Chaplain’s Corner: CLXIII

“The Season of Advent”

Advent is the “season” on the church calendar that annually encompasses four Sundays before Christmas. This year that would be December 3, 10, 17 and Christmas Eve.

Advent derives from the Latin word adventum which means “coming.” Every year followers of Jesus are encouraged to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ coming into the world at Bethlehem.

This is incredibly challenging when you think about it. That’s because Christmas has a lot of baggage associated with it. Black Friday shopping mayhem, Cyber Monday, colored lights, fruitcake, Elf on the Shelf, Hallmark Channel holiday movies, Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing The Little Drummer Boy, and a Lexus with a big red bow sitting in the driveway.

But what does all that have to do with Advent? Not very much.

Advent doesn’t have an advertising team working to come up with catchy slogans or characters. It isn’t brash or noisy. Its greatest asset, in fact is its silence. During Advent we quietly ponder the imponderable; that for our sakes God chose to become a human being.

That, in fact, is a simple and effective way to experience a different kind of Christmas this year. Each day this Advent season, stop for five minutes. Do nothing. Just be. If you’re reading the Gospels between now and the end of the year, you might make this part of your time alone with God. Gently and quietly, ask the Lord to remind you of who He is and what He has done.

By God’s grace we can let the quietness of each reflection drive some of December’s non-stop frenzy out of our lives.

And I would remind all of our residents to plan on joining us for a Christmas Eve Service at 7pm in the Legacy Commons Event Hall. Invite your family and friends to join you.

In the meantime, may this Advent season prepare you for the coming of Christmas!

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CLXI

“This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise”

Author Kurt Vonnegut in a presentation at the University of Wisconsin several years ago told the audience about his late uncle Alex. “He was my father’s kid brother, who was an honest insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well dressed and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they seldom noticed when they were happy. “So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

“Please notice when you are happy,” he told the Wisconsin students, “and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” And then he asked the students if they ever had a teacher who made them happy to be alive, prouder to be alive, than they previously believed possible. Nearly every student raised a hand.

How very much there is for which to be grateful! How very much goodness and grace and happiness is given to us and how easy to hurry through the day of our lives, busy, preoccupied, overscheduled, overburdened, and so to miss it. And so Thanksgiving has always been my favorite. No gifts to buy, no parties, no holiday rush, no busy social schedule, a few cards maybe, a meal with loved ones, dear friends, and a simple reminder of how blessed we are to be alive.

Gratitude is the heart of our faith. “Now Thank We All Our God,” maybe is the best, all-purpose hymn, good for every occasion. Gratitude is the heart of the matter, and is expressed profoundly in the Psalms. Psalm 65 is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the creator. God is celebrated for being God. God forgives, creates. Saves, does awesome deeds, provides rain that stimulates the earth’s productivity. God’s goodness and generosity is for everyone. It is a gorgeous picture of abundance, richness, fertility, and it is at the very heart of our faith.

When I come to Thanksgiving, I am drawn to the poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay whose poem “God’s World” has always been a favorite:

O world, I cannot hold thee
Close enough!
Thy winds,
thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day,
…I do fear
Thou’st made the world too
Beautiful this year.

Creation is God’s gift. God is Creator. You can see God in creation. And the Bible teaches—and Christians believe-creation is abundant, sufficient for our needs. There is enough for everyone. Unfortunately, we don’t trust the abundance. Instead we operate on the basis of scarcity. There isn’t enough so we have to make ourselves secure by getting more. We have so much we don’t even notice.

The world is filled with abundance. There is enough for all. The whole creation is full of the glory and goodness and generosity and love of God. I began by the story of Kurt Vonnegut’s uncle Alex, and with the students naming a teacher who made them feel alive. “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is,” uncle Alex said.

So as we come close to Thanksgiving Day, I challenge each of you my readers to write down one thing for which you are grateful.

Growing up in the church, we sang lots of hymns. One of my favorites begins: “For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies.”

