Here is where I am

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Deep in the Jordanian dessert we stopped under a huge cliff. Our guided pointed to a dark fissure dividing the wall. He told us we should walk to the slot canyon and walk up into it. We would find water and petroglyphs. I loved this guide. He did not handhold, but got us near to things and encouraged us to go exploring on our own. 

We headed through the sand and the cliff grew and grew until it blotted out the sun. The temperature dropped and our eyes struggled to see in the shadows. We climbed a few steps carved into the rocks and then started to walk up this narrow path. Years of sporadic rains have polished it sculpture smooth. The further back we went the harder it was to keep out of the water. Here we were in the desert and water was all around us. From fifty yards away, there would be no way to know any water was available. This is how the Bedouins lived in that land, they knew the secrets. Eventually we reach a cliff we could not climb and had to turn around and head back to the truck.

As we started back out our eyes had adjusted to the dim light. We began to see figures carved into the rocks. From time out of mind these figures greeted us. My favorite was the animals, but the human figures were also engaging. Then I saw the two feet. I was disgusted. I assumed they were the work of vandals. I was wrong. They were old, very old--thousands of years old.

I was doing some reading upon my return about Gilgal. The camp of the Israelites after crossing the Jordan. The most recent excavations have discovered several camp areas. They are shaped like a foot. It was a not too subtle way of saying, "I am here." The foot carved in the wall and the one shaped by rock walls testify to the actual presence of individuals and their claim that the want to make an imprint on the world-they want to make a difference. 

Whereever you are, put your foot down and make a difference.

Even the Rocks Cry Out

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Last Wednesday, we went into the sanctuary and viewed the ongoing renovations. Each day new work is being done as we are quickly approaching the day when we can again meet for worship in the building. On that night, our goal was to fill the room with scripture. Each section of the building was designated and then people wrote or painted the scriptures into the floor, on the walls, and even on the studs.  

Here are some of the scriptures we wrote:

Entrances

Enter his gates with thanksgiving. Psalm 100:4

Seating Area

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew ‪18:20

My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 2 Chronicles ‪7:15

My word goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11

Faith comes from hearing. Romans ‪10:17

The seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. Matthew 13:23

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. Deuteronomy 32:2

At the front, where people make decisions.

If my people that are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Under the Baptistry

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body. 1 Cor. 12:13

Under the Pulpit

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!1 Corinthians ‪9:16

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.1 Timothy ‪4:13

Under the Choir

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30

I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.1 Corinthians ‪14:15

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Ps 95:1-2

The wall behind the choir, facing the congregation.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:1-5

In the Gathering

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers ‪6:24-26

We believe these scriptures call to us and form God's pattern for acceptable worship.We are asking our congregation to pray these scriptures over our bilding as we ask God to not only refresh our buildings, but to refresh our hearts for him

Sabbatical Week Two

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Near the Gaza Strip, that section of difficult land on the coast near Israel that seems to be in the news because much of the anxiety of the Palestinian question emanates from that area, is a small hill or Tel. On the top of the hill is an archaeological excavation. The place is called Beersheba. It is a place closely associated with Abraham. The Bible describes it as the land of the Philistines (Gen 21:34). It seems that it has always been a place of trouble. It is a place where Abraham dug a well (Gen 21:30). Wells don't move over time. This excavation discovered a very deep well. This is probably the spot where he lived for much of the end of his life.

I wanted to see the borders of the Holy Land, so we traveled from Dan (in the North) to Beersheba (the South) Judges 20:1. The south is isolated, near the desert and near a hostile enemy. The North is beautiful and lush. Water roared around us and the Tel Dan excavations. We drove just a little further North and missed going up Mt. Hermon to the operating ski area by just 30 minutes. It was also near invading powers and was destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly.  

On the other days, we traveled to the gulf of Aqaba made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, so that we could go into Jordan and tour the area where the Children of Israel came out of the desert to make the final journey back to the land of Israel. We visited Petra, likely one of the places Paul preached when he was first called into the ministry. We visited the high place of sacrifice where the Edomites came for years to try to reconcile with God. We spent a day and a night with Bedouins in the desert. It was a huge landscape, hard to believe anything could survive, but they  showed us hidden water sources that sustain them. 

On the way to the airport we visited Arad, one of the competing centers for worship that Hezekiah destroyed. This city was on the southeastern edge of the Promised Land. It was a beautiful city on a hill, but when the south fell it disappeared under the sand. Of all the places we visited it felt the most ancient. No city has emerged there, so it is easy to see how it functioned in the region, protecting the roads and growing crops. 

Our last stop was in Turkey. We had planned to visit with our missionary friends, Jerry Shannon, but Visa troubles kept them away and nearly derailed our trip. We got to see the Archaeological museum which has stunning finds from Israel (the Ottoman Empire was long in control of the area). We saw one of the oldest and most impressive churches, the Hagia Sophia which was built in the 500's and is beyond words. We saw the location of the second church council which established the Nicene Creed and helped clarify the way we talk about the Trinity. We loved the city and the people we met and it will help us to pray effectively for our missionary friends who will be arriving in the summer if the visa situation clears. 

