Friday, September 7, 2018

FACES by Patrick Wood

What happens when people lose their faces?
Digital avatars.
Pixelated features.
Blank slates.

If a fist hits a head but there's no face to show bruises,
Is anyone hurt?

What happens when people lose their faces?
Reckless rage.
Foundationless fury.
Pointless prosecution.
Erroneous excuses.
Pompous personalities.
Utterly unfiltered and ubiquitous untruths.

If a lie is told but no one's lips moved,
Is anyone wrong?

What happens when people lose their faces?
We pave intellectual highways with life, liberty, and common decency.
Spelling, vocabulary, and consideration of our fellow man drown with
yesterday's lunch.
People become animals.
Neighbors become pets.
Roles are forgotten.
Natural order is replaced with the cacophonous din of subjective morality
and debased purpose.

If a man wanders off alone into the masses and by doing so loses his face,
His identity,
His dignity,
His humanity,
Is he still a man?

Did he don a mask to cover up the lines, wrinkles, grimace, sweat, blood, and soul
that prove he is alive?
Or did he tear off the mask with its lines, wrinkles, grimace, sweat, blood, and soul
to prove he never was?

What happens when people lose their faces?
Thoughts are reduced to "yes" and "no."
Actions are reduced to tapping fingers.
Communication is reduced to "comments."
Repercussions are reduced to cheap pastries.
Souls are replaced with
upon line
of code

What happens when men become things,
And things become gods,
And gods become nothing,
And nothing is forbidden?

If a person loses their life to the world around them,
Due to torment, abuse, and unseemly realities,
But has no face...

Does anyone care?

What happens when people lose their faces?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My Memories of Carroll Lee Carlson

                During the fall of 1982, Robin challenged me to read the Bible because “It is the Word of God.”  Convinced that I could learn something from this ancient book, I started to plow through.  At the same time, Carroll invited me to attend church with him.  Every Sunday, I would drive to his house, hop in his car and head out to Village Seven Presbyterian.  Carroll was not a member but he loved the way Bernie Kuiper preached.  I remember one time Pastor Kuiper invited us to turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Carroll quietly whispered, “Ephesians.”  For people who grew up in the church this may seem like a small thing but to me this was a lifeline.  More importantly, this showed me that Carroll wanted to help me, not judge me.  I was a poor kid from an alcoholic home who believed in reincarnation but Carroll accepted me.  In December of 1982, I became a Christian having learned from Carroll and Robin that Jesus died for my sins.
                1983-1984 were extraordinarily hard for Carroll.  Robin was in college and Darren and Bart were living on their own.  In December, Gayle left him alone in a big house with a cat he did not really like—at first.  He would ask God, “What do I do now, Lord.”  He did what a believer must do.  He read his Bible—mostly Job—and prayed.  Carroll meditated on Job trying to learn how Job still trusted God.  It was during these dark times that Carroll found the joy of God’s nearness.  Though alone from human perspective, Carroll knew that God was with him.  He became convinced and would often tell us, “God is faithful and He can be trusted.”
                In Carroll, I saw a Christian man.  I had never known one before.  He was not perfect—one time, in frustration, he declared that clothes hangers were an invention of the devil—but he was honest.  He was honest about his failures, honest about his love for God and his family, and most of all, honest about his faith—even when it faltered.  Carroll taught me to be a Christian, not just in creedal affirmation but in all of my life no matter what circumstances I face.  He taught me to me a man, one who takes responsibility for himself and for others.  Finally, Carroll taught me to be a father.  His was the only positive example of a father that I had.  I saw in Carroll a love for his children even when they made decision he did not like.  He showed me the importance of caution, maintaining the home, and of forgiveness.
                Gayle often told me how much she respected Carroll.  “He was a good provider.” she would say.  At one point, Gayle and her new husband needed somewhere to live in Colorado Springs.  Carroll opened his home to them and moved out with his father.  For over a year, Carroll paid for his ex-wife and her new husband to stay in his house.  I asked him why he did that.  He said, “I want them to know that God loves them.”  Simple, and honest. 
                Carroll met and married Shirley in a few short weeks.  Carroll had cautioned Robin and me to go slow in our relationship.  Shortly after they were married he told me, with a childishly guilty grin, “I guess I didn’t follow my own advice.”  We spoke of his relationship with Shirley often.  His marriage was not all that he would have wanted.  It kept him from his family and some of his friends.  It prevented him from attending Gayle’s funeral.  I asked him why they had married.  He said, “She needed me.”  His answer was profound on many levels but most of all I see that he chose to provide for someone in need, just as a man should.
                Carroll loved his family with a constancy that reflected his faith.  After Shirley blew up at Robin, Carroll called her.  He never called—he did not use cell phones and long distance was expensive—but this day he did.  He felt awful and wanted to tell Robin he loved her.  Over the years, we would laugh at how he expressed his love.  Robin would always tell him, “I love you, Dad.”  To which he would reply with a grin, “That’s nice of you.”  Eventually, he would respond, “I love you too.”  This call meant the world to Robin.  It said that Carroll did not know what to do, but he loved his family deeply.  He just had to tell them.
                How do you summarize an entire life?  Dates, jobs, family members are all a part of it but they lack something.  I believe that Carroll gave us the best summary with his most common advice, “God is faithful and He can be trusted.”  I hope that I can pass this on to my family as well as Carroll did.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Dear Facebook friends

