The Final Four is here: it’s Florida Atlantic against San Diego State, and Miami against Connecticut. The two winners advance to Monday night’s National Championship Game. Very few people would have predicted this Final Four; it’s one of the craziest we’ve ever seen (along with 2011 when my VCU Rams made it as a #11 seed). But every year, millions of us fill out our Brackets with what we think will happen (mine is below).
If every single game of the NCAA Tournament had an equal chance for either outcome (it doesn’t, but let’s assume you know nothing about the sport and you flip a coin for each game), the odds of predicting all 63 games correctly is about one in 9.2 Quintillion; that’s a 92 followed by 17 zeroes (approximately; it’s not actually all zeroes but you get the idea). 9.2 quintillion is a huge number; much larger than anything we can imagine, because we’ve never seen it. Scientists estimate that there are only 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on earth, so even if you visit a beach, you’re not looking at anywhere close to 9.2 quintillion grains of sand all at once. There are about 31.6 million seconds in a year, so 9.2 quintillion seconds would be about 292 billion (with a ‘b’) years. I ran an NCAA Tournament Bracket Pool (as always) this year; we had 22 people join. Our winner has already been determined—since no one can catch up to him in points—but if Connecticut wins it all, he will have gotten 38 out of 63 games correct; just over 60 percent, while our Bracket Pool’s average would finish at 31.2, which is just a tick under 50 percent. Only six players in our Pool even got one Final Four team correct.
If you shuffle an ordinary deck of cards (a good shuffle, not just cutting a deck right out of the box and placing one half on top of the other), chances are that the order those cards are in, has never been seen before by any deck of cards in all history; that’s because there are 52 Factorial (“52!” equals 52 times 51 times 50, and so on, down to 1) potential ways those cards could be arranged. 52! is a much larger number than 9.2 quintillion; it’s approximately an 8 followed by 67 zeroes.
The LORD is all about large numbers; he told Abraham that his seed would be as the dust of the earth and as the stars of the sky (Genesis 13:16, 15:5). That was at the beginning; by the time Abraham’s nation made it out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, there were somewhere around two million Israelites (Numbers 26:51); the LORD protected and provided for every single one of them, feeding them with daily manna for 40 years. There are still over six million Jews today, and they’re not going anywhere.
Here in 2023, there are about eight billion people on the planet, and the LORD has compassion on all he has created (Psalm 145:9). Not a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the LORD knowing about it. The very hairs of your head are all numbered by the LORD; you are of much more value than many sparrows—which five were sold for a penny in Jesus’ day—and the LORD cares about them, too (Luke 12:6-7). He even tells the number of the stars, and he calls them all by name (Psalm 147:4)!
At the end of John’s Gospel, he writes “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were to be written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25 NIV).” Jesus’ ministry on earth was only three-and-a-half years, but his ministry in heaven has been going for the past 2,000 years. He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and he works now with all his people, in creation, and in the world governments.
The LORD’s family may be relatively small right now, but one day it will fill the earth. Those who belong to Christ at his coming and those who served him faithfully in their time will only be the firstfruits; Christ and his Saints will reign on earth for 1,000 years, and all nations will come to know the LORD and become part of his family. Israel will be the first dominion (Micah 4:7-8), and the Gentiles will follow (Jeremiah 3:17). At the end of the Millennium, all enemies will finally be eliminated, and even death will become a thing of the past (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). All the earth will be part of God’s family; a multitude that no one can number.
Three years ago—March 11, 2020—was an unprecedented day.
Just five days before (Friday, March 6), it was a bright sunny day, and it felt like spring; a perfect Friday. My uncle Rob called me; he and I had planned to meet for lunch at our favorite local pizza place, “A NY Slice,” that afternoon. He said he was feeling really good on this Friday, and had called ahead and ordered us a large pepperoni pizza, and that I would probably arrive there before he did, so just find a place to sit and he’d be there shortly after. He and I both arrived and shared a delicious pizza and fountain drinks. Before eating, though, I took a photo of the pizza because it just looked so amazing (I’ll get to why I mentioned that in a minute)
We sat there and talked about all sorts of stuff, but mostly the upcoming NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (“March Madness”). Neither of our teams was likely to make it to the Tournament this year, although there was still a slight hope that one or both could win their Conference Tournament and get in.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 10, I sat in front of the television and watched the ACC Tournament first round game between North Carolina and Virginia Tech, while watching the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament Final between Hofstra and Northeastern. The craziness hadn’t quite started yet, but there was still an odd feeling that something was changing.
By the end of the night on March 11—three years ago right about now—I posted on Facebook that it had been the most bizarre day I could ever remember: the Dow Jones had plummeted 700 points, there was talk about shutting down all travel from Europe, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for the virus, the NBA had suspended its season, it was announced that the NCAA Tournament would go on with no fans in attendance. All the news stories were about the Coronavirus. People were going crazy.
The next day, all the remaining Conference Tournaments in college basketball were canceled, and finally, the NCAA Tournament was canceled as well.
Church on that Sunday was weird too; we were one of the only churches in Richmond who were still holding services in person. I remember as I was leaving, I looked at one member (I forgot who) and said something to the effect of “see you…sometime…”
I keep that photo of the pizza on my phone as a reminder of how quickly things can change; five days after that photo was taken, the world was a very different place. It was the last photo I took while everything was considered “normal.”
For essentially the rest of the year, everyone had to forgo all their plans, and do everything “virtually” (unless they were looting businesses or burning down churches and police stations and terrorizing innocent people—then for some reason it was totally acceptable and nothing was done about it), all in the name of being “safe”—as if it has ever been 100 percent “safe” to even go outside—but that’s neither here nor there; not what I’m trying to get at here.
Aside from all those around the world who died with the coronavirus, the Pandemic itself was one of the most divisive events in all history, separating even the closest of friends and families. Many more people’s lives were ruined by the lockdowns and mandates; mental health problems skyrocketed, and many people’s businesses and livelihoods went under and have never recovered. I still have hope that one day there will be at least some accountability for all of it; the cost has been way too high to just “let it go.” I fully believe the LORD knows what happened and how it all started, and what it caused, and he will not be mocked. Less people are attending church now than at any other time in the history of this country; the forced isolation ruined the faith of so many, and I couldn’t imagine that sitting well with him.
