Ducks and A Blank Page

We had been out of town to sing at an early church service in Frankton, IN, and took a shortcut through the City Park in Pendleton to get home. The February Indiana Sunday morning was typical: overcast, gray, windy, and a raw 26 degrees Fahrenheit.  We saw a woman in a white puffy coat with white fur around the hood kneeling near the pond in the park, with a 2.5 year old girl similarly dressed, except her puffy coat was pink with white fur. The little girl was trying to feed the ducks, who were disinterested and hunkered down against the cold.

For the next 1.5 miles between our house and the park, we created brief stories about the pair, feeding ducks, in the park, in the cold.

  • Shouldn’t they be getting ready for church?
  • Maybe dad was on a bender last night and they needed to get out of the house for their own safety?
  • Maybe dad was a pastor or worship leader at a local church, and the mom and little girl spent too much time at church and needed some quality time away?
  • Maybe the little girl is sick or has cancer, and she asked to go to the park and feed the ducks?
  • Maybe the mom is sick, and they’re making memories one last time?
  • Maybe the woman is an aunt who is trying to teach compassion and love for the environment to her niece?
  • Maybe they just found out that dad isn’t coming home from Iran or Afghanistan?
  • Maybe the mom and daughter live with grandma and grandpa, and the grandparents need a little break in the action?
  • Maybe it’s all the entertainment they can afford, a few bread crumbs, to feed the ducks?
  • Maybe they’re eccentric millionaires and just wanted to hang out at the park?

Many of us do it.  In the absence of a story, we create one of our own, minus facts and figures.  In our “the public has a right to know” information age, we conclude that all stories must be told.  We cross our arms and demand to know.  And when no story is forthcoming, we’re tempted to substitute one of our own construction.  A friend, a psychologist, tells me that what we’re doing is “projecting” our story, or experiences, our problems and difficulties, into the lives of someone else.

Maybe it’s none of our business, and maybe we should just keep our snout out?

Perhaps the greatest gift, the pinnacle of compassion, that we can give someone else is blank page in our hearts and minds, so that people can write their story into our lives, and the world can become a less lonely place because we’ve offered friendship.  Maybe…

Red Sky At Morning

Friends, as I was driving to work at dawn, the sky was a haunting red color. Maybe you learned the old proverb from your Grandma or Grandpa, Mom or Dad: “Red Sky At Morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.” The dawn was red this morning; later in the day we had rain and wind, with the temperature dropping back to freezing.

Please stay with me for two minutes more.  In 1990, the United Nations introduced a Human Development Index (HDI) that provides country-level data for a measure of well-being and socioeconomic growth:

  1. Life expectancy at birth to measure a population’s health and longevity.
  2. Adult literacy rate to measure knowledge and educational opportunity.
  3. A nation’s per capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) as a measure of the standard of living.

Although the United Nations uses the HDI to compare countries, it can also be estimated at a more local level (state, county, etc.) using these three dimensions to compare the human development of communities within a specific country or state. Globally, the top HDI score was held by Norway (94.4) in 2014. The HDI for the United States was 91.4, or 5th overall. Within the U.S., Indiana ranks 39th, with an overall HDI of 53.2. In the 7 counties surrounding our Indiana home of Pendleton, the 2014 HDI scores were, in descending score order: Hancock (69.0), Tipton (61.4), Delaware (54.7), Shelby (52.7), Grant (49.9), Madison (47.8), and Henry (39.6). While the UN statistical methodology may not permit direct comparisons, the HDI scores for these Indiana counties were on par with the following developing nations, in descending score order: Palestine (68.6), Honduras (61.7), Madagascar (49.8), Uganda (48.4), and Guinea-Bissau (39.8)

Source: The Human Development of Indiana Counties, A Policy Perspective.
Deveraj S, Sharma S, Hicks MJ, Faulk D. Center for Business and Economic Research,
Ball State University, 2015.

Source: United Nations Development Program, Human Development Index Dataset, 2014.

What does that have to do with a Red Sky at Morning? Seven Indiana counties with the same UN HDI scores as a developing nation? We don’t need a weather report to see that the sky is red in our area almost every morning. Statistics like these make me want to shake our duly elected misrepresentatatives and/or candidates, of any party, and say “Stop sending jobs and money overseas. What is your plan for getting the US back on track, to build a better future for our country, our friends, our families, our children, and our grandchildren?”