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Faithfully, Ron Naylor, Chaplain


Chaplain’s Corner: CLX


How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but only if the light bulb wants to change. How many plumbers does it take to change a light bulb? One, but that’s just my estimate. How many Marxists does it take to change a light bulb? The light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution. How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb? One. He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him.

How many persons does it take to change YOU?

The New Testament answer to that is four: The first three persons are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Here is where the biblical spotlight shines on prepositions. We pray to the Father through Jesus, by the Spirit. The Father is before us, Christ is beside us and the Spirit is within us. Our transformation is thus an inside-outside-alongside job. The three persons of the Trinity are always at work as a team.

It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the indwelling of the Spirit. Ancient people knew they seriously thought that a God could or would even want actual addresses of the Gods and Goddesses they worshiped. Myriads of temples dotted the landscape of the Mediterranean world. Deities regularly visited earth through portals of those edifices, which were thought to be sacred spaces where the invisible world intersected the visible.

No one seriously thought that a God could or would even want to take up permanent residence inside a human being–no one except those upstart followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (a hotbed of Greek religious devotion), “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own.” (I Corinthians 6:19)

You and I are temples of the Holy Spirit. Look in the mirror. You have become a place where heaven intersects earth. When God calls us to follow him, he is actually sounding out that call from within our own hearts where the Spirit dwells.

If Father, Son, and the Spirit are the first three persons necessary to change our lives, who is the fourth?

You are.

May God bless you with a changed heart today–so you can light the way for others.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CLVIII

“God’s Exchange Policy”

In the summer of 1995, a 26 year old Cheryl Strayed solo hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT traverses some of America’s most daunting wilderness areas. Cheryl strode from the Mohave Desert through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.

Her adventures are documented in her best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. A film was later produced in 2014 entitled “Wild.” Reese Witherspoon was nominated for her portrayal of Strayed for Best Actress.

By her own admission, Strayed’s life was a mess. She felt crushed by the cancer death of her mother two years earlier. Within the previous 12 months she had essentially sabotaged her marriage. “I broke my own heart,” she wrote. Her divorce papers included this question: What name do you plan to use in the future? Up to that moment her name had been Cheryl Nyland. “That blank line stuck in my heart. I would choose a new name for myself.” Ultimately she felt drawn to “strayed.”

The layered definitions spoke directly to my life: To wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress. She felt like a stray. A stray who had strayed. So she would be Cheryl Strayed.

She was woefully unprepared to tackle one of the world’s toughest trails. She had no training and little understanding of the perils she would be facing. She began her hike in California with so much stuff that she could barely lift her pack. Her brand new boots were a size too small. Halfway through her trek her feet hurt so badly she could barely walk. Another PCT hiker glanced at her shoes and observed they were from the Recreational Equipment Superstore. “Why don’t you exchange them?” he suggested.

Right. As if that could happen in the middle of nowhere. Strayed didn’t even have the money to cover shipping. “Just call them,” the other hiker persisted. With no expectations, Strayed dialed REI’s number from a pay phone at a rest area. “We’d be delighted to send you a new pair of boots, one size larger,” said the REI rep. No questions asked. No need to beg or plead. No need to turn in the old ones. Free of charge. Free shipping. “Look for them in the mailroom at the next PCT rest stop. Her new boots did indeed arrive just as promised. And they carried Strayed and her sore feet all the way to the state of Washington.

God’s exchange policy is a bit like REI’s. We may be going through life crippled. Self-crippled, for that matter. We’re spiritual strays who may have no clue that amazing grace has always been available.

“Now that we know what we have-Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God- let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all-all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message)

It’s free. Just call.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain


Chaplain’s Corner: CLVII

“Come Before Winter”

“Do your best Timothy to come before winter.” (2 Timothy 4:21) In this scripture from 2 Timothy, St. Paul feels time is slipping away. His hourglass is running out. He is imprisoned in Rome and will soon be executed. He grabbed his writing quill and penned what would be his last letter to his protégé Timothy whom he had left in charge of the far away church in Ephesus in Turkey. Paul is saying, “It’s cold here in this prison! Bring me my coat and my books. Timothy, I’m lonely…come to me. I need you here at my side.”