The Coronavirus has more than a 99 percent survival rate. But there’s a much bigger pandemic that has been raging since the start of human history, and it has a zero percent survival rate: sin. Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).” All have sinned, and thus all have payment due. The good news is that Paul doesn’t end his remarks on sin there; he goes on to say, in the same verse, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The LORD offers forgiveness and salvation through the great physician, the great healer. There’s no other cure for sin; you can’t just “ride it out (such as when you have a cold or the Flu or the stomach bug, or any other virus for that matter)” and become better by yourself.
It’s written of Jesus, “Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-5 KJV).”
In the first few verses of Luke 8, you can read a short account of Jesus healing a leper. In those days, leprosy was thought to be a curse from the LORD; those who had it were thought to be highly contagious and they had to wear a face covering (Leviticus 13:45). The leper says to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus reaches out and touches the man and says, “I am willing, be clean!” And immediately the man was cleansed of his leprosy. Jesus could have just spoken the word, but he went a step further: he reached out and touched the man, which would have made him ceremonially unclean under the Law [of Moses] (Leviticus 5:3).
Jesus then enters Capernaum and a Centurion comes up to him, asking to help his servant who is at home paralyzed and suffering. Jesus asks if he can come and heal him, and the Centurion says, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus then says he has not found such faith in all Israel, and to the Centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would!” For the Centurion, Jesus’ word was enough. We have [many of] Jesus’ words recorded for us!
The chapter ends with Jesus healing two demon-possessed men. In one of the more bizarre stories in Scripture, the demons are driven into a herd of swine who run violently down a cliff and into the sea. This time, the people plead with Jesus to leave.
Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world: because there is sin, there is disease, unfairness, and violence. It’s not going to get better until Jesus returns to reign as King over all the earth (Zechariah 14:9). In that new heaven and earth that the LORD will create (Isaiah 65:17-23), people will live much longer and happier, healthier lives; even someone who dies at age 100 will only be considered a child. There will be no more Pandemics, no more crazy government overreach (and instead righteous rulership); it will be a wonderful time on earth for all who turn to the LORD.
God said to Israel at Marah, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”
Come unto him—Jesus—all ye that labor and are heavy-laden; and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him; for he is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For his yoke is easy, his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Today is Valentine’s Day; if you’re single, today is Tuesday.
It’s always a little interesting being single on this day; I’ve been wished a Happy Valentine’s Day multiple times, but not sure what to say other than “thanks?” But it IS a happy day, if and when you remember that happiness and value isn’t always dictated entirely by relationship status (especially on social media).
The LORD says, “he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD (Proverbs 18:22 ESV).” Many of us who grew up going to vacation Bible schools, gatherings, and other social events, if you were anything like me, had one major thing on your mind: “I wonder if Jenny is going to be there…” or, better yet, you know she’s going to be there; you’re all nervous and excited at the same time. And of course, when we were younger, crushes didn’t mean a whole lot: you like the girl, she likes you, then the next day, she has a crush on someone else. And obviously as you got older, it was a bit more serious; if you had the opportunity, you spent as much time with that person as you could, you really got to know them and kept in touch and developed an actual relationship. Unless you were really fortunate and you struck gold on your first try, most of them didn’t work out. But hopefully those of you who are now married can certainly agree that the LORD has given you something very good; it’s something to keep in mind when times are tough, that what you have in your marriage is from the LORD.
A distant relative of mine once (actually, much more than once, but that’s neither here nor there) told me that he and his (now deceased) wife never once had an argument, because he always did “whatever the [heck] she asked,” and she did the same for him, because they both knew the other wouldn’t ever ask them to do something that will hurt them. A Brother I think very highly of, said on a Sunday morning, “Choosing a spouse could decide ninety-five percent of your happiness for the rest of your life.” He also went on to say, “Many men quote the verse that says ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands,’ but leave out the second part which says, ‘husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:24-25).’”
We live in a world where marriage is often looked at as more of a burden than a joy. In the majority of weddings that take place, the bride and the groom exchange vows, usually promising love and devotion “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do we part.” They make a vow, a covenant. But as you may know, in this country, the divorce rate is over fifty percent; more than half of all marriages are headed for divorce; there’s infidelity, fighting, and so many other reasons that the marriage ends. Moses allowed Israel to get divorced because of the hardness of their hearts; they were too stubborn to work out differences. Interestingly enough, there is not one instance of a divorce in the Bible. God hates divorce; he hates it so much, he says that even if you are married to an unbeliever, stay with them (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
There’s a movie called “Fireproof”—I would highly recommend it to anyone; it’s about a Christian couple who is having marital problems, and the husband turns to the Bible to help him repair his marriage; Scripture is full of examples and guidelines.
Some years ago at a Bible School in Indiana; an older Brother was giving a teen devotion (that tells you how long ago this was; long enough that I qualified as a “teen”) and he brought us to Hosea 2:19-20; Hosea was a prophet who was instructed by the LORD to marry a prostitute, as a living parable of Israel. Ironically enough though, even though this is about Israel, the LORD gives a list of things to look for when finding someone to marry: “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD (Hosea 2:19-20 KJV).”
Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the “Virtuous Woman;” who can find her?
I was looking back through some old stuff recently, and I found a letter (in a Word document) that I had planned to send to a girl, many years ago, in response to what had happened between us. It’s a long story that really, looking back, just shouldn’t have happened at all—I should have been wiser and not been so easily fooled. That incident left me heartbroken, but it’s all water under the bridge now. I never sent the letter, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it was really just me rambling; I do wish I’d sent something, maybe condensed down to ¼ of what I originally wrote.
