty minds and beg you to focus them on what is pure and lovely,  and to drive out what is foolish and selfish.

O, vigilant shepherd of sheep that all too often wander, guide us in your paths.  With your staff, keep us from error. Show us the paths of righteousness and give us the desire to walk in them. 

Defend us, O Lord, from our enemies, and from snares laid by our adversary. Perhaps our greatest enemy is our own wayward nature.

Keep us free from the pain of straying, dear gracious Father. Protect us from our own foolishness.

Cleanse us this morning. Wash us clean of our sinful nature and make us eager to bless others as we go about our daily tasks. 

In your love remind us that we are no longer bound to the sins of our past.  Release us from guilt so that we would joyfully serve others.

O gracious Father in Heaven, fill us this day with light and peace, with the hope of glory, with delight in simple pleasures, with the joy of fellowship, with your Word, with yourself.   Amen.

Only two possible destinies

New England is famous for many things, but perhaps one of the most iconic symbols of New England, and especially Vermont, is the maple tree. We can laud it for its sugary sap and the delightful syrup that it provides. People visit here in the autumn to behold the brilliant displays of colored foliage with which the Lord adorns the landscape in early October. What a delightful feast for the eyes is that splash of red, orange and yellow leaves as the maple trees dress up for one last moment of glory before November ushers in its world of gray monotones.

But what of the maple seeds? Anyone in this corner of the country can tell you that maple trees drop a lot of seeds in the spring. By God’s design, each seed comes equipped with its own little “parachute” wing that enables it to spin wildly in the breeze and travel a ways away from the mother tree. Each seed bears the potential of becoming a new, strong, glorious maple tree; each one is carried away by wind to find a home in the welcoming earth. No two seeds, nor their resulting trees, are truly identical.

And then they diverge. A myriad maple seeds never find a home in the ground. They land on streets and sidewalks and are seen as useless, half-rotted trash to be scornfully raked up and thrown away. But some seeds do land in fertile soil, and after decades of growth they become strong trees, producing joy and beauty, and maple sugar and stunning foliage, to delight the next generation.

Only two destinies are possible: to be cast into perdition, or to grow into something magnificent.

In this simple and profound way, God the creator has shown us the only two destinies of the human soul.

Vantage point

Many years ago, I started seeing great photographs of New England scenery, like beautiful vistas of the ocean and full shots of lighthouses.  Then I went to the ocean and tried to take pictures like that myself. I looked at the printed photographs later on and realized that none of mine had the glory of the professional ones in the glossy travel magazines.   Even with a better camera, I was unable to capture the glorious seacoast views as I wanted to. 

Then one day it hit me: I was not positioned up high enough to take in the view.  Those photos were taken from aircraft.  My photos were low, ground-level shots—flat, featureless, unsatisfying.  I was at the shore, but all I could photograph was long, boring stretches of sand and sea.  To take the photos that I wanted I needed a different vantage point. I needed to view New England’s seacoast from up above, not from within it. 

It was all a matter of my vantage point.

Visitors to this beautiful corner of America observe from a horizontal view—majestic mountains, classic architecture, and the inhabitants—but not from above.  From God’s point of view, far above such a view, He sees a region in desperate need of repentance, belief, and a return to vibrant, personal relationships with their creator. 

From God’s vantage point, New England is ready for revival. He sees the need for biblical truth to be preached from the pulpit. He sees people that He loves and desires to deliver from the bondage of this world to eternal life. He sees a land, settled long ago by faithful believers, that needs to return to its heritage—the truth of God’s word.

God takes his picture of New England from His vantage point and calls it beautiful—but He desires to call its people to himself.  

The Maine Coast photographed from the air, thanks to a tour inside a lighthouse.

A Call for Action

Here’s a thought for today from Selwyn Hughes, an expert on revival :

“Our nation needs God—that is for sure.  We are slipping into apostasy, sin is rampant and rife, young people have no clear ethical guidelines, postmodernism rules in our colleges and universities, moral absolutes no longer prevail, so many things are being undermined. How can we reach them is there is no revival?  How can things change?

We can’t look to the nation to correct itself morally on its own.  The answer to our morality does not lie entirely in the chambers of government but in the house of God.

We have watched our country slipping back for a generation.  And without doubt complacency and lukewarmness gnaw at the door of the church. It is a lot to believe that humility, believing prayer, radical repentance, and cutting out everything that God does not want in our lives can change things, but not to believe it would make God a liar.

God longs for revival more than we do.  “Return to me, and I will return to you,” he said in Malachi 3:7.

