Today is my birthday. Today I turn 35 years old. And today I drove from my birthplace to my current home.

You see, my birthday, by virtue of falling near the end of November, is always somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday. For the past few years, Tara and I have alternated which side of the family we visit at Thanksgiving time. This year, we drove down to West Virginia to see Tara’s family: for three days, twelve of us stayed in the home of Tara’s aunt and uncle who live in a very small coal-mining village south of Charleston.

Thirty-five years ago, my father was a pastor in a small town west of Charleston. Thirty-five years ago, he drove my mother to Charleston so I could enter the world in a hospital of good repute. And for thirty-five years, my life – like yours – has been wandering from place to place, from experience to experience, from decision to decision.

And today, on our trip home, I drove right past the hospital where I was born. Ten hours later, we arrived at our home.

The long road here took thirty-five years. The short road – although today it didn’t feel very short! – took just ten hours.

That got me thinking: on several occasions, I have heard Christians say that they wish God would put a huge billboard in the sky, drop a message from the heavens, or appear in the form of an angel and tell them what to do, what decision to make, which direction to move. We often speak platitudes to each other such as “God’s timing isn’t our timing,” “It will all make sense someday,” or “You just have to have faith.” But those aren’t always convincing in the moment. And they may just be platitudes: statements that have “been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful” (says Google).

At this point, I could write something like this: “My life, for all its ups and downs, has been marked by God’s blessings. And because of that, I wouldn’t take the short road over the long road for anything! I’m glad that it took this long to get here, because the journey has been worth every minute.” But that would be another platitude.

Take a few moments to read the first eleven verses of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. It helps to keep things in perspective on days like one’s birthday.

Here is what I will say about the long and short roads. Had I never traveled the long road, I would not have realized the significance of the short road. If I had not been born in Charleston, today’s drive would have been simply a long road trip.  The course of my life to this point made today’s drive more meaningful for me than it would be for anyone else.

We wait for God to show us the way to go, but in the meantime our experiences form us into who we are becoming. God uses them to form us after the image of Jesus Christ. The long road defines us.

And then we remember, from scripture, that “generations come and generations go.”

Happy birthday, everyone. I’m happy to be on this journey with you all.

Today, we honor and celebrate the ladies of our WCG group, the “Merlene Circle,” and its 64 year history of serving missionaries and missions work around the world. Listen in to Pastor David’s summary of the history of the national WCG organization and the various ministries in which we have been involved. Then continue to listen as he shares a few comments on Matthew 25:31-46, a passage in which Jesus urges us to serve the “least of these” among us.

Listen now!

This season, Tara and I are preparing to sing several musical selections with the Midland Chorale at our annual “Holiday Extravaganza” at the Center for the Arts. One of the songs we are practicing is called “Christmas on Broadway.” This is a medley of holiday tunes from different Broadway shows through the years: “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” “My Favorite Things,” that kind of music.

The final tune in this medley is called “God Bless Us Everyone,” from the musical version of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”  The lyrics, written by Lynn Ahrens, are simple yet meaningful:

In your heart there’s a light as bright as a star in heaven.
Let it shine through the night, and God bless us, everyone.
‘Til each child is fed, ’til all men are free, ’til the world becomes a family…
Star by star up above, and kindness by human kindness,
Light this world with your love, and God bless us, everyone.

These words alone are worth pondering: the tasks of feeding each child, freeing each person, and counting stars are seemingly endless tasks. But global problems must be approached one person at a time, because each life that is changed is worth the investment.

Last Monday, we ran into an interesting musical problem while rehearsing this tune.  When we sing the line “and God bless us, everyone,” there is a big leap downward from “and” to “God.” Some of the singers in our choir were struggling with this jump downward, so our director paused and said, “it sounds like some of you are having trouble getting down to ‘God.'” Then he looked at me and said, “Getting Down to God would make a good sermon title!”

A lot could be said about “getting down to God.” Is God somehow lower than us? Do we try to make God too complicated, when really God should be simpler than we make him? Are we guilty of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought?

But think about this: “getting down” to a lower note, vocally speaking, means reducing the frequency of the pitch being produced by your voice. In terms of sound waves, lower frequency means the waves somehow slow down (technically, the speed of sound doesn’t change; the period of a sound wave gets longer as the frequency drops). “Getting down” to a lower note means slowing down, taking more time, as if the sound waves are paying more attention to the world around them.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?”Jesus asked. (Luke 8:42b-45a NIV)

Jesus slowed down and paid attention to those around him, even though he was being crushed by the crowds. While on his way to another (life and death!) ministry situation, Jesus paused to have a conversation with a woman who trusted him for her healing. (Read the whole story in Luke 8:40-56.)

What if “Getting Down to God” means moving slowly through our world, like Jesus did?  What if it means paying attention to those in need around us and doing what we can to alleviate suffering, to raise quality of life, to bring redemption and healing in the name of Christ?

‘Til each child is fed, ’til all men are free, ’til the world becomes a family…

Three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Thoughts on Veterans Day.” In it, I encouraged us to seek a “peaceful way of life” and to “pray for peace around the world.” But what a difference three years makes! When I wrote those words, the ongoing civil war in Syria was just beginning; the “Arab Spring” was less than a year old; ISIS did not exist; and Sandy Hook and Benghazi were just locations, not tragedies of violence. Osama bin Laden had been killed six months earlier, and American troops were still heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. in our own nation, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were still alive.

God, grant us peace in our time, so that three years from now we will have fewer reasons to be surprised at the human capacity to wage war and to act violently.

Today, Veterans Day, is a day when our cultural sensitivity is at its highest: the nation pauses at 11am, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in honor and remembrance of all those men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States. This is an expansion of the original Armistice Day, a celebration of the end of World War I – the “war to end all wars” – which ended at 11am on November 11, 1918. In the intervening ninety-six years since that date, we have seen many more wars, many more acts of violence, many more veterans being carried home in caskets or carrying PTSD home with themselves, many more pursuits of arms rather than pursuits of armistice.

God, grant us peace in our time, so that four years from now we can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I with thankfulness that peace is defeating violence both at home and abroad.

Today, in my daily Bible reading, I read the four gospel accounts of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, this event is the climax of human history. Everything changes because Jesus lived, taught, ministered, died, and rose again. We interpret our lives and world events through the lens of Christian faith. Our allegiance is first and foremost to the kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry. Our hope is in the salvation of God, which Jesus brought about through his death and resurrection. Our peace is found in reconciliation with God, which Jesus graciously provided through no help of our own. Jesus is the True Veteran, the one who waged war against sin itself and was victorious, the one who achieved this victory not through aggression and violence and bombs and guns and survival tactics but through laying down his life of his own volition, the one who served not a nation or state but a kingdom, his kingdom, an unending kingdom, a kingdom of peace.

God, grant us peace in our time, so that ten, twenty, fifty years from now we will see that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 11:15 NIV).

Yes, Lord, bring your peace into this world, and bring it quickly.

In the final words of the Bible (Revelation 22:20-21 NIV),

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.