I'm writing this overlooking a street in Istanbul. The man across the street has just closed up his purse making shop. The lights in the streets below are still bright. The chanting from the minarets has quieted. We are packing our bags getting ready for our flight home. I’ve been running fast trying to see and learn all I can and am spending some time reflecting on what I am bringing back. Sometimes we feel like the world of the Bible is far away, but in these days I have sensed how contemporary it really is. The people are like us and we are like them and the same needs still exist and God is still is trying to find a way to lead us home to himself. 

 

Sabbatical Week One

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After the Ecumenical trip left, I started my sabbatical study leave. My goal was to go on a deep dive into places and stories of the Bible that I have never been able to explore in Israel due to the needs of the group trips. 

The first thing I ddi was to explore the walls of Jerusalem. I was able to walk nearly around the city on the high walls built 500 years ago. It was rainy, but still amazing to get to look over the whole city. Then I walked to the Via Delarosa without any hurry. I have walked it several times, but always with a time schedule and always trying to count people in the group. Instead, I was able to quietly and simply think about the suffering of Jesus. I visited the oldest Archeology museum in the country, The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum.  It is old, but has so many rich treasures. The quarries under the city were enormous and amazing and were just across the street from the museum. 

The next day, the wall tour was completed. Then a new museu, the Tower of David museum, which tells the history of Jerusalem. The highlight of the day was going to the archaeology wet sifting project. Begun about 10 years ago, it has produced numerous important finds. Using volunteers, each bucket of archaeology gravel is washed and sorted. It has become the new standard in archeology. The material we were sorting came from the area of the Western Wall. In it we found, pottery, glass and bones. Othes found mosaic tiles. We all searched for hobnails from the boots of soldiers, but found none. The real holy grail were coins, but we did not find any either. They showed us examples of both which had been found recently. It was still an incredible experience. We ended the day at the Bible Lands Museum, another first for me.

The next day, a private guide took us north. Some of the same problems from Jesus day still remain and while I have been on the road, I have never had time to look and explore. We stopped at Bethel, the place were Jacob slept and saw a vision of the ladder. I just preached about it and to stand in that place was amazing. It was a beautiful hill, its strategic importance was clear. God was there and still meets us in places like that. We traveled to Shechem and looked over toward the altar of Joshua. We drove back to Shilo. The ruins were amazing. The interpretation excellent. I was a little overwhelmed. 

It is the story of Samuel that I most closely connect with in the scripture. My mother lost a full term baby girl before I was born from complications during childbirth. I almost broke her completely. I was the child after that tragedy. When I was born the doctor told my mother I might not live through the night, I had to have two blood transfusions in the first 24 hours. My mother and father both were praying separately. My father worried that my mother might not ever recover emotionally If I died. My mother begged God to let me live. She dedicated my life to God. She raised me in the church with a deep seriousness. When I committed myself to the ministry, she told me the story of my birth for the first time. While standing in Shilo, I was thinking about Hanna, her desperate prayer and the child she gave to God. It was very powerful. 

We drove North to Nazareth stopping first at the Mediterranean Sea to examine a Roman aqueduct that provided water to Caesarea and most likely for both Paul and Peter when they were in that city. We spent time at the Nazareth Village museum which is built on an ancient vineyard from the time of Jesus and only about 5 minutes walk from where he grew up, The next day we hiked over ten miles on the trail that led from Nazareth to Capernaum. Much of the trail was quiet and isolated and beautiful. It was a hard and rewarding hike. 

Today we went to explore the location of Herod's first major victory on the top of Mt Arbel and one of the things that lead him to power. Then we visited Tel Dan the signature city defining the northern limit of the Holy Land. We ended the day on the slopes of Mt Hermon marveling in its snow.

It has been great learning so far and many more thngs to come. Keep pryaing and I will see you soon. 

 

 

Stormy

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For days the storm the has been brewing. Its the rainy season in Israel and they are in the midst of a multi-year drought so everyone seems excited for the rains to come. Each day it seems more likely, and then nothing happens. 

Last night the wind whipped up in a dramatic fashion. The gusts were strong and sustained. It sounded like to roof of the hotel was going to peel off. I was excited. We hurried through breakfast so we could go watch the storm. We walked to the water's edge. I have read the story about the storm on the Sea of Galilee that encompasses the disciples and reveals the power of Jesus. Just the day before we looked at a boat from the time of Jesus. It looked rickety and small. The waves were not large, but they looked large enough to swamp a small boated loaded with 13 people. The sea was dark and foreboding, it was scary.

As we stood by the shore the wind picked up and started to swirl. The flotsam and jetsam of the harbor spun into the air. It stared to rain and we scurried toward cover, but the hotel was a couple of blocks away. From overhang to overhang and tree to tree we ran like frightened cats. Finally, we made it back to the hotel. The wind whipped around the building through the night. Then in the darkest hours a sustained lightening and thunder peal exploded into the room. It was so powerful.

We got up and the tops of the trees are still, the water calm and the pavement reflective like glass.  I loved experiencing a storm on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I have watched the weather. I know about thermals and rainclouds, but there was something so visceral, and overwhelming about the magnitude of the storm. To think that Jesus calmed the storm at the height of its threat is overwhelming. 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:39-41.

