YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE!

5 01 2022

Tomorrow I am officiating another wedding. New Year’s Day matrimonies are becoming quite popular. I just wish that Notre Dame was playing their Bowl Game the day before or the day after. Recent history tells me that it might be better to not see what is happening on the gridiron down in Florida and to give my undivided attention to what is happening in a church up in northern Jersey.  

Don’t ask me how many nuptials I have overseen and superintended during my 40 years of ministry. I don’t know the exact amount. I do know that I take this portion of my job very seriously. I can almost hear Heaven’s thunder here on Earth every time I say, “By the power vested in me,” during the ceremony. Those words don’t come off my lips without me taking some serious responsibility. If I don’t believe that he and she are prepared to fight for each other rather than just fight with one another, then I in good conscience can’t bless what is basically doomed from the starting block. Too many couples act like the wedding event and the honeymoon to follow are the most important pieces of creating the perfect romance but real love is learned in the trenches and powerfully practiced in the daily routines of living life. Vows said should be vows reread quite often to be reminded of what you promised on a day when you were surrounded by an adoring audience.     

This is the time of the holiday season when people start taking some personal inventory and reflect upon their successes and failures amidst this last year as they gaze into the days to come. Many individuals choose to make New Year’s Resolutions. I like to call my own venture in this exercise, “New Year’s Revolutions.” The reason I call them such is because it takes some committed passionate intensity to grab the ‘want to’ in the daily battle in seeing our wishes come true. There are so many obstacles that come against us each and every day, hoping that we will fail to prevail and toss in the towel long before we work up any serious sweat. Writing down goals is the easy part. Seeing them to fruition is a whole other story. Joining a gym may help with getting you in shape physically but where do you go when it comes to fine tuning your soul?

When was the last time you married couples did something to deal with the check engine light of your union and communion together? Covering that blinking beacon with duct tape is not an option. If you pretend that all is well while your tempers continue to boil over like antifreeze on caffeine, sooner or later the whole relationship will break down for good. Mr. Goodwrench won’t have a tool to repair what you obviously didn’t care enough to address when hope was still in sight. Pull to the side of the road and determine to give the balding tires of your marriage a chance to retread what up to now you have only begun to dread. Instead of the wedding bell blues, I am encouraging you to do your marriage in review so you can renew what should be revived before it is junked for good.

How many of you married your opposite? You were attracted to the very qualities that you didn’t have but God knew you needed. You found them in another and the two of you could accomplish together what neither one of you could ever do alone. But do you know what happens? Too many men and women spend the rest of their years attempting to alter the one that at the altar they pledged their undying love to. We want to mess with the master plan that if we let things be, the wonderful that was first intended could be realized.

How many of you pursued each other when you were dating? You would move heaven and earth for each other when you were attempting to win their affections. Nothing was more important than being able to connect and talk. Gifts came easily. Spending quality time was a must. The touch of her hand in yours would ignite more than a few sparks. Whatever needed to be done became a top priority. Why is it that once we get married, we act like the thrill of the hunt is over and we display our prize like a deer hunter would hang the head of his kill on the wall in the den. I know that life happens and some things do change. But dropping from number one to number 89 with an anchor is something that we can do something about. Stop taking for granted the one that you promised to give your A Game to. When the waitress at the local diner gets the compliments that your Bride once received, it is time to reevaluate your romance. When you chase after the person sharing your workspace than the one sharing your bed, you know the pilot light of enchantment has frozen a solid blue. Flirtation without honorable intentions is the open door to using rather than cherishing. If commitment isn’t the thing its nothing more than a fling. And putting a ring on it is not to shut it down but to launch a whole new world of opportunity.

When our youngest son went to college this Fall, my wife and I had an empty nest for the first time since 1986. We were married in 1982 because we loved each other. We raised 4 children and now have 8 grandchildren, but the rubber met the road when it was just the two of us under the same roof. Our friendship, which has always been the foundation of our union, was literally rekindled. The sincere chemistry of our union has been rekindled because we really do complement each other. You might say it like this, I not only love my wife, but I like her. I respect her and am challenged by her. I adore my children, but I never put them above Terri. If you are in a funk and need to adjust some things in your home, maybe making your spouse tops in your house would be a great place to start.

Even though I am a Christian Minister, I have borrowed from Judaism for several weddings that I have officiated. It all surrounds the use of the “chuppah.” The chuppah is a tapestry attached to the tops of four poles. The word means covering or protection and is intended as a roof or covering for the bride and groom at their wedding. The chuppah is not merely a charming folk custom or a ceremonial object carried over from a primitive past. It sets the boundaries right from the get-go that God is not making two families one but two people. Too many people under the chuppah are not the way that marriage was destined to be. When what should be shared between only two becomes the fodder for reality television, and an audience is involved where they are not welcome, things can only be complicated. Even your children, your best friends, your parents, and your social media contacts should not be privy to what must stay between a husband and wife. Who needs to get out of your chuppah? Why not give a great gift to your special someone this January by shutting out the noise of those in the cheap seats and listen to the words of the one you need to cherish most? If speaking is too tough, writing a love letter all over again may be just the ticket to opening what has been locked up for way too long.

Marriage was God’s idea. It is spelled out clearly for all of us in the very first book of the Bible. Stop trying to take this duet and make it a solo performance. I have no doubt that this weekend, both the groom and the bride will be all in. He will look as good as he probably ever will, and she will shine like the princess she is. I’m not worried about the beginning of this race. I pray for their love over the long haul. If they continually propel the fire with fresh fuel, and care just as much about each other as they do about their car not running out of gas, they will be ahead of the game. We are so busy worrying about what’s going on in somebody else’s yard, we neglect our own garden. One of my goals this year is to not only love my wife as we look to celebrate 40 years together, but to love her with my actions, my deeds and my efforts. How about you? And if you are married, you may now kiss the bride again and again and again!





