Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Case of the Whys?


When I was twelve, my grandmother suffered a cerebral aneurysm and was near death for weeks. During that time, which seemed to last forever, I asked myself again and again, "Why? Why did this have to happen to my grandmother? Why did God let it happen?" Although she was never again quite the same, my grandmother mercifully recovered. For that I have always been immeasurably grateful, but I have never forgotten that first encounter with the whys? of life during those childhood weeks of uncertainty.

In the course of a lifetime, all of us face the whys? of our fragile existence. After forty-one years on this world, I wish I had a better understanding of why things happen the way they do, but the mystery of life’s trials and tragedies remain for me - and I suspect for most - frustratingly difficult. Certainly, the freedom woven into creation is the cause of some of the world’s tragedy and suffering, and the brokenness of life - human sin, if you will - accounts for a great deal as well. Nonetheless, even though God may allow tragedy to occur as the inevitable result of our freedom, surely God does not prescribe it. Such a notion would be contrary to everything we understand about God’s love. If this be so, what are we to say when we are touched by the tragedies of life?

In my own life, I have come to several conclusions that might be described as signposts of faith. First, in the midst of any tragedy, look patiently for God’s presence and gentle touch. Every moment of suffering and every instance of tragedy also contains the promise of God’s healing and redemption. Next, as St. Paul pointed out long ago, realize that we are earthbound and only see dimly beyond the temporal affairs of this life. One day we will see all things clearly, and in the economy of that world we have not yet experienced, the crazy patchwork of our earthly existence will have a new order and meaning.

Finally, recognize and, indeed, celebrate the unending dialogue between death and new life, between endings and new beginnings, between crucifixion and resurrection. To put it succinctly, look to the Cross. The Romans described it as a “machine of death.” The followers of Jesus Christ from the first Easter until now have known that through its suffering runs the path to a new and more abundant life. As we continue this Lenten journey together, know that in the end, God is making all things new.


Luke 23:34
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

I have been blessed to have three biological children.  I never knew how much love I could have for someone until the day each one of them was born.  Upon their arrival into this world, I loved them instantaneously, a love like no love I had ever felt before. I know as a father I have my shortcomings when I step on Legos for the 1 billionth time, I get upset.  When I have to say "get off electronics and go to bed", for the 10 thousandth time and I don’t have the patience and love that I had the first 9,999 times.  However, despite my flaws, I hope that at the end of the day my children know how much I love them.  Why?  Because I tell them, every day, multiple times a day, how much I love them. 

Despite the fact that I only have 3 biological children, I know that for some of the children and youth I work with, I also serve as a father figure.  Sometimes, they have father’s who love them, but they don’t want to talk to their dads about certain things, so they come to me.  Others don’t have such a good relationship with their fathers, so I become “Best in Show.” (A term used in dog shows, not meaning I am the best, rather that I am the best in their circle of men in their lives).

For some, it is easy to talk about God as the loving, caring father in heaven, who would do anything, including die on the cross, out of love for God’s precious children.  Others it is more difficult.  I have always known this but had the opportunity of that misplaced anger this past week.

This past Friday, I was working on my sermon for Presbytery when I received a call from my wife about a student at her school.  To make a long story short, I was called as he was having an episode and they couldn’t get him to calm down.  It was at the point where the police might have to get involved unless something else could be done.  So, when Becca called, I asked, “What can I do?”  She said, “He listens to you and respects you, and you are the closest thing to a loving Father he has, I don’t know if you can do anything, but you have to do something.” 

So I did what, in my opinion, anyone should do, I hopped in my car and headed down to help.  An hour later we got him where he needed to be, without the police, but he was still angry.  In his anger, he lashed out at anyone who was near.  Saying he hated me. Saying I am not his dad. Claiming I was stupid and that I had a “fat head and no hair!”, which I can’t deny.  All the while I told him I loved him, and it didn’t matter how mad he was at me, I wasn’t going to leave.  In that moment, despite the anger that was heaped my way, God gave me peace.  After about 10 minutes, once he realized there was nothing he could say or do that would get me to leave, he calmed down, and we began to talk.  We talked like I would talk to my own son if in the same situation. 