Many times in the past when I was interested in someone, I felt like there was someone else in the way, whether that was competition—a guy who was interested in the same girl—or even another girl who may have been interested in me (and who probably would have been better for me): I can think of at least three different occasions where I could have either been with or at least gotten to know better, an absolutely lovely girl that was there right in front of me, but instead had my eyes on someone else, and now all those opportunities are gone. At the same time, the LORD is in control: so often in the past I tried so hard to make something happen right then and there as if it was the only opportunity ever; I didn’t trust the system and play the “long game,” and it felt like time was never on my side, that if it didn’t happen then, it never would, and I’d miss my chance and it would be gone forever. Lesson learned: wait on the LORD. A friend of mine who got married a few years back, said that when he was single he asked the LORD to find him someone who could help him, and that he could help. Right after his wedding (at the reception), he told me and a few others that he was “kind of at a loss for words right now”—it was the day when he got to see how his big exciting love story all came together and everything finally made sense, that every decision he had ever made, had led him to where he was, on his wedding day.
If you’re like me and are single and waiting and believing that your turn is coming, ask the LORD to help you become the right type of person while you wait, and ask him to help your future significant other do the same, so that when the LORD brings you two together, you’ll be ready for each other. If you’re trying to do the right thing and asking the LORD for help, he will take care of you. He’s able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think; he is a Sun and shield and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
Side Note: Valentine’s Day candy is 50% off at most grocery/drug stores tomorrow; if you’re single, you don’t have to share it with ANYONE.
There’s a place I spend the last four days of the year, every year. It’s no resort; far from it, nor is it a place that most people would want to spend four days; the main room (pictured at the bottom; click and drag to look around) sometimes smells like lakewater, the hallways of weed, and the carpets haven’t been cleaned in well over a decade. But for the last four days of every year, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Even though I have vague memories of the year-end Conference at the old Governor Spottswood Motel or the “aMeRiCa’S bEsT iNn,” the bulk of my Conference experience has been at the current location. It’s mostly been wonderful, aside from one dark memory that left me pretty upset—but the LORD is able to redeem places; that incident happened well over ten years ago and now, I hardly even think about it at all when I’m there even though I pass right by the place where it happened on multiple occasions every day during Conference. Every day I’m there with those wonderful brothers and sisters, I’m as happy as can be. The LORD is also able to redeem dates in time: on December 27, 2020, I was very sad; for the first time ever, due to the Pandemic, there would be no Conference. It was 7:30 PM, when the Conference was supposed to be starting, and I was at home, unable to get it out of my mind. I imagined that room, dark, empty, and desolate, waiting for all of us to be there one year later. Sure enough, to the very minute, on December 27, 2021, that room was filled with love again.
The theme for this past year’s Conference was “A Thrill of Hope,” the phrase from “O Holy Night,” a famous song about the night of our dear Savior’s birth; below are some of the notes I took at the Conference.
The most anticipated birth in the history of the world was foretold to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and David (among many others). This baby was welcomed into the world by old and young, male and female, Jew and Gentile, you and me. The wise men didn’t just say “I’m so excited you’re here” then leave; they fell on their knees and worshipped him. Two thousand years later, the weary world lays in sin and error pining for when the soul will feel its worth, somewhere yonder.
“Let there be light” is the first command in the Bible, and we’re here to channel it. Darkness and light: in hope, we experience both. Even the Moon waxes and wanes—very telling of us; we focus on the negative in the present but the positive in the past. When things happen in our lives, they happen FOR us, not TO us (also maybe THROUGH us). Don’t rob yourself of happiness for fear of grief. Hope fills a void in our day-to-day life. Hope is your mind doing this calculus of steps to achieve a goal. When you think you can get there, that’s a thrill of hope. Hope is a thrill, a charge, because it helps us to achieve that goal.
Existence has to entail action; God has a plan for the earth. Want to be on God’s team? Be ready for action; you can’t just sit there, you have to be doing something. Jesus gave every ounce of energy to God and to us; ask God to do whatever will make us love him more. When we communicate with God, are we just using words, or are we using everything? Legion was all-in; his words, how he said them, and his body: “Lord Jesus, I need you; can you help me?” For us, sometimes it’s just “I’m really not that ‘here’ right now, Lord, but I’m just going to spend some time with you.” Because of Jesus, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. God works through Jesus; this is what gives us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. There are four dimensions of God’s love; something that takes us deeper than the three dimensions. No one knows how many Jesus will be Savior of; it depends on you. It’s tough not knowing how long we have to go; run the race with endurance. How long? Where are we headed? Where do we go from here? We don’t have control over a future Kingdom date, but we do have control over how people around us experience the Kingdom of God in our lifetime. Choose to bring the Kingdom a little closer to someone now. Keep doing the little things, keep doing the big things; you are choosing to improve the life of another person, and it’s working. Spend that time for the person next to you, giving them glimpses of our destination. There is but one Fruit of the Spirit: Love, which is made of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Salvation wasn’t there yet when Jesus was born, but seeing the baby was enough for Simeon to die in peace (Luke 2:25-32). God has prepared a city (Hebrews 11:16); we have obtained an inheritance: what can we see today that is enough? We can see him today; we can only imagine how much more fulfilled we will be on that day when all the world will see him as he is. This hope is an eternal hope that encompasses all your desires.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus offers the greatest invitation ever: he stands at the door and knocks. If anyone will hear his voice and open the door, he will come in and dine with him. Don’t let this moment pass.
(Here is the morning exhortation I gave on Friday, 12/30, titled “A New And Glorious Morn”)
This past year at this special place, I made three new friends; interestingly enough, I had known these guys for years, but only at a distance. I also got to hear some great words of encouragement during the morning sessions, had great discussions, whether in a group or one-on-one, and enjoyed lots of great music.
In Genesis 28, we find a story about Jacob, a servant of the LORD, who was on the run from his brother Esau. He went to sleep, using a rock as his pillow, and had a dream of a stairway connecting heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. He awoke and said, “How awesome is this place!” Bethel—“the house of God”—was dusty and ordinary, but was made holy because the LORD was there. Of course, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exists everywhere; his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth (2 Chronicles 16:9). Just because he exists everywhere though does not mean everywhere is holy: Times Square, for instance, isn’t what anyone would call a “holy” place, even though the LORD “exists” just as much there as he does in a church building on Sunday morning. A place is made holy by his presence, as in the days of Moses when the LORD told him, from the burning bush, that the place he was standing on was holy ground, therefore to be careful and to approach with reverence (Exodus 3:5). Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”
There’s a hymn that begins,
“Wherever, LORD, thy people meet,
There they behold thy mercy seat;
Wherever they seek thee thou art found
And every place is hallowed ground.”
