Parent Chat

Do Something Small For God

I’m giving my church family a weekly challenge for 2017.

Sometimes I ask everyone to read a short book of the Bible.

I’ve asked our folks to practice “active listening”, which is harder than one might think. Listening with the purpose of understanding is, in itself, a challenge because it’s natural to either interrupt or tell the other person our story.

Most of the time the challenge is simple, like reading an article I send them via email. Here’s an example:

On July 28, 2016, Rosie Gagnon laced up her running shoes for her daily loop up and down the generous hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah County. The air was thick and soupy and the thermometer was begging for a break by mid-morning.

When Rosie hit mile six of eight, the water she’d packed along was gone and her face was bright red. As she passed by one particular home, a man pulling down the driveway stopped and poked his head out the window.

“It’s sure hot out here. Would you like a bottle of water?” He held it out for her. “I’ve got an extra.”


“That’s so nice,” she said. “Thank you.”

But while the first lines of their story aren’t particularly remarkable, the next are extraordinary.

“My name is Bruce and I see you running almost every day. Would you like me to leave you a cold water bottle here on the phone post?”

Her jaw dropped. “You’d do that? Really?”

Yes, really. And the next day when Rosie hit mile six of eight, there was a cold bottle awaiting her on a green telephone box at the edge of the road.

Then another, and another, and another.

The man, Bruce Riffey, continued the routine six days a week — Rosie doesn’t run on Sundays — through the rest of the summer and into the holiday season. On the days when he returned home from work and the bottle was still there, he simply returned it to his refrigerator and put it back in place the next morning.

When Bruce noticed a man running alongside her on Saturdays, he left two bottles and eventually introduced himself to Rosie’s husband, Jason.

As a small thank you, the Gagnons left homemade bread, chocolates and even a Christmas card in the same spot where the water waited each day.

“I just never expected this kindness. It floored me!” Rosie told me in a recent interview. “To remember to leave it every single morning? I mean it’s easy to be nice once, we all do that, but over and over every day in your routine? That’s pretty incredible.”

Rosie noted the perfect placement. She packs along her own water, of course, but it never lasts quite as long as she needs. But there, with a huge hill looming in her final stretch, she always knows there’s help ahead.

Rosie estimates her Good Samaritan friend has left over 100 bottles since that first muggy morning in July. But when reminded of this, Bruce smiled and deflected the attention. “It’s nothing, really. Sooner or later we all learn life isn’t about stuff. The best things we have are things we can’t pay for. And I’m just doing what my parents taught me. Giving a stranger a drink.”

Of course, Rosie disagrees. “It’s much more than that. Because of him, I push myself a little harder. I can go a little faster and a little farther because of that simple act of kindness.”

More than six months since that first bottle, the message is just as valuable as the water. Much like her eight-mile loop through the hills west of Woodstock, life has plenty of ups and downs. But when there’s kindness in your path, there’s hope that no hill is too steep.

“Hopefully,” Rosie said with a laugh, “we have many years of water-bottle friendship left in us.”

While Bruce will certainly continue downplaying the value of his daily acts of kindness, the rest of us won’t.

Sure, Rosie gets the water, but we all get the lesson.


Pastor Mark

Valentine’s Day 2017

The Darker (Chocolate) Side of Valentine’s Day

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

The Milk Chocolate Side of Valentine’s Day

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

The White Chocolate Side of Valentine’s Day

If women buy 85% of all Valentine’s Day cards, that means men buy only 15%! What is up with that?  Imagine if our wives cooked meals only 15% of the time or washed only 15% of the laundry (and it wouldn’t ours, guys!) or she put only 15% of her check into the joint checking account. Things would go south in a hurry!

Men, let’s set a goal of moving that 15% to 17-18% next year!

After all, my man mantra is “I’m just a man, that’s all I’ll ever be – why would you expect more?”

Pastor Mark

Gimme The Chocolate And No One Gets Hurt!

I saw this on a bumper sticker and had the visual picture of someone robbing a bank full of chocolate.  Here are some interesting statistics for the top five nations in the world.  This is pounds of chocolate consumed per person, per year.