PERFECTIONISTS ANONYMOUS

23 11 2021

There are days that I know I disappoint. Even though I attempt to avoid the negative, I still let down others and I come up woefully short of my own expectations. I curse the fact that I am a “perfectionist.” I am not very judgmental of those around me mind you; but my goals for myself are absolutely sky high and lately I can’t even gather enough chutzpah to make it to the ceiling of my living room! The things that I demand of myself at times are so unobtainable, I literally set myself up to fail long before the journey even starts. Can anyone else relate?

What causes us to buy the lie that we are in control of our own destiny?  What deceives me to believe that I have more power to seize the day than I actually do? Positive thinking doesn’t always alter the landscape or reduce the sizes of the challenges smack dab there on my horizon! My Type A personality has turned out to become a huge failure grade on the report card of my heart. Hey, I once could have had front row tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert, but my striving to be the best I could be got the best of me and I stayed back at the dorm and studied for the exam. Today, I can’t even remember the class that the test was in. The door to see Ol’ Blue Eyes sing never came again. If I had to do it all over again, it wouldn’t even be an issue. I was just trying to prove that I was a good student and one that couldn’t be distracted by peripheral interruptions.  

I wanted those in charge to like me. I wanted my teachers to validate me. I wanted the Priests and the Nuns to tell me that I was doing a good job. I longed for my parents to love me. I was a maniac on the hamster wheel of mattering. You can bet that I was the teacher’s pet. I behaved like a good boy should when those I called my friends were actually having fun. I’m the guy who battled so much guilt at work, I never took a break or knock off for lunch. I wanted to show everyone that I was no ordinary employee. As I look back, I think all I did was cause a rift between those living all around and me. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t even happy over who I was. I’m not sure that I even liked me; how could anyone else possible see any redeeming value in me?

I am at a stage in my life where I can’t depend upon endless adrenaline and a steady stream of stamina and an infinite supply of energy that used to seem to be available to me at will. I have gone to my man made well and discovered the source is dry! Now in my 60’s, I’m tired of playing the same old games and compromising my convictions to just make the grade. I run to the proverbial kitchen to cook up a meal of substance and find the cupboards bare! I strive and strain reaching for a second wind that has gone blowing in another direction for another’s convenience. And I stand and look for that someone who will show a little mercy and offer some sweet compassion and give some renewing grace and spare the shaming sentences and stop with the verbiage of disappointment and just be kind. I am tempted to make a cardboard sign and stand out in the streets saying, “Will Work for Love!”

One of the obstacles that almost kept me from ever surrendering wholly to the grace and mercy of God was the utter stubbornness that wouldn’t admit that I was utterly helpless and hopeless when it came to pleasing God.  Why would God want me unless I did enough to make Him see I was an asset to His cause? Yet the harder I tried to be perfect; the easier it was to see that this train was going nowhere fast. If I was ever to be free from the weight of religion that was sinking me to the bottom of the pit quickly, I needed to plead ignorance. I was not as smart as I hoped to be. I was starring in a production that had to be cancelled so a new season could be birthed!

Do you know that you and I will never arrive to an authentic paradise until we give up our amateur architecture ventures? As I talk to new friends who live in Shamokin about the possibility of coming to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church I pastor so that they may see what God is doing these days in our midst, there is a common reaction and a sudden hesitation that almost everyone I speak to has expressed. It is a feeling of not being good enough or the admission of not having it all together or the fear that they wouldn’t be welcomed or accepted that keeps them away from new life! Shame on any believers who come across as better than or holier than or too good for another man or woman in need of the Savior! I want to shout, “Show’s over Folks, time to let it all hang out so that God can clean us up for good!”

Could it be that we sabotage our own spirituality when we seek to impress God and others with our professionally manufactured resumes? God knows what is really going on and fooling Him is not even possible for even the most talented of hypocrites! Yet here we are, seeing life fly by while we bust our tails off to earn something that the Lord has already graciously provided! I can almost see Jesus wincing in astonishment when we bypass His precious gift of salvation only to choose our own self driven scheme of trying to pass off our mudpies as something majestic. The jig is up. I am what I am, and I can’t stand no more. Popeye used to say something like that right before he reached for his can of spinach to enable him to do what he could not do on a diet of candy and cupcakes. Perhaps instead of being a perfectionist, I could become a sold out disciple of the Perfect One. And what if by loving Him just as I am, I could love others just as they are. And I’ll leave the diet of catechism and cold hard facts for the crowd enamored by their own reflection. I choose to lay down the charade and follow Christ. His burden is easy, and His yoke is light. And I’m tired of trying to be somebody I will never be. How about you?





RIGHT TIME OF MY LIFE

12 11 2021

Let’s face facts. Human beings live like they have an endless amount of time this side of Heaven to accomplish all the things they long to do. By their behavior they exhibit qualities that show no sense of urgency that perhaps there might not be as much time left on the tick tock of life as they assume there is. Too often people get much too weighed down by their past or stricken with an extreme paralyzing fear of the future that they are allowing the present moments of this very day to get away. We just can’t waste these resources like we do. I don’t want to die with the basketball still in my hands when the final buzzer sounds when I could have and should have taken what very well could have been a winning shot.

