Saturday, November 30, 2019

What Do I Really Need?

Justin settled into his seat on the plane bound for Africa.  This was his first mission trip.  The days leading up to the trip had been busy.  Last minute shopping, shots, and getting the bills paid so that Helen would not have to worry about it.  He and Helen had been married for three years.  They joined the Crestdale Community Church last year.  When Pastor Wallace mentioned that the Church would take a group to Africa, Justin was excited.  This is just what he needed.
Things at home had been growing tense.  He and Helen were both working full time.  Helen was moving up in her company.  She worked a lot of extra hours.  They both attended accountability groups at Crestdale Church.  Justin met with the men for breakfast on Tuesdays and Helen met with the women on Thursday evenings.  With their work and Church schedule, Justin and Helen did not get to spend much time talking.  He felt they were growing apart.  With this sense of distance, they were fussing at each other more and more.  Justin was beginning to worry about their future.
Work was not much better.  Justin was assigned to a project that required about 70 hours a week.  He had to make three trips to Washington in the last two months.  His dream was to move up in this company.  However, lately, it seemed he was invisible.  When special opportunities came up, he was overlooked.  He did not want to be a squeaky wheel, but how else could he get noticed?
The leader of the men’s breakfast group had told Justin that the solution might be to get outside of himself.  If he found some way to serve other people, he would find greater happiness.  Then Pastor Wallace announced this mission trip to Africa.
Pastor Wallace had challenged all of the team members to pray about the trip.  He wanted them to ask God to work in their lives in a powerful way during the trip.  Justin remembered this instruction and began to pray.
“Lord, I really would like you to do something remarkable in my life this next week.  I cannot imagine what it might be.  Here I am.”
At this point, Justin’s mind was suddenly filled with the problems back home.  He prayed again.  “I guess what I really need is for you to help Helen.  She seems so distant from me lately.  We don’t talk as much as we used to and I wonder if she loves me.  I cannot bear the idea that this is what life has in store for us.  I need her to be closer to me.  What good is it to be married if your wife doesn’t love you?  God, give her a greater love for me.  Help her love me like a wife should her husband.  Surely, that will please You.
“I also need you to help at my work.  I am so discouraged.  I thought it would be so easy to move up.  I just needed to work hard and then people would see my value to the company.  It is starting to feel so meaningless.  My boss doesn’t notice how hard I work.  Other people are advancing and I still sit in my same cubicle doing the same thing I have done for the last five years.  It feels so unfair.  God, I really need a better job.  Will you please help?  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
With this prayer, Justin fell asleep.  He was going to Africa.
Four days later, a van carrying Justin, Pastor Wallace, and five other missionaries pulled up to the prison compound.  The team was going to conduct a worship service at the local prison.  As they drove into the compound, Justin noticed that there were no trees.  The ground was just dirt, trampled by thousands of feet for many years.  Dust rose around a small group of prisoners playing soccer.  The heat of the day struck Justin as he exited the van.  “It must be 100 degrees out here.”
The group of men entered the fenced area where they met a guard with a three foot rubber hose.  He pointed to the small concrete area with a roof and no walls.  Men from all over the prison yard began to walk toward the concrete slab.  Each man was smiling with those huge disarming African smiles.  One of the men began to sing.  The others joined in response to his words.  Soon they were clapping, dancing and singing praise to Jesus.  Justin could not understand all of the words.  Occasionally, he could hear “Jehovah” or “Jesus” coming from the voices around him.  He was deeply moved to see such love for God in a place like this.  During the service the men sat in rapt attention as Pastor Wallace taught them from the Scriptures.  One of the prisoners translated while the rest listened and offered an occasional “Amen!”
After the service, a man named Peter came up to Justin and said, “Thank you for coming to us.”  Peter shared that he had been in the prison for seven years.  He had not gone to trial because the police lost his file.  He hoped that one day he would be free.  His wife brought him clothes twice a year.  He ate corn meal mush every day. When his wife came he would get some meat.  Peter went on to explain his role in the prison.  He helped with the Church.  He preached once a month and helped tell other prisoners about Jesus.  While he had been in prison, God had brought ten other prisoners to salvation.  He smiled and said, “God is so good!”
Back on the plane, Justin reflected on what he had experienced in Africa.  “God, You are good.  You love me so very much.  Seeing the contentment of the African Christians was powerful.  They have nothing compared to me, but they know that all they really need is You.  I am sorry that I am not satisfied with You.  I spend so much of my time trying to get other people to respect me.  I am frustrated that Helen doesn’t love me more and yet I rarely think about how I can love her better.  I am ready to rest in Your love.  Will You help me to show Helen how much You love her?  Will you help me to lead her to You?  Father, I want to be Your man at work.  All that I am is by Your design.  I want to be faithful in my call, just like Peter.  You put him in a prison and he doesn’t complain.  He has found ways to serve You even behind bars.  I want to serve You at my job.  Help me to see how.  I love You Lord!  Thanks.”