There’s a million and one reasons I go to that special, holy place in Williamsburg at the end of every year, but mainly, I go because for those four days, the LORD and his people are there. The Apostle Paul tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), and the prophet Malachi, the Messenger, wrote that those who feared the LORD spoke often to each other, and that a book of remembrance was written (Malachi 3:16).
I always feel reconverted after Williamsburg; it’s like a “recharge station.” In many past years, I would feel sad to be leaving Williamsburg on December 31; but for the past couple of years now, I’ve felt the opposite: fulfilled and satisfied, empowered, and looking forward to the New Year.
After Conference ended—and as I do at the end of Conference every year—I took a few minutes and sat down in the main room there, by myself, and reflected on the previous four days. Then, as I’ve done the past two New Year’s Eves, instead of heading home to Richmond, I went out to the beach and sat by the ocean for a while, reflecting on the week and the year. My heart was full, and—even though it’s taken me a couple of weeks to finally write this blog entry—I looked forward to sharing that with you all. After having been with the LORD and his people, how could I not want to tell anyone?
The Conference ended with the congregation singing:
“I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart,
I will enter his courts with praise,
I will say this is the day that the LORD has made,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad.
He has made me glad, he has made me glad,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad (glad glad).
He has made me glad, he has made me glad,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad.”
That song has been on replay in my mind ever since.
Grace and peace, and joy and gladness, and love in Jesus, the Thrill of Hope,
There is a shopping mall in Nashua, New Hampshire; a mall that I’m familiar with, as I’ve been there many times. The way this mall was constructed is interesting; the entire building is in New Hampshire, but it sits so close to the state line that if you walk out of the south end, immediately you’re in Massachusetts. Many people from Massachusetts shop at that mall, because there is no sales tax in New Hampshire.
Some years ago, a tiny part of that mall was across the state line; Massachusetts said that if any part of it was within the state’s border, the entire building would be subject to Massachusetts tax. So, a little sliver of the JC Penney building was removed, and Massachusetts lost any potential revenue altogether.
New Hampshire and Massachusetts are two very different states; many more wealthy people live in Massachusetts, while New Hampshire is seen more as a place that people go to retire. Massachusetts has suburbs everywhere, and New Hampshire is much more rural and heavily forested.
Aside from cultural differences, each state is different politically, and has different laws; in New Hampshire, they just elected a Republican Governor; Massachusetts, on the other hand, just elected a Democrat. In New Hampshire, you don’t have to wear a seatbelt; in Massachusetts (wisely), you do. This is what makes all 50 states different from each other; different cultures and different laws. The laws of New York, for instance, don’t affect the laws here in Virginia. But, if I travel to New York, I’m expected to follow the laws there; the laws of Virginia no longer apply to me as long as I’m not here. The same is true with other countries: for example, I can only fly my drone up 120 meters above ground level (with exceptions) here in the United States, but if I were to go to France, I could fly up to 150 meters, and the law here in America would have no bearing on me while I’m overseas.
But there is a Law that is applicable to believers everywhere, no matter which city, state, or country they’re in; the Law of Christ is never irrelevant. Wherever they are on earth, believers are to love the LORD, and their neighbor. There are no loopholes and no lawyers that can get us off. God’s laws are universal and they cannot be changed; there are no exceptions.
Paul tells the Galatians that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control; against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). These nine attributes are legal everywhere on earth—and for Christians, they’re demanded.
Imagine how much better the world would be even right now if everyone on earth obeyed God’s laws of love for him and neighbor. It will become a reality one day soon, when Jesus rules the world in truth and righteousness and peace; in that day, the law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3). He will not grow faint or be discouraged until justice is established in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law (Isaiah 42:4). Only then will there be peace on earth, and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14).
In the meantime, fear God and keep his commandments; this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He has shown us what is good and what he requires of us: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). Go and do likewise!
It’s been eleven days since the 2022 “Midterm” Election here in the United States. For the most part, it went the way the experts and pundits and pollsters thought: Republicans win the House of Representatives, and Democrats keep the Senate. There were certainly a lot of twists and turns this Election season; for a while, it looked like Republicans were headed for a “red tsunami,” then the Supreme Court made their ruling on the “Dobbs” case, which motivated more Democrats; then late in the season, everything balanced out, the economy didn’t get much (any?) better, which put Republicans back in a position to win at least the House and possibly the Senate.
My aunt and I made a bet as to how it would end up; I said the Republicans would win the House, 237-198, and the Democrats would hold the Senate at 50-50; she thought Republicans would win the House 253-182, and the Senate, 52-48. We were both way off on the House prediction (the Republicans did win, but by a much slimmer margin than either of us would have guessed, and there are still five races that have yet to be called); as for the Senate, there’s one “runoff” election next month that will determine whether it’s 51-49 in favor of the Democrats, or a 50-50 hold (in which case Democrats still win).
I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively little tension there has been since the Election; for the most part—except for one Republican candidate for Governor and a Democratic candidate for Congress—the loser graciously conceded and everyone moved on. That’s always good to see, and hopefully it signals a return to “normalcy,” for lack of a better term; often when an election is won, people on the winning “side” celebrate and rub it in the faces of those whose candidate lost; that’s not how it should be, when you consider that the people who get elected to office, are supposed to be there to serve, not rule.
That said though, it was still a very tense few months leading up to the Election; people on every side have been angry. Many of them put their heart and soul into the campaign. They spent countless hours and dollars in support of their candidate, and for some, it even affected their well-being; I lost count as to how many times I saw someone on Twitter say something like “my anxiety is through the roof [over the Election].” Imagine being so worried about whether your guy wins a very temporary position in the United States Congress/Senate, that you lose even a wink of sleep over it, or thinking that the other party winning would somehow mean disaster. We also would hear on social media, “Vote (red or blue) to ‘save America,’” as if this election is the last chance, despite the fact that these are temporary positions; the winner takes office for 2, 4, or 6 years (Congress, President, Senate, respectively), and then if their constituents aren’t satisfied, or want to go in a different direction, they get voted out and someone else takes their place.
