Pop Pop Epistle #9 – About The Princess Bride

PP5Dear Grandkids,

One of my all time favorite movies is The Princess Bride. Its been out about 30 years now but is still fun to watch. What makes it a favorite? Maybe because it starts out with a granddad reading a book to his grandson which is indeed something I love to do. Maybe because Andre the Giant likes to make up silly rhymes – which I also do many times. Maybe because the heroine of the story is named Buttercup. Or maybe because the word “mawage” is so much fun to say and the wedding scene is so much fun to watch.

I even got to start a wedding for your parent’s cousin Allison (your first cousin once removed so I am told) using the wedding scene from the movie – as well as doing a video skit at my church in which I played the pastor from this scene (which you can watch below).

But probably it’s a favorite because the movie has all the elements of a great story. It is a love story. It’s a story of adventure and drama and suspense. It’s a story that has a lot of humor in it. And it’s a story where good triumphs over evil. All of these elements are also found in The Bible – which is just one reason why The Bible is such a great book.

It is a love story – It is the story of God pursuing you and me with a relentless love. A love that is not quenched just because His beloved does not reciprocate His love.
It is a story of adventure and drama and suspense – Pretty much from beginning to end you read all these mini dramas within The Drama that make the story so compelling.
It’s a story that has a lot of humor in it – Numbers 22 tells a funny story about a talking donkey. Judges 3 is a hilarious story about the assassination of a king. The story of Eutychus in Acts 20 is quite comical. Just a few stories that show the funny side of a book that is to be taken very seriously.
It’s a story where good triumphs over evil – The Bible is the ultimate thriller as we watch the bad guys getting the upper hand for much of the book only to have the hero, Jesus, come to the rescue with the kind of ending that no one saw coming.

The best thing about the story of The Bible is that it is a true story. A story that I hope you will immerse yourself in as you grow up. A Book that you will enjoy reading but even more important, a Book that will read you.

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #8 – About Singing

PP5Dear Grandkids,

Perhaps you already know that I love to sing. And perhaps you already know that I do not sing well… at all. But that does not stop me from singing to you  – just as I did to your parents. No doubt you have heard me sing two of my most famous songs – The Jonah Rap and It’s A Great Day To Be Alive. The latter song I used to sing to your parents each morning as I drove them to school. For me it was, and still is, a great reminder as the day is getting started. The chorus goes like this:

It’s a great day to be alive
It’s a great day to wake up and sing
It’s a great day to be a child of the King
It’s a great day to be alive.

I think one of the reasons I love to sing to you and over you is because God loves to sing over you – and over me. Did you know that? We don’t just sing to God in our worship but God sings over us. Check out this awesome verse in Zephaniah 3:17…

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

I sometimes wonder what kind of song He sings over me – then my sanctified imagination goes to work. And these are the words of the song that I hear Him singing…

My Father heart is glad because you are my son;
Born by flesh and blood but also in the One
Who gladly gave His life so that you could then become
My son, my very precious son.

And as I sing this song I hope your heart will be
Contented by the fact that you belong to me;
And you will find delight knowing I delight in you
My son, my very precious son.

And when your heart is full and your spirit’s been refreshed
And when your joy’s replete and your soul has found good rest
Then you can gladly sing and express your love as well to
My Son, my very precious Son.

What song do you hear Him singing over you?

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

Pop Pop Epistle #7 – About Our Goldens

PP5Dear Grandkids,

Have I ever told you about our pups?

Your Nona and I had 2 dogs while your parents were growing up. Both Golden Retrievers. Cassidy and Molly. They were great dogs and family members and we loved them dearly. We got Cassidy when we were living in Massachusetts while I was in seminary. We were in our 2nd year of marriage and she was our first “child.” In a lot of ways she helped us learn how to parent. She was with us until just a few weeks before Tucker was born. We were already living in Durham when we got Molly and she gave us 13 great years.

It’s been 10 years now since we had dogs living in our house but I still remember some of the things I learned from them. For example…

1) They were willing to learn and wanted to obey – That is the nature of goldens. They want to please their master. I taught our dogs to do some “tricks” that most other dogs would have given me a look that said, “You’re kidding me right?” I used to take my finger and “shoot” Cassidy and she would fall over “dead”. Just because I told her to. I taught her to fetch the newspaper so I didn’t have to walk down the driveway to get it. This is the kind of attitude I need before the Lord. A willingness to do what He says just because He tells me to.

2) They were never short on enthusiasm – It just seemed that they loved life. I always had the impression that they thought whoever came over to our house had come specifically to see them and play with them. They were always so excited to see people and showed their enthusiasm not just by wagging their tail but by wagging their entire body. They genuinely felt that it was their job to make other people feel better about life. This is what I want: I want other people to feel better about life because they have been in my presence.