Then, after a prayerful deep cleansing breath, the Creator calms me down and reminds me that political rabble-rousing isn’t the purpose of this blog. Instead, consider another guy whose sky was red every morning: the prophet Jeremiah. Sometimes he is known as the weeping prophet, because the sky was red every morning for him. He didn’t need a weather report to know that God was going to strike His people for abandoning Him and going their own way. Jeremiah’s heart was continually broken for the storm. He could see a coming siege, starvation, Jerusalem burning, and his friends and neighbors with their hands tied, being led into captivity with a fish hook on a string through their lips. Yet, in Jeremiah 33, God tells Jeremiah His plan for getting Judah and Israel back on track, His plan for building a better future.

“Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from their captivity and will rebuild them as before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all the nations of the earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it. “ Jeremiah 33: 6-9 (NIV)

And what is the gate to this glorious path forward to all of the things He wants to do?

“Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Maybe the sky is red for you this morning; maybe it’s red every morning.  Regardless of your circumstances, call to Him; He has the best of intentions and a plan, a very good plan.

Rural and Small Town Churches: Victims of Their Own Success

Rural and small town churches are victims of their own success.

Excuse me??

Again, rural and small town churches are victims of their own success.

Furthermore, Satan makes them feel like failures.

I grew up in a rural southern Indiana Methodist church. As a traveling music evangelist, I walk into rural and small town churches, look at the bulletin board and see the list of missions and missionaries they support. In most, a Gideon Memorial Bible Plan rack hangs on the wall so that congregants can celebrate special events or the passing a friend or family member with a donation of Bibles. The building is typically spotless and well loved. The grounds are well maintained and the grass has been cut. John 3:16, and the Great Commission appear prominently in one or more Sunday school classrooms. Sometimes, the second half of Acts 1:8 (KJV) is painted as a border around the room:

“…and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all
Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

The members have raised their children in church, taught them the Word, raised them to believe and be disciples. A high school or college education or a military career led the young person to a larger town or a city for employment, and she/he is faithfully serving the Kingdom in that location. Some rural and small town churches have a roster of the young men and women who are serving the Kingdom in pastoral ministry or missions. Yes, there may have been a scoundrel or two along the way, but overall, each church has a sterling record of service and a reputation as a force for good in the community. They have sent missionaries from their local Jerusalem to a regional Judea and Samaria, and even the uttermost parts of the earth. They have been an overwhelming success!

Then Satan slithers in to whisper, “But that was yesterday….”

Grief. Lack of employment and rural depopulation have left some rural and small town congregations to grieve: ‘We don’t have the numbers that we used to have. We’re older. We don’t have as many young people.’ Some churches wonder, ‘Will we be able to keep going? Can we sustain the church financially? Will we continue to be a force in the local community?’

Poor Self-Esteem. As they look at declining attendance and an aging congregation, they wonder why it seems God has abandoned them. A church with poor self-esteem sees little future for the church.  New ideas are rejected for a lack of resources.  In some rural and small town churches, the problem is not a lack of money but a lack of vision.

Unfortunately, some rural and small town churches close. The vision, the dreams, the hopes, the prayers, the labor, and the people disperse and disband. The building may be repurposed as an antique store or a barn and, over time, decays into rubble.

What can be done?

My mission is to play music and tell stories that Encourage, Restore, and Challenge rural and small town churches, and their pastors, to reach out into “their local Jerusalem” and satisfy their mission and calling.

Encourage. Individuals, pastors, and congregations may be discouraged by their circumstances and challenges, but they still have a part in God’s plan for this world. Encouragement helps people lift up their heads, strengthen their feeble knees, and remember that they are on God’s starting team.

Restoration. Restoration helps people look beyond their circumstances, outside their four walls, and beyond their means to see what an all loving, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, all compassionate, providential Heavenly Father God wants to accomplish in their lives, in their church, and in their community. Restoration can be described in Christian terms as the word Revival. Restoration is the art of rebuilding faith, reminding people of the power of God, as expressed in the Bible and in the history of their church, and their mission. Restoration of faith brings hope that God has not only not forgotten and abandoned them, but He has an amazing plan for their future inside and outside the four walls of the building (Jeremiah 29:11). Restoration establishes a missionary mindset for reaching those who stand outside the church.

