Archive | May, 2012


30 May

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” (Proverbs 4:7-9)

SPR: One of the main purposes of Proverbs was to educate and prepare the ‘entitled’ for leadership. In our day and age, to internalize its contents is a worthy pursuit for anyone and everyone. There is more than a little urgency in verse seven–‘get wisdom and understanding at all costs!’ No matter what the price tag, wisdom is cheap at any cost. The references to “a garland of grace” and “a crown of splendor” bring thoughts of the future classic Greek Olympic games (‘future’ compared to the date of the authorship of Proverbs!) Attaining wisdom is literally a win-win situation. A person not only benefits from possessing knowledge and understanding, but also achieves respect and honor for its acquisition.

Holy Spirit, please empower us with a passion and hunger for your wisdom. May we seek you, and in so doing, gain the wonder of understanding you have for us. May any wisdom we attain serve to be a blessing to others. Amen.

A friend from our Men’s Bible Study saw me at the Horned Toad Derby Parade last Friday, and emailed me to say he almost didn’t recognize me (he travels frequently, and hasn’t been able to attend for a number of weeks.) And several times, Beauty has been asked if I’m alright. Yep! Feeling A-OK. As of this morning, I’m one pound from my target weight, which means I’m 6-9 pounds above my high school weight. That’s pretty good!

I’ve been asked ‘umpteen’ times about my brilliant strategy. It’s more simplicity than brilliance.

1. First thing every morning, I weigh myself, and record my weight. A secondary purpose is that this habit serves as a day-long reminder that I’m getting on the scale first thing ‘tomorrow’! I track my weight in an Excel spreadsheet, with a graphed goal of losing 1/2 pound a day. That won’t happen unless I’m being active. I don’t get upset by weight fluctuations, nor missing my goal. (When I traveled around training TSA folks at airports, I had no problem keeping this goal. This time, I fell behind and never caught up. Who cares? I was still losing, just not as rapidly. BUT I kept my original daily goal!) I just keep remembering tomorrow is another day. If my weight went the ‘wrong direction’, it’s motivation to ‘scale back’ the eating a little that day, or spend a little more time walking, biking or exercising.

2. Eat smaller meals, but more meals. I suggest smaller portions, and no seconds. Lots of healthy snacks, and lots of water. We love Costco “Propel Zero”. And, personally, I often drink gallons (or so it seems) of decaf coffee.

3. I have practically no bread, no dessert, no sodas, nothing alcoholic, no starch. This is not a ‘religious’ practice. I don’t plan on going to hell because I ate a piece of pie at Men’s Group. I enjoy lots of yogurt (max. 80 calories), often with fruit or cereal.

4. Use Arithmetic! I believe we use 2,000 or 2,200 calories per day if we’re doing absolutely nothing. So, if my ‘intake’ is less than that, I should be burning ‘reserve / stored’ calories and losing weight.

5. I don’t waste time, nor stress about, counting calories. I try to eat foods I know are good for me. However, I DEFINITELY DO look at calorie quantities on restaurant menus…! At Chili’s not too long ago, Beauty ordered an innocent little four-mini-burger lunch. Turns out it had more calories than any other entry they had! (per the waitress.)

**** 6. ALRIGHT…! This is the BIG ONE…! To me, the key factor is Passion, Desire, Motivation, Commitment, Fortitude, Stubbornness…! Whatever you want to call it! You won’t stick with anything unless you really, really, really want to lose weight. Personally, using the expression “losing weight” already signifies a lost cause! Instead, try: “I WILL get into size xyz slacks”; “I WILL wear that levi miniskirt, and look good doing it”; “I WILL wear that favorite blouse in three months!” It has to be something ‘measurable’ so you can track your progress, and it MUST be something important to YOU, not to someone else.

7. After you have reached your goal, DO NOT STOP. Maintain your routines that have proven successful. Don’t be afraid to tweak here, or modify there, to see if a change may work better to help you maintain your acceptable-to-you weight range.

Hope This Helps…
you reach your goals! I’d love to hear back from you sometime in the future if these suggestions are beneficial.


76th Horned Toad Derby is in the books…

29 May


“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” — when you now have it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason — when he has done you no harm.” (Prov. 3:27-30)

SPR: The author who compiled the Proverbs again offers sage advice. To paraphrase, ‘be kind to those in need–at your learning of their privation; do no harm to those who live with honor and virtue, and are entitled to commensurate compassion.’

Jesus, we ask that you give us caring hearts of genuine concern for others; hearts that respond to others in need when you have blessed us with what can minimize their lack. May we, likewise, have a passion for honesty, and fairness and justice for all we meet. May you, Lord, be blessed by our service in your name. Amen.

challenging. The Coalinga Horned Toad Derby was, once again, a lot of fun. It’s so special to experience all the sights and sounds of the rides, the crowds, the music, and the variety of tempting aromas from the food booths.