3) They always seemed to be smiling – I still think this every time that I see a golden. There just always seemed to be a contentment that found its way to their face. No matter what the circumstances they never allowed things to keep them from experiencing joy… and smiling. My Pastor friend in Haiti, Leon Dorleans, always reminds our teams that go there that even if we can’t communicate in Creole we can still smile. That smiling is a universal language. I have found this to be true. A smile can go a long way to building bridges with people. And even when I don’t feel like smiling, a smile will often remind me how much I have to be grateful for.

One day you will have to get your parents to tell you some of their Cassidy and Molly stories. They were wonderful dogs who helped us learn how to enjoy life.

Never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

Pop Pop Epistle #6 – Happy New Year

PP5Dear Grandkids,

Happy New Year!

Well, sort of. Today is not the beginning of the New Year as you generally celebrate it, but it is the beginning of the New Year nonetheless… the Jewish New Year. Today is what is known as Rosh Hashana. And since one fourth of the blood running through your veins is Jewish I thought you might want to know a few things about this other New Year. Even if you don’t, humor me, read on, and perhaps you will learn something about your heritage.

1) Today marks the beginning of the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar. They begin with Rosh Hashana and culminate 10 days later with Yom Kippur. These 10 days are also known as the “Days of Awe.”

2) Rosh Hashana is also known as the Day of Trumpets. It is marked by the blowing of the shofar (or ram’s horn) in Jewish synagogues around the world. It is meant to be a call to repentance at the beginning of the New Year.

3) One of the themes of the Days of Awe is that on Rosh Hashana God opens the Book of Life but it is not closed and sealed until Yom Kippur 10 days later. Jews are given a chance to make things right with God and their fellow Jews and thus have their names inscribed in the Book of Life before it closes.

4) Orthodox Jews take part in a ceremony known as Tashlich on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. They go to a creek or river (flowing water), cast bread crumbs from their pockets into the water and say a prayer from Micah 7:18-19, symbolically casting their sins into the water. 18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance. He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

Here is what I want you to learn: Like ALL the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana points us forward to a greater day when the Messiah Jesus will bring completeness to the mysteries unveiled in the Hebrew Scriptures through the Jewish holidays.

One day there will be a trumpet blast that will usher in a new forever… 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

One day your name will forever be inscribed in the Book of Life – when you call on the Name of the Lord and find forgiveness in Him.  12 Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)

One day everyday will be a Day of Awe as we gather before our God and worship…  Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory… (Revelation 19:6-7)Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 1.28.28 PM

Happy New Year!

And never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

 

Pop Pop Epistle #5 – About M&Ms

PP5Dear Grandkids,

If you have ever been in my office at church then you already know that I almost always have a big jar of peanut M&Ms sitting on my desk. They are there for anyone who walks into my office to enjoy. Truth be told, I actually don’t eat that many of them myself. But I do love me some peanut M&Ms. And I suspect that you do as well since my blood runs through your veins. Next time that you grab some out of my jar or open a bag at your house think about some of the things that M&Ms can remind us about regarding our faith in the Lord.

1) M&Ms come in lots of different colors yet they are all the same – You are going to grow up in a world full of people who are very diverse – that is they will be different colors with different backgrounds and different personalities. And yet they are all the same in that they are uniquely created by God to enjoy Him and fulfill His purposes. Don’t ever let somebody’s color keep you from discovering how unique they are in the sight of God.

2) M&Ms are filled with wonderfulness (chocolate) – Let this be a reminder that the wonderful and wondrous love of God fills you full to overflowing. The way that Ephesians 3:18-19 puts it is like this…

I pray that.. you may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

Let His love fuel you for all the things that He has in store for you.

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3) M&Ms are marked – If you take a good look you will see that every M&M is marked with the letter “M”. Similarly, once you have put your faith in the Lord Jesus and become a child of God you are marked with a seal that designates you as belonging to Him. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit who resides in and presides over you. It is God’s Spirit that will enable you to  live the life that God has called you to live.

4) M&Ms are meant to be shared – Likewise, as believers, what the Lord has freely given to us is meant to be shared with others. In fact, it makes what we have that much better when we pass it on to others. So be generous with M&Ms and share them freely with your friends and be just as generous with the good news that God has rescued you from death and given you a life that is truly worth living for His sake.

The next time I see you it would give me great joy to share some of my M&Ms with you.

And never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #4 – Reyners Are Not Whiners

PP5Dear Grandkids,

“Reyners are not whiners!”

My guess is that by the time you are old enough to read that this is a mantra you are familiar with. And I am sure it is something that you have heard me say. I am not a fan of whining. No parent is. No grandparent is. Nobody likes a whiner. One day you will hate whining as much as I do. The problem is that it seems we are all hardwired to whine when we don’t get what we want. Whining comes naturally. We don’t have to be taught how to whine. But we do have to be taught not to whine. I have been around adults who have never been taught how not to whine and I promise you me that they are no fun to be around. No one likes to be around a whiner.