  1. Switzerland 22.36
  2. Austria 20.13
  3. Ireland 19.47
  4. Germany 18.04
  5. Norway 17.93
11. USA 11.64
I bought some “Tabasco Spicy Chocolate” and shared it with my chocoholic administrative assistant. Though her favorite is dark chocolate with sea salt, we decided to give the Tabasco chocolate a try.

We each popped a piece in our mouths at the same time and didn’t know what to expect.  I thought there might be a small drop of Tabasco sauce in the middle (there wasn’t). Wonderful chocolate taste for the first 10-15 seconds, then a little spice, then the distinctive tabasco taste!

While it didn’t set us on fire, I was reminded why I don’t put Tabasco sauce on my eggs!

Life is a little like Tabasco chocolate!

We think it’s going to be a certain way, but it’s not.

Our anticipation doesn’t always line up with our reality.

There isn’t always caramel or nuts inside – life is what it is.

Fortunately, “Tabasco chocolate moments” in life are in the minority and the “dark chocolate with sea salt moments” are the majority!

My favorite? Cadbury milk chocolate with fruit and nuts!

I’m part of the 11.64 lbs. per year club!

Pastor Mark


It’s Sage Time!

One of our area’s youth ministry leaders told me I was in the “sage phase” of my life and ministry.

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about being a sage until I looked up its definition. A sage is a profoundly wise person; a person famed for wisdom; someone venerated for the possession of wisdom, judgment, and experience.

Profoundly (me, profound, at anything?), famed, venerated (to regard or treat with reverence), wisdom?  The only quality I identify with in this list is experience and I have 35+ years of that!  In fact, during my first year of college, a nationally known preacher told us the only difference between him and us was experience.  When I asked a professional photographer how long it would take until my photos were any good, he said “around 500 rolls of film” (pre-digital era). 

Now I’m on the other end of the spectrum and younger pastors are asking me how to develop sermons, lead, manage themselves and others, what’s hard and easy about ministry. I am in my sage phase.

And though there have been more pages turned in the book of my life than remain to be turned, I’m enjoying this phase.

It’s my prayer that God will use me as he did those who influenced my life as a young pastor!

Pastor Mark


How Do Pastors See Christmas?

I imagine one of your first responses to my title and question is “it has to be one of the busiest times for pastors” and you would be right. It might interest you to know that, in my situation, September-November is my busiest time of the year.

I used to see Christmas with frustration – as in, “I want my sacred holiday back!”   I admit I still struggle with all the TV programs and movies, mall decorations (though I don’t usually go to the mall because I believe malls were designed by women, for women), and emphasis on everything but the real meaning of Christmas.  I’m a bit more mellow these days since the only one affected by my frustration is me. Happiness is choice, right?

I see Christmas through the eyes of the poor more than I ever have.  I’m talking about the truly poor – those who don’t think in terms of expensive electronic toys but about coats for their children and food for their table.  I am so grateful for the Salvation Army and other groups who reach out in to the poor in ways we cannot. Our church supports the SA and several local food pantries.

I see Christmas through the eyes of those who have experienced loss and this Christmas will be their first (or 10th) without their loved one.

I also see Christmas through the smiling faces of our children at their annual Christmas program.  I never tire of hearing them shout out “GO tell it on the mountain!”

I’m SO grateful for the many expressions of love for my family from the Union Chapel family because I get to see Christmas in and through their love!

And, Dinah and I get to celebrate our 43rd Christmas together.

I have so much to be thankful for!


Pastor Mark


The Trump Train

I stayed up until after 3AM on election night.

I didn’t do it primarily to see Donald Trump win.  I wanted to see what everyone on the major news channels were saying about him.  I was pleasantly surprised that most of the announcers, pundits, and political professionals admitted they didn’t see the Trump upset coming.  Though they tried to analyze everything from the college educated to the minority vote to the rural voters – I heard only a few people say the truth.

The truth is that a VERY large group of people have had enough of the changes that have moved us further from reason, common sense, and any moral standard that the next generation could use as a compass.

Our government is a republic – meaning we have no king or queen who reigns because of their blood line.  We are a democratic republic – meaning we elect those who will represent us in places of power and keep us in mind as decisions are made. 

