The Marathon

Happy October!

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)!”

Grace and Peace,


Dan

Never Forget

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!

Grace and peace,

Dan

A World Of Iniquity

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).

Grace and Peace,

Dan

Enjoying the Journey

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.

No luck.

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.

“Central Park N’ West”

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.

Grace and peace,

Dan

The Butterfly Effect

One year ago today was very special; I just didn’t know it at the time.

It was a Sunday morning, and for whatever reason, even if only because I hadn’t been there in a while, I decided to visit a different congregation within our faith; a larger one here in Richmond. After the service, I talked to two people in particular: Brad and Linda. I asked them how they were doing; Brad said he and his family had just gotten back from the Outer Banks, and Linda said her family was getting ready to go down there. Until that day, I had just been planning on going to Virginia Beach for a weekend in September, but after talking to Brad and to Linda, it was settled: I was going to plan a weekend trip to the Outer Banks instead. I hadn’t been there since I was just a kid (in fact, my family and Linda’s family used to vacation together there).

Almost immediately, I began looking forward to it; I did whatever research I could and decided what I wanted to do and see (mostly involving the beach and Lighthouses), and booked a hotel room in Kitty Hawk for September 9-12. The rest of August felt like a year.

Just before leaving home on the morning of September 9, I looked for an old CD of Handel’s Messiah; I had never listened to the whole thing straight through, and I figured a 3 hour trip to the Outer Banks would be just the amount of time needed.

I LOVED Messiah; so much that I kept listening to that CD, many times through, ever since then, and on my facebook page, starting on November 1 of last year, I wrote a paragraph about each of the 53 movements—using Scripture of course—one for each day up to December 23.

Those three days were so relaxing even though I was constantly on-the-go—for instance, on that Friday morning, I left my hotel room at about 8 AM and didn’t get back until after 1 AM; I’d been gone for 17 hours, visiting Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Island. One of the highlights though was meeting so many great people, from all over the east coast; some of which I still keep in touch with regularly. Right when I arrived, I met one of the locals who gave me some advice as to where to go. On Friday, there was this one couple that I kept running into between the line for the Ocracoke Ferry, and Ocracoke Island, and the ferry ride back to Hatteras; that Saturday night I met a few really great people at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and stayed out there til almost midnight.

As soon as I left on that Sunday morning, I was already planning my next trip there (which happened this past April).

I think back to that weekend quite often and how the little things led to something great: if I hadn’t visited the Richmond Chapel a year ago today, I never would have gained such an appreciation for Handel’s Messiah, the Outer Banks would have never become my new favorite place, and I never would have met the great Jordan, Chris, Ted, Laura, Tom, Kevin, and Lori, and I wouldn’t have those photos from the Lighthouses and the sunrises over the beach (of which multiple people have now bought prints) to add to my photography portfolio. It’s one of my favorite instances of “the Butterfly Effect” that I’ve ever experienced.

If you think about it though, you and I are the products of the Butterfly Effect, in a way; consider all that had to happen, all your ancestors, each of which had to exist and live long enough to bring someone else into the world; each of which had so many different experiences and made so many different decisions in life that led them to getting together with someone else who brought forth someone else; a relating cycle leading all the way to your grandparents, then your parents, and now you. The LORD had you in mind thousands of years ago. Rarely does he do something big all-of-a-sudden; when he does something, it is the product of years—maybe decades or centuries—of behind-the-scenes activity, leading you to where you are now. He is working with you, even though at times it may not seem so.

There is a radio talk show host who begins every hour of his broadcast by reminding his audience, “this IS the day the LORD has made (quoting from Psalm 118:24), and these ARE the times in which God has decided for us to live.” With that, as he says, comes a unique set of responsibilities. The LORD declares the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come (Isaiah 46:10).

God has determined, despite everything that goes on in the world, for you to be here right now, this day; therefore rejoice and be glad within it.

Grace and peace,

Dan

Zzz…

The Mid-Atlantic Bible School (also lovingly known as “(Ship)pensburg” because of the university it’s held at) ended this afternoon. I wasn’t there, and hadn’t been in a number of years (but I had certainly done my time) except for a short visit in 2019, the last time the School was held. I was thinking about it all this week; there are enough stories from there to last a lifetime. Just a couple days ago, I posted on my facebook page, “July 7 will always hold a special place in my heart,” because of one particular July 7 at Shippensburg a long time ago, a day full of surprises, a day I remember like it was yesterday.