When I recently left my last church assignment in Cape May County, NJ after spending 24 fruitful and beautifully blessed years serving there, many thought that as a Minister now in my 60’s, I was looking to retire or at least take it easy. I didn’t even entertain the idea of not continuing to do what I have had the honor of doing full time since 1982! I didn’t ask for what in College Football might be referred to as a “cupcake” schedule. I begged for a challenge. I wanted to have to be in a situation where if God didn’t show up, I had no shot of being successful. I was diagnosed with cancer but I wasn’t ready to pick out my funeral songs yet cause I didn’t feel a bit dead. Actually, my heart still has lots left in the tank even if the old body might be breaking down a bit. But the diagnosis was a sobering wake up call to the reality that I can’t waste time trying to please people when I know that my truest joy was discovered in being the person God created me to be. I may not have an infinite amount of minutes at my disposal but I know that it is within my ability to make every moment matter!

Of all the exotic places on the map, the Lord brought me to Shamokin. I have been asked more than once during these last few months, “Why did you come to Shamokin?” I didn’t come to tread water. I didn’t move here to circle the airport. I didn’t pack up all my stuff to move to Pennsylvania to hear why things will never change here. I don’t believe in playing church. I’m not crazy about those who push a religion that does nothing more than reiterate that on our own we can’t measure up. I fell in love with the God who first loved me and when He rescued me, I dedicated the rest of my life on earth to get people excited about the reality of being with Jesus forever. Eternal life is not so much measured by the quantity of what happens after we die but it is better defined by the quality of living and loving we experience now because of who we know! I am here in Shamokin because I love the Lord who loves the people of this city! If God hasn’t given up on us; why would we wave a white flag of surrender and quit on ourselves?

Last Sunday night epitomized what I love about being a Christian. Halloween is known for some pretty dark and horrific themes. Many church people have made the choice to escape their surroundings and retreat to their homes and lock their doors with a double bolt. Not me! I want to take the light where we need it the most! Michael McDonald used to sing, “Taking It to The Streets,” and that it still my anthem in 2021. I got to interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, sizes, shapes, and colors. I have always made it my practice to give out the same sized candy bars that I used to get in the 1960’s when I was a child “trick or treating” in my Jersey neighborhood. I find nothing exciting about the miniscule, “Fun Sized” teeny weenie versions of Hershey Bars and Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. I am not rich in any way shape or form, but I believe in showing others the same kind of courtesy that you yourself would like to receive. Imagine my disappointment when I ran out of candy about 20 minutes before 8PM. I have never run out of goodies before and again it sobered me to the lesson that I don’t want to come up short on living and run out of gas while there are still more miles to go on my journey. Running out made me realize that I need to keep running on with my very best efforts, so I don’t end up running on empty.

If we have a pulse, we still have a purpose. If we aren’t dead, we aren’t done. But we can’t keep losing those sacred seconds that the Holy Spirit wants to make last. And let’s lose the excuses that only prevent us from truly being the productive instruments that God knows we can be. Do we believe what He says? Are we unwrapping each day as the gift it is or are we wasting our hours whining about the contents when we should be willing to work with the ingredients that we have received?

Call me naïve or someone who has his head in the clouds, but I moved to Shamokin to make a difference in every which way I can. This life has tried to steal my song way too many a day but not on my watch. I am a realist. I know the hurt and the pain. I see the injustice and the loss. For all that’s wrong with our surroundings, I can still celebrate the colors of creation that are splashed in brilliance all around us. I don’t know how many more breaths that I have in this body, but I vow to God and to all of you, I will do everything to contribute to the magic that takes your breath away in the best of manners. I don’t see Shamokin as a steppingstone. I see where I am as the right time of my life to celebrate this heartbeat. If I can get you to look up rather than give up, then it is time well spent!      





THE THRILL OVER THE HILL

12 11 2021

My wife and I took a drive from Shamokin to Lancaster this past Monday. While we were in the car, I discovered that “Sirius/XM 80’s on 8” was doing a recap of the Top 40 Billboard Songs from October 24, 1982. Terri is originally from Lebanon where we got married in December of that year. Needless to say, there was lots of reminiscing going on between us as each tune brought back a succinct memory of booking venues, renting tuxedos, Terri picking out the perfect wedding dress and all the things we did as we planned our celebration.

It will be 39 years that we have been together come December 4th. They say the average marriage these days lasts about 8 years. Many use the excuse of still loving their spouse but not being “in love” with them to keep the union alive. I was only 22 when we were wed and Terri just 20. What did we really know? I venture to say that I had no clue what was truly ahead for us as we launched our new family that Saturday at Avon United Methodist Church. It hasn’t been love that has kept us together although I love my wife now as much as I ever have. The true glue was that we took the commitment we made before God very serious and knew that if we were going to build a lasting legacy, faith had to be the foundation strong enough to sustain the weight that life has piled upon it through the years, the tears, the fears and the ever shifting gear.

The Number One song of the countdown just happened to be that little ditty about “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp. I can’t lie to you. The lyric, “Hold on to 16 as long as you can; changes come along real soon make you women and men,” has always hit me in smack dab in the heart. Let’s face it. When we are young, we can’t wait until we get old. When we get old, we long to go back and be kids again. We are way too preoccupied with either the past or the future, we rarely engage fully in the present right before us. The little ones we introduce into the world are handfuls for sure when they are young but when you turn around and blink for a moment, before you know it, there is nobody at home but you and your spouse once again. And if you aren’t paying careful attention, sneeze twice and then cancer or some other unwelcome casualty leaves you all alone with your best days clearly behind you in the rear-view mirror of life.