Sometimes, I wish Jesus still did it that way, but that has not been my experience. Most of the storms still rage on (At the moment I was writing this the heavens opened and the rain fell hard for about 5 minutes.) What I have come to know is that I don't need the storms to stop. I don't need for the trouble to end. I just need Jesus in my boat.

Off to the Holy Land

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A friend who knows I am about to go to the Holy Land sent me a quote from John Muir. I went to find its origin as so many "quotes" are not real. This one is, it is from Albert W. Palmer, The Mountain Trail and Its Message (Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1911)

"One day as I was resting in the shade Mr. Muir overtook me on the trail and began to chat in that friendly way in which he delights to talk with everyone he meets. I said to him: "Mr. Muir, someone told me you did not approve of the word 'hike.' Is that so?" His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike!

"Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."

John Muir lived up to his doctrine. He was usually the last man to reach camp. He never hurried. He stopped to get acquainted with individual trees along the way. He would hail people passing by and make them get down on hands and knees if necessary to see the beauty of some little bed of almost microscopic flowers. Usually he appeared at camp with some new flowers in his hat and a little piece of fir bough in his buttonhole."

I am about to go on a saunter to the Holy Land. The first 13 days I will be with a group of 41 pilgrims. It is an ecumenical trip sponsored by our church, the Catholic Church and the Methodist churches of Athens. It is part of our initiative to draw our churches closer together. We believe Jesus that the way we love each other will be a testimony to our world on how much we love Jesus. 

After that trip ends I am going to take 2 weeks of sabbatical leave. Each five years the church gives me some time for in-depth study. On first sabbatical I wen to Oxford. The second sabbatical was longer and I went to study in Africa. On my third sabbatical I went on a writing journey about Martin Luther King Jr. On these two weeks of study I am going to go to a number of locations in Israel and Jordan to do deeper study than a group trip allows. Im attempting to go to Mt. Ebal and see the altar Joshua built. I am going to walk part of the path that Jesus walked on a Roman road to the Galilee. I am going to visit an archeological dig that is sifting material from the Temple Mount. I will be exploring the area the children of Israel spent in the wilderness. I am going to go to a temple that was built after the exile that is deep in the desert and rarely visited, bit the only place to get a sense of the Jerusalem temple.

I pray I will come back even more energized the preach God's word to you. Please pray from me as I go to lead and study and listen to the voice of God. 

Sauntering,

Kyle

Cold Outside

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I love the cold! I know so many people do not, but I love it. I love putting on my sweaters and a jacket. I love my scarfs. I love a roaring fire. Love seeing the breath come out of my mouth. I love even one flake of snow. I love icicles. I love the feeling of warmth filling an ice cold room. I love getting in my bed and pulling my down sleeping bag over me. 

My father-in-law is fighting cancer. We have been in and out of the hospital with him over the last three weeks. He was able to return to his assisted living center with additional daily help. On Tuesday we went to see him and were amused at the fountain out front. It was still going and still freezing. It was beautiful. 

I walked around it trying to get a picture, but it does not do it justice. It was way colder than the picture implies. It was a huge block of ice. The wind was whipping past it and going right through me. The fountains had spilled over the edges and the apron around the fountain was like an ice skating rink. As I walked around trying to get the picture I wanted I walked like a tightrope artist trying not to fall. I made it.

In the middle of my father-in-laws battle have been some bright spots. His new caregiver is a joy, competent doctors and innovative treatments have been a wonder, the small niceties and encouragements have been a lift to our spirits. Christmas in the hospital was not what we expected, Jesus still came, gifts were given, family was together. There were lots of smiles and some laughter. 

In the middle of challenging circumstances there still can be beauty. On the edge of the fountain was an icicle. When I was a kid, we used to grab them and play like they were swords (I lived in Colorado and New York). I didn't pick it up, but I made me want to be a kid again. As I walked away, the fountain had really lifted my spirits. Beauty in trouble, I belive in it. 

Gift Giving Traditions

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I pulled the shiny new penny out of my wallet. I had gotten the wallet for Christmas and had put all my things in it. My last wallet lasted nearly 20 years, so this new wallet was going to be a friend for many years. It was exactly what I wanted, a minimalist wallet with no additional features. Just a place for money a few cards and that was it.  Upon opening the box and seeing the wallet, I had immediately took everything out of my old wallet and filled the new one. I unceremoniously placed my old duct tape riddled thread bear wallet in the trash. Three days later the gift giver asked about the penny. Had I found the penny?

"What penny?" I asked.

"The one in the wallet," was the reply. The confused look on my face must have indicated that I had not found the penny. "Don't you know that when you give a wallet you are supposed to put money in it?"

"No, I did not know that," was my reply. Later I emptied the wallet and found the penny deep in the inner corner. Immediately, I began to wonder what other traditions about giving I did not know. Google was able to school me.

Giving an empty wallet is like wishing poverty on someone, while putting something in it implies that the recipient will always have their needs met. I'm glad my Santa knew this one. 

In many places in the world (Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Switzerland for example), giving a knife is like saying I want to cut you, or I want to be cut off from you. How then do you give a knife, which is quite useful? You give one with a penny taped to it. Then the person gives you the penny thereby "buying" it and thus it is no longer a gift and the threat is on longer a problem. I got a knife this Christmas with no penny attached. I'm starting to wonder.