Let’s not settle for the spiritual status quo: a mediocre, weak, and anemic brand of Christianity, when God wants to make available to us the same kind of power that energized the early church.  Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said on one occasion that the Christian church is like a sleeping giant. If that is so, then it is time for it to wake up.

To absorb ideas about revival costs nothing, but to enter into revival costs everything—our time and changes in our behavior.  We shall be very guilty if, having come to understand revival and be convinced of its need, we then do nothing about it.  Let us report for duty in the battle for our nation’s soul.”


excerpted from pages 76 and 82-84 of:

Hughes, Selwyn. Why Revival Waits (Nashville, TN: Broadman &  Holman, 2005.)

Not Alone

We read to know that we are not alone.

I remember hearing that quote in the movie Educating Rita nearly 40 years ago, and I’ve spent an adult lifetime learning how true that is.  When we read, we hear of the struggles, challenges, joys, and victories of others. We relate to their anguish. We rejoice to hear news of victory.  To read the words of another, beset with the same foibles and sorrows as we, is to connect into community. The writings of others build bridges between our mortal souls and theirs.  In excellently crafted novels we identify with a hero or heroine as that person struggles against the world, and we ourselves grow and change. Perhaps we learn from events in the plot how to handle situations in our own lives better.  Perhaps we relax a little more, just knowing that someone else has faced the same uphill climb of struggle that we are facing now—and that they made it.

New England has produced great classic writers, from Jonathan Edwards, a great genius-level theologian of the 18th century, and authors of famous novels like Nathaniel Hawthorne, to famous hymn writers like Fanny Crosby and Katharine Lee Bates.  The writings of these faithful New Englanders have informed and inspired our nation for centuries.  Their writings are a national treasure.

We write to let others know that they are not alone.

Antiquarian books in the MARBLE Room in the Hogue Library in Bennington, Vermont.

Who’s in charge

In these turbulent times of unprecedented chaos and loss, no one has a guidebook to show him what to do and how to respond to each new wave of change. But Christians understand that even though we don’t have a manual, we have Emmanuel.

We embrace the times knowing that our faith is founded on the solid rock who preserves and sustains us, who holds our lives in His hands, who knows the future, and who cares for those who have repented of sin and called on the name of Christ for salvation.


The sun illuminates a church in Enfield, Connecticut

One Lovely Day

One lovely day I took my granddaughter Faith for a drive through the Vermont countryside. For the entire month before that, we had longed for spring’s warm, gentle, reviving touch. But it had tarried too long in the South, uncaringly allowing Old Man Winter to bury April and even early May under his cold, wet, shrouds of morning snows.

But today was different. Spring had arrived at last, almost with a vengeance, for a hot, sunny 80 degrees in brilliant sunshine nearly paralyzed us.  I was grateful for the chance to spend a day away—far from working hours and worry, far from harried days and hurry.  I took the opportunity to spend one lovely day in Vermont with my granddaughter.

While sauntering down a country lane, I spied a field filled with dandelions—uncountable myriads of bright yellow-faced suns, sprawling out across the broad expanse of open meadowland. I stopped the car and took Faith by the hand. We strolled to the edge to admire the view.  As far as the eye could see, dandelions at the height of their glory stretched out before us—yellow, round, standing firm but soft to the touch.


Had a farmer sown them intentionally, he would have been pleased at this bumper crop.  As Faith’s eyes beheld the sight, she dubbed it the most beautiful meadow in the state.  “It’s a heaven of yellowness, Papa,” she declared emphatically.

A week later I found myself slaying the dandelions that had invaded my handsome backyard. I carefully gathered into a bag a few of them that had already gone to seed and angrily beheaded those about to.  One by one, I snipped the seed-bearing heads off the stalks and tossed them into the bag.

Faith followed close at hand.  “Papa, why don’t you want more dandelions?  Why are you throwing away the seeds?  Watch, Papa. I love blowing the white fluffy heads.  See?  New seeds for next year.”

Woo, woo, woo. She blew them into the wind across the yard.

“There you go, Papa!  Next year you will have a heaven of yellowness here!  You will have the prettiest yard in town!”

I smiled wryly and bit my tongue.

For the moment, Faith was in her glory, scampering around delightedly in a small version of her heaven of yellowness.  She selected only the plumpest and loveliest dandelions for her Mimi’s vase and merrily blew a few of the “fluffy heads”,  chasing their parachute seeds around the yard.

But then the next morning Faith came out in the yard with her Papa again.  Overnight all the yellow dandelions had closed up their heads.   Faith was crushed.   “Your heaven of yellowness is gone. Now they’re ugly!”