Challenge. Challenge, in this context, can also be called vision casting. The needs of mankind haven’t changed since the beginning of time: we all need to feel safe, loved, and exactly where we’re supposed to be (a sense of community). These people know the culture, language, traditions, and the people in their neighborhoods. They know who has moved in, who still resides in the community, and who has gone on to their eternal reward. The body of Christ doesn’t need to send missionaries from a foreign country, a big city, or the suburbs, because He can empower and rely on these rural and small town congregations to reach their neighbors. Challenge goes beyond recruiting and paying a pastor, maintaining a building, and opening the doors on Sunday. No one can compete with the message of love and the presence of Jesus when people pray and reach out as a positive influence in their communities, as they return their focus to “their local Jerusalem.”

If you know of a rural or small town church in Central Indiana that might benefit from Encouragement, Restoration and Challenge, might you recommend my website,

Three Fingers Pointing Back At Me

Hello again friends.  Sorry for the extended delay between blog posts, but an illness in the family has taken priority position on our to do list.  Won’t go into details here, but answered prayers and a fine rehab facility are producing steady progress.  For those who know, thanks for your concern, your calls, your hospital visits, your encouraging words, and your prayers for mom.  God is Good, Faithful, and Able (Hebrews 13:8).

As a novice to the world of social media, I’ve learned that Facebook and other digital tools can serve as a barometer of the thoughts, feelings, and responses of friends and family to recent tragedies, news stories, political issues, and US supreme court decisions.  Many of these reactions appear as a picture of the US flag, an eagle, or a famous US monument, with captions that read “Pray for America,” “America Needs God,” or a similar sentiment.  For the record, I agree with these sentiments, and join you in praying for the United States of America.  But please stay with me for a few more moments…

  • Some proclaim and celebrate their “freedom from religion,” not realizing that the US Constitution protects us from a state mandated/sponsored central religion so that, instead, under the phrase “freedom of religion,” we can seek and follow God as we understand Him to be.
  • When political issues and other events are proclaimed, when tragedy occurs, when crimes are committed against people, families and children, some say the church is no longer relevant in our society.
  • Others say that the church has lost the culture war.  [Maybe the culture is showing us that we’ve forgotten something: the church is engaged in a spiritual war, and the last time I checked the book of Revelations, God wins.]

For some time now I have listened to God’s word, to pastors, to evangelists, to Brenda, and to the Holy Spirit during my quiet moments.  In II Chronicles 7:14 (NIV), God says,  “If My people, which are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My Face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

When I was a kid in church, one of our pastors, the Rev. Roger Cullison, had a famous line that we were privileged to hear at least once in a month of Sundays.  “When you point your index finger at someone else, don’t forget that there are still 3 fingers pointing back at you.”  Over 40 years later, I still strive to take these words to heart, and to look in the mirror first.

In the days of Solomon, when II Chronicles 7:14 was penned, the verse applied to the Hebrew children; today, we apply these words to the church.  If MY PEOPLE, which are called BY NAME…   Yes, I want my land, our land, to be healed.  But when I look at the verse, if I pray with the end of the verse as my primary goal it seems that I am missing the point.  It doesn’t say, “America Needs God.”  Instead, it says, “Ken Needs God.”  I’ve been praying for some time now, “God, please show me Your face.  Please pour your Holy Spirit of revival on me and on my family.”  Because there are three fingers pointing back at me…

Honoring The Memory: God Is Bigger Than Alzheimers’ Disease

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, “Cornelius.” And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it Lord?” And he said unto him, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:1-4, King James Version)

Honoring The Memory. On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank for coming to honor the memory of our mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister-in-law, aunt, and friend, Eva Robertson.  Honoring the memory. On a day like today, the memories come flooding back to comfort and to cheer. We remember family reunions, Christmases, Easters, Thanksgivings, birthdays, Sunday dinners, and plain-old-every-day days. On each of those occasions we remember her clearly saying, “We have enough food to feed Cox’s army.” I never knew much about Cox’s army, but she was sure we could have fed them all. We remember the smell of breakfast cooking, eggs, bacon, coffee, toast, and Kellogg’s Special K. We remember FRIED CHICKEN, mercy oh my, could she fry chicken! In her kitchen is a plaque that says, “No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best.” Her kitchen was a special place, a loving place, a safe place.

Honoring The Memory. We remember her sacrifice, her hard work, and her love. We remember when she and her whole family attended a revival at Hickory Church and were saved. We remember when the indoor plumbing was installed at the farm, and when we went away from home or to school for the first time. She was there with a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement or discipline when we were sick, sad, frightened, or tired. We remember her listening ear. We remember her as a Sunday School teacher.