Truth is, neither Republican nor Democrat is going to save America. When President Eisenhower took office in 1953, his left hand was on two Bibles, one of which was open to Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” This nation continues every day to go further and further from the LORD, even though he is the only one that can save.
I tend to be Conservative; anyone who knows me, knows that about me. But at the end of the day, whether the President/House/Senate is “conservative” or “liberal,” has very little effect; life is much, much bigger than what happens in Washington. For some people though, that’s all that matters. The Psalmist writes, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:8-9 NIV).” Perhaps the reason so many people in this country are angry around Election time every year, is because they are putting their trust in princes (meaning, Presidents, Congresspeople, Senators, Governors, and so on), who are bound to fail them, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. Remember that the same God who made the mountains and the stars and the seas, and you and me, is still on the throne. He was on the throne when Joe Biden became President last year, he was on the throne last week when this country held its Election, and he will still be on the throne tomorrow, and every day after that. The day will come when the LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day there will be one LORD, and his name one (Zechariah 14:9). Amen!
It’s one of my favorite months of the year, for many reasons: the air is getting cooler, the holidays begin in full next month, and the baseball pennant races are at their climax.
One year ago last night, I was at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. I had been scheduled to speak on Sunday morning for the brothers and sisters in the Winchester area, and decided to make a long weekend out of it and go to DC beforehand; as luck would have it, my beloved Boston Red Sox were in town playing the Nationals! I made a few phone calls and got my friend Chris to meet me at the game. It would be the first time I saw the Red Sox play since I was a kid. As glad as I was to be going to the game on Friday night, I was also a little nervous: the Red Sox were right in the thick of the playoff race, and the game was by all accounts a “must-win;” they were essentially tied with three other teams who were all trying to get two playoff spots, so instead of sitting back and relaxing and fully enjoying an October baseball game, there was a real desired outcome (obviously, I would have wanted the Sox to win regardless).
The Red Sox won 4-2. I stayed up late that night in my hotel room watching the end of the Mariners game (another team who was in the mix); they lost, so that helped the Red Sox. The next morning, I went into the city; I visited the Museum of the Bible (something I’d wanted to do for a long time) and went up the Washington Monument (something I’d wanted to do since I was probably ten years old).
That afternoon, I headed over to Craig and Diane’s place in Star Tannery (near the West Virginia line) and spent the night, and we all had a wonderful Sunday morning; I got to see some brothers and sisters I hadn’t seen in a few years. My heart was full! I drove home the long way—through the mountains—and got home just in time to turn on the TV and see the end of the final game between the Red Sox and Nationals; the Red Sox won, and clinched a playoff spot, and then later that week, beat the Yankees in the Wild Card game, then beat the Rays in the Division Series, before falling just short against the Astros, two wins away from the World Series. It was a surprising run, considering that in the weeks leading up to the Playoffs, the Red Sox had many struggles, and just barely made it in.
Each team plays 162 games in the regular season (sometimes even 163 if there’s a tiebreaker needed); there’s a saying that even the best teams lose 60 times, and the worst teams still win 60 times; every team (usually) wins 60 times and loses 60 times, and it’s the other 40 or so games that separate the contenders from the “pretenders.”
Life is full of ups and downs; Solomon, one of the wisest men to ever live, wrote “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV),” and goes on to say “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” You’re going to have some really good days, and you’re going to have some really lousy days.
Israel dealt with 40 years of ups and downs on their way to the Promised Land; they were delivered from Egypt, yet when they didn’t have food, they wanted to go back; they saw miracles, yet suffered plagues; they won battles, and lost others. By the time they entered the Land, many had fallen away and never made it, but some did. Even Moses himself did not get to enter the Land, but he remained faithful and knew that the LORD would make good on his word.
The LORD said to Isaiah, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).” The NIV Life Application Study Bible says, “God rules over light and darkness, over prosperous times and times of disaster, over our struggles and over our victories. Our lives are sprinkled with all types of experiences, and all are needed for us to grow spiritually. When good times come, thank God and use your blessings for him. When bad times come, don’t resent them, but ask what you can learn from these refining experiences to make you a better servant of God.”
David, a man who had more ups and downs than he could count, wrote that the LORD was his Shepherd, whether in green pastures and by still waters, or in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). No matter what, his cup overflowed.
We too are going to have good and bad days, but count it all joy, knowing that the trying of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3).
There’s a hymn that starts “For the joys and for the sorrows, the best and worst of times,” and the chorus says, “for this, I have Jesus (repeated).” He is present, and he promises that all who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
One thing to keep in mind is that there’s no carryover: you wake up and it’s a brand-new day; the mercies of the LORD are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Whether yesterday was “good” or “bad,” it’s in the past. “Be ye steadfast,” says Paul, “immovable, always abounding in the work of the LORD (1 Corinthians 15:58).” Run with patience the race set before you; look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Be diligent, lest you fail of the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15). Whatever you’re dealing with, good or bad, is not to be compared with the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:18), and to receive the crown of glory that the LORD has promised to them that love him (James 1:12).
“But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)!”
Today marks 21 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when 19 horrible people flew planes into buildings. For those of us who are old enough to remember that day, we remember exactly how we felt as we saw the images of the Twin Towers burning (and collapsing), and people jumping out of windows, and chaos in the streets. In one morning, the whole world had changed, and ever since then, so much has been different; every year, more and more money is spent on national security and defense (consider what you have to go through nowadays just to be able to get on an airplane). Think of the fact that those of us who went outside and played with our friends for hours on a Saturday afternoon and came home around sunset, were the last ones to be able to do that, because the world is simply not as “safe” as it used to be.
Unfortunately too, that day still only showed a fraction of all the evil that man is capable of doing. Has the world gotten any better since then?