Dear Facebook friends,
     I want to ask a rhetorical and quasi-hypothetical question.  Before you react, consider if I might actually have a good point.  (NO.  REALLY.  GIVE THAT POSSIBILITY A MOMENT TO TAKE ROOT IN YOUR MIND BEFORE PROCEEDING.)  If you drive past a friend’s home and see a political campaign sign in their yard supporting a candidate that you oppose, do you feel compelled to put an opposition sign in their yard?  Do you assume they would appreciate that you write on their sign why you oppose that candidate?

     We don’t do that because we respect our friends property—probably more than we respect their right to their opinion.  Recently a friend on Facebook posted a Bible verse that, in his opinion, offered some wise counsel for a national controversy.  I watched as well-intentioned friends began to counter the point of the verse without ever expressing an appreciation that the particular verse has some wisdom in this particular controversy—let alone that it is the Word of the Living God which we profess to believe is the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.”  Not once did one of these friends express the slightest regard for the Bible verse, which was offered without comment.  The closest I read was to say, “Yeah, but…”  I don’t think, “Yeah, but” is a wise response to the Word of God.  We should say, “Yes, Lord! How does this direct my life in light of the rest of Scripture?”

     I offer two observations.  First, some people want to dialog through their Facebook post.  Some people simply want to express their thoughts.  We, as the readers of their posts, should respect their desires for their property (ie. Facebook).  Just as we would not post unwanted campaign signs on their lawn, we should be careful before we trespass onto their Facebook page with potentially unwanted opinions.  When we do trespass, we may find out precisely how much our opinion is valued.

     Secondly, and clearly pragmatically, why are we posting our rebuttal?  Is it our wish to “convert” our friend?  If so, what is the likelihood that ignoring their point and asserting our own will accomplish this purpose.  Isn’t a face to face (rather than facebook to facebook) interaction much more likely to help turn them from the error of their ways.  There is a risk though with that.  When we listen, truly listen, to someone we actually care for, we might change our views, or possibly soften them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cheap grace

     I saw an article recently that tried to redefine grace as de-merited favor.  The argument is that grace comes not just to the neutral, undeserving, but to those whose actions demerit it.  While this seems like an effort to exalt grace it actually removes the freeness of grace.  For grace now can only be shown when someone’s action oppose it.  That means that sin is necessary for grace.  That means that God was not gracious until the fall.  That means creation was not gracious.  That means the greater my sin the more I earn grace.  That means grace justifies sin—as that which earns grace—instead of the sinner.  Bonhoeffer rightly called that “cheap grace.”

Friday, November 3, 2017

Poems from Gene

     In mid-September, during a luncheon for our Senior Citizens, one of the diners, Gene, collapsed with a cardiac arrest.  One elder called 911, another man began CPR and I found the AED.  We began helping this man within a minute of his collapse.  Gene was able to communicate with the ambulance personnel in the ambulance.  Although confused with some short-term memory loss, Gene was alright and has fully recovered.
     While in the hospital, Gene wrote two poems as he reflected on his experience.  They both touched my heart when he showed them to me in the hospital.  I share them now to stimulate our thoughts about the precious gifts God has given us.