Why do I tell this story? Because in that moment, despite having kids of my own, I could see God’s love being poured out in me.  It made me realize how we often do the same thing to our heavenly Father.  We get mad and we scream, “Why did you let this happen!!”  “I hate you.”  “Why do you even care?”  “You aren’t my father!”  Yet, God, out of his love for us just sits and waits.  Out of his love for us, He waits.  Even when dying on the cross and people are yelling insults at him, Jesus, out of his love utters the words “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

I know that God is not male or female, but as humans, we experience God’s love in the same manner that we experience love from each other.  So what does God’s love look like to someone who is outcast?  Who has no mother or father?  Who feels abandoned?  Who suffers bullying at school or work?  Who are alone in their hospital bed with no one to care for them?  What does it look like?  It looks like you and me.

Frank Harmon
Father, Son, Husband, Brother, Friend, created in the image of God, yet far from perfect.

Anxiety to Tranquility


Does anyone find themselves battling with anxiety? My battle seems excessive lately and I know I’m not alone. As a parent of 4 teenagers, it was difficult to drop my kids at school on February 15, following the horrific school shooting in Florida on Ash Wednesday.  My son’s response was the perfect teenage thought; “Mom, we have real police officers, we are safe."  And they felt safe; until the fire alarm went off at their school that afternoon.  Instead of the typical cheers and jeers of "let’s take a break and walk outside" alarm mentality, they were frozen, scared and anxious.  Luckily it turned out to be someone celebrating a birthday with too many candles that set off the alarm. But the anxiety is high for the kids and excruciating for parents.  

Our youngest daughter has been under a physician’s care for scoliosis for 7 years and now that she’s 14 (and 5’9”) and the curvature continues to develop and it is time to take corrective action.  She will undergo spinal fusion this week.  She is in amazing hands, yet our anxiety leaves us breathless.

Paul wrote to the Philippians: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. My Bible takes it further to note the peace we can place with God offers tranquility.  We all must enjoy the tranquility we are all given through his grace.  My prayer for all of us is to let go of our anxiety and let Him provide us His peaceful tranquility.

Remembering the Rev Billy Graham


I woke yesterday morning to news of the death of Billy Graham, at 99.

Most folks know of Billy, unless they’re too young to remember and grew up around people who never spoke of him.  He was the quintessential evangelist of the last half of the 20th century, travelling the world to preach in mass rallies in town squares and football stadiums.  He preached to thousands upon thousands with a simple message: turn away from sin, turn toward a saving Jesus, pray a prayer of repentance and you will be saved, then join a church that takes the bible seriously.  If you don’t know the words to pray, don’t worry.  Counselors will give you the words.  If you’re afraid your friends will leave without you, don’t worry.  “The busses will wait.”  And thousands upon thousands came.  Through much of his ministry, his crusades were sometimes televised.  I remember watching them in my youth.  I also remember in the mid 1970s, when congregations of all sorts of theological orientations around Detroit joined together to support his crusade in the Pontiac Silverdome.  I was part of that. 

It’s safe to say that Billy Graham preached to more people in his life than anyone in Christian history.  That is something to ponder.  Here was a person who had one of the most impactful ministries in the history of the church.

I’m often amazed at how many people of so many different theological (and political) orientations take their faith back to a Billy Graham crusade.  My own mother, who’s been a lay leader in Episcopalian, United Methodist, and Presbyterian congregations, who’s been an leader in charismatic prayer gatherings, refugee support groups, spiritual direction programs, and holds degrees from what would be considered Liberal seminaries traces her faith to a decision for Christ at a Billy Graham rally in the late 1940s. 

For sure, many who made such a decision and came forward at one of his rallies (while “Just As I Am Without one Plea” was being played in the background and Billy held his chin in his hand to pray) didn’t stick with the faith they claimed on those nights.  But what matters is how many did, and how many directions they went with their newfound faith.  Billy preached a simple, and by many standards even simplistic theology.  One can say that salvation is a bit more complex than what he said, and that the Bible’s witness is a bit more nuanced.  But one measure of his faithfulness is that he didn’t seek to put boundaries on where the faithful went after hearing his message.  He seemed to trust God to take God’s people where God wanted them to go.  Billy Graham never formed a church.  He was hesitant to draw boundaries too starkly.  He spoke his convictions clearly, but he would sit on a dais with Catholic bishops, Lutheran clergy, and Evangelical leaders.  And it should never be forgotten that he did that irrespective of race or class.  He was, perhaps, pivotal in opening American Evangelicalism to racial reconciliation.  I’ve learned that out of sensitivity to Muslims after 9/11, he stopped using the term “crusade.”   