A few of the years I was at Ship, my friends and I would plan on pulling an all-nighter on the final night of Bible School; we would bring energy drinks (such as Monster or Red Bull) and get some extra rest during the day on Saturday. Staying up all night was really difficult and most who intended to, just didn’t make it; they fell asleep. It didn’t help at all that we were already sleep-deprived from getting to bed late every night during the week. When we would go to breakfast on that last morning of Bible School before everyone left, we were dead tired; I remember on the ride home with my parents, my eyes would be involuntarily shutting themselves, almost as if begging for some rest. I felt sick, weak, just all-around unnatural.

Fortunately, the all-nighter only happened two or three times before we wised up and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Don’t get me wrong; we had fun on those few nights: my buddies and I would talk (mostly about girls, of course), play card games such as Cheat (known outside Christian circles by a different name that I won’t repeat here) and whatever else to enjoy our last night together. And when I consider the fact that so many of those people are no longer in the faith, I would do almost anything to have one more night at Bible School with them.

On the last night of Bibleschool, some people had to sleep, as they had a long drive home the next day. Others, unfortunately, maybe couldn’t sleep: Bible School was their getaway from reality for a week, and now it was over, and they would have to return to the problems they faced back home. Yet there I was, my friends and I, staying awake all night and thus depriving ourselves of something we needed—sleep—mostly to impress others. I doubt anyone was actually thrilled with that.

Sleep is good, and it’s a gift from the LORD; in his wisdom, he determined that we should spend 1/3 of our lifetime asleep, recovering from our day, in order to be ready to go for the next one; even if we don’t have a big day planned, our bodies still need that time to rest. But too much sleep is not good, either: “love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread (Proverbs 20:13 ESV).” Laziness puts you at more risk of falling on hard financial times (Proverbs 6:10-11).

I read something online recently that said “Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.” Solomon—the second-wisest man ever—wrote “the sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12 NIV);” even the rich have worries that keep them awake at night. Nowadays especially, with so much more to worry about, and with all the uncertainty in the world, it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation is such a common problem.

On the contrary, the LORD never sleeps; imagine if he did, as if the world isn’t chaotic enough already. The Psalmist wrote, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:3-4 ESV).” David, as he fled from Absalom, had assurance of divine protection: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around (Psalm 3:5-6 ESV).” He also wrote, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8 NIV).” Jesus, the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), was able to sleep in peace on a boat during a storm, despite the wind and waves pounding (Matthew 8:24). The LORD promises perfect peace to those whose mind is stayed on him (Isaiah 26:3).

“Go to sleep: God is awake.”

Grace and peace,

Dan

(Just as an aside—and I didn’t plan this at all in accordance with my blog entry—but I received my first-ever MyPillow via FedEx this afternoon. I’m excited.)

Where To Turn

I read an article this morning, which said that churches are closing their doors in record numbers. Later this afternoon, I saw a disturbing video of some protestors outside the Supreme Court of the United States, chanting “**** the church,” among other obscenities, in response to the upcoming ruling on abortion. In the recent past, protestors have rallied in front of churches and caused disturbances everywhere, and it will only get worse once the ruling (Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) comes out.

Lot, a righteous man, was vexed by the depraved conduct of the lawless in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7), much as many of us are at the evil we see around us.

The article I read this morning is unfortunately very true; I saw an article recently as well that said less people were attending church nowadays than ever before. The Pandemic did quite a job on Christianity, and very little to help people’s faith. But it wasn’t just the Pandemic; even at my relatively young age, more than half the people I grew up with going to Church and Vacation Bible School and so on, have left the faith.

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, he said something that turned a whole bunch of people away, and they followed him no more. At that moment, he asked his disciples if they also were going to leave him, to which Peter—a man who changed so much between being a disciple and being the Rock upon which Jesus would build his Church—replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69, NIV).”

Daniel, another servant of the LORD, lived at a time when the temple of God had been raided by the Babylonians. From the NIV Life Application Study Bible: “Those who loved the LORD—though few in number—must have felt disheartened and discouraged, especially since most people were already worshiping other gods and neglecting the LORD altogether. We feel greatly alarmed when churches around the world are destroyed, close down for financial reasons, are split by controversies, or are wracked by scandals. We do not know why God allows his church to experience these calamities. But like the people who witnessed the plundering of the temple by the Babylonians, we must trust that God is in control and that he is watching over all who trust in him. When you hear of God’s people going through difficult times, pray that he will bring restoration. Remember God’s promise that those who love him and suffer will experience joy when [Jesus] returns (1 Peter 4:13).”