A few years ago, I was in New York City, and visited Ground Zero, but there was something else I wanted to see as well: the Isaiah Wall, outside the United Nations headquarters.
Inscribed on it is a verse from the prophet, about a day coming when the nations will no longer lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. The wall is not very-well maintained—a parable (for lack of a better term) of the principles that the verse reads—yet the LORD’s promise is sure, and he has put those words on record for us that they may not be forgotten: there IS a better day coming for the earth. But it will not come about by man’s rule; Joe Biden isn’t going to bring it about, nor is Donald Trump; Democrats aren’t going to do it, and neither are Republicans. The only one who can (and will) is Jesus, of whom Isaiah writes, “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist (Isaiah 11:3-5).
Until then, the world isn’t going to get any better; in fact, it’s only going to get worse. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “perilous times” would come, and it perfectly describes what we see in the world today (2 Timothy 3:1-5). But as surely as we know those times of difficulty will come, we also know and believe that the day is coming when there will be no more 9/11s, when justice will run down as waters and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24), when the lion will dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), when everyone will live under their own vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid (Micah 4:4), when the righteous will flourish, and peace so long as the Moon endures (Psalm 72:7), when they will not hurt nor destroy in all the LORD’s holy mountain, when all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). The LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day there will be one LORD, and his name one (Zechariah 14:9). Amen!
Sometimes the inspiration for a blog entry comes from the most oddball of places or events, and that’s not always a good thing.
Two Friday nights ago, I was in my room, surfing the web (good heavens I haven’t used that term in a long time). I heard some sirens outside and they sounded like they were from fairly close by, so I went outside to check it out; I opened the door, looked up the street, and saw something horrific: there was a house on fire.
I had never seen that before; it was unreal.
The entire second story of that house was engulfed, and it seemed like the whole Henrico County Fire Department was there trying to put it out. Fortunately, no one was injured, but certainly life became much worse for the owner of the house as well as those who lived there, than it was before that night.
Since then, the building has been condemned; I don’t think anyone will ever live there again.
Fire can be a good thing; for instance, there’s almost nothing better than sitting by a fireplace in the winter, with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. But fire is obviously very destructive when it’s not being used properly.
We all have a fire inside of us that we have to watch out for–a fire that is more dangerous than every volcano on the planet–it’s the little fire called the tongue.
There’s an old saying: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” Jesus’ brother James would disagree: James doesn’t just say “the tongue is like a fire”—a simile—he uses a metaphor: “the tongue IS a fire, a world of iniquity (James 3:6).”
What we say (and text and email and post on Facebook or Twitter) can have incredibly destructive effects and cause permanent damage. I’ve seen multiple articles about the effects of our words, whether verbal or digital. Consider how on Twitter, no one really needs to even know who you are, but you are essentially free to insult, curse, and slander anyone you want, and with very little consequence. The same applies with Facebook, but I assume people are a little more cautious about that because they know most of their Facebook connections personally (not to say that necessarily stops them from doing it anyway).
Perhaps the wisest President this country has ever seen, Abraham Lincoln, famously said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Our words can get us in trouble, and sometimes the damage cannot be undone.
From the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing; this should not be so (James 3:10).
Have you ever written a nasty email or letter to someone when you were angry at them? I have. There’s that feeling of satisfaction you get, thinking that you’ve let them have it, you’ve put them in their place, and knowing that it’s in writing so they can even go back and read it multiple times and maybe it will hurt even more.
And yet, the satisfaction is very short-lived; you got what you wanted to off your chest, aired it out, but you also set a blazing fire; all you did was upset the other person.
President Lincoln was also famous for his “hot letters;” he would write exactly what he wanted to say to someone he was angry at, then he would put the letter in his desk and never send it. Next time you’re upset at someone and you want to tell them off, consider what Lincoln did; write your letter, put it away, go to sleep, and then the next day, decide whether you should still send it.
Before you say something to someone, use “THINK:”
Is it True? “Speak the truth every man to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25);” one of the Ten Commandments is to not bear false witness (Exodus 20:16).
Is it Helpful? “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear. Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master (Proverbs 25:11-13 NIV).
Is it Inspiring? The Apostle Paul says to “provoke one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24);” too often though, we stop at the word “provoke.”
Is it Necessary? Not everything that is true needs to be said all the time; Jesus warns that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken (Matthew 12:36 NIV).”
Is it Kind? “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV).”
Jesus was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). When they insulted him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats; he entrusted himself to the LORD who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NIV).”
Therefore: let YOUR words be gracious and seasoned with salt, so you will rightly answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).
If you travel often enough, you’re bound to have a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” experience at some point. Mine was on the way to the Manitoulin Youth Conference in 2018. This is the story of the craziest trip I’ve ever been on; it began four years ago last night.
I had made plans to go to a Youth Conference on Manitoulin Island (in Ontario, CA), set for August 18-25, 2018. Months before the Conference, I bought my plane tickets for Richmond to Toronto with a layover in New York (LaGuardia) and made whatever other arrangements necessary, as well as planning to catch the bus from Ancaster up to Manitoulin with a bunch of other people from out of town who would also be attending the conference.
My flight from Richmond to LaGuardia was fine, and if I recall correctly, it arrived a little earlier than expected. I even had time to step outside the airport for a few minutes and look across the river before getting ready to board my flight to Toronto.
I waited inside the airport, and saw that my flight was delayed. No big deal, but I noticed a lot of people were just standing around in line for a long time; my flight was supposed to take off around 6:35 or so, but the previous flight had not even boarded.
Around 7:30 PM, I heard that my flight was cancelled. I still remember as they made that announcement, U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” was playing on the airport’s loudspeaker.
In a panic, I called home, and mom and dad suggested I call some other airlines to see if there was any way I could get to Toronto that night. I called around asking if there was any way I could get on a flight out of LaGuardia (or even one of the other airports in the New York City area), even explaining my situation to the representatives (as if they cared), and even offering to fly wherever necessary—Detroit, Dallas, Orlando, whatever—for a layover if it meant I could be in Toronto later that evening.
