Simple Servants


Over the summer at Tri-State Fellowship we have continued our iGrow series (adult learning center classes that meet at 11:00). Tim Lester did a six-week series called “Guardrails.”  I have just begun a second series for four weeks called “Simple Servants.”  I’ve been putting some readings and questions as preparation for the week to come on our church Facebook page … but that means I’ve got to remember to do it each day. I was thinking about how much easier it is with the blogs I write – where postings can be scheduled (which explains why you might see my Orioles or Civil War blogs have articles that go online at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning).

So I thought I’d just put the whole series of questions, thoughts, and readings here on this blog for you to get at any time.

This four-week iGrow series of lessons focuses upon some of the lesser known characters of the early church – who served in supportive roles alongside those whom we more often remember. Together with star characters like Paul, Peter, Timothy and Luke, they established God’s program of abounding grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Without doubt, these people had gifts and talents. But honestly, they were pretty ordinary – not a lot different than most of us. What made them special was their desire to partner deeply with God’s work. Their consistent attitude was a question of, “What may I do to help?”  The value of such simple servants is timeless and limitless.

We will look at the lives of:

  • Priscilla and Aquila (7/29)
  • Barnabas (8/5)
  • Silas (8/12)
  • Philemon (8/19)

WEEK ONE: Priscilla and Aquila (7/29/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 18:1-17.  Make a list of the types of experiences that Priscilla and Aquila must have had with the Apostle Paul during this time together.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 18:18-28.  What does this passage indicate about the probable skills and capabilities of this husband and wife?

Wednesday:  Read Romans 16:1-5a & 1 Corinthians 16:19.  What additional skills possessed by this couple do we see in this passage? What must this have been like in that time and that place (living in Rome)?

Thursday:  Read 2 Timothy chapter 4.  What does the mention of this couple by Paul in his final written words reveal of his thoughts about them?  (This is back in Ephesus)

Friday:  Read Acts 5:1-10.  What contrasts may be drawn between the husband/wife teams of Priscilla and Aquila, and Ananias and Sapphira?

Week 2: Barnabas (8/5/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 9:17-30.  What list of character traits of Barnabas may be generated from this account?

Tuesday:  Read Acts 11:19-30.  Continue to add character traits of Barnabas to your list. Are you beginning to get a mental picture of what it would be like to meet this man?

Wednesday:  Read Acts 13:1-12, 42-49.  In a word, what is the job Barnabas is called to perform? Where might he have had any idea how to accomplish this?

Thursday:  Read Acts chapter 14.  It is clear now that Paul is the leader of the team. What more does this say about the character of Barnabas and his attitudes?

Friday:  Read Acts 15:1-35, and Galatians 2:12-13.  Note here the bold and passionate interest within Barnabas for theological truth and for the central message of the Gospel.

Week 3: Silas (8/12/12)

Monday:  Read Acts 15:22-35.  Even as you review some of the same material as last week, begin to note the position of Silas in the early church community. See also at the end of the chapter that he is commissioned to missionary service with Paul.

Tuesday:  Read Acts 16:1-15.  What great experiences is Silas a witness of?  Make note of all who are travelling together (hint – one is not listed), and how this trip fits into the spread of the Gospel and western civilization.

Wednesday:  Read Acts 16:16-40.  Try to put yourself into Silas’ sandals and imagine the emotional highs and lows of being in this situation.

Thursday:  Read Acts 17:1-15.  Continue to catalogue what may be learned about Silas from this missionary journey, noting especially what happens in verse 14.

Friday:  Read Acts 18:1-8, 2 Cor. 11:9, Philippians 4:15-16 and tie together these passages. Look also at a final mention of Silas (Silvanus) in 1 Peter 5:12.

Week 4: Philemon (8/19/12)

Monday:  Read Philemon verses 1-7,22-25 & Colossians chapter 4, and note how these writings go together.

Tuesday:  Read Philemon 8-21 – Note how Paul has come across Philemon’s runaway slave named Onesimus in Rome, led him to Christ, and is now sending him back home.

Wednesday:  Read Philemon again. If you were a slave, would you return?  If you were the owner, would you receive him back? Make a mental list of the reasons why Paul is telling Philemon to take back Onesimus. Does Paul’s appeal begin to present a picture to you of the work of Christ? How so?