The world out there offers nothing of lasting value; that much is obvious. Everything we know has a beginning and an end; what the LORD offers is eternal. He offers peace today and in the Age to come and beyond. The LORD is in control right now, just as he was thousands of years ago, and he is well-aware of everything going on in the world and is not surprised by any of it. He knew what the world would be like today, June 23, 2022, thousands of years ago. He will not be mocked, and he will have his day with wickedness, when all will be made right.

We’re living in the times foretold by the Apostle Paul: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5).”

Christians: hang in there. Don’t bow the knee to Baal; fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Jesus is living in His Church, and Jesus is coming for his own; the Lord knows them that are his (2 Timothy 2:19). The Kingdom of God on earth will be a time worth living for; none of the sufferings of the present can or ever will be compared to the glory of the day when Jesus will rule as the Wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), when justice will roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24).

Grace and peace,

Dan

OBX, Eclipse, and Camera Troubles

At the end of April, I took a weekend to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina; ever since I left there in September, I had been wanting to get back sooner rather than later. One of the days I was there, as I was trying to take some photos, a gust of wind came by and blew over—and broke—the $20 tripod I had just bought two days before (thankfully, my DSLR was not on it when it fell over). I called all around the area to see if any stores sold tripods but had no luck. That afternoon, I took the ferry over to Ocracoke Island, and while I was there I came across a hardware store; I asked if they sold tripods there, and looked all over, but couldn’t find one. I didn’t take many more photos that weekend, since most of the photos I take—such as HDR and long exposure—require a tripod.  Lesson learned: don’t cheap out; it will end up costing you more in the long run.

I still enjoyed myself though, and met a lot of great people. I was thankful as well to have taken this shot of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse before that happened.

(The rest of my photos are at DanGaitanis.com/obx)

As you may know, I love lighthouses (who doesn’t?); one of the many reasons I love going to the Outer Banks is because there are four lighthouses that you can visit, all within a few hours. A Lighthouse is a good reminder that Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12), the only true light that shines in darkness; the darkness comprehends it not (John 1:5).

Three weeks ago tonight, I went to the local ballfield with a few friends, to watch the total lunar eclipse. I got out my camera, formatted the memory card, and headed to the field; when I got there, for some reason, the camera wouldn’t turn on—at all. Nothing. I ran back home and tried a few different batteries, to no avail; I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately, I had an old camera that I hadn’t used in a long time, as well as the battery for it, so I put the battery on the charger, went back to the ballfield for a little while to enjoy the start of the eclipse, then came back home and grabbed the battery and camera before heading back to the ballfield for the rest of the evening. The sky was clear until the moon was about 95 percent covered by the shadow of the earth; then it got really cloudy all of a sudden. Even so, I still managed to get a couple of shots of totality through breaks in the clouds. Not waiting by my phone for National Geographic to call, but it’s better than nothing.

(Mysteriously, the week after the eclipse, the camera started working again, of course as I brought it to Richmond Camera for them to have a look at it; then last weekend I planned on going to a Flying Squirrels game and wanted to take some photos there, and the camera was back to not working again. That camera is relatively new, so this is incredibly disappointing, but I’m holding out hope that it’s an easy fix)

The Lunar Eclipse happened exactly when we were told it would happen; it was right on time. And it didn’t announce that it was starting; it just did. The heavens have such an order to them, that scientists were able to pinpoint the exact time the eclipse would start and end. The LORD’s promises are as certain as the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west; everything he said would happen throughout history, did happen, exactly the way he said.

Just because clouds got in the way of the eclipse didn’t mean the eclipse wasn’t happening; we just couldn’t see it. In the same way, the LORD is always working, even if may not seem so at the time. If you have thirty minutes or so, read the entire Book of Esther; God’s name is not mentioned even once, yet his hand is visible throughout the story, in delivering his people—the Jews—from their enemies. Today, we don’t have direct revelations from him, but it is so clear that he is at work; the question is, will you let him work in you and through you?

The LORD told his prophet, “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told (Habakkuk 1:5 NIV).” If his promise to send the ruthless Chaldeans to punish Israel for their sins was so incredible that Habakkuk wouldn’t even believe it, how much more good will the LORD do for those who love and obey him?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).”