I was stunned. Most of the time, a cancelled flight isn’t too bad (annoying, yes); you just catch the next one. But I HAD to get to Toronto that night; the bus trip from Ancaster the following morning wasn’t going to wait for me. I was in trouble; if I missed the bus to the Island the next morning, I may have had to miss out on the whole week. I even considered renting a car and just driving all the way across New York and across the border, but I was advised against that. I tried calling Daniel and Dustin, both from fairly nearby in New Jersey; Daniel, to see if he knew anyone nearby who was going to the conference and could pick me up on the way, and Dustin didn’t answer.
When my flight was first delayed, I had been in contact with Mike, who was supposed to pick me up (we had even made plans to have dinner in Toronto), as well as a few others, at the Toronto airport; I reached out to him again and he got in touch with a few people who told me what I needed to do. He emailed me with some information about a bus that would run from near Toronto, up to Espanola, very late the next night. I called WestJet again, and they said they had already rebooked me on the Saturday 8 PM flight out of LaGuardia to Toronto.
I still needed a place to stay that night (since you’re not allowed to stay in the airport—as if anyone would want to anyway), so I called my old friend Justin, from nearby in New Jersey, and he and Brandon—his brother-in-law—graciously picked me up. They said Brandon and Sophia were moving the next morning and could use the help.
I slept surprisingly well at Brandon’s place, despite the stress of a canceled flight. Brandon brought us some breakfast bagels and coffee. I stood by the window for a few minutes, coffee in hand, thinking of what was ahead that day; will my flight take off tonight? Justin’s parents came over and we all helped Brandon and Sophia pack up their belongings to move down the street. Justin’s mom even said I was a “godsend;” an extra set of hands for the job.
We finished moving around 1 PM or so, and I took a shower before Justin drove me to the Morristown train station. My flight was scheduled for 8 PM; I figured that gave me more than enough time to take the train into Manhattan, catch the bus to the airport, get through security, get something to eat in the airport, and get to the gate.
Meanwhile, I had contacted my old friend Charity in the Toronto area; she said she would be glad to pick me up from the airport that night and drive me to the bus station where I would catch the overnight bus to Espanola.
The train was late, and with some added delay, it took about two hours to get from Morristown into Manhattan; I still had plenty of time; that wasn’t a worry; my main problem that afternoon was that I was walking around New York City with all my luggage for a week-long trip to Canada, and I was exhausted. I even thought at one point about just giving up and spending the rest of the week there instead of continuing my trip North. But I was determined; I had a responsibility at the Conference: a while back, they had asked me to be the official photographer. Plus, I had been looking forward to this for so many reasons.
I kept checking the weather forecast; from what I understood, my flight the previous night had been cancelled due to weather.
After a couple of bus stops, I made it to LaGuardia; security was a breeze and I was through in no time, and I saw that my flight out had already been delayed (yet again), until around 9:15. I was getting concerned; my bus from Toronto was to leave at 12:30 AM or so, but I still should have had a decent amount of time. Even so, I needed something to eat, and to this day, it’s the most expensive dinner I’ve ever bought for myself: a sandwich, a bag of chips, a bottle of water, and a KIND bar, for $22.
I looked out the window at the sunset; the second straight night that I had been here at this airport.
Time went on, and the flight got delayed again, to 10:30. Even if it had taken off exactly then, it would have been a huge rush to get from the Toronto airport to catch my overnight bus to Espanola.
Many of us waiting for the “rescue flight” got more and more frustrated; we had already had our previous night’s flight canceled and now were over 24 hours late in getting to our destinations. I was sad, and even angry; I knew that every extra minute that went by, meant there was that much less of a chance that I made it to the Conference by Sunday morning. It felt so unfair knowing that everybody else attending the Conference was already there and was having a good time, while I was stuck. I texted my friend Corey, who was already at the Conference, and he said he had enjoyed dinner by the beach with some brothers that evening, and that he had met some great people on the bus trip from Ancaster.
I met a few people waiting there in the airport and we got to talking; one in particular, Liz, was there with her son, waiting to get home to Toronto. Others were sitting with me around a table, charging our phones and making small talk. That helped; we all had company in misery and it passed the time.
The flight then got delayed again to 11 PM, and that was it; I knew I’d miss my bus. I told Charity that I’d still need a place to stay that night (assuming the flight took off), as I most likely now wouldn’t be able to get a bus to the Island until Sunday night, and I wouldn’t make it to the Conference until Monday morning at the earliest, and that was assuming everything would go perfectly from this point on. All I could think was, “LORD, just get me to Canada tonight. Don’t keep me here another night and make me come back tomorrow to try again. Just get me to Canada tonight.”
The previous afternoon, before the craziness started, I had stepped out of LaGuardia airport for a few minutes and could see CitiField (home of the New York Mets) and Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the US Open is played) across the river. I took a picture with my phone and posted it to my Instagram story, with Ian Hunter’s “Central Park N’ West” in the background; I thought back to those lyrics, “I think, I think, I think, I think, I think it’s the best, when I’m locked in the middle of New York City…” and it felt ironic; for the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to be out of New York.
The flight got delayed once more to 11:20, then to midnight; finally, just before 12 AM, we boarded, and we all clapped as the plane took off. I couldn’t believe it; we were in the air. I looked back at New York City, all lit up as usual, and it looked amazing; but I sure was glad to be heading on to Toronto. Had everything gone right from the start, there’s not a chance I would have had an adult beverage on my flight (cost, plus it just didn’t seem exactly “right,” because of where I was going), but after all the craziness, all I wanted at that point was an ice cold beer. Fortunately for me (and many others on board), WestJet offers complimentary beer to anyone (eligible) on the flight from LaGuardia to Toronto Pearson. I enjoyed a Molson and was thankful to be another step of the way to Manitoulin, albeit unsure of what was next. We arrived at Pearson around 1 AM. Charity and her mom, Deb, picked me up; I was really glad to see them.
Sunday morning, I woke up to a text from my mom, letting me know that a dear Brother back in Richmond had fallen asleep all of a sudden.