It’s said that Rev. Graham took a modest base salary from his organization and did not get rich from his ministry.  There was never any hint of financial impropriety, or any other form of impropriety, from him or his organization.  He seems to have been, in short, a person who believed what he said and said what he believed, and who lived a life of integrity even when criticized. He gave birth to a movement that didn’t always reflect his own values, as some who imitated his style lacked his integrity.  The excesses of televangelism show that the contrast pretty clearly.  But that is not on him.  He was a beacon of something different. 

I remember reading an interview with Billy Graham, I think sometime in the ’90s.  At the time folks thought it was “late” in his life, not knowing he’d live to 99.  When asked if he’d have done anything different in his ministry if he could do it again, he said that he wished he’d had more education.  Interesting response.  He said that as he learned more of the Bible, and more of theology over the course of his life, his heart and mind expanded.  He’d have been a better preacher if he’d had more study, he suggested.  Hard to say if that’s true, but it is a testimony to a humble, teachable, spirit—unimpressed by impact, more concerned with faithfulness than success, and faithful to the end. 

What would he say of our time today?  Worth wondering.

Thank you, God, for giving us Billy Graham. 





They came prepared with thoughtful reflections, statistics, and abundant love for the women in their lives. The Boyz (Men’s Breakfast Group) knew in advance that we were going to be discussing a serious subject: the current allegations of massive sexual abuse and harassment against women, and the strong voice of women who are saying “Time’s Up.” They did not minimize the subject by bringing up frivolous examples of minor acts of misconduct, nor did they change the subject by applying humor where it does not belong. Instead, they came prepared with thoughtful hearts, and became fully engaged in a straightforward conversation they later said could have gone on for hours.

I asked them what they taught their daughters/grand-daughters/ great-grand-daughters about how they should be treated by men, and RESPECT quickly emerged as the main theme of the conversation. They want their daughters to respect themselves and to be respected by others. They put forth the unanimous opinion that a father’s main obligation to his children is to love their mother, and that young women would learn from their father’s treatment of their mother. We all agreed that people learn their strongest lessons through observation, and that manners, respect and love need to be demonstrated in order to be learned. These were the qualities the men wanted to pass on to their sons regarding the treatment of women.

We raised the difficult question of what we would want our daughters to do if they were assaulted or harassed, and the overwhelming and immediate response was: tell someone. Hopefully, an abused child/teen/woman would tell a parent or contact the police. It was mentioned that grandparents often play a critical role as receptive listeners. We did not have an answer about why the young gymnastics athletes were not believed, but it was sadly suggested that perhaps it had to do with the perpetrator being a doctor, not wanting to hurt the medical profession, men sticking up for men, even the possibility of “stage parents” protecting the secret or the Good Old Boys forming a team. All agreed that these teens deserved to be believed.

Young women are demonstrating strength and achievement, and are doing things that are new and exciting like being goalies on hockey teams and mixing motherhood with careers we never heard of, “cyber security” for example. However, there was still considerable discussion by group members of the “glass ceiling,” and this is where statistics came to light. For example, one of our doctors pointed out that 72% of pediatricians in training are women, but of the 151 training centers for pediatricians, only 32 (21%) are chaired by women, demonstrating that the glass ceiling is not only related to equal pay for equal work, but also promotion opportunities. Women CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies were only 6.4% last year. Our men think that time’s up for these kinds of discrepancies.

The men shared their own learning curves, and said that in business they became more intelligent and learned that it was bad business not to use the talent of women. Many of the men acknowledged the strong influence of Title IX on making them better fathers as they found themselves cheering on their young female athletes. Abusing these young athletes in any way is simply unacceptable.

The word that emerged over and over again during our conversation was RESPECT. It was quickly evident that this group of men has tremendous respect for their wives, and that they are rather in awe of their daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters. A look of perplexed sadness came across their faces when we spoke of women and girls being assaulted and harassed. They firmly deny that words are enough to make amends, acknowledge that perpetrators must be held accountable, and they make a strong argument that respect is a quality that must be demonstrated each and every day. As one of the members aptly opined regarding how men treat women, “Our children need to see a sermon every day.” Amen to that. May God bring healing and justice to all of the women and girls who have been abused, and bring strength and support to those who have had the courage to speak out. May the church continue this conversation, because time’s up.

Thank you to the Boyz (Men’s Breakfast Group) for showing leadership in discussing this important subject with dignity, faith and respect.