If life has a ‘smack you right between the eyes experience’, then the chorus of “Jack and Diane,” gave me a sobering sock in the head. “Oh yeah, life goes on; long after the thrill of living is gone.” Wait! What? Can we human beings get to a place where we honestly buy into a belief system where there is no hope or highlight other than to arrive at death as quietly as possible? I know the prime of my life has already been written for the book. I come to Shamokin as a 62-year-old man who is battling prostate cancer and other annoying physical ailments that without a doubt has slowed me down from my younger days. But I am not dead yet! I don’t even believe retirement is good for you because there should always be a new challenge to conquer or a God-appointed assignment to jump into. Life goes on and I know that I might be in the September of my years but just like I love December, I believe my best is yet to come! If I have a pulse, I have a purpose and so do you! If we are not dead, we are not done! And who says that the thrill of the chase is only for the adolescents?

Biblical Hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. But it is much different than “human” hope. I say, “I hope my next report shows the radiation worked.” Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Earthly hope still carries with it a large degree of uncertainty. But not so, “Heavenly Hope!” If God has said it will happen, even though we don’t know when, we can live like it is already a done deal! I used to hope I was going to Heaven, but I had not one iota of assurance that I would. But because Jesus told us that He is the Resurrection and the Life and if anyone would believe in Him, they would not perish, but have everlasting life, there is no doubt about it. My hope of Heaven is a not a “Maybe Baby,” its only a matter of time.

So, life does goes on but the anticipation never ceases. The moment a Believer takes his or her last breath here, the movie doesn’t end, it truly just begins. I can already hear myself saying, “Lord, I don’t think I’m in Shamokin anymore.” And Oz can’t hold a candle to Paradise! So I press on with the heart of a 17-year-old because while outwardly I may be passing away, inwardly you haven’t seen nothing yet! I think we need to remind each other more often that no matter how dark it might be getting today, the sun will come out tomorrow. So I love the Lord and cherish my wife and cheer on my kids and spoil my grandkids and take on each day with one eye on the road and the other eye peeking at the sky! It’s not “if Jesus gets around to it”, “maybe He will return someday;” It is happening and even though I have no way to make it occur, I am not going to miss it when it does. God has my hope on that fact!

When we were kids in school, they used to make us participate in fire drills. There was no fire in the building. There wasn’t a hint of smoke being smelled in the town. We were usually dressed up in our “Gym Suits.” And it was negative 25 degrees outside when they paraded us all to the parking lot. The powers to be just wanted us to be ready in case there was true danger. They wanted to make sure that we knew where to go! Well, how about “Rapture Practice.” Someone blows a trumpet as a test of the emergency Christian system and we all get on the furniture and together say, “1, 2, 3 Jump!” If our Lord comes back, He snatches us up to be with Him. If not, we hit the floor. Therefore I recommend that you don’t climb too high during the dress rehearsal. I don’t want you to forget that there is always a thrill over the next hill! It’s too soon to give up. It is time to look up. Looking up gives me the ability to love my wife with honeymoon freshness. Looking up keeps me making my “Guardian Angel” busy. Looking up means the best is yet to come.

Rudy Sheptock is the pastor at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and hosts weekend oldies radio shows on WISL-AM 1480. His columns appear in each Friday edition of The News-Item and he welcomes reader feedback at oldieswithaheart@gmail.com.





MOUNTAIN MOVING FAITH

1 11 2021

Have you ever noticed how many times God meets His people with powerful performances while they are hanging out with Him way above sea level? Mountains are majestic but they can become life changing miraculous monuments when God is leading the expedition you signed up for.    

Let me throw a few examples your way from the pages of Scripture to illustrate where holy power meets plain and ordinary people peaking full force while they were placed on the pinnacle parts of this planet! Noah’s Ark lands up on Mount Ararat after the days of floods in the forecast come to a close. Abraham receives his son Isaac back when God supplies an alternate sacrifice hid in a thicket up in the hills. Moses met the Lord on Mount Sinai and chatted with the Holy One as one talks to a friend. David tended sheep and wrote some pretty memorable love sonnets while he was out there elevated above the everyday nuisances and noise coming from way down in the town. Elijah experienced a miraculous victory on Mount Carmel when he was both outnumbered and under equipped battling the false prophets of Baal who would have swallowed him whole if he didn’t win the day. Jesus gave three of His Disciples a sneak peak of coming attractions when the Lord was transfigured right before the eyes at the supernatural summit with their Savior. Let’s just say that if you are looking for a divine destination, going up is a wise choice of direction.

Back in the old days, humans believed that the mountains were the sacred home of all they could not understand. Rather than cry out to the One who created the Alps, they said their prayers to the creation and not the Creator. It would be like me sitting on my front porch here on 2nd Street in Shamokin singing songs of selfless devotion to the Coal Mountain that sits on my horizon. Can you hear me chanting, “Come on Your Hilliness! Please remove the hellishness from my wounded heart!”   

But as the Psalms say, it is not the ridges of high altitude from where my true rescue comes from! If I want my love to be lifted up to where it belongs, it must reach higher than what I can see with my earthly eyes! I need lots more than a positive attitude and godlike goggles. I need faith in the One who either has the capacity to either blow that mound of rocks to smithereens or invites me to go on a journey with Him that will literally alter my universe! Going to the altar may be hazardous to your comfort zones! Maybe the real assignment is not relocating to safer terrain but allowing the Lord to turn the obstacle before me to become a launching pad that transforms me.  

The last I checked, even the so called, “Good Old Days,” that the poets wax eloquently about had its share of war, depression, sickness, and disappointments. As the Israelites learned the hard way, just because there may be giants of grief in the land doesn’t mean that the Lord longs for you to back up into your bunker forever. When you choose to not worship God in the specific ways that He leads you; you can expect to be filled with whining as you wander aimlessly in the wilderness. Hasn’t this pandemic kept way too many believers preoccupied and paralyzed by the fear around them that they are ignoring the God who promises to get them safely home to the promised land? Because of the Old Testament Hebrews resistance and rebellion against the Lord, their ancestors died in the desert rather than dining on the milk and honey of paradise. You can’t have it both ways. Either the mountains become a dead end and a death wish or they can be a divine appointment to deeper appreciation of the God who really loves you.  