There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s words. On the Mediterranean when winter came, sailing and navigation were shut down. It was dangerous to be out there sailing in winter storms. Don’t wait! The time of departure is at hand.

I am sure many of you have had a time in your family when a relative was gravely ill and you picked up the phone and said, “It’s time to come…come now!” That’s what Paul is saying here, “Timothy…come now it’s now or never.” Sometimes acting quickly is literally a matter of life or death. In the movie “Titanic” what doomed the ship was a total lack of urgency. The crew did not even bring a pair of binoculars on board for the crow’s nest which a Senate investigation later discovered would have saved all 2,200 passengers.

God sends golden opportunities that we can either seize in faith or they slip through our fingers and are gone. Shakespeare has Brutus say in his play Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat and we must take the current when it serves.”

And so is life. There is that split second in the World Series where the batter has to swing or be called out on strikes. The moment when the stock broker staring at the computer screen either has to sell or buy. We all have good intentions to get serious about exercise or reading our daily devotional or going out of our way to speak to a new resident in the dining room.

Did Timothy drop everything he was important as it might have been and hurry to his spiritual Father? If so…did he go to Paul in time? We don’t know and we will never know because 2nd Timothy ends where it ends and we don’t know exactly how or where Paul’s life ended.

What is the point of “Come Before Winter?” When you need to do something …you need to do it now or it may never get done. Don’t wait, don’t put it off. Whether to bring a warm coat or a word of encouragement to a friend or to give a vital piece of advice only you can give.

Maybe you have a friend you have been meaning to contact. Their health has not been good but what they need is just a loving note from a friend..Come Before Winter. You know someone who has suffered from grief or depression for weeks or month. They need a friend. Come Before Winter.

Perhaps God is calling you to make a change in your life. Maybe Jesus Christ needs to come in and be your Lord and Savior. Maybe today that is what needs to happen because we don’t know what the next minute or hour or week or month holds.

We do not live alone..any of us. We all live with one another. God put us in community here with one another. If we live, we must live for one is God’s way. Someone is reaching out to you today. Don’t disappoint them–Come Before Winter!

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CLVI

“Safe in Your Father’s Care”

In 1988 moviegoers fell in love with a French film that has virtually no soundtrack and minimal dialogue. Human dialogue that is. L’Ours (that is, The Bear) is the story of a young cub whose mother is killed by a rockslide in 1885 British Columbia.

The orphaned cub now has no hope of survival. Touchingly, however, he comes under the care of an enormous male Kodiak bear. The Kodiak watches over him, shows him where to find food, and guides him through the unforgiving wilderness. The larger animal, in other words, teaches the cub how to be a bear. Together they face one challenge after another, even eluding a group of human hunters who were hoping to bring back a trophy.

One day they became separated. A cougar takes this opportunity to close in on the cub. It is clear when you watch the confrontation that the cub has reached the end of his resources.
The cub makes a final stand against the predator, but can muster only a frightened shriek. This is the end.

That’s when a look of abject terror crosses the face of the cougar. The camera pivots to let us see what the big cat sees, and what is completely unknown to the cub: the massive Kodiak has come up behind his adopted son and is ready to defend him to the death. The cougar exits stage left.

Life is a series of challenges. Sometimes you will come to the end of your resources. Today you may be facing a challenge that has led you to wondering if you can possibly survive. In all the uncertainties of your current situation, there is one thing you can know for sure. You are not alone. Someone is watching over you. And you can run to Him, the way the cub runs to his adopted father at the end, to experience love like no other.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) You are perfectly safe in your Father’s care. Even when you don’t have eyes to see.

Faithfully, Ron Naylor – Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CLIV


Franciscan Priest and Author Brennan Manning was fond of recounting a story about American G.I.’s in France during World War II. One of their number had been killed in action.