Honoring The Memory. We remember her installation as an officer of the Eastern Star, and how she looked like a princess or queen in her regal flowing white gown.

Honoring The Memory. I remember a particular kindness. When Hickory Church celebrated its 100th anniversary, we ate dinner on the grounds, outside in the back lot among the old hickory and oak trees. She remembered who brought what dish. At the end of dinner, when we were cleaning up, she asked me to hold a strawberry pie, one from which not a single piece had been taken. As she proceeded to remove two pieces of the pie to take home in her own container, she explained, “Reverend so-and-so brought this pie, and his feelings will be hurt if no one eats it. So I’ll take a couple of pieces home with me.” She thought about the small things that mattered to other people.

Honoring The Memory. We remember the rubber-ball-paddle in her apron pocket that was seldom used on little boys (and girls) who could not, or would not, avoid splashing and playing around the big mud hole in the driveway that couldn’t ever be filled in.  Only one cousin was ever struck by that paddle, and it became his inheritance when she passed.

Honoring The Memory. I remember, when I was 12 or 13 years old, Reverend Cullison had been preaching a lot of Bible prophecy and about the rapture of the church. One day I awoke from a nap to find myself all alone at home. I immediately panicked and thought I’d been left behind. In my panic, I called Mamaw – I knew if she picked up the phone that I hadn’t been left behind.  Rarely have I been so glad to hear someone’s voice on the phone!

Honoring The Memory. When the Dugger charge of the Methodist church changed it’s mission to raising preacher men from preacher boys, she joined with many of you all in that process of informal, invaluable instruction. Her kitchen table served as place of counseling, advising, and as a seminary classroom for many of these preacher boys and for many of us here today. I’ve read a lot of different theologians over the years, smart guys and gals who read and studied about God.  Eva Robertson, on the other hand, read her Bible and could teach it well because she didn’t know about God, she knew the Author on a real close and personal first Name basis.  I remember her prayers. It seemed as if God put all of eternity on pause, turned His head, and said, “Excuse me, that’s Eva praying.”

Honoring The Memory. Alzheimer’s strips your memories away. It’s a cruel and torturous disease.  Memories of each kindness you all have offered to Eva over the years, and the love she offered you in return, may seem, at this moment, forgotten and stripped away by this terrible disease. From the story of Cornelius, above, we can learn a few things that apply today. Cornelius was a gentile, separated by law from God. His heart and his actions, on the other hand, were not separated from God at all. Instead, God remembered his deeds, his actions, and his heart of faith. Later on in the same chapter of Acts, all Cornelius’ questions are answered, and he and his entire household come to a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Honoring The Memory. While what I’m about to say may not be theologically sound, I take great comfort in the picture, a great deal of personal comfort. Today, Eva Robertson stands before her Maker in Whose Son she trusted. That same Heavenly Father who remembered Cornelius has also stored up Eva’s memories, the good ones of course. I believe that Mamaw’s memories of all the special times, the courageous times, the happy times, the faithful times were waiting in the heart and hands of God. God called her to His throne, placed a hand on each side of her lovely smiling face, and gently said, “Here, Eva, I’ve saved these memories for you.” And He restored these memories to her. She is safe, happy, healthy and home. Her knees don’t hurt anymore, she has her memories, she isn’t afraid any more, and she is okay. She is in a place so clean, so perfect, and so beautiful that we can’t imagine what it would be like.

Again, thanks for coming today to honor the memory of Eva Robertson. Your gracious presence is a great comfort to us all.

Eulogy delivered at her funeral.  May you find comfort in the thought that God is storing up memories and restoring them for you and your loved one(s).