Let me close with a true story to inform you what a little mountain climbing with the Master can result in. A small congregational church in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains built a new building on a piece of land that was left to them by a  member who had recently passed. Ten days before the congregation’s new home was to open, the local government inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Unless they immediately doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary.

Unfortunately, the house of worship with its undersized parking lot had used every inch of their land except for a mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to literally move a mountain out of their back yard. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all the attenders who owned a “mountain-moving faith”. There was going to be a prayer meeting with punch and purpose. They cried out to Jesus and asked Him to show up as they looked up so nobody would give up on the way!

Sadly, only 24 of the congregation’s 300 members came together! But God doesn’t need a standing room only crowd to crush the giants in the land. The faithful flock prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final ‘Amen’. “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He’s got something up His sleeve that will blow us all away.

The next morning as the minister who trusted his Lord in a mountain moving sized proportion was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door. When he called “come in”, a rough looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from the local construction company over in the next county. We’re building a huge new shopping mall over there and we need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.’ And as God designed it, the grand opening of that little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with “mountain-moving faith” on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week. Faith can move mountains! Can it move you?





JOEL’S FALL BREAK SOUL MINING

20 10 2021

As I write this column, I am getting ready to drive to Upland, Indiana tomorrow. It is the beginning of Fall Break for the students at Taylor University and my youngest son Joel attends there. Joel is our youngest son and a true gift to my wife Terri and I.

Our oldest child Rudy was born in August of 1986. Today he is a Pastor in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife Lindsey and their three children Jude, Gideon, and Eden. Terri and I were married in December of 1982 and we both wanted children from the get-go. In the early days, we would hide the hurt when people prodded, “Why don’t you two have any kids yet?”  Unfortunately, Terri suffered not one but two miscarriages in 1983 and again in 1984. I remember the night when our second baby was taken so early and how I cried out to God in the emergency room of a Morristown, NJ Hospital. I can honestly say that as I brought all my “Why’s” to Heaven, I heard the Lord whisper back, “The secret things belong to Me and I’m going to need you to trust Me even when you don’t understand why things are happening as they are.”

You can imagine the immense joy that we shared when all was well with our first-born baby boy. I know I was singing that classic Motown song by Marvin Gaye, “Pride and Joy” at the top of my lungs! Our two daughters Leah and Abbie followed in 1988 and 1991. I have a very special relationship with my now adult girls. I not only got to walk them down the aisle at their weddings but turned I around and officiated the ceremonies.

But not all is sunshine, lollipops, and roses in the lives of those who follow God. In 1995, on April 5th, our Son Nicholas Paul was gone in a flash with no rhyme or reason. In 1999, it was déjà vu of the worst variety when Benjamin Phillip on March 7th, came into the world only to leave it before we even got the chance to blink. Terri and I were dazed and confused and felt like big chunks of our heart were ripped right from our chests. I never stopped believing in God. Without faith, what hope would we have to ever see our boys again? We did learn the lesson loud and clear that life is not fair and living here on earth comes with terrible trials and tragic happenings. There are very real holes that nobody and nothing will ever fill this side of glory. I just determined that I would cherish the children God did allow us to raise and look forward to the day when I would be reunited with those I only received a glimpse of.

You can imagine the shock when in late 2002, we discovered that Terri was pregnant again. The doctors all advised abortion as the only option. They showed statistics and expertly rationalized why it made no sense to put ourselves through the horror of yet another heartache. I have compassion for those who have been pressured into doing something that maybe now they regret. I just knew that Terri and I were going to fight for this little life until God declared the race completed. I am a Minister but my prayer that day I said in the Hospital Chapel in Cape May County was rated R for language. I poured out my gut to God and begged Him for grace, mercy, and strength no matter what the outcome might be.

On July 30, 2003, Joel Thomas Sheptock was born. Once again, I held my breath. Once again, I took nothing for granted. The only physical issue that night was that his body temperature was not high enough, but rather than put him in a machine, they gave him to me, and I held him as close to my chest as space allowed.  For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t need you to buy me any sweaters because I am a sweater! I run hot and hotter. I am the guy who sleeps with the fan on in February. I am the one who runs through the snow in his boxers in pure delight. Since I have been taking hormone shots to battle my cancer, the hot flashes have raised my heat to a whole new level. Joel got toasty in a jiffy.

Joel is 18 years old now and is studying to be a Youth Pastor and Worship Leader. He is 17 years younger than his older brother, but they remain close. When he came into the world, he didn’t just have 1 Mother but throw in his 2 older sisters and he had 3. I would tell him there was only one voice that mattered and that was the one who carried him through hell and highwater to get him to life safely. Joel amazes me constantly. He looks at an instrument and begins to play it as if I am listening to a CD. While I am only efficient at breaking things, Joel can put anything back together better than it was in the first place. He was in the top five academically in his high school class. I was in the top 100! What I am trying to say, while others might complain about having to drive 8 hours in the morning to become a chauffer for his child, I count it a privilege and can’t wait to spend that precious time together in the car. They said that he would never be, and we gave God the final word.

In the Bible, the man named Job once said, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord. He gives and takes away.” I know that song well. There have been some seasons when I could have authored another verse all by myself. There have been dark nights of utter agony on my journey with no guarantees of a happy ending. Yet, I am still here and going to get Joel tomorrow! That’s worth celebrating! Before I close, I have rested in another statement made by Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives!” Life may try to steal my joy and hijack my song, but there are lyrics that God knows are safely kept between Him and me. And long after the band of this world has quit playing, I will dance on to the tune that Jesus wrote just for me. Do you know the one He has written just for you?