Once again, when it’s all over, we come to the realization of how worn out we are from all the hours involved in hosting such an extravaganza. During moments of reflection, a similar awareness comes to mind each year. Thoughts turn to the vendors and carnival workers, and their lives on the road.

After tearing everything down, they head on–if they’re lucky–to the next celebration on their schedule. Arriving, they go through their set-up routine all over again. Too many miles, too little sleep. Too little income, too many expenses. Too much work, too little energy. Too many hopes, too much hopelessness. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the life of a ‘Carny’ is a tough way to make a living.

For the second year in a row, I had the pleasure of being the “Voice of the Derby”. The task is greatly lessened because of the talents of several other Coalingans who share the ‘broadcast’ duties.

Great Presbytery-wide event coming up soon!
Stay tuned!

The “AYEs” have it…!

24 May


“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”
(Prov. 3:13-18)

SPR: How incredible these words from the Sage about “she”–wisdom. What, in our culture, in this day and age, is worth more than silver, or gold, or precious gems? Long life is almost a given for more people than ever with our advances in so many aspects of life. Yet, it is not hard to realize how “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” (Thoreau, “Walden”, Ch 1 (“Economy”)) We can easily see the same empty ache in eyes that Thoreau witnessed 158 years ago. The wisdom and understanding God offers can lead to lives of honor and peace. Wisdom is the gift that is “a tree of life”–growing and blossoming and giving life.

Holy Spirit, give us a desire to seek your Wisdom, and a thirsty soul to drink it in like one lost in the desert. May the special blessing of that insight lead us to Jesus. Amen.

Our passage from Proverbs speaks of pleasant ways, as well as pathways of peace. I sure could have used a little of that today. Beauty & I ventured back to the eye surgeon for my next experience in the world of “You’re going to do WHAT?”

I have been wondering why my (kind of) good eye reads text and sees it level. My recently-repaired eye reads text and sees it on a diagonal. “Oh, that’s the detached retina,” the doctor said, meaning the previously-detached retina. Nothing further.

My eye has a little edema, and the best way to deal with it, apparently, is with a big needle. Personally, I think it is clearly overkill.

After they put in the one numbing drop, I offered to let them put in another four or five. They didn’t. During a nice talk with the surgeon, I realized she was going to do the deed right then and there. The chair reclined, and off we went. I asked if I could close my eyes. Don’t laugh; you’d ask, too! The doctor explained it would probably be a good idea if she could see where she was supposed to stick the needle. At least I got to look to the side, instead of right at “it” coming. I thought it was the giant syringe in the 1957 movie, “The Amazing Colossal Man”. Thankfully, there was very little pain. It was a little odd, ‘though, when–after it was in my eye–she moved it side to side.

begins tomorrow afternoon!

Come by Coalinga’s Olsen Park and say ‘Hello’!

We have met the enemy… in our mirror

23 May


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.  8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Prov. 3:5-8)

NET: (5) “trust” is used in the OT in (1) literally: to physically lean upon something for support and (2) figuratively: to rely upon someone or something for help or protection. Here we can trust in the LORD with confidence.  (6) The sage is calling us to a life in which we see the LORD in every event and rely on him.        (7) NLT “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.” There is a higher source of wisdom than human insight. (8) If a person trusts in the LORD and fears him, God will bless him. Just as a drink of water would bring physical refreshment, trusting in God and turning away from evil will bring emotional refreshment–and health–to one’s soul and “bones”, or entire body.

Lord Jesus, we place all our trust and confidence and hope in you.  We know your words are true, your promises are reliable: you are our fortress for protection.  Help us–today, this very instant–to respond to your love by committing to love others as you love us.  May your leading take us down your path of challenge and excitement and wonder. And when today is over, may we smile and realize, “Wow! This was a day to never be forgotten!”  Amen.

In one of the late Walt Kelly’s most famous comic strips, Pogo laments…


I (Steve) express a similar lament when considering our PC (USA) churches.  I am saddened to see churches continue to leave our denomination, and our own Presbytery.  It is difficult to see people and churches give up.  It is hard to see relationships end (despite well-intentioned, but probably unrealistic, talk of how “we can still do ministry together.”)

I lament an assertion that, “Yes, we are all sinners, but their sins are worse than ours.”

I lament hearing, “I just can’t be a Christian here.”

I lament a view that implies, “The ‘grass is greener’ over there.”

I lament hearing, “We need to be with like-minded people.”