Grace and Peace,

Dan

He Is Risen

It’s Easter weekend. For some, that means chocolate and bunnies; for Christianity, it’s the commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection, three days after being crucified.

“Behold the Lamb of God,” said John the Baptist, “that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” In him was no sin; he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3); he gave his back to the smiters (Isaiah 50:6). Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5). All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way (Isaiah 53:6); all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all; this sinless man, the suffering, friendless one who was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12) and was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of God’s people he was stricken (Isaiah 53:8).

But he trusted in God that he would deliver him (Psalm 22:8); for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, and despised the shame (Hebrews 12:2). God’s own righteous standards would not allow him to remain in hell, nor to allow his Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:31); how could a sinless man be held captive by the grave? It has no power on him (Acts 2:24). The greatest miracle in human history happened that first morning of the week, an event that the rest of human history depends on: if Christ did not rise from the dead, we are all without hope (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). For now is Christ risen from the dead, the firstfruits of them that sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20); God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Who is this King of Glory? None of the angels of God ever received such a high title, or to be called God’s Son (Hebrews 1:5); all the angels of God worship him (Hebrews 1:6). He is gone up on high and has led captivity captive (Psalm 68:18), he has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He has commanded his followers to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to every nation, to teach them to observe all things whatever he commands (Matthew 28:19). The LORD gave the Word; great was the company of the preachers (Psalm 68:11); their sound is gone out to all lands and their words into the ends of the world (Romans 10:18).

So why seek the living with the dead? All the other religious leaders of the past—while their teachings may have been helpful—are in their graves. Christ is Risen, and he is coming again; he brings his reward with him. He will rule the world with righteousness and the people with his truth (Psalm 96:13).

Happy Easter!

Grace and peace,

-Dan

(side note: if you’ve never listened to Handel’s Messiah, I can’t recommend it enough. Now is a good time; it’s quite popular in the days surrounding Easter and Christmas. For a bird’s-eye view, click here to watch a presentation I gave last holiday season)

A Clean Slate

This past Thursday was Opening Day in Major League Baseball. I always love Opening Day; baseball is my favorite sport, and as a Red Sox fan, I look forward to seeing what they’ll do this season. I also love Opening Day because everyone starts off 0-0; it’s a clean slate. The Atlanta Braves won it all last year, but back on Thursday, they were 0-0 just like everyone else. It doesn’t matter at all how good (or bad) a team was last year; they all began this season with the same record, and not until July or August will we begin to see real separation between the good and bad teams. In late October of this year, only one of those 30 teams will be celebrating on the diamond as World Series Champions.

I’ve read a number of articles by the so-called “experts,” who predict how this season will go, and of course it’s based on how teams did in the offseason with trades, acquisitions, the draft, and other roster moves. At the end of the day though, it’s unpredictable; these are human beings, playing a 162-game regular season schedule. Games will be won and lost on freak plays, won by improbable comebacks and lost on improbable blown saves, won and lost by one run or ten runs or somewhere in between. There will be rain delays, bad calls made by umpires which affect the outcome of the game, and, of course, errors, made by players in the field. It’s impossible to predict what will happen this season, but it’s all about execution. Look no further than last year’s Red Sox; they had to win their final three games of the regular season just to get into the playoffs, then they beat the Yankees in an always-unpredictable Wild Card Game, then upset the Rays in the Division Series before falling to Houston in the American League Championship, just two wins away from the World Series. No one saw that coming; the guys just went out there and played good baseball and made it work.

The LORD is willing to give you and I a clean slate in life; he is willing to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:24), to make white as snow our sins which are as scarlet (Isaiah 1:18), through the work of the Messiah, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:20). This is not unconditional; the LORD will only give you and I a clean slate as long as you and I will give others a clean slate: in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 6:12).” If you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).”

But that’s not it; you also have to have faith that the LORD will make good on his Word. Abraham went into a foreign land, not knowing anything about what was ahead, but his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:19-22). He knew the LORD was willing and able to do exactly what he said he would do.

There’s nothing scientific about it; you just have to do it, unwavering (James 1:5-8); “the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4),” which comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Don’t look back at the way you were before; press forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). Look unto Jesus; he is the author and finisher of the faith (Hebrews 12:2).

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”-Jude 24-25

Grace and peace,

-Dan