Thursday:  Read Philemon 15,16 // Col. 3:22-23 // Eph. 6:5-9 // 1 Tim. 6:1-3.  Ponder what it would be like to be in a New Testament church with both masters and slaves in the same family of faith.

Friday:  Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10,17-19.  What is the biblical admonition to the wealthier people of a church? What makes it difficult for poor people and wealthy people to serve well together in a church in our day? What would make it easier?

Occupy Buchmanville

My chickens have become a bit famous at church. Along with a manger scene appearance on Christmas Eve, they produce quite prolifically with the biggest and best brown eggs in the history of eggdom – Caleb thanks all his weekly customers – buy early, buy often! (The price of chicken feed increased $3.00 a bag in one week due to the drought.)

Well, there is a wrinkle in the henhouse right now. One of the hens has decided to stop laying and resort to sitting. In the world of poultry raising, this is called a “broody hen.” The latent natural desire to make a nest and sit on eggs until they hatch takes over the otherwise happy and content coop camper.

But here is the problem – along with no production or work on her part – she spends all of her time finding eggs in other chickens’ nests, claiming them as her own, and sitting on them until forcibly removed. She did not make those eggs, does not own them, has no right to sit on them, but squats there nonetheless. This a case of literally stealing someone else’s nest egg!

I’m calling this fowl activity “Occupy Buchmanville.”  It has many similar features as the other Occupy Movement – squatting, foul/fowl smells, pooping in the place you sleep, trespassing, stealing, arrogance, anger, squawking, and logic the size of a chicken brain. It does little good to evict her; she just waits until I walk away and goes back to occupy the same “spot n’ squat.”

There are some remedies that might work, and perhaps there could be some application for authorities beyond Buchmanville…

1.  I could cut her head off and eat her. This seems a bit like overkill, but would effect a permanent cure for the problem. But my few experiences with animal slaughtering revealed to me that I have little interest in beastly blood and guts. If I had to do such to have meat, well … I’d probably end up vegetarian. Though some authorities might like the human application of this technique, it is probably not especially legal, except maybe in parts of Texas.

2.  The poultry books say to take the broody hen and put her in an uncomfortable and isolated cage by herself, and she’ll soon lose interest in nesting. Well, I don’t readily have that, so, the solution is almost more trouble than the problem. The authorities actually use this technique quite a bit with the Occupy Movement – it is called “jail.”

3.  The poultry books also say that an old-timers solution to this problem is to take the hen and dunk her in a bucket of cold water. Apparently an elevated internal temperature stimulates and continues this problem. I would do this, except the neighbors might see me; and at least one set of them are liberals and may call the SPCA on me (like some church person did a few years ago when I gave a sermon illustration about my goat being tied by a rope … I’m not making this up!).  Actually, the police also use this wet technique with the Occupy Movement – I think the tool they employ is called a “water canon!”

I’m going to give Henrietta a few more days to fix her own problem before making a choice from the list above. But surely you have to agree with me that the similarities between Occupy Buchmanville and the Occupy Movement of other places are quite amazing!

The Summer of 72

It is amazing how 40 years can only seem like no more than even half that long ago!

The summer of 1972 was between my 11th and 12th grade years of high school. I had spent the previous two summers working at a Christian camp in southern New Jersey – called “Ha-Lu-Wa-Sa.”  I cannot for the life of me remember why I did not do the same in 1972. It might have been that there was a sense I should be earning some money for the college years ahead.

The central high-roofed section was a one-room schoolhouse that my grandfather converted and expanded into a gristmill operation.

I spent some of the early part of the summer working for my uncle and repainted the building in which he had his milling business.

But around early to mid July, the pastor’s son of our church (a guy who is a pastor now himself) got me involved in working for the remainder of the summer at a hotel in Cape May, NJ. It was at a place called the “Christian Admiral” and was an 8-story grand hotel on the ocean that had been turned into a Bible Conference location.

This facility was ground zero headquarters for a fiery preacher named Carl McIntyre – a staunch conservative fundamentalist and anti-Communist political activist. My family knew well of this man – whose pastoral career was in Collingswood, NJ near Camden (more on Collingswood later). McIntyre was a great radio preacher and Bible expositor, though his downfall was too large of a dabbling in matters political and a penchant for fighting every cause to the death!

So my family, my church – all knew of him, though were not supporters and followers. However, the grandfather of my friend – the pastor’s son – worked for McIntyre in finance and accounting, and swung a deal to get us hired for the summer. Hey – a summer at the beach!  Cool! (Although most of the time I was working when the sun was up!)