I pictured the future—tomorrow a sea of fluffy heads waiting for the wind to blow their seeds all over my yard, and the next day hideous headless stalks, and next spring too many dandelions.

“Oh, my precious little one,” I replied with a knowing smile, “don’t be charmed by the dandelions of life—they have only one lovely day.

April Snow

April Snow 2021
A female character in a play or novel whose late entry into the scene always causes dismay might be aptly named April Snow. Most New Englanders, weary of winter’s cold and darkness, often resent seeing the chilly white snow that coats the ground somewhere in the region just about every year after the first of April. Though it is a common occurrence in northern Maine, the arrival of April snow as far south as Connecticut is rarely welcome. Those people enjoying the first warm, sun-drenched days of spring dread the sight of winter’s last hurrah.
But savvy farmers think otherwise. The beachcomber’s bane is the farmer’s blessing. Each of the huge, soggy spring snowflakes brings free nutrients to the farmer’s field. Only after spring ‘s arrival can snowflakes trap rich nitrogen molecules in the air and force them down to the open fields where they fertilize the newly plowed fields. For free.
One might call that a curressing—that is, something that begins as a curse but ends up a blessing.

Getting directions

Using a GPS device In Northern New England can lead an unwitting driver astray. Natives know the roads in their locale well, discerning which ones are navigable in a small passenger car, and which are not. And they understand the limitations that mud season places on unpaved, rut-filled mountain backroads. A GPS only understands the shortest distance between two points. Occasionally a chagrined flatlander must stop and ask directions from a native who often gives terse advice that begins with, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Everyone makes choices in life. Sometimes on that journey, they realize that what they thought was the quickest way to get what they wanted was actually nothing more than a dead-end road. Sometimes the route leads only to disaster.   What we really want is to choose the past that leads to heaven. Sadly, some people never figure out they’re on the wrong road and will never get there. Christians grieve when we see people like that. We picture the Lord standing there saying the same thing that the candid, implacable back roads native says to the lost traveler: “You can’t get there from here.”

The special glass

When Ben was about seven years old, we bought him a special drinking glass all his own.  We had been to the seashore and had spent a wonderful four days on the coast of Maine.  As we were heading home, we ate a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant that we all loved– Yoken’s, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  It had a gift shop that diners like us could browse through after dinner.  Our kids have fond memories of sitting at a table playing a giant game of checkers while their Mom and I looked for bargains and souvenirs.

Ben spied the glass first– an ornate sort of goblet, reminiscent of something a knight would use to toast a jousting victory.  He pleaded for it and we acquiesced.  We brought it home in the minivan, carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

Ben treasured that glass. For the rest of that year he used it proudly at every evening meal.  But the inevitable happened.  No one remembers exactly how, but it slid off the table and smashed on the floor.  Ben was devastated.

Well, a few weeks later his kind Grandma brought him a new special glass, a second runner-up, a poor substitute, but he liked it and was glad to have a special glass again.  And one can guess its fate.  And the fate of the third and fourth attempts: all just broken shards in a landfill somewhere.  Kids are clumsy and accidents happen.

Ben solved his problem in a way that surprised us.  He found a new special glass in an antique store one day the next summer– a glass with a title deed of Boardwalk on it; he loved to play Monopoly.  And he said he liked it better than all its predecessors.  He used it that day at dinner and then we washed it and, at his insistence, we packed it up in tissue paper and stashed it high up in a cupboard where it would be safe.  “This way,” he said, “it can’t get broken, and I will always have it.”

Last December while I was pulling the Christmas china out of the cupboard I found a


Boardwalk tumbler wrapped in tissue paper.  It had been carefully stashed away, safe from harm, for 15 years.  When Ben came home on Christmas Eve, I pulled it out to show him.  His reaction stunned me.  “It’s not like I ever used it, Dad.  It’s not special. Yeah. it’s a cool glass, but it’s not part of my childhood. I barely even remember it.  You can give it away.  I don’t want it.”

A special drinking glass becomes special when you use it every day, as it silently takes its place in a backdrop of happy memories.  If you get sentimentally attached to it, you run the risk of it getting broken. You risk the pain of loss.

In a church setting, love involves risk. It means being transparent and vulnerable and risking being hurt by betrayal or death.  Love inside the body of Christ is meant to be shared, not wrapped  up tightly and hidden in a cupboard.  Yes, fellow church members can wound you, but the alternative is worse– a lifetime with a guarded heart, isolated, protected, kept safe from sorrow.

In my latter days I’d rather savor years of happy memories using a special glass that one day got broken than discover some meaningless object in the back of a cupboard.