I lament a woefully curious, “Who cares?  Women should not be in church leadership.”

I lament the hopeless disgust in, “There’s nothing more to talk about.”

Jesus, on the night of his arrest, prayed to his Father for unity: that believers would share the same–not similar, the same–unity as that between Jesus and his Father, between God the Son and God the Father.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.   I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(John 17:20-23)

How strange is our division, and our distrust of each other, in the name of…? In the name of what?  In the name of Jesus’ Gospel?

How strange are our priorities, as we distinguish and distance ourselves from other believers, and other churches, and other Presbyteries–at least in part–by prioritizing sins, and labeling those of others as more detestable and onerous than our own.

When people know they are dying, they share what is most important. Unlike what many might assume, those ebbing moments are not filled with thoughts of wealth, or accomplishments, but of thoughts and memories of family.

And Jesus, knowing he would soon begin his long walk to Golgotha, prayed about his family of disciples: his heart of love for them, and for their protection.

What is it for which we pray during these disquieting days?

The preservation and purity of the church?  We cannot preserve the Church; only Christ can.

Purity?  Yes, as officers, we “promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church”.   And both the Old and New Testaments speak of devotion and purity of heart for God.

Holy Spirit, we pray that you would sweep through our hearts and minds powerfully with your fresh and renewing Wind of Hope and Love and Unity.  Help us always remember our first allegiance is not to our churches, not to our churches’ mission, but to our Triune God, the Creator of all.   Amen.

FORGIVENESS– final frontier?

22 May


“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. ” (Prov. 3:3, 4)

Anchor: The expression “to write on the tablet of the heart” (Prov 3:3; 7:3; Jer 31:33) could  be an allusion to a tablet for schoolboys’ exercises hung about the neck. This is also referred to in Deut 6:6–7: “These words which I command to you today will be on your heart. You shall repeat them to your sons and speak of them indoors and out-of-doors, when you lie down and when you rise.” [pg 310/30305 of 125731]

According to ancient Hebrew thought, the “will” took up residence within the heart. So if the Torah (first five books of the Bible) is written on the human heart, people will have the will to obey it; they will no longer have to admonish one another to “know Yahweh,” for everyone will know him (Jer 31:34).
[pg 1089/82435 of 125731]

Our prayer is that Jesus will write the good news of his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection, on the ‘tablet of your heart’, so that the Love of Almighty God will shine in your smile. Amen.


In Mark 11—after the triumphant Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem—Jesus tells the disciples to have faith in God (22), then makes their mouths pop open (even after all the unbelievable things they have seen Jesus do).

 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”(23, 24)

Just when they might have begun swaggering a bit with the thought of such ‘power’, Jesus pulls the Israeli rug out from under them.

Are you ready?  They weren’t.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”(25)

How often have we heard those words, or similar?  We hear them every time we pray the prayer Jesus first taught to these same guys:  ‘Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts (or trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us).’

Easy to say—not easy to do.

In Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie” (previous post), Morrie shares:

“Mitch, there is no point in keeping vengeance or stubbornness.  These things”—he sighed—“these things I so regret in my life.  Pride. Vanity.  Why do we do the things we do?”

“Do you see that sculpture?”

I had never really noticed it.  Cast in bronze, it was the face of a man in his early forties, waring a necktie, a tuft of hair falling across his forehead.

“That’s me,” Morrie said.  “A friend sculptured that maybe thirty years ago.  His name was Norman.  We used to spend so much time together.  We went swimming.  We took rides to New York.  He had me over to his house in Cambridge, and he sculptured that bust of me down in his basement.  It took several weeks, but he really wanted to get it right.”

I studied the face.  How strange to see a three-dimensional Morrie, so healthy, so young, watching over us as we spoke…and I thought this friend had sculpted a little spirit as well.

“Well, here’s the sad part of the story,” Morrie said. “Norman and his wife moved away to Chicago.  A little while later, my wife, Charlotte, had to have a pretty serious operation.  Norman and his wife never got in touch.  I know they knew about it.  Charlotte and I were very hurt because they never called to see how she was.  So we dropped the relationship.

“Over the years, I met Norman a few times and he always tried to reconcile, but I didn’t accept it.  I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation.  I was prideful.  I shrugged him off.”

His voice choked.

“Mitch… a few years ago… he died of cancer.  I feel so sad.  I never got to see him.  I never got to forgive.  It pains me now so much…”

He was crying again, a soft and quiet cry, and because his head was back, the tears rolled off the side of his face before they reached his lips.

Sorry, I said.

“Don’t be,” he whispered.  “Tears are okay.”