My friend Dan was a cook and had some experience working in the kitchen the last several years at the same Christian camp I mentioned. Me? I was assigned to busboy duties in the dining room. However, after one meal and numerous complaints from the clientele, I was banished to the dish room! My offence? My hair was too long! Understand, it was NOT too long – by 70s standards I was a total geek since my hair was so short. But it was thick and curly (take that on faith!), and these people were as far to the right as you could get (the “anyone to the left of me is a flaming liberal” types!). Anyhow, I liked the dishwashing job better!

If you go to Cape May now, it is a beautifully restored town of colorful Victorian architecture. In 1972, it was a dump – well before community renewal efforts. Carl McIntyre had purchased a large number of the grand old hotel types of buildings in town – most of which were foreclosed upon or later sold off – but he did end up saving many from destruction (though the Admiral is now gone).

There were separate smaller old hotel residences for boys and girls that housed the workers for this Bible Conference. These places were total dumps – barely livable. There could not have possibly been building inspections in those days. The one I stayed in was called “The Virginia House.”

The Virginia Hotel today – nothing like what I remember!!

And here is what made me even think about this summer and start writing about it. We are going to Wildwood for a few nights later this summer, and in looking for places to stay, I saw the Virginia Hotel in Cape May advertised – FOR A HIGH PRICE!  Clearly it has been renovated and is now a somewhat elite place to stay! Amazing!

My friend and I were the only high school guys there. Most of the workers were college students – mostly from two very, very, very conservative colleges – one in South Carolina, and the other in Florida. These are colleges FAMOUS for their strict rules for students. Well, let me just say that I learned more about sin in a few weeks there than I had in all my previous 17 years. These fellows truly made up for their school months of monastic life in a big way over the summer! Fortunately I was too young and unknown to them for fellowship in much of their debauchery.

About the worst thing I did was help another guy re-paint the “The Virginia House” sign – which was made of raised black letters on a white background. He got some white paint and we simply covered the “I” and the “A” letters … and then sat innocently on the porch to listen to the remarks of people walking by “The Virgin House!”

Actually, my most enduring memories of the summer there involved a couple of big stories in the news: the massacre of the Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics, and violence at national political conventions in Miami.

There was also this very pretty blonde-haired high school girl from the Philly suburbs who came as well to work at the Admiral as a waitress. We became friends and often got together over the next several years. I’ve met few people in my life who have had such a passion for Christ and for evangelism – a total heart for lost people and desire to see them come to faith.

Oh … about Collingswood … the first year that Diana and I were married (77-78) we lived in Collingswood, NJ. Here is a picture of that house. An elderly man owned it. He used the parlor room in the very front for an office and lived upstairs. We had the entire rest of the downstairs as an apartment… for the rent of $125 / month!  However, our entire income was $165 / week.

Terrorize a Teenager Day

About 9:30 this morning I received a text message from the 304 area code that I did not recognize. It simply said, “R U up?”  … to which I answered, “Yes, who is this?”

The reply simply said, “David, How R U?”

Unable to think of anyone I know in West Virginia (304 code) named David, my response was, “I’m thinking U have the wrong number.”

Coming right back was, “Oh no, I’m sorry, this is not Amy?”   <pause>  “What is ur name?”

Well, an evil spirit came over me at that point I guess, and thinking this was likely a teenager I wrote, “I’m a big dude named Bubba and I’ve already eaten two teenagers for breakfast; they taste so good at that age, know what I mean?”

All I got was, “Yea.”

So I let it go for a while and wrote, “No problem man … hope you find Amy … I’m sure she is a sweet girl (and was hopefully not one of the kids I ate for breakfast.)”

No answer.

After a while it dawned on me that he could probably Google search my number and find out who I am!  So I’m hoping he has a good sense of humor and is not some angry coal mining giant named Cooter who has 25 cousins.

So … “J K Cooter, hope U R O K 2 laff @ it”


Officially Today a Graduate of Terrier University

I stole this blog post title from my Philadelphia College of Bible and Dallas Seminary classmate friend Jim McGahey, who posted it today as his Facebook status. As college alumni, we were informed today that our college has now been officially renamed “Cairn University.”  Jim’s father was my favorite professor there (who performed the wedding for Diana and me), and though he likely did not roll over in his grave, he may well have at least shuddered.