In some Asian cultures, giving a clock or a watch is like saying, your time has run out, why not go ahead and die. There is no way to give these as gifts. The only way around it is to give money, as long as it is not in even amounts, which apparently is bad. I kept reading about mirrors, shoes, and then I came across umbrellas. Not supposed to give them, but I have two of the coolest that I am giving this weekend. The fine print says this is true for China. I'm relieved that I am giving them in Dallas. 

When God gave a gift to us, God chose the best gift-his own presence, his own love, his own son. The only stipulation, that we receive the gift and say, 'yes" to the gift. It is the same for every person everywhere. 

 

Boys and Fire

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In the last few weeks, Cindy and I bounced around to numerous Christmas parties held by BFGs (Bible Fellowship Groups). We ate more than we should, we sange, I spoke, we laughed, we listened. It was lots of fun. One of the parties was outside. It was cool, not cold, but great for a fire. The main course was hot dogs cooked over the open flames.

The logs were burning brightly and putting off some real heat. It was hard to get in close to get the hot dog roasted without getting roasted yourself, but it was fun watching the ingenuity and determination of the cookers. It was also fun to watch the many children gathered around the fire. 

I don't know about what I am about to suggest. I'm not sure if it is politically correct, but it appears over my 55 years that boys like to throw more things in the fire more than girls. There was an equally balanced representation of 5 to 12 year olds at the party. As I approached the fire, several little boys were scrounging around in the area looking for sticks and bark and just about anything they could throw into the fire. The girls were off playing on the hay bales. I have seen this behavior before, but because I am a little boy at heart, I'm not sure if this is cultural conditioned, or some more biologically deep programing. It feels like deep programing because I have never seen one of these "fire boys" ever have to be taught this skill. 

I love to play with fire. When I was a kid in New York, we had our own volunteer fire department. We had red wagons with fire buckets and sand buckets. We rolled around the neighborhood looking for a fire and would set one every so often because we never could find a real one. When I was in Jr. High, we found a flare in the street after an accident. We tried to light it. It stubbornly resisted. Eventually, we started a small campfire and put it in the middle. It caught and then quickly became a blow torch. It caught the knee high grass on fire, which quickly grew beyond our ability to control it. We ran to the house, but the house would not reach. We got trash cans and filled them with water and dragging them back to the fire. After about 10 minutes, we got it out out. We were scared. Our feet were black our shoes slightly melted and our clothes smelled like smoke. Our neighbors blackened fence was a long-term reminder of our folly. 

It didn't stop me from playing with fire. I went to survival camp and learned lots of ways to start a fire: flint and steel, friction, and magnifying glass. To pass the test you had to start a fire and keep it going for several hours with just one match. I passed. I still take a great deal of pride of making a fire with just one match.

This summer, I felt a stinging failure. We were in the White mountains. It was cold. We bought wood and started trying to make a fire. Everything was wet. The wood was green. We tried and tried and failed. The next morning we were cold and wishing for a fire, but the blacked logs just laughed at us. 

I grew up as a very active boy scout in a camping family. I have been to hundreds of fires. I love huddling around a fire. I love the way the light falls on people's faces. I love a really cold night when you breath creates a wreath around your face and the flames burn bright on one side and you have to keep turning because the cold is so great away from the fire. I love the crackle of the fire and the meteors that come erupting out of the middle. I love watching a marshmallow turn from bright white to carmel brown. I love the laughter and storytelling. I love feeling comradery.

The best campfire ever was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had been fishing. The were in shock of the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. Then they saw Jesus on the shore. "When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread" John 21:9. I pray that we each could expereince the wonder of a moment like that. May the best moments this holiday be the times we are gathered together in the warmth of Jesus love and presence. Merry Christmas. 

 

First signs

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For six months the sanctuary has been taken apart bit by bit. The pews have gone, the carpet is out, asbestos was abated, the back wall of the church is gone, mounds of trash has been hauled away, the organ chambers are cleared and being opened, doorways are widened and the floor has been jack hammered.  Up till now, it has been deconstruction to make room for the new construction. 

On Wednesday, concrete was poured for the new floor. This is the first of the refresh improvements. Late on Thursday, I snuck in and walked around on it. It felt so good. I walked in and out and was so proud of a church that would spend all this time, energy and money to create a handicapped accessible building. I can’t wait till everyone walks across the new threshold. 

Over the next few weeks, in increasing speed, things will begin to change in the sanctuary and it’s a very exciting time. 

The question is, “Have our hearts been through the same process?”  We’ve been praying that God will do a refreshing in our hearts. After watching the process so far, I’ve come to believe that lots of our work needs to be done in careful introspection. What is the hindrance keeping us from having full access to God? What do we need to remove? What is keeping us from hearing God clearly? We are praying for God to refresh our hearts in Christ. Lets keep clearing away hindrances and praying this prayer and expecting God to move in our midst. 

 

 

 

Impact Point

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This week I was with the Generations Trip to Branson Missouri. We had a great time of fun, shows and food. We also had some complications. On Monday evening, we arrived after an easy bus trip. We ate at an all-you-can-eat buffet and arrived at the Andy Williams Theaters. We were full and the music was soothing and I have to admit that my eyes fluttered for a moment or two. The second half of the show picked up we all left with Christmas officially launched.