Charity and Deb and Elijah and I still went to meeting on Sunday morning, at Toronto West; it was great to be with those brothers and sisters (it had been over three years since I’d been there).
The four of us went back to their house afterward and we played Apples to Apples and had a lot of fun. Charity then drove me to the bus station so I could catch a ride to Espanola; my ticket from the previous night was unfortunately not transferable and I didn’t cancel it in time, so I had to pay again.
The bus left just about on time, around 6 PM, and it was about an hour to Barrie, my first layover; I had plenty of time to walk up the street and get a couple slices at Pizza Pizza, before catching my next bus to Sudbury, leaving at 9 PM. As I sat there waiting, there was a man nearby who introduced himself to me and asked where I was from; I said “Richmond, Virginia,” and he shook my hand and said “Welcome to Canada!” When the bus arrived to pick us up, he was not allowed on; he had been drinking and the bus driver didn’t want him to board.
From Barrie, it was a four-hour ride to Sudbury, in a dark bus, traveling up the Trans-Canada Highway. I was excited, though, because I knew if I at least made it to Sudbury, I’d get to the Camp soon after.
We arrived in Sudbury, the bus’ last stop of the night, around 1 AM. Everyone got off, and went their separate ways, except me; I had one last bus to catch, but not until 5 AM. I was alone there, in a foreign city, where I knew absolutely no one, with four hours until my final bus ride, to Espanola.
I stayed near the bus station; it was well-lit, but it was locked, so I couldn’t go inside.
A few people came by; I just stood there and said hello and they walked past. Maybe an hour went by and I was getting a little nervous; it was after 2 AM and I still had about three more hours until my bus arrived. I walked down the street and walked back to the station. Then I saw a man walking in the distance, coming my way. I just sat there hoping he was friendly, and I asked him for help; I asked if he knew of anywhere I could go just to feel safer (not that I felt “unsafe,” but being in an area I knew nothing about was certainly unnerving). He told me (obviously) that everywhere was closed except possibly some bars in town. I didn’t want to walk into one of those places with all my luggage, but I almost felt like I had no choice. I stayed around a little while longer, and then I’m confident that the LORD sent me an angel; some guy was riding around on what looked like a John Deere, mowing the grass—at 2 AM. I asked him if he knew anywhere I could go, and he told me of a Tim Horton’s a few kilometers away that was open 24/7, and he even called a cab for me. The cab driver took me to the Tim Horton’s, and he also informed me that the bus I was to catch would arrive at a different station in town, right down the street from the Tim Horton’s. I went inside and ordered an Ice Cap (as much as I love my Ice Caps, never in a million years would I ever imagine drinking one of those things at 3:30 AM). At 4:20, I walked over to the Ontario Northland Terminal and waited for the bus; I was the only one there, and the only one when the bus arrived. I got on and sat near the front; a recording came on the loudspeaker: “Manitoulin Island.” I was going to make it.
About an hour later, I arrived in Espanola; the bus dropped me off in front of some family restaurant in town, and I waited for Matt to pick me up. I had never been so exhausted: physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
It took about an hour to get to the Camp; from the time I had left home on Friday afternoon, to the time I finally arrived on the Island, was about 68 hours. I got a very warm reception from so many people who had heard of my travel troubles. The morning session had just started, and everyone was on their way to the discussion groups. I was told that I could get some rest if I wanted (after all, I’d been awake for over 24 hours straight), and I thought about it, but quickly dismissed the thought: I had made it to Conference, two full days after it started; why miss more? That afternoon, I walked around on the beach by the lake and met a few people, and my group had a lot of fun that evening with the group we had met with for dinner. Somehow, some way, I ended up staying awake til after midnight; I was running on no sleep for the past 40 hours, yet I was having a good time, so it didn’t matter.
Glenn Beck once said, “sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worth the trip.” Sometimes as well, the LORD wants to see what you’re made of. As I waited inside the LaGuardia airport for the “rescue flight,” frustrated, it was almost as if the LORD was saying to me, “Dan, I redirected you because Brandon and Sophia needed help moving (even Sophia’s mom said I was a ‘Godsend’); now I want to see how badly you really want to go to the Conference this year (since you’ve had reservations about going before, and had even planned to go in 2015, but you canceled a month before). You’re in a city you enjoy going to, and you know full well you could nix the rest of your trip and spend a week in New York if you really wanted to. What are you going to do?” I could have backed out at any time, but I wanted to be at Conference and to see and meet so many wonderful people, and I did; one in particular who has become one of my best friends.
I ended up having a great week, albeit shorter than hoped for.
One major takeaway was how special our faith is, that there are brothers and sisters I can call upon for help and they’re so willing (Justin even told me in the car ride, that I somehow knew that he was the only introvert in New Jersey who wasn’t doing anything on a Friday night).
On that Saturday night, I thought “I’m never going to look back on this and laugh.” But now, I look back on it and smile; I think of how much of an adventure I had in getting to Conference, and all the great people I got to see, such as my friends Justin and Brandon and Sophia in New Jersey, and Dave and Andrew and Charity and Deb and Elijah in the Toronto area, none of which I would have gotten to see if everything had gone as planned. Often I also think of the people I met along the way; the mom and daughter on the train, Liz in LaGuardia, as well as the other two couples, and Dan in Barrie and Leroy in Sudbury, all of which I’ll probably never see again.
Psalm 121, a favorite of mine, says, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” (KJV) Yet, I had my Bible with me the entire time I was traveling—hardly ever was it more than six feet away from me—and never really thought upon those words, nor did I hardly even open it during the whole fiasco. But the LORD was always with me, watching over and protecting me the whole way, and especially in Sudbury; he sent his angels and provided for me when I needed a place to stay.
Looking back, I could have—and should have—just enjoyed the journey, the challenge, knowing that the LORD was in control and that things were going to work out. That’s a great lesson to hold on to in life as well; everything is temporary, good or bad. Day or night, heck or highwater, he is there (Psalm 139:7-12), and as one Brother once said, God is always good, win, lose, or draw. Through the highs and lows, be still and know that he is God.