This is taken from my book The Train: A Model for Transforming the Heart available at

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Side B" OR the Word of God

                At the 2019 General Assembly of the PCA, the Assembly voted to accept the Nashville Statement on human sexuality as Biblically faithful (see:  The only substantive debate revolved around the 7th article....

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

The affirmation is simple: the Bible should define our self-conception of male and female.  Side B proponents want to assert that a person can be a "homosexual Christian."  "homosexuality" to the Side B proponent identifies a person regardless of their actual sexual activity. The side B argument seems to indicate that something other than the Bible tells us how to understand our gender.  Whatever that may be it must, by definition, lack God’s authority.  In addition, it may be in conflict with what the Bible reveals.  The 7th Article's affirmation maintains that the Bible is the final authority.

                The denial is just as simple and also strikes at the authority and reliability of the Word of God.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states explicitly,
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 
Someone cannot be both an adulterer, homosexual, or a drunkard and inherit the kingdom of God.  No matter what else we discuss about homosexuality, we have to decide, “Is the Bible true?”  It is essential that I understand homosexuality in conformity with the Bible’s explicit statement.  This is not a single verse either.  The scripture consistently condemns homosexuality as being sinful.

                The next five words in the NASB are just as important.  “Such were some of you…”  The verbal Paul uses is in the imperfect case which carries the idea of an ongoing action in past time.  Paul says that some of the Corinthians were, in the past, living as homosexuals in an ongoing way.  At that time they were homosexuals and outside of the kingdom of God.  Now, having been washed—aorist tense indicating completed action—and justified—also aorist—they are no longer homosexuals.  In these three verses God makes it clear that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is inconsistent with God’s holy purposes.  Any argument to the contrary calls into question the veracity of the Word of God.

                A Christian may face the temptation to sexual sin, including homosexual sin, but he is not an adulterer or a homosexual.  He is not to identify as an adulterer or a homosexual any longer.  To change the meaning of “homosexual” to involve those tempted to homosexual sin does violence to the Word of God.  For years Christians have adopted the term “alcoholic” to refer to those tempted to drunkenness.  In the same way, the term “same sex attracted” can refer to a Christian without calling into question the truthfulness of the Word of God.

                Neo-orthodoxy sought, in the early Twentieth Century, to redefine the words used in Christian Theology.  Inspiration no longer meant God inerrantly revealing His will through the authors of Scripture.  It began to mean, men who experienced inspirational moments writing about those moments in a way which could become the word of God for someone else.  The “Side B” proponents are utilizing the same methods popularized by Karl Barth some 85 years after he began to publish his Church Dogmatics. They are changing the meaning of words used in Scripture to fit their particular perspective in an effort to reach the hurting.  Sadly, the consequence is that the new meaning is at odds with the Biblical text forcing the reader to decide whom will I believe?  We must believe the Bible, even when it is unpopular.

Friday, December 28, 2018

ANGER: Is it ok to be mad?