I headed to the bus and found the door closed and the bus driver in deep ponder. He turned at looked at me and said, “I need your help. Someone has broken into the bus.” We got on and I filmed the scene. At first glance it just looked messy, but then on closer examination I could tell someone had gone through bags and tossed stuff on the floor. We called the police. We waited. Eventually, we let individuals on the bus to determine what was gone. They took a blanket, backpacks, and the drivers credit cards and cash. In reality very little was taken. The backpacks had only water, snacks and some gloves. We lost some time and got back to the hotel after midnight. The next morning everyone was happy. It could have been bad, but it was not. We all agreed to let it pass and have a great trip and we did.

On Friday, we headed toward home. We made our last scheduled stop and then were headed to a short surprise stop. Suddenly someone screamed at the front of the bus. I was in the last seat in the back. The rear of the bus rose into the air. The nose took a dive as the driver slammed on the brakes. Impact. Confusion. Chaos. Stillness.

We started taking inventory. A twisted finger, a bump on the head was the worst we could find in our bus. The car was crumpled, the airbags deployed and the occupants taken to hospital (they only looked shaken but the EMT insisted). After about an hour, the car was cleared the bus drivable and we were on the road again. We were all laughing and realized it could have been so much worse. Apparently, they had missed a turn, decided to try it anyway, but overcorrected and ran straight into our bus.

Circumstances can control your life or your attitude can control your life. Some people would have let the troubles overwhelm the trip, but our people were great. Noting put a damper on our trip. We would all sign up tomorrow for a return journey. I’m so thankful for the positive people. Twenty years ago my father-in-law out his arm around me on my first Sunday and said, “This is a great church, don’t mess it up.” It is obvious that our people are great and their faith in our God is great, and they are a whole lot of fun even in the worst of circumstances.

Perspective

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The water was like glass. The leaves vibrant. The afternoon light infused the trees with a holy glow. The whole time I was worried. I made a lot of extra nervous noise. Occasionally, I clapped my hands for no apparent reason. You see, it was hunting season and this lake is right on the edge of the property and I was warned that hunters are sometimes in the meadow not far away to the right.

The beautiful scene was upended by the threat. As I walked through the woods I could not get out of my mind the story of the accidental shooting last week, when a hiker was mistaken for a deer and shot. I know it is rare, but I still could not shake the feeling that people were hiding in the woods with their fingers on the trigger and I might just be in the wrong place.

I got pulled over last week. I was taking Chris Stapper back to DFW for his flight home. It was about 5 PM. I pulled out of a parking lot at Grapevine Mills mall and drove about 100 feet and stopped at a light. A policeman pulled up opposite me and immediately turned on his lights came through the intersection and whipped around behind me. He blew his horn and indicated with his hand that I needed to turn. He was coming after me. I turned right onto the side street. I looked for a way to pull off the side road on into a parking lot, but he blared the horn at me again and so I stopped in the road.

He charged out his car. I assumed he believed me to be a criminal, someone fleeing a crime, I must match a description on the police radio. He came to my window. He was so angry. It was very intimidating. It was scary. I kept my hands on the wheel. I did not move until he told me. He got my license. He tapped information into his phone like he was chiseling through concrete. He lit into me. He was furious that my highbeams were on.

It was still bright outside and I did not even know my lights were illuminated. This is still a new car to me and I'm not used to the way they automatically turn on with the ignition. In addition, the blue high beam indicator is obscured by my sitting position in the car. It is behind the steering wheel. I slouched down and saw the light. I apologized.

He left and got back in his car. He came back. He was still angry. He explained to me that he wanted to give me a ticket and that this was one of his pet peeves. I apologized to him. I explained about the automatic lights and the obscured indicator. He told me again what a dirtbag I was. He explained that even though I was driving my own car, the fact that I had a CDL meant it would go on my record, it would cost me money and there was nothing I could do about it. He printed out a piece of paper. Finally, he stated it was a warning. He shoved it into my hands and stalked away to his car.

Chris and I were shaken. We both commented about his anger. It was the most intense angry encounter I had ever had with a policeman. I certainly was breaking the law, my high beams were on, but I was not doing it intentionally and he took it so personally as if I was attacking him. I left the encounter shaken by the magnitude of his anger and a feeling that this is the fear other people have when they meet the police. I have never really felt it before, I have a number of good friends in law enforcement, but it reminded me of the feeling from the meadow.

When people met us do we create an environment of fear or peace? Isn't this what our culture is facing, a serious reconsideration of people with power and how they exert it over others? I say we pray the prayer of St. Francis more often,

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

Playground

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I'm so excited for Thanksgiving. We have family coming in and food being prepared. One of my jobs is getting the playground ready. The sea change has happened. My boys are officially no longer going to play on the playground. I know it happened a long time ago, but this week it was clear things had to change. 

The rungs to the ladders were broken. The platform was filled with sticks and debris. The slide was covered with slime ( a mixture of mildew, dirt and even some emerging lichen). The cover was torn and shredded. It had been too long since it was regularly used. I bought new ladders, a new cover, and swept the fort clean. The slide was a different story. The outside was not much of a problem, but I got soaked and filthy scrubbing it clean. The inside required a whole new method. 

