Friday, January 23, 2015


"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;"
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)

Much has been written and discussed over the past hundred years or so about Americans' "love affair with their automobiles".  As a committed Christian, I am well aware that this "love affair" can border on idolatry and in fact can be idolatry.   I admit that as much as I would like to own a brand-new car someday, it's possible that I never will, because I can get much too wrapped up in worrying about the slightest dent or scratch to the car's exterior, or about a stain on the upholstery.  This may be part of why the Lord has had me in very old cars for the past couple of decades!   My last two cars have been what I called my "Lt. Columbo cars".  They've been like that beat up 1959 Peugeot which was his trademark vehicle on the old "Columbo" television movies all the way from 1968 through 2003!   My cars were old and beat up, and yet sporting Massachusetts license plate #280.  It's a long story, but I inherited those specialty license plates when my parents passed away in mid-2000 (within seven weeks of each other).

I got my parents' 1989 Volkswagen Golf in 2000 and I drove that car until early 2010.  At that time, the brakes failed [totally] in downtown Framingham.  I literally drove the car right into a snowbank to stop!  It was towed to my driveway by AAA and it sat there for three months until I sold it to a young mechanic who loved fixing up old Volkswagens.  Right now, I'm without my own car, and frankly I hate it, but I easily forget that in 2010, I went for almost three months with no car of my own.  It was a little easier then because I lived withing walking distance of work, my barber, my bank, and my post office box- not twenty-one miles away like today!    

I was very blessed in May of 2010 to receive a gift of precious cargo from my daughter Amy and son-in-law David:  A 1995 Subaru Impreza sedan which they'd owned for several years.  Amy and a friend drove it all the way from Springfield, Missouri to Framingham, Massachusetts.  During the Subaru's final eighteen months, it really looked like what I call "a junk heap" but it was not too bad looking when I got it in May of 2010.  There was something very special about that car because I first drove and "experienced" the green Subaru sedan on my time of "sabbatical" there in Missouri in April and May of 2009.  The Subaru was not Amy and David's only vehicle.  They pretty much let me use the car quite a bit during that time.  I've written on the blog in the past about the "private retreat" I had at the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center, located about an hour and a half's drive north of the city of Springfield.  I well remember the drive up there and back, and seeing the Subaru parked there during my days of prayer and reading and reflection.  My wife joined me for part of the time in Missouri and when she was there, we did an overnight in Branson, also using the Subaru.  Thus, when I registered the Subaru as my car in May of 2010 it was already sort of an "old friend".  I deliberately never removed the Missouri inspection sticker from the car's windshield.  (In Missouri, the sticker goes on the opposite side of the windshield from where the Massachusetts stickers are displayed.)  And, I was even kind of proud of the "Reliable SuperStore" dealer's decal on the trunk of the car.  (Back when I went to Bible College, that was known as "Reliable Chevrolet"!)  

The Subaru had just over 156,000 miles on it when I got started as the owner.  Upon being junked a couple of weeks ago, there were 270,911 miles on it!  Yes, I put 114,000 miles on that car in four and a half years!   It was especially during the year and a half of living in Webster and commuting every day to Framingham that I put about half of those miles on the car.  After about a year, the Subaru started looking a little "ratty" and after two years, it frankly looked terrible.  In several places, the exterior trim fell right off!   The metal "door" over the gas cap area broke off.  In the pre-Halloween snowstorm of 2011, a tree fell on the roof of the car, leaving several large dents!  The driver's seat had a few rips and tears in it when I got the car.  By about a year ago, it was all torn up and looked horrible.  There was "stuffing" from the inside of the seat that was coming out all over the place.  The Subaru had four "hub caps" when I got the car.  They were not factory hub caps.  I think my son-in-law must have bought some look-alike ones at an auto parts store.  One of those plastic hub caps broke in pieces when I had a tire blow out on the Mass. Turnpike on Christmas Day 2011.  One broke when I whalloped a curb a few months later (note: Mary Ann, you did NOT just read that- please disregard!).  I think another just fell off.  For the past year or so, there was only one lone hub cap on the car.  The paint was not perfect in 2010 and by 2014 "looked a little rough" to use one of my son-in-law's expressions.  One day in a parking lot, somebody drove into the left rear tail light and cracked and broke the red plastic covering.   I had to order a new one of those to pass a state inspection, and I had my friend Bill install it.  In February of 2014, as I was opening the door to get out of the car, a woman in an S.U.V. smashed into the door and demolished the window glass!   I got a replacement window put in at an auto shop, but honestly, it never quite worked as well.  On the day we moved out of the Webster apartment in June of 2012, the car's nice radio died!  Following the radio's passing, I would keep a large "boom box" in the back seat and listen to it when I drove.  Can you picture me trying to change stations and work the controls while driving?!  I can't either, and yet I did it- and it was quite unpleasant!