Rudy Sheptock is the pastor at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and hosts weekend oldies radio shows on WISL-AM 1480. His columns appear in each Friday edition of The News-Item and he welcomes reader feedback at oldieswithaheart@gmail.com.





DOING THE WALK OF LIFE

12 10 2021

When I was a kid, I walked just about everywhere I went. I remember walking a good mile and a half to school when I was just in 1st Grade. But this is not one of those tales we like to tell our children about how hard we used to have it by trudging through the snow and wind with only plastic bags upon our feet as we walked uphill both to and from our destination. I liked walking. I walked to baseball practice. I walked to Church. I walked through the woods for hours with no goal in mind other than to see where the path would take me. Walking in the 1960’s wasn’t as dangerous a quest as it is today.

One of the things I would do as I walked was sing along with my transistor radio. I have never been shy about singing out loud no matter who may be around me. To this day, I can literally remember exactly where I was in route when I first heard the song, “The Long and Winding Road.”

Another of my go-to exercises I practiced while I rambled along on my trek through town was dreaming about the days to come. Even then I would imagine what I would become, where I would live, who I might marry and how many kids would call me Dad. I also would talk to God as my stride became a spiritual experience. I didn’t really know Him personally yet, but I always believed He was there. Growing up, I went to church weekly and attended Catholic School. I tried my best to be good enough but was consistently falling short in the righteousness department. But I knew deep down in my soul that I was never alone on my walk here on earth. I could hear the music of heaven even when there was no stereo in sight.

Do you want to hear something that has always intrigued me? When Jesus was doing His ministry on our planet, He never seemed to be in a hurry. I mean, He was the Son of God after all. You would think that He would try to jam as much activity as possible if He knew His time was short. But He didn’t. He didn’t rent a chariot or ride a horse as He roamed through Israel. He walked. He stopped. He paid attention to those who wanted to talk to Him. He intentionally got away from the thundering noise and clamoring crowds. He used His time walking from town to town to pray and genuinely be wholly present with His Disciples. Maybe the car I drive keeps me from some healthier habits. One of the joys of living in Shamokin is that my house is right next door to the Church, and I keep my car keys at home and scamper lots more via my feet. Could it be that I have marched full circle?

Many times, Believers refer to their faith as “walking with God.” It tends to give us a picture of communion and comradery as we roll. I like to talk to when I am with someone. My wife not so much. But speaking or not speaking doesn’t prevent us from still being together. Could it be that God wants to chat with us more often than we might even realize? Are we missing out on some life changing heart to hearts because we are oblivious to who is standing right next to us as we take another step?

Maybe Steven Tyler was not the first author to pen the words, “Walk this way!” Maybe the Holy Spirit penned the words upon our very hearts on the day that we were born! Like those times in my own life when I had to put my pride aside and become dependent upon that someone who was there to guide and guard me through challenging assignments. Could it be that we aren’t treating the walk of life with the amount of respect that it deserves? Could it be that we are traveling solo when we were never meant to go it alone?

Yes, I am a Minister, but I am also a guy who knows how helpless he is without a healthy dose of amazing grace. Without Jesus at the helm, without Jesus setting the tone, without Jesus by my side- it would have only been a matter of time before I crashed and burned and self-ejected my body, mind, and soul on this chaotic journey through the years. It has been because of a real GPS- God Protection System, I continue to walk on. No prize, no accolade, no human achievement should ever become more important than just walking with the Lord in a loving and lasting relationship! Jesus must be my Coach and only when I come in line and cooperate with His marching orders, do I truly see the beauty of what happens when I put my hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee!

So, are you open to doing the walk of life? Do you really want to be walking on sunshine? Do you want to walk like a man, fast as you can? Then give God permission to make Himself at home in your heart so you can walk like a believer today! Why walk like an Egyptian when they were known for their stubbornness in surrendering even after a plague fest? Don’t walk with the dinosaurs because they sauntered right into extinction! Walk right back to Jesus this minute and bring your heart to Him- don’t send it! Let him set the scenes! Let him direct the script! Let him call the shots! Let him move you as he sees fit! Put on the sneakers of the Savior and sense the Spirit as you walk the road that will one day conclude right into His arms. We aren’t going to an empty house. The Lord has the light on, and we best go quickly right towards the glow.

Rudy Sheptock is the pastor at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and hosts weekend oldies radio shows on WISL-AM 1480. His columns appear in each Friday edition of The News-Item and he welcomes reader feedback at oldieswithaheart@gmail.com.





ANTIQUING IN SHAMOKIN

8 10 2021

I don’t know why, but I have always been drawn to antique shops. My wife and I will be married 39 years this December and I think you can count on one hand anything modern and hip that we own. I love the feel of a room that holds classic furniture, black and white portraits, music on vinyl, games we grew up with and the other gems that came from those wonder years gone by. I can just imagine that if those things could talk, we would hear stories that would knock our socks off. These would include tales from a time when excellence in craftsmanship mattered and men and women poured their very best efforts into their work and people didn’t mind spending most of their hours at home with one another because that was the place where families thrived, successes were celebrated, and future dreams were truly born.

Masterpieces aren’t manufactured amidst an impersonal assembly line. When something is created from a heart filled with love, it tends to last long after the fast jobs done in haste with waste, roll into oblivion! This leads to pointing out the nugget of truth I desire to mine for us today. If we are serious about reaping the fruit that our parents and grandparents enjoyed, we best be intentional about the instruments we use and the ingredients that we include while concocting the food we serve on our dinner tables.

Let me illustrate this by pointing out that the “retro” products we purchase in this generation might display an outer likeness to the original artifacts but upon a closer examination, plastic, cardboard, cheaper options, and the lack of the human touch leave us still yearning for what once was and not what actually is.