We bought mildew cleaner and I started at the top. The spray covered well and dissolved most of the grime and the the rest came off easily with my scrubbing sponge. The first two feet I did kneeling on the platform. Then I laid down and reached further in and got nearly to the first joint. Several times I dropped the sponge. Then I would have to get up, climb down, get the sponge, climb back up and then crawl back into the tunnel. Eventually, I was upside down with my feet hooked over the edge reaching as far into the tunnel as possible. When I had sprayed and scrubbed all I could I had to shimmy back up the slide using my feet as hands and pulling against gravity.

I went to the bottom and started to scrubb. I reached the point where I had to go in the tube and realized I had done this all wrong. I should have started in this position and scrubbed from the middle down. Instead, my feet were in the water, the bottom of the slide was covered with the slime from the top,  the cleaning fluid smelled terribly and I was covered with it all. The fort is now ready for my grand nephew who will be the perfect age this year to play on it, which makes it all worthwhile. 

The process of cleaning an old mess is difficult. It's hard to know how to get a good handle on it. I replaced the wooden rungs with aluminum ones because the old ones kept rotting out. I did not want to go back to the old way. The last few weeks indicate that we are in a cultural shift that means that we have to put our world back in order, and it can't go back to the old way, but must get better. The way men treat women has to change in a deep and profound way. I imagine it will be messy, but it will be worth it, if we can be the generation to pass on a world where protecting individual dignity is not the exception, but the norm. 

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It looked so perfect sitting on the counter. It was beautiful. The Treehouse Thanksgiving Celebration features food made by all of the classes. They mix and cook and plan for a big spread. All the families come to the Fellowship Hall. The children sing songs and recite poetry.

It is usually my first official event of Thanksgiving and I love it. I love the hats and vest they make. I love the placemats. I love the families gathering together all in the name of giving thanks. 

I can't wait to see family and friends this week who will gather together at our house. I have big plans this weekend to get our playground scrubbed clean for the next generation of Henderson kids to play on it. Our family brings dogs with them and that added bit of chaos is so much fun. We make an annual walk through the Cain Center after lunch and love the crunching of leaves beneath our feet. 

It's been a complicated year. Things look worse in the world--shootings, division, racism, rancour, sexual assault. I often just want to look away from it all. The discipline of thanksgiving is important. I scrolled through my photos and remembered lots I was thankful for, great people I work with, the Refresh Campaign and process, Route 66 readings, getting the church bell back, The Robie House tour, Hamilton, walking on a frozen lake, Ecuminical Israel, my dogs, waves on the beach, Presidential libraries (4), Pokemon Go, our own youth camp, Dnow, steeple lights, 20 year celebration, eagles, friends, community pastors, camping out, 2 GLS trips, birds, baptisms, salt, music, VBS, Colorado, mountain streams, deer, mini-golf, total eclipse, hiking, highpoints, serving, state fair, Lance's new job, our family, my wife, our church.

Every day God's blessings are real, sometimes I just need to get my eyes off all the other stuff and put it on the near stuff. The stuff that makes my life rich and real and beautiful. 

What three words?

The location of the well Hope Springs Water was drilling when I left Ethiopia

The location of the well Hope Springs Water was drilling when I left Ethiopia

Right before I left for Ethiopia I watched a TED talk confronting one of the problems of our modern world, 70% of people do not have an accurate address. It never much occured to me because i have always had an address. Since I was old  enough to remember, I know each of my addresses: 13 Rockne St., 3412 Country Club, Baylor Martin Dormitory, Baylor Brooks Dormitory, Quadrangle Apartments (5th and Daughtry), Brookview Hills Apt. (Brookview & 34th), 4218 Worth Forest Dr, 4204 Glen Ridge Dr., 802 Dressen, 1179 Oval. I received mail at each of these places. People could find me. 

Most of the world does not have this luxury. They live at a place, but it has no street name, no address, no governing organization. How do you find someone without an address? They live in a slum, down some forgotten rural road. Their house is made of cardboard and tin, the roof is a plastic sheet. 

Enter, what3words. This company decided that the whole world could be conceived of as over a trillion squares each about 3m by 3m. Each of these squares could be uniquely addressed by just three words. Instead of a cumbersome longitude and latitude system, just three simple words.

I looked up my home. 135 different squares identify my house and lot. questions,contour.stats defines the place where I put the garbage can for collection. flourish.unforeseen.screen is my front door. dream,incense.landlord is the swing in the backyard. 

While I was in Ethiopia, I marked different locations. The church where we held the GLS was hard to find. Last year we got lost, this year we got lost. Never again. The front door of the church is located and seatbelt.hopefully.sharp. One of my favorite coffee shops is located at quiet.strange.gathering. We were sitting on the edge of Lake Tana watching the birds and listening the laughter of families and the three word location was horizons.riches.universal. 

I had so much fun trying to find the right three words linked with the right place. We were walking down a hiking trail and came to a place identified and lawmaker.brambles.astounded. I thought to myself, "Yes, that is true."

The what3words app and map is free. Anyone can use it. Business are starting to use it. Pizza delivery companies are using it. Three countries in Africa are using it to deliver mail. Travel companies are using it to direct people off the beaten path. Its uses seem endless. 