Which is why you hear me say this to you when you default to a whining mode. Grayson, I am very proud of you for picking up the mantra as a 4 year old and beginning to teach Bowen not to whine. And Bowen I am very proud of you for using your musical skills to put the mantra into a song to pass on to the next generation.

 

(Bowen singing his new hit song “Reyners Are Not Whiners”)

There is a story in Exodus 16 that demonstrates how easy it is to fall into a whining mode. The Israelites had just experienced one of the great miracles of all time and yet they were whining big time because… 1) they were tired, 2) they didn’t like the food, 3) they didn’t like Moses telling them what to do, 4) they were bored. They had quickly forgotten how blessed they were and all that God had done for them. Here are a  few things you might stop and do before you start to whine…

#1 – Remember – Take some time to remember just how blessed you really are. My guess is that this will not be hard if you stop and think about it.
#2 – Express thanks – I can promise you this: Gratitude will get you a whole lot more than whining ever will.
#3 – Learn patience – Waiting can be hard. Waiting can be very hard. But waiting patiently is so much nobler than whining incessantly.

Never forget that nobody wants to be around a whiner. Never forget that Reyners are not whiners!

And never ever forget that you are very loved!

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #3 – About a Rooster

PP5Dear Grandkids,

We recently had a rooster move in to the house behind us. Now as you know, we do not live out in the country but in a neighborhood. Yesterday Mr. Rooster and some of his chicky lady friends wandered into our yard – I’m guessing they escaped their pen or perhaps don’t even have a pen to live in. I have noticed that Mr. Rooster does his cock-a-doodle-do thing around 6:30 AM every morning. Now this does not bother me too much because I am usually up before then. But I suspect some of our other neighbors are none too pleased by the early morning wake up call.

Anyway, seeing Mr. Rooster yesterday got me to thinking about what I might can learn from him and his kin. Two things that I wanted to pass on to you…

1) Every morning, very consistently, Mr. Rooster wakes up and does the same thing. He has established a routine that helps him to get his day started. It will be a good thing for you also to establish morning routines early in your life to get your day off to the right start. Listening to and talking with God is a great routine to establish. This will mean taking time to read God’s Word and then talking with Him about what you have read. If you will do this consistently throughout your life you will be amazed at how God uses a simple routine to create an intimate, dynamic, energizing relationship with Him.

2) In Mark 14:72 the Lord used a rooster to bring about conviction of sin in the life of Peter –  one of the great leaders in the early church. The Scripture says that after hearing a rooster crow “Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him….” My takeaway from this is to let Mr. Rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do each morning be a reminder to me to confess any sin that I am aware of and to start the day with a freshness in my walk with the Lord.

Perhaps the next time you hear a rooster crow you will be reminded of these things and remember that your Pop Pop let a noisy old rooster teach him a thing or two.

And never ever forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

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Mr. Rooster and his lady friends in our back yard

Pop Pop Epistle #2 – About 911

Dear Grandkids,

16 years ago today our world changed. You will read about it one day on your history e-tablets. It  is one of those days that most people know where they were when they heard the news about the attacks on the United States. I certainly do (Elmo’s restaurant in Durham with a friend). I remember asking the question, “What in the world is going on?” as we heard the news about the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon, and Flight 93.

There are lots of ways that the world changed that day but there are many things that stayed the same. For instance…

1) People seem to be at their best when life is at it’s worst – There are so many heroic stories that came out of 911. Nobody wants to see tragedies happen but they have a way of awakening within us the imago dei in such a way that people act the way that they were created to act. It is one of the ways that God brings good out of what was meant for evil. You have been created in the image of God and wants to use you also in a heroic fashion – just be on the lookout for the opportunities that will often be disguised as adversity.

2) Tragedies have a way of compelling people to ask theological questions – Such as “Where was God?”, “Why didn’t God answer my prayers?”,  and “If God is good and loving why do bad things happen?” – As you grow up you are going to have lots of opportunities to help answer these questions for people you know who are dealing with crisis. People are searching for good answers, not glib answers, because most people want to know that life is NOT just a matter of crazy, chaotic randomness. There are good answers to these kinds of questions. There is great hope when life seems hopeless. Prepare yourself to “give an answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

3) America is a great country – You have been born into the greatest country in the world. You had absolutely nothing to do with where you were born but, trust me, your life would be completely different if you had been born just about anywhere else. I tell you this to help you understand that you are indeed greatly blessed – and you have been greatly blessed in order to be a great blessing. Whenever you get around to reading this take a minute and pray and 1) thank God for giving you such a great country to grow up in, and 2) ask God who you can be a blessing to today.