I want to lead us through a careful examination of the Bible on the topic of anger.  We frequently assume that our understanding on a topic is consistent with God’s until we look more closely at Scripture.  Let’s begin with a short statement from Jesus’ brother, James.  In James 1:20, we read, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  James indicates, in no uncertain terms, that man’s anger does not advance God’s desire.  If it does not accomplish God’s righteousness, how can it ever be justified?  Matthew Henry says, about this verse, “Wrath is a human thing, and the wrath of man stands opposed to the righteousness of God.”
James refers to the anger of man.  Is it possible that my anger rises from the work of God in my heart and is therefore justified?  It usually feels like it is righteous.  Consider Galatians 5:16-23:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In this passage, Paul lists the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.  He points out the mutually exclusive character of each force in our lives by saying that “the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit.”  In the deeds of the flesh Paul lists outbursts of anger.  Anger is not a work of God’s Spirit in our lives.  Instead, anger sets its desire against that of God’s Spirit.
Consider these two parallel passages.
Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
Colossians 3:8, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
In these two passages, we are instructed to put aside all anger and wrath.  It is of great importance to note that Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, tells us to set aside all wrath and anger.  He could have left out the word “all” and simply said “put aside anger and wrath.”  Had he chosen to do so, we might properly conclude that anger in general is bad but on occasion it is acceptable.  When the Spirit led Paul to write “all” anger and wrath, He removed that option.  God has told us to remove all anger and wrath from our lives. 
Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and yet do not sin…”  It seems, at first glance, that Paul is commanding us to be angry at times.  A.T. Robertson rightly notes that this is a “permissive imperative, not a command to be angry.”  This is why the translators of the NIV chose to word this verse, “In your anger do not sin.” 
This interpretation makes the most sense when we consider the context.  If the verse is indeed commanding us to be angry, it seems to violate Paul’s words five verses later, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  Why would Paul command anger, only to tell us to remove it?  That does not seem consistent with the flow of the passage.
So what does Paul mean?  Look at the context again.  Paul says “Be angry and yet do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Regardless of our interpretation about the rightness of anger, we must concede that the end of verse 26 commands us to remove the anger in our lives before the end of the day.  In the very verse that we find a possible command to anger, we find God telling us to set it aside quickly.  Verse 27 tells us why we need to get rid of anger quickly, “and do not give the devil an opportunity.”  Holding on to the anger allows the devil to move in our hearts and reap destruction.  Why would God command us to be angry, when anger provides the devil an opportunity in our lives?  It is as if God commanded Adam and Eve to spend the day meditating on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They should smell it, touch its fruit, but they should not actually eat it.  Would the God we ask to “lead us not into temptation” actually command us to flirt with sin?  I do not think so.  James 1:13 tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
As Paul continues his thoughts in Ephesians 4, I think we find the solution to the dilemma.  In verse 28 Paul addresses “him who steals,” and tells him to stop and find something useful to do.  In verse 29 He tells us to not speak unwholesomely, but with grace.  In the two verses that follow our text, Paul gives a pattern.  He tells us to set aside a particular sin by choosing a good deed instead.  I am convinced that Paul started that pattern in verse 26.  He addresses three sins: anger, stealing and harmful words.  In each, he mentions its presence in our lives and gives us clear instruction to remove it.  To strengthen this instruction, he continues in verse 30 to exhort us to not grieve the Spirit of God.  In verses 31-32, Paul expands the idea by telling us to put aside a whole list of objectionable actions and replace them with the good of kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.  By looking at the whole section, I think we can understand that Paul does not encourage anger.  On the contrary, he gives us a strategy to remove its destructive power from our lives.
One more New Testament passage deserves our attention, Matthew 5:21-22:
You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'  "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
In this passage, Jesus points out that according to the accepted law of the day, murder leaves a person “liable to the court.”  He reminds His hearers of the culpability of one who murders another.  That culpability is presented as being “liable to the court.” Jesus then states that one who is angry is guilty before the court. In the Greek text, the wording is identical as Jesus describes the culpability.  Both the murderer and the one who is angry is liable to the court.  His point is that anger is a form of murder.  He offers no qualifying circumstances which could make some murder justifiable.  Instead, Jesus gives the pattern followed throughout the New Testament, that our anger is not a godly trait but is instead an expression of the flesh and therefore sinful.
What about the Old Testament?  Let’s look at the books of Psalms and Proverbs to see what the wisdom literature tells us about anger.
The New American Standard Bible uses the words anger and angry fifty-four times in these two books.  “Anger” is used forty-five times while “angry” is used nine times.  In the book of Psalms, which uses the words the most, we find only three times that the words refer to the anger of man.  The rest of the time, anger is an emotion attached to God.  Twice, anger refers to the anger of our enemies, who are assumed to be wicked.  The third usage is found in Psalm 37:8, where David declares that we ought to “cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.” 
The book of Proverbs uses these words fifteen times.  Four times it refers to the anger of authorities.  Twice it speaks of avoiding another person’s anger.  The remaining nine uses speak of the anger of man.  In every occasion, anger is viewed as negative, and being slow to anger as a good thing.  Anger is connected to folly, strife, and punishment.  Controlling our anger requires great understanding.  It pacifies contention and is an expression of strength.  Wise men leave anger behind and do not associate with those given to anger.  The virtue of being slow to anger is extolled throughout the book.  This makes sense because God calls Himself “slow to anger” at least nine different times in the Old Testament.
            A brief study of anger in the Old Testament reveals the same conclusion that we draw from the New Testament.  The anger of man does not accomplish God’s purposes but rather is an expression of folly.  Of course, there are instances in the Bible in which God says that He is angry.  In one instance, Mark 3:5, Jesus is said to be angry.  From this we conclude that there is a possibility of righteous anger.  It is important to note that God is perfect and incapable of sin.  We are not.  What is possible for God may in fact be beyond our ability in our current sinful state.  The profusion of warnings about anger and commands to remove all anger from our lives should cause us to be suspicious of our anger when it rises in our hearts.  In fact, as we will see later, the presence of anger can be a clear indicator of faulty thinking and misplaced faith.  If our first expectation about our anger is that it is wrong, we are more likely to recognize and alter our wrong thinking.
If we are to learn to control our anger, we must begin by accepting God’s perspective that anger is ordinarily inappropriate for the Christian.  Instead we need to understand what role anger plays in our lives.  Anger, like the other negative emotions, is a warning light.  It tells us that we are not thinking and believing truth.  If I accept that anger is wrong, I will more readily stop myself when I feel anger and take the steps to change.

(This is a portion of Chapter one from The Train: A Model for Transforming the Heart Available on Amazon)

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.”

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.