The goal is to be found. I kept hunting for my favorite listings. If I could switch right now, I wish I could have a square deep in the Alaskan wilderness. It's a place designated lost.found.saved. I am so glad God knew right where to find me.

Rings

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Rings. You are probably wearing one today. I can remember just about every ring I have ever owned. I remember the excitement of ordering my ring for high school. My graduation ring was the first ring of some value I ever owned. I cherished it. I've had other rings since then. But in reality, I can only recall having a few rings. My college ring. My football state championship ring. That's three. I have one more ring that means more to me than any of the others, my wedding ring. I didn't know what it was going to look like until Kristin put it on my finger at the altar. It wasn't even on my mind. What was on my mind was the significance of that ring. A covenant between me and my wife with God. A sacred covenant. 

We use rings for so many things: marriage, graduation, sports success, even fashion and fun. Some are expensive, some are less expensive. They all signify something to the owner. 

Last year at the GLS in Ethiopia, I was with part of our team at the Woliso site (pictured above). One talk really seemed to stand out to the leaders there in Ethiopia. Albert Tate shared a beautiful insight on the feeding of the five thousand. He drew our attention to the boy who brought five loaves and two fish to Jesus. Imagine the moment. A young boy looks out over the massive crowd. Then he gazes down into his bag. Maybe he had just caught those fish for his family. Maybe he caught more fish and traded them for the bread. It wasn't much, but it had to mean something to this young boy. But he brought it to Jesus. He brought what he had. And then he got to witness Jesus do the miraculous with his (seemingly) small offering. Albert Tate shared that we need to just bring what we have to Jesus, and watch Him do the miracle. 

On the last day of the conference, we watched all the leaders there bring their offerings. As we were getting ready for the last session, one of the local leaders came up to me to share what was in the offering. I was expecting him to give me a number. He reached out his hand and showed me something that I was never expecting... a small, gold ring. 

Our team is finishing up this years Ethiopia GLS. God has been on the move in Ethiopia through this conference. Pray for our team to come home safe. But pray for the seeds that have been planted in the local leaders to grow. Pray that their offerings, big and small, would be brought to Jesus. Pray for God to reveal opportunities for you to be that young boy. Bring what you have in worship. Bring what you have to your family. Bring what you have in the workplace. Offer what you have to Jesus and watch Him do what only He can do.

Wade

Fall Jacket

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I flipped through shirt after shirt. The sound of the hangers sliding across the bar, all the way to the last few garments. It wasn't there. Walking over to the coat closet, I began to search through old coat after old coat only to be again disappointed. Where could I have put it? It's not cold today by any means but it's perfect weather to wear my favorite light jacket. After searching for longer than my morning would allow, I grabbed the next best zip up hoodie and left for work. 

This hoodie is old. It's also a bit tight. Not what I was looking for. 

Living in Texas has it's definite perks. Most of the year a short sleeved shirt is all you need to get through the day. Sure, it does get hot but we knew that when we signed up to live here. When we lived in Boston, half of the year you needed at least a light jacket because the weather up there is relatively predictable - it's cold a lot. Back living in Texas, I find myself getting excited every time it begins to get a little cooler. I love wearing my favorite jackets. I love wearing a knitted hat to keep my ears warm. I look so forward to making a fire in the fireplace, cooking chili and soups. These are things we seldom do most of the year and I so look forward to this season. But I need to find that jacket, or else the fall just won't be right.

I was reading this week and this phrase really stuck out to me from Galatians 3:26-27.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (NIV)

I hope we never lose this clothing. I hope it never finds it's way to the back of the closet. I hope I wear this every day, not only when the season is right. 

May we clothe ourselves with Christ! May the fruit of the Spirit pour out of us in everything we do. May we love without boundaries. May we be joyful like a child. May we pass peace to the anxious. May we be patient like a loving parent. May we be kind, to everyone... always. May we be early anticipating everyday to proudly clothe ourself with Christ. 

Wade

Mañana Today Q & A

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Q. What is Mañan Today?

A: It s a six month public awareness event. We want Athens and our surrounding community to hear a very specific message. We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ creates a new community. This community is made up of all the nations. The great commission teaches us that we are to go to all the nations. Abraham was called to bless all the nations. Jesus pictures the future as all the nations gathered at his feet. The phrase Mañana Today tries to bridge two gaps the gap between what we know today and what the heavenly community will look like. The second gap is a language gap, we love the juxtaposition between the English and the Spanish words that says, everyone is welcome here. 

Q. What prompted launching Mañan Today now?

A. Three things energized our launch. One, we have expanded our service to included a weekly bilingual service. There are lots of people in town who do not know that we are offering this service each week at 11 and we wanted the community to be invited. Two, The rise of racial ideas, that many people thought we had left in the past, caused us to want to differentiate ourselves from faith communities where racism seemed to be tolerated. We wanted to tell the world that we believe that Jesus tore down all of those distinctions and that our church is welcoming to all people. Three, with our renovation many people think that our church is just taking a break, but we wanted the process to be a true refreshing of our hearts and minds. This is the exact right moment to ask people to join a movement more than a building.

Q. Are there more events that will make up the Mañan Today Campaign?

A. Yes. We have five major outreach events planned for the campaign. North Pole- Dec 3; Three Kings Day - Jan 6; Wildflower Planting Day - Feb. 11; Easter Butterfly release - April 1, Dia Del Nino - April 28. 