Somewhere around late 2012, I began noticing that at times there was a strong odor of gasoline when I'd exit the Subaru.  At other times, none.  It took me a long time to discover why that was the case.  In November of 2013,   I noticed a puddle of gasoline almost the size of a dollar bill behind the car's right rear tire.  Above that stain was the gas cap and fill area.  Yup, there was a small leak somewhere in that area.  When I bought gasoline, especially when I filled it up fully, there would be a stain and that gasoline odor.  When I had less than a quarter of a tank of gas, there was almost never any gas leak.  And, I discovered I had a power steering fluid leak.  That  left a stain the size of a half dollar coin any time I'd been parked for more than a couple of hours.  So, for the final year of the car, most of the time I had to try to park it off of pavement at my residence- not always easy to do!  One of my biggest thrills of the past couple of years was being an in-studio guest on Dan Rea's "Nightside" radio program on Boston's WBZ.   The night I was on air, my brakes were almost completely gone on the Subaru!  The drive to and from the station was frankly scary.  Just two days after I was on "Nightside" I lost my brakes completely on Route 126 in Ashland near the McDonald's.  Thank God, I did not hit anyone or anything.  I steered the car off the road and had it towed to an auto shop.

Yes, I was having a real love/hate relationship with the Subaru in 2013 and 2014.  It was like a ninety-year-old man in ill health.  I knew it was going to die at any time, but I just kept wanting to think and believe the best.  I will spare you all of the gory details, but the Subaru totally died for good on Sunday morning, December 21 and it was hauled off to a junk yard a little over a week later.   Even during the "bad" times with the Subaru, I never forgot that "we" attended that retreat in Missouri together and that "we" each had a "Springfield, Missouri connection"!   I don't miss the leaking gasoline, nor the leaking power steering fluid, nor the "ratty" appearance of the car; but on another level, there was a sentimental connection to that car- especially connecting it to my daughter, that I will never forget.

Right now, I'm "carless" and it's frankly a very difficult time.  A friend (who deserves an "A" for his effort and hard work) did a great job locating a good and inexpensive Saturn for me three weeks ago, but due to some circumstances beyond his or my control, this turned out to not be a workable plan.  We had to pass on that car, and right now we're back to square one. 

I wonder- where will my next "Volkswagen" or "Subaru" come from?   The Lord provided those cars and I am frankly trusting Him to provide another.  And, will I feel as sentimental about this car when someday it's time to say good-bye to it?

Thursday, January 1, 2015


"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  (Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version)

A Facebook friend of mine posted those words today [January 1, 2015] although she left out the quotes and she left off the reference to where they came from [and that's the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament].  Jeremiah 29:11 reads just a little bit differently in the King James Version of the Bible and in (my favorite) the New King James Version.

In the King James Version, it says:
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

In the New King James Version, it says: 
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  

[I don't want to turn this piece into something really boring and "dry" about Bible translating, but those words were originally written in Hebrew.  Translation can be a challenging pursuit.  Languages are so different from one another, and so many times there are a variety of ways a passage can be correctly translated.  Each of the above translations is "correct" albeit each is a little bit different.  The New International Version tends to be more of an "interpretative" and less of a literal translation, and it's no wonder many of us have most often heard Jeremiah 29:11 from the N.I.V.  For many of us, the N.I.V. is our favorite way to hear it.  Listen, I just wrote that my favorite version of Scripture is the New King James Version and even I like Jeremiah 29:11 best from the N.I.V.!]
I paused and read my friend L.B.'s post today [I also know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future....]  and it just stared so much flowing in my mind and in my spirit!  For one thing, it didn't mention the Lord, and it didn't give the reference.  For me, that's really important.   Do those words apply to just anybody or to any situation?   I began to think about the context of those words- to whom were they spoken and for what purpose?  If you do a little on-line research, you'll find out that Jeremiah lived around 600 B.C.  At that time, he was called to prophesy to Israel's southern kingdom known as Judah.  It's ironic that Jeremiah wrote those words because he had one of the most difficult lives of any person who ever lived!  And, even as a "God person",  Jeremiah's life was full of loss and pain.  He was called the "Weeping Prophet".  Almost no one listened to him.  He was imprisoned by the king of Judah.  When Judah fell to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was set free by them.  He spend the final years of his life in exile in Egypt.  Those words were said to the people of Judah who were being carried off to Babylon.  [If you think about the plight of the Jews being herded into boxcars and shipped to the Nazi concentration camps, this was only a step or two better than that, but not much better!]  It certainly must have seemed to the people of Judah that God hated them!  Their Temple was desecrated.  Their city [Jerusalem] was essentially destroyed.  They were marched off to Babylon.  Yet, God's Word to them at that time was Jeremiah 29:11!