“It’s not just other people we need to forgive, Mitch,” he finally whispered.  “We also need to forgive ourselves.”


“Yes.  For all the things we didn’t do.  All the things we should have done.  You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened.  That doesn’t help you when you get to where I am. …

“Forgive yourself.  Forgive others.  Don’t wait, Mitch.  Not everyone gets the time I’m getting.  Not everyone is so lucky.” [spr—Morrie was dying of ALS]

“I mourn my dwindling time, but I cherish the chance it gives me to make things right.”

With whom do you identify?  Morrie?  Norman?

I am ‘Norman’.

I would not wish these feelings upon anyone.

Thankfully, there is still time to make amends.

The DIETER’S PSALM — Psalm 23?

21 May


they often turn to the Bible, and to the Psalms, in particular, for comfort and encouragement.

This is a Psalm to which they often turn first:
“The Dieter’s Psalm”.

The LORD is my restaurateur, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures of romaine and endive; he leads me beside ‘quiet waters’ of chocolate fountains, 3 he restores my sole… and my salmon.
He guides me in paths of pasta, like righteously-rich lasagna dripping with ricotta. For his name’s sake, I’ll have ‘seconds’. Occasionally he invites, “Penne for your thoughts.” 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death-dealing Calories, I will fear no evil, for you are with me wherever escargot. Your maître d’ and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, who are eating their hearts out because they cannot get reservations. You anoint my head with Columela extra virgin olive oil; my cup overflows with the perfect mix of mint leaves, lemon and fresh spring water. 6 Surely goodness and love and light French crepes with strawberries & peaches will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Chez God’s “All-you-can-eat” forever.

© 2012 Stephen P. Raine

It is believed that King David–both as a young shepherd and as Monarch–wrote his Psalms while playing his harp.

This Psalm was scribbled while banjo picking.


Lord, we thank you for your gifts of Love & Laughter. May we rejoice and exult in the “Good News” of your Gospel–the “Good News” that is Jesus! Help our ‘shirts’ to only be stuffed with ourselves; not with pompous attitudes and self-righteousness. May we always take your Gospel seriously, but never take ourselves too seriously. Help us remember that Jesus–as the only perfect human being–laughed the deepest, the loudest and the longest. Amen.

MONDAY: Week in Preview

21 May


“For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. ” (Proverbs 2:6-8)
NET commentary: The Hebrew word translated “upright” (yashar) is one of the terms used for the righteous. It points to the right conduct of the believer — that which is right or pleasing in the eyes of God. It stresses that the life of the individual is upright, straightforward, and just. It is paralleled with “those who walk in integrity.”

Lord, help us to realize that you do not obtain or acquire victory for us: you already hold it, ready and willing to give it to those who trust in you. May we trust you more today than yesterday. Help us to realize and experience how much you love us. We are never alone, for you guard our comings and goings; you protect us as we walk the way of Jesus. Thank you! Amen.


Women’s Prayer Group is here at the Manse as I write this. Later is work, work, work. Maybe sneak in a little banjo, and some photography. Tonight, members of COM (Committee on Ministry) come to our Coalinga garden haven for a Triennial Visit. After dinner with them, we go our separate ways. Beauty will escort COM to meet with Session. It’s a time for the church’s Ruling Elders to share without her being present. I’ll return to the Manse for our Men’s Bible Study.

The entire week will be one popping with preparation. Lots to do! (as if this week is any different.) The ‘culmination’ begins on Thursday, when I go back to the eye surgeon for a procedure I am totally not looking forward to. Beauty said, “Don’t worry. You won’t feel it; there are no nerves in your eye.” Doesn’t matter: the mere thought totally “unnerves” me! At least I get to couple with it a trip to my fountain pen store and Trader Joe’s (next door).

Friday begins Coalinga’s 76th Horned Toad Derby. As a Chamber of Commerce Board member, lots more to do. I am, once again, serving as the “Voice of the Derby”. Looking for one or two more willing volunteers. Interested? Call me! Part of the weekend festivities are Saturday morning’s community Memorial Day Parade. Considering the size of our town, it has proven to be impressive. The Derby itself is a large Carnival with all kinds of rides, stands, booths. I’ll try to remember to include some (past) photos later this week.

For those who know Kyle & Cathy or Damon & Molly, they have seen both the Parade and the Derby. They can vouch for the fun of it all.

I must mention that the name–Horned Toad Derby–was not selected without reason. We DO actually have Horned Toad races! The Grand Champion Race will be race # 8.

The big highlight, ‘though, is going to be Pentecost Worship on Sunday. It’s going to be great! If you’re in the area, come be part of the Joy!

Well, enough for now. Wishing you a day of Adventure with the Lord.