Vinyl is back but the record players that I grew up are still your best bet when it comes to hearing the music. Yoo Hoo is still available in convenience stores all over the east coast, but that delicious chocolatey flavor is eluding my taste buds. I have never had a microwaved meal that was anywhere close to my Italian Aunts’ delicacies that to this day, no lunch at Olive Garden is going to compete with. Faster doesn’t mean better. Easier doesn’t add up to value. Cheaper only affirms that you get what you don’t pay for. And while something may look exactly like it once did, only renovating the outside leaves for hazardous results inside.

Have you ever been to Bannerman’s Castle? It sits right in the middle of the Hudson River on an island for all to see. It reminds me of what you might have seen during the days of King Arthur. Mr. Bannerman was known for his dealing in the lucrative business of arms and weapons. But sometime during the1960’s, something went boom big time. An explosion caused the erosion of all that kept things in their proper place. The truth is that you would never deduct this by an outside glance. It all looks wonderful from the river. But the inside is as hollow as the candy bunny rabbit we all get at Easter.

As for me, I want integrity both inside and out. I don’t care how awesome it looks if it is awful at its expected performance standards. I don’t want to spend my hard-earned cash dining at some fancy restaurant where I pay an arm and leg to just look at some dish that won’t even come close to doing away with my hunger pains. I would rather take my granddaughter Lucia on a date to Snyder’s Family Restaurant in Shamokin any day because I know the food will be good and plenty and the people who work there take pride in what they do. All of that simple down-home reality communicates an inner nuance that all the overpriced lattes in the world of overpriced glamour goodies couldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Maybe Google doesn’t have all the answers. Maybe the best information is not discovered on the internet. Maybe the smart phone is delinquent and dumb. What if you went past the fast food and invested in a true home-cooked conversation? When is the last time you asked your grandparents to tell you about their adventures? You might just find out that what you experienced with them, no Netflix quick flick could live up to. Just like that old office desk you uncovered at the Thrift Store was made with the best trees the forest had to offer, I think Mom and Dad might just be a better source of advice than the magic 8-ball on Tik-Tok. I dare you to pass on the microwaved mash potatoes and the substitute flakes that come in a box and create the real supper time classic complete with butter and a crater for the gravy to fill overflowing. Let’s fill Shamokin with the best of yesterday’s period pieces; only this time produced with the creativity and wonder of today. We all need some divine intervention to produce a love resurrection in our town and we can’t waste another minute if we are going to win it.     

Rudy Sheptock is the pastor at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and hosts weekend oldies radio shows on WISL-AM 1480. His columns appear in each Friday edition of The News-Item and he welcomes reader feedback at oldieswithaheart@gmail.com.





GLORY DAYS FOR GRANDPA

1 10 2021

SOUL MINING WITH PASTOR RUDY

I was going to call this new column, “Sheptock In Shamokin.” My Grandfather John Sheptock was born in Mt. Carmel in 1900 and was raised in Marion Heights. Like so many others who called this area home, he spent years coal mining in Shamokin. I didn’t know my Grandfather very well as I was only a toddler when he passed away from black lung in 1961. Yet, I have always been strangely drawn to knowing better who he was for I admired the sacrifices that he made to provide for his family and his extremely hard-working ways that I hope I inherited within my own wiring.

Years ago, while speaking at a Youth Conference in Mahaffey, Pennsylvania, I took my oldest son and we toured one of the old coal mines. I didn’t have to worry about making any reservations because we were the only two that showed up for the 3:30 PM tour. As we sunk and submerged deeper into the underground obstacle course, I felt like I was bonding with the man behind the man who was John Sheptock. And when we got to the part of the ride when all the lights were turned out and we were lost in the utter night of the place, I knew at that moment the great lengths that man went so his family could get by. Maybe one of the reasons I am a Minister today is because I want no part of an environment that shuts the sunshine out. There are days even my church office becomes a hindrance rather than a help because there are no windows to open and no fresh air to breathe. And one thing I can say about our new hometown is that one doesn’t have to go far to see the creativity of the God who put His majestic trademark on all that He made. 

Grandpa eventually did move out of Shamokin and made it all the way to Clifton, NJ where he got a job as a Breaker for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. These are the basis of my Jersey roots. John married Anna and raised four children of which my dad, also named Rudy, was the third in line. I have a faint memory of sitting on Grandpa’s lap but that is about all I can recall. He was quiet, which I am not, and he was not very emotional, which I am and when he did something for you, it was his way of communicating his love. I always knew about the Sheptock roots being in the Shamokin area and part of my fascination with God bringing me here is to discover more about the Sheptock’s who came before. In knowing better where I came from, I believe it can be essential in making better decisions in knowing where you are going. The past is a wonderful place to visit, but it is not the area where you want to settle down.

My past 39 years have been spent serving the Lord in full time service. Yes, I am the new Pastor of the Shamokin Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but I am also an Oldies Disc Jockey on WISL 1480 on Saturday and Sunday. Wherever I have been, I see the whole community as a place to shine the light. I have been a Coach, a Teacher, A Mentor, A Newspaper Columnist, A Husband, A Dad and now a Pop-Pop to 8 grandchildren. I was at my last Church in Cape May County for 24 years. I was 37 when I got there and now 61 as I start all over again. I saw dreams come true and prayers answered. I fought through the loss of my dad to cancer, 2 of my sons to die on the same day they were born, a heart attack, a mini-stroke, 2 bouts of shingles and while I never got covid, I did get cancer this year. I am not one of those who believe that if you have faith, you will be healthy, wealthy, and free from trials and tribulation. I am almost the complete opposite because I’m still here after many punches from this world that could have knocked me completely out.