Q. Where will the Wildflower Planting happen?

A. We are developing a meditative garden that will be a place of beauty, prayer and pictures that will be a open to the community. We intend for the multitude of flowers to be a visual representation of the Mañana Today idea-all people dwelling together in harmony?

Q. Is this just a spillover of the agenda from the world?

A. No. In 2014, our church adopted the "Closer-Broader-Younger" strategic ministry plan. Over a year of prayer and planning went into the goals developed through that process and then adopted by the church. We set the goal of reaching 18% diversity in our congregation, which represents the diversity in Athens.  Since that time, we have blended our staff, our children's ministry, our youth ministry and our Sunday morning worship services. We think this is the leading of God. We are holding firmly to the core essentials of the Gospel and trying to live more deeply in the implications of God's future community. 

Q. What has been the response?

A. We have had 11,892 people view the video we posted. 1,211 people have clicked on it to find out more information. ∑e have had incredible comments, "This is MY church...and I love it! Come join us!", "Awesome!!", "love our church!!!." We even had some calls from people in San Antonio who watched the video and wanted us to know how proud they were of our church.

To say or not to say

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This week we have been reading the book of Job. We had a tragedy at TVCC. We are grappling with Las Vegas. Sunday, we are going to be talking about ways to help others in trouble. Here is a list I have compiled from emails and suggestions and grief advice resources from people on what helped them and what did not help. 

Things NOT to say

Timing and appropriate grief

  1. Time heals all wounds.

  2. It’s time that you got over this.

  3. You have to move on.

  4. It is not good to visit the grave so often.

  5. Why are you still crying?

  6. It’s been a month. Maybe you’re not grieving right.

  7. You need to put this behind you.

  8. I thought you would be more upset.

  9. Are you over her yet? She’s been gone a long time.

  10. Don’t let the children see your sadness.

  11. This too shall pass.

Speaking for God as if you are God

  1. Grief must be teaching you something you needed to learn.

  2. It’s part of God’s plan.

  3. She/he’s in a better place.

  4. It was not meant to be.

  5. He brought this on himself.

  6. Everything happens for a reason.

  7. You know that he cannot get into heaven until you accept his death.

  8. If you separate his ashes, he will never get to heaven.

  9. God wanted him more than you.

  10. Heaven needed another angel.

  11. Everything happens for a reason.

  12. God will never give you more than you can handle.

  13. This must be your fault.

Minimizing the individual's actual pain

  1. I know what you’re feeling.

  2. I understand what you’re going through.

  3. Others have it worse than you.

  4. You must be strong.

  5. You are still young; you can always remarry.

  6. You never really got to know the baby.

  7. At least the other twin lived.

  8. Can I tell you about my surgery/pain/trouble?

  9. It’s going to OK

Speaking for the dead

  1. She wouldn’t want you to be so sad.

  2. She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go.

Faux Helping

  1. Call me if you need anything.

Things That have helped people

  1. Its Ok to grieve and you don’t have to follow any script.

  2. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

  3. I don’t know why this is happening.

  4. I don’t know what to say.

  5. I can only imagine what you are going through.

  6. I am sorry for your loss/pain.

  7. Can I just sit with you?

  8. I miss them, too.

  9. I love you.

  10. I’d like to come take you to lunch or bring you some food, when would be best for you.

  11. Once when I was hurting someone________________ for me, can I do that for you?

    1. Washed some clothes.

    2. Did the dishes.

    3. Helped me blow off some steam.

    4. Took care of some errands.

    5. Put gas in your car (then wash it as a bonus).

  12. Im praying for you.

  13. Here is a book that has helped me (be very cautious and only do this if it is true. Do not do this if you have not yourself read the book during a real crisis in your own life.)

We all scream for Ice Cream

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It started with such hope. His on the top of its glistening white surface was a tiny curl. The signature of a cone artist that twirled the ic ream away from the machine in a flourish. The days are still long and hot so the cold temperature was perfect to break the monotony of the heat.

This cone came with a wrap proudly displaying its name and protecting the consumer. Gently the hand took it and held it. Then lick by lick the cone began to disappear. The sweetness rushed into the tastebuds.

Then suddenly, without warning or preparation the cone was on the ground. There was nothing to explain it, there was no one to blame it was gravity that did it. The three second rule did not apply. The cream slumped when it het the concrete. It unseated from the cone. There would be little chance of scooping it back up again. Its softness was now its weakness.

The sun had warmed the surface and the melting began almost immediately. By the time I saw it the white cream had slid away like a graceful breeze. When I saw it I was all alone in the parking lot. I could not hear any stifled sobs or hysterical screams. It was just me and the sad cone.

There is nothing like the death of a dream the aching sadness of loss. Its just an ice cream cone I told myself, but It kept making me feel sad. I was thinking a lot about my mom this week and my mother in law I think this cone make me thing of them. Ice Cream was both of their love languages. It was the reward, the treat the salve of life. Back when I was a kid the Dairy Queen gave a small cone as a report card reward. 

Not all sadness is bad. That little cone reminded me of so many joyful moments. It reminded me that with the bitterness of life, there is often real sweetness. There is no love without pain, it is the way of things. Cherish the good to hold you through the hard.