In fact, the Jewish people were not wiped out!  Many decades later, under the Persians, a huge number of Jewish people returned to the land and reestablished their homeland and their worship in the Temple.   In general, Jews have been hated because as a people they tend to be much more successful than are most other people groups.   As a group, they indeed had "a hope and a future"; even after Adolph Hitler!

Now, that brings us back to why we love that verse.  Does it have anything to do with us?  I did find an blog entry today in which the author states that Jeremiah 29:11 was strictly for the ancient people of Judah and has nothing to do with us.  My opinion about that is, I disagree.  Of course, in context, it was said to the ancient people of Judah as they were being carried off.  The fact is, however, that God does have plans for His children as a group (and the "you" in Jeremiah 29:11 is plural) and also as individuals.   I remember a question that was once asked of Dr. Anthony Palma in class at Central Bible College.  A student asked about many Old Testament references (especially in Matthew's Gospel)  that the New Testament applies to Jesus Christ which in their original context have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ!  Dr. Palma said that the Holy Spirit clearly cited these verses and applied them to the Lord Jesus Christ, so even though these verses are out of context and so forth, if the Holy Spirit applied them as an application to the earthly life of Jesus Christ, that was good enough for him.  Similarly, I think a verse such as Jeremiah 29:11 can apply to us today.

Now, here's the sobering part:  Remember what I wrote about Jeremiah's life above?  Did he [personally] have a hope and a future?  Yes.  Was his life a "cake walk"?  Absolutely not.  

I'm a very reflective and a very emotional person- and these characteristics can be both good and bad.  I've faced profound loss and disappointment in my life over the past six years or so, for instance.  I will admit that this morning for about an hour, I suddenly had a very negative thought.  The thought was:  I just can't face another year.   And, you know what, "in the natural"- in my own strength and abilities, I absolutely can't!  That's a true statement.  But what did I forget?  I am ashamed to say that for a short period of time today I forgot that I am not called upon to face this year on my own in any way, shape, or form.  I am called to walk through this year trusting in God and clinging to Him all the way!  In that way, we can face this year.  So, yeah, it's a good verse to remember.  

I don't want this piece to become too long, but I'm definitely feeling impressed of the Lord to share something with you.   About nine months ago a couple from the south who are good friends of mine sent me some CDs of Christian teacher Graham Cooke.  They said they felt very strongly that they were to send them to me and that the Lord wanted me to hear them.  I was not familiar with Graham Cooke.  If you research Graham Cooke on-line you'll learn that he is a very controversial and somewhat polarizing figure in evangelical and charismatic Christianity.   Some people love him and some people can't stand him.  His ministry is definitely "outside the box".  I began listening to his teaching tapes with caution and skepticism.   I will say, Graham's sense of humor and Biblical soundness won me over by the end of the first CD!   I listened to all of those CDs- some of them two and three times, and I got so much out of them!  Those teachings truly soothed my soul.  

Cooke taught that suffering is absolutely part of the life of any person who seriously wants to get close to God.  He said he "went through Hell for many years" but that during that time he drew very close to God and he came to the point that in the midst of "going through Hell" he had genuine joy because of what happened in his relationship with God.   The most valuable thing I learned from him is that no matter how bad or how confusing our circumstances are, we are never to ask "Why?"  It's the wrong question.  Cooke (citing the response of the crowd Peter preached to on the Day of Pentecost) says that when we face really horrible stuff we need to ask God, "What does this mean?" and then "What must I do?"

I will confess that I don't always remember to ask those two questions, and I want to be more faithful to do that.  [Incidentally, when we do ask those questions, we can expect God to show us the answers, but we must be obedient to do what He asks, whether it's easy or difficult for us.]

In closing, I know this did get a bit lengthy, but I hope it helps you.  It helped me a lot to think about it and to write it.  I have my own challenges and I struggle daily with the tendency toward irritability that I inherited from my father (who wasn't always irritable!) and with the tendency toward depression that I inherited from my mother (who wasn't always depressed!).  I have to remember to lay this stuff on the altar and let the Lord be the Lord of my opinions and emotions.  Yes, that's how I want to live in 2015, and forever, for that matter!   How about you?