A slogan at the school when I attended was, “Everyone at PCB majors in Bible.”  Of course there were majors like music, social work, education, pastoral studies, missions, etc… but everyone got a B.S. degree in Bible, as the goal of the school was to train young adults for ministry careers. Now, it has become a true university in the sense of education for a variety of careers – all in the context of a biblical worldview.

The first thought people have when they hear the name change is that likely someone of the last name of “Cairn” gave some huge endowment to the school. No, that does not tend to happen much to schools like this! Rather, the name has to do with the meaning of the word “cairn” – which is some version of a “memorial pile of rocks.”  I’ll let the school explain it from their communication:

What is a cairn?
Throughout human history, men and women all over the world have piled stones to serve as memorials and markers. The stones marked boundaries and important events – ones worth remembering for generations to come.

Stones are piled at trail crossings as well. They mark a road to be taken, a danger to be avoided, or a spring or well at which travelers can be refreshed.

Man-made piles of stones, memorials of the past and markers for the path ahead, are called by many names in many languages. The English term is cairn.

Why Cairn University?
The University’s new name is tied to who we are and what we do. It is a strong, unique word with a powerful visual appeal and dual meaning. Everywhere they are found, cairns both bear witness and point the way.

After crossing the Jordan River on dry ground, the children of Israel were commanded to pile stones for a high purpose. When the coming generation asked for the meaning of the stones, they could then be reminded of the great faithfulness of God. The stones stood as a silent memorial and an ongoing testimony. The University’s verse is Lamentations 3:23 which testifies to God’s great faithfulness.

Jeremiah instructs the people of God to place markers and set down guideposts as they went into exile so that they might know the way to return. These piles of stones provide direction. The Scriptural call, “This is the way, walk in it,” is a powerful one. “Walk a Different Path” is our call to students to think, and learn, and serve biblically. Their very lives are to bear witness and point the way for others.

It is a general truism that people don’t like change – I know this painfully from 30 years of being a pastor! I’m gathering that quite a few alumni are not excited by this and in fact worry about how the change may factor – near or far – into a declension of historic biblical values. Theological liberalism does not start in the seats of churches. It begins in the colleges and universities and seminaries, and is then taught to the students who become the leaders who bring the infection home to the churches. That is not happening at PCB / PBU / Cairn U … at this time.

I don’t personally know the current university president, but I sent him this note today:

I do not fault you for the name change that reflects a broader mission. I like the imagery. I don’t like the difficult sound of it – I’ve yet to meet a person who did not have to have the word “cairn” repeated several times … spelled out; and few catch the imagery without explanation.

Here is my word to you: I’ve had more than a few church youth go to <college illustration A> and lose their faith because the profs there have none themselves. If in 25 years this happens to Cairn, I swear to you that I will come to your board meeting at age 82, with my cane, and I will whack everyone in that room for letting this happen! I’m as serious as the heart attack this will likely cause me in the transaction of the deed. But I would be dying for a worthy cause.

I know you have no intent … cannot envision such slippage … but it will happen unless you choose every board member and every faculty member carefully for their full commitment to Scripture. May that process be YOUR CAIRN – reminding you of the past and guiding to the future. There WILL BE pressures to move away from this solid mooring within the biblical harbor of objective truth; when you do, it will be the slippery slope that lands you in the dustbin with <college illustration A>,  <college illustration B>, and a host of others infamously grounded upon the shoals of a former legacy.

My Lost Family is Found

As I have written a couple of times in the past several months, I have been on a search for what is, to me, a lost father and family. The whole story of my background and why I have begun this search is written in my blog post on 6/20 … so I’ll not repeat it here, other than to say that I had been unable to find a single blood relative after months of searching.

I was able to discover through a lot of research that I surely, somewhere, have a “cousin” named William Parks – the son of the brother of the father I never knew. There have to be 10,000 people in the USA by this name. All I knew was his name and that he lived in Nazareth, PA in 1994. Several times I have called someone, believing through my research that I had found the lost cousin, only to find out it was not.

My father’s picture from WW2 … he was in the Army Air Corps and served in the area of radio communications in the Far East

However, on Tuesday of last week I made a call and hit the right person. Amazing, and very emotional. In that he had no idea whatsoever that he had a cousin out there with my story, it was a total “out of the blue” phone call for him to receive. I knew this was going to be a very odd situation – one that anyone receiving such a call would greet with significant skepticism and suspicion. To his credit, he picked himself off the floor rather quickly and we had quite a conversation. He also called me back later in the day after it had sunk in a bit more, and after he dug out a box in the basement filled with old family mementos.