Why did I leave the Church in Cape May County to come to Shamokin, Pennsylvania? I didn’t come to retire that is for sure. I came because I like challenges. I knew that if my grandfather could mine the coal of Shamokin, maybe the Lord could use me to mine the soul of Shamokin. Life is not about playing it safe or giving in to fear. I love hearing the stories of what was but only to ignite the fire of what will still be. I hate when people look at me and think the best days are behind me. I love when God uses where I have been to totally impact where I am now. I see Shamokin as a place to not just bring glory to God although make no mistake, for me that is paramount.  But I also know my being here is to have my life become a living thank you card to my grandpa. And I don’t want to see people dying from a darkened heart on my watch!

I have heard the stories of what Shamokin was. I have seen the nostalgia ooze through the eyes of the people who have reminisced about the good old days. But I don’t want to just be about the glory days that pass us by where, as Bruce Springsteen reminds us, “it leaves us with nothing but boring stories.” I want to use every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year that I have left to make a positive impact today and leave an optimistic bright hope and future for tomorrow. How about you? What’s your story all about and who are you allowing to write the big finish?

Rudy Sheptock is the pastor at Shamokin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and hosts weekend oldies radio shows on WISL-AM 1480. His columns appear in each Friday edition of The News-Item and he welcomes reader feedback at oldieswithaheart@gmail.com.





WHAT’S GOING ON?

20 09 2021

SOUL MINING WITH PASTOR RUDY

So here I am sitting on the front porch of the parsonage which is a home that the church provides its Minister as part of the salary package and the place in Shamokin, Pennsylvania where Terri and I are presently living. The setting is nothing like our home in Cape May County, NJ. Here we hear the roars of engines revving almost all the hours of a day and night. I think it might be a way to show superiority and establish your place of strength in status symbol land on the streets of the town. My truck can blow your cycle away in decibel levels. And you all thought that I was loud!

The Wawa that I used to practically live at to get my daily dose of coffee and conversation is now a Turkey Hill and I still go in there with a goal of meeting everyone. I have a beautiful view of a coal mountain from my vantage point and it is hard to ignore its beauty even if the surroundings are less than magical. I’m sitting on a white rocking chair like the ones that adorn the sidewalks of Cracker Barrel except mine came at a bargain basement price. And I am praying that God would show me why I am here in the literal homeland of my Grandfather and how does the Lord want me to go about shining my light so others will see God in all I say and do.

It’s not easy to start all over at age 61 in a place where you must win the right to be respected, heard and received. I loved being the Pastor of not only the Lighthouse Church in Middle Township these last 24 years, but I welcomed being a Minister in the whole entire community. It is baby steps again as I introduce myself to my new neighbors here in Shamokin. And I have to believe that God has so much more in store as I begin to plant the seeds of the gospel all around me with the eager anticipation that in the not too distant future, I will see and watch them grow.

But as the “Lord’s Prayer” taught us to say in our daily chats with the Father, it’s “Not my will but Your will be done in Shamokin as it is in Heaven.” So I am watching and waiting for the Holy Spirit to open up some holes in the defense so I can plow on through with grace and truth. I can’t share God with people that I don’t care about so my first prayers center around Jesus filling my heart with a true affection for those precious sheep He has now entrusted to my care. And I have to say, God has given me a real liking for those that I now hang around with. I know God went ahead of this transition preparing the way for all of us involved. I don’t have to pretend or put on airs of hot and harmful wind when I come blowing on to the scene. Very quickly I feel a consecrated connection to the lives that God has compassionately placed directly in my path. As a Believer, I am not supposed to walk all over those in my way, but to trust Him to give me the privilege to walk beside my new compadres on the road of life.

Common sense might have preempted this new venture until after I had been pronounced clean from prostate cancer or after I could have negotiated a way to stay close to my precious Kids and Grandkids. I believe that it is both a joy and a privilege to be able to share the work of the ministry with your Family and I am so grateful for that amazing experience of having Leah, Abbie, Jeff, John, Joel, Lucia, Claire, Adelina, Levi and Benjamin gathered all around after Lighthouse Services. The fact that they are all following Jesus and serving Him means more to me than any earthly achievement could afford. And I did promise Jesus at the beginning of my Call to the Ministry that I would go wherever He would lead and do whatever He would ask whenever He might ask it and while this side of Glory it does ache a bit, the greater promises of Eternity keeps me singing as I serve Him in a brand new place.

And Terri and I are still growing together as we are spending more time with one another because when Joel went to College at Taylor, it was the first time since 1986 that we had no children living at home. I love that woman and we have not only been married for 39 years come this December; we have also always worked together all along the way. It is no different now in Shamokin. While the cancer has made certain ways of expressing love impossible, God has a way of allowing me to communicate my unconditional devotion in creative and unconventional ways.

Please pray on Family! Terri and I will also be working with the Teens from 7th though 12th Grades when our “Kidz Klub” is unveiled again on Sunday Nights in October. Trunk and Treat will happen here in Shamokin on Halloween Night. We will be doing a Christmas Night of Worship with Paul Baloche here on Thursday December 16th at 7PM. I take nothing for granted. I am trusting God for candy bars and funds to pay the bills. But I do know this, I am not done yet. God has revealed to me that I am still an instrument that He wants to use and so I plan on showing up as God is blowing up our surroundings with great news of real joy! Jesus is still Lord. His people are still His Light. There is still much to do because we are still here. And wherever my earthly address may be, my gut wrenching cry to the Lord is that He will use us to get a ton more people getting their heavenly addresses in the days to come. As I have shared before, I still plant my feet upon the vision, “The Best Is Yet To Come!” Bye Love!