Two Hands

I’m blessed to have two healthy hands.  They have been scarred by scrapes, cuts, fish hooks, the ends of musical instrument strings, blackberry thorns, blisters, and chores; under a black light, you can see all the scars as white marks.  Otherwise, my hands work quite well for most of the things I do, except music.  At this point, I confess to the sin of envy.  I’ve envied the accuracy, skills, and speed of my musical heroes (in no particular order) on guitar (John Wheat, Mark Sloan, Nik Sloan, Kenny Brock, Earl Robertson, Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Kerry Livgren, Tom Scholz, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Eric Clapton, Edward R. Van Halen, Chet Atkins, Chris Konkoy, Jerry Reed, Paul Bertsch, Dave Tyra, Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Joe Walsh, Don Francisco, Dan Crary, Doyle Dykes, Louie Popejoy, Joe Perry, Roger Gilmore, Mario Widel, Keith Richards, and Ranger Doug, Darryl Jones), banjo (John Wheat, Earl Scruggs, CW Mundy, JD Crowe, Roy Clark, Louie Popejoy), mandolin (John Wheat, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Louie Popejoy) and bass (Neal Edward Wagner, Timothy B. Schmidt, Billy Sheehan).  Despite hours of practice and dedication, lessons, books, and YouTube videos, frustration often haunts me because I can’t play like [insert name here].  At times, I’ve been so frustrated that I considered going to my workshop, pulling out a hammer, and “punishing” my fingers for not delivering up to those high standards and expectations.  Dear readers, I’m certain that some enterprising counselor could help with, or pharmaceutical company makes a drug for, my disordered thinking.  Envy will do that for you.

A story in a recent presentation by one of my guitar heroes has changed my thinking forever.   We all know that the arts have power, and music has a special power, to unlock hearts and minds, to help us feel and think differently.  Because of that power, in some parts of the world, extremists who fear independent thoughts and feelings have initiated a campaign to amputate the hands of artists, especially musicians.   In defiance of that horror, I declare today that I will play to the best of my ability for those who can no longer  do so.  I invite you to courageously join in this effort.

The Night We Closed Down A Town

When my friend Jody Fitzgibbon interviewed me for her blog (see she asked for a funny story. Thought you all might enjoy it too.  Some years back I played in a gospel bluegrass band, Mark Allen and Gospel Train (Mark, Mitch Chalos, Larry Dickerson, Joe Milner, and me). One evening at a town festival in southeastern Illinois, we were setting up on the flatbed of a semi truck (a typical stage in small towns, cool, fun, and it works). We carried in the sound system, got everything set up, cables run, and instruments tuned. All along both sides of the street were people and festival food stands (elephant ears; lemon shakeup; corndogs; burgers, etc.).  You know, all that healthy stuff.  We also had a portable light bar, for outdoor events, so the lights (red, yellow, blue, green) would make us look natural, rather than washed out as happens with a white flood light. Just as darkness fell, we took the stage, paused for the first song, and on the announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mark Allen and Gospel Train” it was my job to step on a footswitch to turn on the light bar. When I did, the entire town went black as night, and our sound system went silent!  The food stands went black, the street lights went out, the courthouse went dark, everything!  We had shut down the town! Thankfully, a representative from the local power cooperative was in attendance, put on his pitons, and climbed the pole faster than a squirrel, with a fuse as big as my forearm. He got the electricity and the lights back up and running in less than 5 minutes, but it was an unexpected surprise for everybody!  An unforgettable evening for all…

Three Reasons Why

To all of the initial subscribers, welcome aboard and thanks for joining the blog before we got started on this journey.

Q: Ken, why did you choose Hebrews 13:8 for your Bible verse?
A: I believe it. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His intent for his friends and followers has not changed. His love for His creation and mankind has not waivered. He is still on the throne, and it is a great comfort to know He praying for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Q: Why do the words Encourage, Restore, and Challenge appear on the Acoustic Sincerity website.
A: I love and respect words.  These small words, each filled with great meaning, are the mission of the music.
Encourage: The small inconveniences and large challenges of our lives sometimes converge to wear us down, to sap our energy and make us question our faith. We all need encouragement at times.
Restore: Sometimes the big challenges and the big hurts of life damage us, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. I’ve been there, I’ve wanted to crawl under the front porch like an old hound dog, until I’ve recovered. Sometimes, a bit of restoration is the order of the day. Maybe it’s a bit of sanding or some paint, maybe our brake pads changed, so we can move forward again and stop on a dime.
Challenge: Mankind seems to be hard-wired for a good challenge. We love the words and thoughts, the coaching, the high lofty ideas (I have a dream…  We will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade…  Pacers win! Pacers win!) that lift our eyes, remind us of His higher purposes.  Challenges make us dream, inspire hope, then motivate us to act, to create an amazing tomorrow.
More to come later on each of these three words; they are a large part of the programming and planning for each invitation to play.

Q: Why a focus on rural and small town churches?
A: I’m originally from a small rural church. It feels kind of like home, a place where maybe I can Encourage, Restore, and Challenge, to make a difference.