President-Elect Trump said it best when he said “Now we have to get it right. We must make the most of the opportunity the American people have given us.”

I want to see the United States God-fearing and great again!


Pastor Mark


To Tell the Truth

The original “To Tell the Truth” TV show debuted in 1956 and ran for 12 seasons. There’s a new version of the show on TV now and its success is yet to be defined.

For those of you too young to remember original show, three people walked onto the stage and introduced themselves by the same name.  Then four celebrity guests asked qualifying questions of the each person to try to guess which one was the real “Neil Armstrong” (but never someone as well known or recognizable). The three individuals couldn’t lie, but they didn’t have to provide additional information – so when the “real” Neil Armstrong stood up, it was usually a surprise.

With all the Wiki-leak emails, back stories, videos, and accusations – I feel like I’m watching To Tell the Truth during the 2016 election process.  I think I know what the truth is or who the person really is – but can I be sure?  Donald Trump says the women accusing him of improper behavior are lying and he’s going to sue them to prove they are lying. Hillary Clinton says one thing at closed-door, high dollar bank speeches and something else on the campaign trail.

My simple solution: hook Hillary and Donald up to lie detectors while they are debating!

Then when the real Hillary or Donald stands up – the truth will have been told.

Sure wish I’d thought of that earlier!


Pastor Mark

Millennials and Big Macs

We’ve all heard a lot about the millennials. Newsweek magazine reported that the Millennial generation was born between 1977 and 1994, meaning most people in this age group are 22-39 years old now.

Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world. They are the generation that has received the most marketing attention. As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of difference. Having been raised under the mantra “follow your dreams” and being told they were special, they tend to be confident.

One reported result of Millennial optimism is entering into adulthood with unrealistic expectations, which sometimes leads to disillusionment. Many early Millennials went through post-secondary education only to find themselves employed in unrelated fields or underemployed and job hopping more frequently than previous generations.

Millennial statistics

(Source: Pew Research):
  • 50 percent of Millennials consider themselves politically unaffiliated.
  • 29 percent consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.
  • They have the highest average number of Facebook friends, with an average of 250 friends vs. Generations X’s 200.
  • 55 percent have posted a selfie or more to social media sites versus 20 percent of Generation X.
  • They send a median of 50 texts a day.
  • As of 2012, only 19 percent of Millennials said that, generally, others can be trusted.
  • There are about 76 million Millennials in the United States (based on research using the years 1978-2000).
  • Millennials are the last generation born in the 20th century.
  • Twenty percent have at least one immigrant parent.
  • One in five Millennials have never eaten a Big Mac!


This means there are about 15 million Millennials not eating Big Macs!

At $3.99 for a Big Mac and $5.99 for a Big Mac meal, the Millennials are costing the US economy $60 billion dollars per year (or $90 billion if they would all buy meals instead of just the sandwich).  The kids of these 15 million Millennials will have to eat a LOT of Happy Meals!


Pastor Mark

Our Asterisk Society

Like many of you, I get a lot of news from the Fox News app on my iPhone. I also get info from the Drudge Report. It’s no secret that the news of the world is at our finger tips.
The articles that have swear words or words with a sexual connotation often have part of the word or letters replaced with asterisks. An asterisk is a symbol (*) used to mark printed or written text, typically as a reference to an annotation or to stand for omitted matter.

 Here are some of the article titles in the area of the news that’s information but not news. I inserted the asterisks.

“50 shades of *ra* sequel even ho**er.

“Emily dress: *ulgar or no*?”


“Movie goers pass out during canni*bal fil* – ambulance called to Toronto festival.”  I’m into action flicks but eating other people’s flesh is a genre WAY down on my list for fun Friday night dates!


Imagine if we could talk asterisk!


“Dinah, will *ou pl*ase hand me the *alt and pe**er?”


Imagine telling your child a bedtime story if you could talk asterisk!


“Once *pon * t*me, the*re w*re t*ree b*ars.”


Maybe I’m the only one who sees an asterisk and my mind inserts the letter, but I doubt it.

So for those of you whose mind can see the word or sentence with the asterisks and you don’t see the bad words – you have my admiration!

You should bottle and sell it on E*ay!