And never ever forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Pop Pop Epistle #1 – About a Kidney Stone

Dear Grandkids,

This is the first of what I hope will be many letters that I write you in the days to come. I hope to share some things with you that I am learning along the way and that will be helpful to you in the days to come.

So… last night I had a kidney stone attack. It was very different from the 3 other attacks that I have had. They all landed me in the hospital. This one did not. I had about 5 hours of fairly intense pain and then was able to pass it. You can ask your parents about what that actually means.

A Scripture passage that always comes to mind when I deal with kidney stones is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 which says…

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I am pretty convinced that the Apostle Paul also dealt with kidney stones. Certainly his experience here parallels mine: 1) he was given a thorn in the flesh, 2) he felt harassed by the enemy of our souls, 3) he pleaded with God for it to leave him.

But I was reminded again last night of the promise that is embedded in these verses – that God’s grace is sufficient for me. This is a promise that you will want to cling to in the years to come. I promise that you will face difficult days as you grow up. Sometimes life can be very harsh and hard. Sometimes you will feel lonely and isolated. Sometimes you will experience intense physical and emotional and relational pain.

During these times it will be tempting to feel like God has abandoned you. But He has not. This much I can tell you from experience. And His grace is ALWAYS sufficient. His power is ALWAYS perfected in my weaknesses. His strength is ALWAYS enough to get me through. His peace is ALWAYS abundant and plenteous enough to fuel me in the midst of a crazy and chaotic world. Cling to Him – the only One who makes life bearable when it feels unbearable.

And never ever forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

Poland/Baltic Adventures

This past Wednesday, Linda and I returned from oversees having been out of the country for two and half weeks. Our trip was divided into 2 different adventures both of which were excellent.

Adventure #1 – For the 4th time in 5 years our church staffed a retreat for the missionaries (M’s) that are in the Germanic and Catholic clusters of Europe. This includes M’s from Germany, Austria, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland. We gathered in Jelenia Gora, Poland with about 55 M families  who came together for meetings, fellowship, worship in their heart language, and soul refreshment. Our job was to provide ministry to the M kids and students, lead worship, and create some fun surprises for the adults.

Linda and I, along with 7 others were in charge of the Student Ministry. Essentially we hosted a 4 day retreat experience for middle and high school students. It took me back to the 25 years that I spent in Youth Ministry and reminded me why I stayed so long and how much I enjoyed working with students. I did a series of messages entitled “Not Your Average Joe” and looked at 4 “Joes” in Scripture and what it was that made them not your average Joe: Josiah, Jonah, Joseph (OT), and Barnabas – yeah, Barnabas. See if you can figure out why he is not an average JOE. Here are a couple of pictures of the awesome students we had the privilege of hanging out with for the week…

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This is after one of my famous “Shay hikes”. The next one is the group sporting our “Not Your Average Joe” tee shirts.

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Adventure #2 – Our Poland retreat finished up on Saturday, August 5. We had flown into Prague but we were flying out of Berlin. We arrived in Berlin around lunchtime and since our flight home was not until Sunday morning we took a 4 hour tour of Berlin in the afternoon. Hit all the main tourist spots like Checkpoint Charlie, The Berlin Wall, TheBrandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Monument, and a few government places.

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The rest of the team took off early Sunday morning but Linda and I stayed behind and took a train up to the northern coast of Germany where we boarded a ship and began a 9 day cruise with Norwegian around the Baltic Sea. It was AWESOME. We had great sailing weather – never really knew we were even on a ship. Incredible dining experiences. Perfect weather everywhere we went – sunny and 70-75 degrees. We enjoyed all the ports as well as the 2 days we were at sea. Norwegian did an excellent job of spoiling us and refreshing us. Here are a few pictures that will not do justice to our experience but will at least give you some kind of idea to what our trip was like…

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Warnemunde, Germany – Day 1

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Tallinn, Estonia – Day 3

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St Petersburg, Russia – Day 4

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St Petersburg, Russia – Day 5

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Helsinki, Finland – Day 6

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Stockholm, Sweden – Day 7

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Copenhagen, Denmark – Day 9

 

And a few random pictures…

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A few comments about the trip…

1) We enjoyed all the ports but Copenhagen was our favorite.
2) We loved walking around the Old Towns of Tallinn and Stockholm.
3) The Peterhof Palace and Gardens  outside of St Petersburg was incredibly beautiful.
4) We were unplugged for most of the trip which was kind of nice.
5) We got in over 23,000 Fitbit steps in Copenhagen.
6) The Danish danish in Copenhagen would be worth flying back for (see picture above).
7) I am now quite the selfie stick master.
8) Never underestimate the value of your favorite pillow.
9) It was great to be away together by ourselves for an extended period of time.
10) We loved the trip but we were glad to get back home.

And we would definitely recommend a Baltic cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines to anyone who is so inclined – and I was not paid to write that.

 

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