My Very Shocking Pastor

It’s more than just coincidence that everyone was there
When I had a heart failure that caught me unaware
I had very little warning before I passed out in my chair
At a church meeting in the middle of the opening prayer

I do not remember anything, I was completely in their care
As they performed the procedure and saved my life right there
To Dan, Vince and Darryl, I thank you for the saving of my life
Oh Yes, Jesus was also there and He gave me back my life

I wish to thank the congregation for their prayers and love
We have witnessed here on earth God loves us from above
And we return His love and worship and praise Him forever
In God we trust for our salvation and love forever and ever

Love in Every Flower

There is love in every flower
That stays with you each passing hour
Just to brighten up your day
Until they bow their heads and pass away

Their pleasing fragrance fills the air
To let you know they really care
Their love will not escape your view
As they let you know they are passing through

You are very lucky when they pass your way
For they will not return another day
Their whole life is spent just pleasing you

Isn’t it wonderful what flowers can do?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Snapshot of the PCA General Assembly

A Snapshot of the PCA General Assembly
A couple of weeks ago, the PCA held its annual meeting in Greensboro, NC.  I wanted to share a single instant from the Assembly that, I believe, reflect an all too pervasive reality in our denomination.  In 2016, one of the Presbyteries (regional court) made a worship bulletin with an image of Jesus on the cover.  A minority report sought to cite this as being out of accord with our doctrinal standards which say that the second commandment forbids, “ the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever…”  Although some people do not hold to this position, it is unequivocally the position of our church.  Those who do not agree are the exception.  During debate, which eventually upheld the minority report, it was clear that this issue was an issue of conscience for some of the men.  In order to demonstrate the inappropriateness of the image, the minority report unwisely reproduced the image.  When the exception was upheld, a motion was made to remove the image from the official records of our court as it is as much a violation for the GA to publish an image of Jesus as it is for a Presbytery.  This seemingly innocuous request, despite its obvious consistency, was met with vigorous opposition from the members of the National Partnership (a secretive society in the PCA who are committed “to fight and vote until the fabric of the PCA better reflects what we hope.”) 
The National partnership says that its third purpose is “Greater love for the Brethren through resourcing and communication. We share ideas and uphold our good faith subscription to the standards, preferring charitable and respectful dialogue over the action of courts in settling theological differences.”  In a later email, one of the leaders describes the National Partnership as being “a movement toward less stridency and a more diverse and outwardly focussed (sp)and gracious denomination.”  What troubles me is the total inconsistency of such a statement with the unloving choice to fight to keep an image of Christ in the minutes.  The image is clearly out of accord with our standards.  The removal of the image does no harm to anyone.  The image causes some men to struggle with their conscience.  Why fight.  It came across as mean-spirited, contentious, and obstructionistic.
This fight revealed two things to me.  First it appears that to too many men, claiming to adhere to a standard means nothing.  It is harder to allow an external standard to guide our actions than to do what I want to do.  I am sad that so many elders in the PCA do not submit themselves to the confession they profess to uphold.  Secondly, the National partnership seems to operate with a hermeneutic that allows them to interpret the confession or the Bible in any way they wish.  They consistently ignored the clear meaning of a passage in favor of a “faux-sophisticated” interpretation that denies the clear meaning of the text.  This reminded me that I want to be honest with my heart and the text.  When I find a passage of Scripture difficult, may I have the courage to change my heart before I seek to interpret away the meaning of the text.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Carroll and Robin
                A man came home from work, ascended his stairs and looked at his empty living room.  His children had moved out and today, his wife of 25 years left him.  He sat down on the top stair, put his head into his hands, and prayer, “What do I do now, Lord?”
He began to read the book of Job.  Every day he would read of this ancient man’s trials.  His mind eventually latched onto a thought.  He would turn that thought over and over in his mind.  After a couple of months he attended a Bible Conference at his home church.  The preacher, Ron Dunn, spoke on Job.  Pastor Dunn confirmed the man’s thought when he said, “I believe the theme of this book is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ but “Why do people serve God?’”  The man had been wondering, “Will I trust that God is faithful, even when my whole world seems to be crumbling around me?”  That week, the theme of the man’s life took shape.  That theme is, “God is faithful, and He can be trusted.”

During this time, the man invested in the life of a new Christian.  He shared his struggles but even more importantly, he shared his faith.  His thoughts shaped the life of this new Christian and prepared him for the many trials he would face.  I thank God that he chose to invest in my life.  I thank God that I could attend the Bible Conference with him.  As I have faced deeply trying hardships in my life,   His words have been a rock to cling to, “God is faithful, and He can be trusted.”

About Me

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I have been a PCA pastor since 1993, having been a pastor in Arizona, Florida, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and as the Team Leader for MTW’s work in Scotland. I am currently the Senior Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in York, PA. As a pastor, my desire is to help everyone I meet live out Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in Heaven but You, and besides You I desire nothing on earth.” I love my Wife Robin, my two sons, Patrick and Michael and my daughters in law, Britney and Emma.