They approached the Priest in a local village and asked if they could bury their friend in the church cemetery. “Was he a Catholic in good standing in the church?”, the Priest asked. No, they admitted.

Then he cannot be buried in the parish cemetery. The soldiers felt hurt and angry. They dug a grave as close as they could to the cemetery, outside the fence, and buried their comrade.

The next morning they made a discovery. Their friend’s fresh grave was now inside the parish cemetery. During the night, the Priest had moved the fence.

Some people spend their lives building fences as tall and strong as possible. Others spend their lives doing all they can to make fences irrelevant. May God grant us the grace to be among the latter.

I find myself especially concerned about “fences” when I think of our current political and social dialogue going on in America today and wonder as a Christian what is my role when I see people intentionally trying to divide. We build fences when we don’t listen to other points of view and allow our pride and arrogance to reign supreme. We build fences when we resort to calling others names and are content to quit growing and learning from others. If there was ever a time in our country to “come together” and allow room for others who may be different or have a different perspective now is the time. “Building fences” is a disease and we must find a remedy or it will eventually destroy us.

“Christ tore down the wall to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped.” (Ephesians 2:14-15. (The Message)

Faithfully, Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CLIII


The number 40 turns up in some of the most interesting and unexpected places. Forty is the number of hours in the traditional American workweek-although the pandemic might have changed that expectation forever.

Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is one of the most famous Arabic folk tales. Kyrgyzstan means “land of 40 tribes.” Islam teaches that Muhammad was 40 years old when he received his first visit from the archangel Gabriel. “Forty winks” is an old fashioned way of describing a short nap. Zirconium is #40 in the periodic table of elements. What do you use for something that sticks or squeaks? Reach for a can of WD-40 which stands for Water Displacement, 40th formula.

Historically, slaves freed after the Civil War were offered 40 acres and a mule, although few were actually rewarded with such a lavish gift. During the height of the Black Death during the Middle Ages sailors trying to enter the port of Venice were compelled to remain on their ships for 40 days before coming ashore. The word coined to describe their situation based on the number 40 was “quarantined.” Mathematically, 40 is the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers, and is also the fourth pentagonical pyramidal number. It is a repdigit in ternary, and a Harshad number in decimal. Just so you know, I have no idea what that means. I got it from an encyclopedia article.

In pop culture, 40 has become associated with pop music. Casey Kasem pioneered the nation’s most famous weekly radio countdown, “America’s Top 40.”

Then there’s the Bible. It can be argued that on the pages of Scripture, 40 represents an indeterminate large number-basically a way of saying “umpteen” or “a whole bunch.” But it is also true that whenever the number 40 appears in the Old or New Testaments, God’s people almost always seem to be waiting. They’re waiting for something special to happen. Noah and his family wait for the floodwaters to recede after 40 days and 40 nights of rain. The Israelites wait 40 days at the foot of Mt. Sinai for Moses to return with the treasure of God’s commandments. Then they wander 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience, waiting to enter the Promised Land.

A dozen Hebrew spies spend 40 days secretly checking out Palestine, confirming that it’s everything the people have been waiting for- a land flowing with “milk and honey.” Goliath comes out 40 mornings in a row, trash talking the Israelite soldiers, who wait and wonder how God is ever going to save them from impending disaster. Saul, David and Solomon-the first three kings of Israel-each rule for 40 years. But it quickly becomes apparent that Israel’s security can only be provided over the long run by another kind of king, the long awaited Messiah. The prophet Jonah preaches for 40 days to the citizens of Nineveh-people he cannot stand-only to discover after his long wait that Israel’s enemies will be blessed not destroyed.

In the New Testament, Jesus fasts and prays for 40 days, awaiting the beginning of his public ministry. Then after rising from the dead, he invests 40 days with his disciples as they await his ascension into heaven, followed by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

40 appears in the Bible when people are waiting. What are you waiting for? What special thing has God prepared for You? This is a time to be what God has always called you to be: the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Be disciples who make disciples. God has prepared the same great adventure for every one of us. And Jesus himself has promised to walk with us every step of the way. So what are you waiting for?

