Archive for December, 2022


December 31, 2022

I suppose you could call this an obit for a fighter pilot not yet dead, though my old associates are “flying West” in increasing numbers. Like Marines, once…always…, a short, intense chapter early in life has a profound effect on all the rest. It’s been said fighter pilots are capable of such things as love and affection and caring but they rarely involve anyone else. I confess humility is a lifelong challenge, but God can humble the haughtiest heart. To wit,

Our Sovereign God took a brash, badass young fighter pilot, led him into the wilderness of the business world for 32 years, there to duel with dragons on Wall Street, LaSalle Street and Threadneedle Street, then up the mountain and molded him into a lowly gatekeeper in his wilderness tabernacle at Ridge Haven, the Presbyterian (PCA) Camp and Conference Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC. In God’s amazing grace I began my working life flying high and ended it flying even higher with two feet—sometimes two knees—on the ground. Twenty years on and my flight plan, filed before the world began, calls for higher still. There remains one glorious victory roll “up the long delirious burning blue” in formation with angels—heavenbound. The Wall Street Journal ran my witness at the 59-year waypoint on its op-ed page 20 years ago next Tuesday:


Brevard, NC. My first chore of the day, after rolling out of bed in the most humble abode I’ve ever called home, requires a broom handle with a spike mounted on the end of it, the better to spear any detritus of humanity that defiles my hallowed habitat. The last is checking lights out, doors locked and the gate closed.

How did it come to this—an MBA with Latin superlatives, a combat veteran and Top Gun fighter pilot, CFO and CEO, at age 59, laboring in such a setting?

I asked for it, agreeing to live in the small, endearingly seedy older home that was provided, perched on a steep mountainside in deep woods, and even offering to forgo a salary.

After 22 years as a Northern expatriate on the Suncoast of Florida, I thought I had the best that this life could offer. My wife and I were hooked on sunshine and immersed in the life of our little Presbyterian church in a pasture north of Tampa. The nest was blissfully empty and grandfatherhood fit like my favorite codger hat. A partnership and an enlightened employment policy at my firm, combined with the marvels of modern technology, were allowing me an extended transition into retirement from a home office. Our cup overflowed . . . and yet there was a nagging restlessness in the soul.

One evening in the spring of 2001, I was casually perusing the classified ads in a magazine. “Wanted: Retiree for resident manager position at Ridge Haven,” the Presbyterian Church in America’s Retreat and Conference Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. I read it aloud to my resolutely change-averse bride of 35 years. She shocked me with, “Cool!” That’s all I needed.

I applied and was invited for an interview. We were enthralled by the splendor of this wilderness tabernacle—900 acres of beautiful rustic retreat for 400 guests in a near-rainforest mountainside setting. The folks who staff it exude a contagious joy in their work. It seemed like a wonderful way, after a lifetime of selfish getting, to spend the rest of our days in grateful giving, honoring the author of this abundant life. And so it is.

The new work is less arduous than its title implies, just part-time off-hours and weekend basic guest services for the people who come for “rest, refuge and renewal and nurturing in the truth of God’s Word,” as Ridge Haven’s mission statement reads.

Servanthood in this lush vineyard is richly rewarding. I’m making new friends every week, a blessing indeed that is enlarging my territory in the manner of Jabez. At day’s end, I ruminate in a back porch rocker, absorbed in the sublime babble of a mountain stream on warm days, a wood fire when it’s cold, consumed by a feeling the hymn writer called peace like a river.

As to that spiked broom-handle, it’s my scepter as self-appointed keeper-of-the-pristine in this higher realm. I carry it on my sunrise devotional as I walk a narrow road of exhilarating humus-cushioned hiking paths through a towering cathedral of maple, oak, pine and spruce. Scattered about are brilliant-colored remnants of the high sacred season just past, when the divine artist repaints the cathedral in fluorescent fall colors.

Some mornings the blue sky is so radiant that I squint as I look up at it through the jagged interstices of denuded branches. The avian choir in the spires joyfully sings the Gloria Patria in fortissimo. Other mornings the blue is pale and soft and soggy, shrouding the treetops in silence like the Old Testament glory cloud descended to consecrate this most holy place. Then only the hushed applause of water molecules splashing down the mountainside reminds me that I have ears to hear.

On the sanctuary floor a multitude of evergreen rhododendrons, mountain laurel and holly congregate so closely that the heavenly host could whisper hosannas in my ear without my seeing them. And the rarefied, rain-scrubbed, pine-scented air I inhale is so intoxicating that it must be the Lord’s own mountain-cooled breath of life.

If my 17th-century role model, Brother Lawrence, author of that classic gem on servanthood, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” could attend my house of worship, he would find that enjoying the presence of God requires no practice at all.


“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

See you in church.

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December 25, 2022

Christmas is not about the tree or the trinkets or the brightly wrapped toys and treasures heaped under it. The Light of the World supersedes all of that. The Son of God is the Light of the World whose arrival was announced by the Star of Bethlehem. Why did the Son of God come to Earth? In his own words, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38–40).

God the Father’s will always wins. God the Son will at the last day raise up all who are given him by the Father, all those he came to die for that first Christmas, and lose not one from that group. If you are among “…all that he has given me,” you have received the most valuable Christmas present of all, and you cannot ever lose it or wear it out. Can you even begin to comprehend such a rapturous reality? That is the joy of Christmas, and Jesus promised “No one will take away your joy.”

Dear Lord, may our Facebook friends know that joy this Christmas. In our precious Savior’s name we pray. Amen.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

See you in church


December 24, 2022


It was dark as the inside of a goat. The sheep were restless in their stone corral for the night. The shepherds pulling second watch noticed it and were alert for predators as everyone else tossed and turned in their bedrolls on the ground. All of a sudden a light brighter than the midday sun switched on and every breathing creature in the area bolted upright onto his feet. Doc Luke tells it best: An angel appeared before their eyes and they were terrified. In a calm but commanding voice the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” He no more got the words out of his mouth and a choir of 1000 voices began to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” In the next instant they were gone and it was dark again and the only sound was dumbstruck shepherds hyperventilating. Amos, the informal leader of the group was the first to speak. He said, “Hey man, I think that was God talking and I think we need to go into town and check it out.” And … well you know the rest of the story. The Son of the living God who created heaven and earth had just launched the greatest rescue mission in the history of the world by being born of a virgin peasant girl amid the animals in a barn, and the people to see him after mom and dad were the dregs of society. Thirty or so years later he died hanging naked from a cross at the city dump, only to rise from the dead three days later. And by this he ransomed sinners from hell. You just can’t make this stuff up. What…kind…of…love…is … this? He promised he’d be back and everyone will know it this time. Do yourself an eternal favor and take him at his word … and let your weary soul rejoice this Holy Night.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).


December 23, 2022

Taken at face value this Christmas slogan, so popular in carols and cards, is a fanciful wish. There has hardly been a moment’s peace in this fallen world in the two millennia since the heavenly host sang these words. As in all things biblical, context is key. The sentence in Luke 2:14 from which the slogan is likely derived reads, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). The “peace” is peace with God. We are sinners in the hands of an angry God, as Jonathan Edwards so graphically preached, born sinners under the curse in the Garden, and are far from peace with our Maker. But while we were yet sinners the Son of God, whose incarnation we celebrate this season, bought peace with God for “those with whom he is pleased” by sacrificing himself on the cross in atonement for our sins. That is why he came that holy night so long ago. The carol writer said it well, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” It’s the most important peace any man could have. This Christmas, amid the strife of this crumbling culture, do you know this gift of peace that passes all understanding? Are you numbered among those with whom he is pleased? 

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14)


December 21, 2022

Stop a minute in your harried Christmas preparations and imagine, two thousand years ago this moment, a young Middle Eastern peasant girl, nine months pregnant, astride a donkey on a 100+ mile journey. A few days hence Mary would experience the agony of giving birth in the squalor of a stable, then flee the country with that baby in her arms, and watch the Son she bore die a horrible death at an early age … and the angel called her “favored one.” Now what is it that has you so stressed out?


December 17, 2022

When our Heavenly Father bestowed the greatest gift on us, he did not ask if we had been bad or good, he already knew we’ve been bad to the bone since Adam ate the apple. Nor did he agonize over what to give each of us. He knew exactly what we needed, what we would want with all our heart and soul if we realized the truth of our perilous state.

We’ve proven over and over since Mt. Sinai we cannot save ourselves. But God the Father sent God the Son as Savior to pay for our sins, at maximum cost to himself. Our Savior crushed the Serpent’s head and conquered death by his death and resurrection, that those who believe in him might have life abundantly and eternally. That is the heart of Christmas, the gift which all other gifts given are but the dimmest reflection.

In the “first gospel” presented in the Old Testament, right after Adam’s cosmic treason in the Garden, God foretold of Jesus to the devil, “… he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.” –Genesis 3:15

See you in church.


December 11, 2022

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea [preparing the way for Jesus], “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mathew 3:1-2).

“From that time [shortly thereafter] Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’1” (Matthew 4:17).

[Jesus said] “… unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

[Paul said ] “…God [‘…in whom we live and move and have our being’] commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:28, 30).

The word “repent” or “repentance” appears 100 times in my ESV Bible. Do you get the idea it’s important? The consequences for non-compliance are endlessly horrific. The God of infinite love is infinite in all his attributes, including his wrath. The unrepentant will hear “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:31).

The Greek word rendered “repent” literally means “turn.” Turn, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Turn from your sinful ways and turn to Jesus or face eternal burning. There is a term among fighter pilots used to describe the action in a dogfight—“turn and burn.” If you saw the movie Top Gun: Maverick, you vicariously overdosed on turn and burn. But I say to you this advent season, if you do not know the Lord, turn OR burn. Turn to the light of the world, or be fuel for the firelight forever.

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

As we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s first coming, as our Redeemer, his second coming, as Judge, draws ever nearer, at the hour you least expect it, when every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11). And it will be too late to turn. Do it now and experience, with a joy that no one can take away (John 16:22), the real reason for the season.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b).

See you in church.


December 4, 2022

O Lord God, we come to you this Advent Season in Jesus’ name. For his sake, and because of his righteousness in our place, hear our prayer. We confess that we are beggars dependent upon your grace. We confess that our Lord’s Day list of sins looks just like last Sunday’s list. Our thoughts, words and deeds are sinful all the time. Some of us are so old it is hard to get in physical trouble but our minds wander in dark places. We are selfish, vainglorious, slothful—the bane of old age—envious, hateful, lustful. Even our best works are done with an eye to our own name, not your glory. O Gracious Giver of Gifts, give us the gift of repentance, too. May the publican’s simple prayer be on our minds, if not our lips, continually: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13b)

Thank you for sending your son, for a divine love beyond our comprehension that would sacrifice your son for a bunch of incorrigible sinners like us, so that we, through the power of your Holy Spirit, with regenerated hearts might know you, the one true and living God, that we might spend our days in our flawed ways striving to glorify you as we battle the old man that is within us, who refuses to die as long as we are in this earthly tent. We prove to ourselves every day that we cannot come to you in our own power, that we desperately need that Christ child whose birth we celebrate, even as we long for his second coming.   More grace, O Lord, more grace.

Father, we pray for our nation. We see and read and hear the news of the day with shame that our country so conceived in Christian principles and so bountifully blessed by your grace, could, before our very eyes fall to such depths of God-mocking moral degradation and corruption. We weep as we watch sins being codified by our legislators and adjudicated legal by our courts. Could you please send revival to our land, or send your Son in all his glory with his holy angels? We long to hear the trumpet sound and see the clouds rolled back like a scroll. We trust in you, O Lord. You are our God. Our times are in your hand (Psalm 31:14). In the name of your Son, born this season in the City of David, our only hope, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

See you in church.

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