I was actually able through all I’ve discovered to tell him about certain points of the family past that he was unaware of – in terms of great-grandparents and where various ones lived and when. So we made plans to get together a few days later – which we did this past Friday.

So, I drove to the Wind Gap, PA area to meet with my 62-year-old cousin, whom just days earlier, had no idea he had such a relative … nor did I know if he was even still alive. It was a unique gathering. He showed me family history pictures and papers, gave me quite a few of them and various items he had from his Uncle David – my father, and filled me with stories that I could never have known in any other way. He was very close to my father.

We then drove down out of the Pocono Mountains to Easton, PA, and went from address to address of the places where the various family members had lived. My father actually lived in a house that I surely had driven by hundreds of times in my life, not knowing it belonged to him.

All in all, it was an incredible experience!! We clearly sensed a bond of family connection, in spite of our total separation prior to that day. And we clearly have lived different lives. I’ve gone the academic road through life, and Bill has taken the “hands-on” route that he described as “a liberal arts degree in life.”  He has truly done just about everything imaginable. I’ve often wondered why I am such a total mechanical ditz – well, now I know. He got all the mechanical genes!

There are two more cousins to find – if they can be. Bill has lost contact with them. I believe I’ve found one of them – living now in Florida – and have a message sent to her. But, it may well be that it hits her husband and her as so totally bizarre that they are afraid to respond!  I can understand that!

There is still much to learn and much that is unanswered. But I pick up a piece here and there; and if it can be found, I will find it.

People who hear this story are asking me how I “feel about it” … about a light now shining into this closet where no light has shown for 57 years. Truly, I think I’m still processing this. But let me say that it was never anything that I felt “angry” about, or even “wounded.”  It is more of a nothingness that now is something … and a residual undercurrent of weirdness that now has some explanation. Truly, my life has been extraordinarily blessed by God in the big picture of things – I’ve been granted grace upon grace. So there is no real loss to grieve in the context of all I’ve had.

But I do think this search is turning into one of the extraordinary events of my life.

Missions Emphasis Sunday

Today’s service (7/1/12) at Tri-State was one of the best I can remember in my (exactly now) 18 years in Hagerstown. It was a Sunday focused on our missions outreach – featuring three of the families with long-term connections to the church.

Marlin and Ruth Brubaker were the first to say they could be with us on this date. They now work in Colorado Springs for HCJB World Radio. This ministry was founded in Quito, Ecuador in 1931 by a guy with a transmitter in a city where only six people had radios … and he named it a “world ministry” because he had a big vision! It has covered ¾ of the world’s surface. Marlin is an engineer who keeps the technology working.

Bill and Michele Nelson met and married while at TSF – where Bill was a staff member for five years in the early 90s. For the past 14-15 years he has directed the InterVarsity ministry at Johns Hopkins University and medical campus. Bill is especially involved in the personal work that goes on with international medical students. It is a relationship building, evangelism, and discipleship ministry with a lot of turnover … as students eventually go back to their home countries where they will be church leaders. These are often Muslim and Hindu countries.

Pete and Carolyn Bitner have now served over a decade in Togo, West Africa. They shared an incredible array of stories of their work in discipleship with two different people groups. Pete has done such things as play in a soccer league of mostly Islamic guys. The team picture makes it very clear which one is Pete!  Let’s just say that he really stands out among all those Africans!

Marlin, Pete, Bill and Me – You’d think we were a bunch of girls who called each other up to wear the same outfit!

It was a great experience for these three families to be together at the same time – and that was some of the plan for today. They estimated that it was about 15 years since they were all in the same place at the same time. Another key player in all their lives is Bill Kesecker and the discipleship class he led years ago for young adults of that time. So many of these folks are now in missions work – including Anna from our Kazakh team.

Much of the talk today was about the idea of being a team / an army – serving together in various roles. Like with any organization, it is not just about the people who are public and on the front lines. It takes a support structure. I estimate that we have given about $2,000,000 to missions projects and people in the years I’ve been here. For a large church, that is not much … but it is a big number for us. It is equal to about all the money spent on our facilities purchases and construction. And in other terms, our mortgage payment is now in the lower 400,000s.

But today surely reminds me that it is worth it all to have a worldwide focus. God does; we should.