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CL


“Excellent Choice.” “Oh, that’s my favorite dish here.” “Perfect.”

Have you ever noticed that restaurant servers go out of their way to affirm their customers’ menu selections? That’s not an accident. A number of restaurants equip their servers with specific words and phrases to help people feel affirmed when ordering. That’s because a great many of us are intimidated when making decisions, like should I order the fish or pasta.

Princeton philosopher Walter Kaufmann calls it decidophobia. We’re freaked out by the possibility of making a mistake, missing an opportunity or looking foolish in front of others. A sociologist named Sheena Iyengar has run the numbers. Most of us make about 70 conscious decisions every day. That adds up to 25,550 decisions every year. At 70 years of age you’ve been responsible for making 1,788,500 decisions. You better not blow it!

As the old saying goes, “Life is the sum of all our choices.” We make lots and lots of decisions. But it’s just as true that our decisions make us. So what goes into making a great life? A jaw-dropping paycheck, grateful and happy children, a resume that impresses everyone at your high school reunion?

The ancient Hebrews would say, “Don’t waste your time.” Life is about Wisdom. Wisdom, according to Bible authors is the art of making great decisions. That’s because making great decisions is the essence of making a great life. “Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do. And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.” (Proverbs 4:7)

But where do we get discernment? What if you’re facing a crucial decision, one that has far greater ramifications than what you might have for dinner? Think of at least one person whose wisdom and judgement you esteem. Approach that person, share what you’re struggling with, and ask them to speak into your life-openly, honestly and directly.

Author and Pastor John Ortberg has it just right: “Almost all train-wreck decisions people make (and we all make them) could be prevented just by asking one wise person to speak seriously into our lives and then listening.”

Life is a sum of choices. Don’t be paralyzed by decidophobia. Be wise.

And nine times out of ten, it’s probably best to go with the fish.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXLIX

“Hope in the Face of Death”

When it comes to the subject of death, it seems that everyone has something to say:
“Do not try to live forever, you will not succeed.” (George Bernard Shaw) “He who pretends to face death without fear is lying.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) “The meaning of life is that it stops.” (Franz Kafka) “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” (Woody Allen) “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” (Will Rogers) “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!” (Hunter Thompson “Christians are people better off dead.” (Dallas Willard)

The author of Ecclesiastes has something to say about death as well: “I also said to myself, as for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from the dust, and to the dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20)

Needless to say, this is not the kind of Bible text that is likely to appear on an inspirational greeting card. What’s going on here?

Solomon is describing the “life under the sun”-how things look from the perspective of this world and this world only. There seems to be no grounds for believing that anything awaits us at death except nonexistence.

We can tell our children that death is entirely natural. In The Lion King, young Simba is assured that while lions eat the antelopes, all lions eventually die and fertilize the grass which provides food for the antelopes. And so we are all connected to the Great Circle of Life.

Try this instead. Be outraged. As the Irish poet Dylan Thomas wrote while watching his father die, “Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the night.” Be angry that life always ends in a cemetery.

Author and Pastor Tim Keller, who stepped into the next world just a few months ago, reminds us of one of life’s certainties: “Whatever we believe about the future absolutely controls how we live in the present.” When the author of Ecclesiastes looks toward the future, he sees no assurances. He finds no hope. Shakespeare’s Hamlet concurs. He describes death as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”

What does Jesus say about death? “I am the resurrection and the life”, He announces while standing in a cemetery. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die. And whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) What does that mean?

Something big awaits us. Solomon can’t see it, but Jesus assures his followers that we’re heading instead for the Big Celebration. The next world will provide a reunion like no other-a welcome home party.

Whether or not that means we’ll get to stand alongside Will Rogers and be surrounded by dogs is just one of the mysteries that will finally and joyfully be resolved.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain