The Only One Competing

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There is a competition each year and I am the only one competing in it. Several years ago I took a picture while in S. Sudan and it got used in the promotion materials for the Global Leadership Summit. I was really excited because it showed the people of the area and help to dramatized the plight of the country. Every  time I saw the picture it motivated me. 

I decided then that I wanted to take a picture each year as part of the GLS that would be good enough for them to use in promotional material. During my fall trips to lead the events, I am looking around trying to find pictures that show the people of Ethiopia and their desire to be better leaders. Two years ago a took a picture in Bahir Dar. It was a huge church that had peeling paint. Near the ground were potted plants. There was a door with our GLS sign standing next to it and leaders lined up ready to get inside the building. It made me think of the struggle they have (the peeling paint-limited economics) their desire for things to be better (the beautiful plants) and the sacrifice they are willing to make (standing in line, stepping away from work). The picture made it into the promotional materials. 

Last week, the annual report of the Willow Creek Association came in the mail. It tells the story of world wide impact (over 400,000 people attend the summit in 130+ countries). It tells of economic challenge (2/3 of the 817 non US Summit locations have a budget shortfall). It tells of the translation of the summit into 60 languages (We are responsible for Amharic and are preparing to start a new language -Oroma). 

The story is punctuated by a picture I took in Dire Dawa. The beautiful church courtyard shows people eager to get into the sanctuary. They are busily talking to each other. They are ready to learn. I saw the picture and was so proud of our church and our work. I was so glad we are in Ethiopia and committed to her people. I plan on staying in the competition each year to try to tell the story of under resourced people who can use our friendship and help getting great training.

 

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We were in the park and this huge patch of clover was calling to me. It was soft and quiet and deep. When I was a kid, we could spend hours in a clover patch. Sometimes we searched for four leafs. I don't think I ever found one, but occasionally someone in the group did. Mostly, we would snuggle into the cool embrace. We made whistles out of blades of grass, mine hardly ever worked, but usually someone in the group could get a shrill and vibrating sound. We stared at the sky and the clouds I could see lots of things, sometimes kids would see what I saw, sometimes they did not. I would try to convince them. I would explain it to them. 

I don't ever remember worrying about ant bites when I was a kid. Now, I would not plop down on the ground without a careful examination.  The world has gotten a lot more hostile. I had a group of friends and we did not all agree on things, but we liked each other and we had a great time. Several of my childhood friends went to other churches or no churches. Some did not live according to the standards described in the Bible. Some broke the law. It feels like it used to not matter as much that we all agreed. My memory is the fun of arguing with each other and trying on strong opinions with each other and then going to play touch football.

Now, society seems so polarized. It makes me wonder if we really do value other people or are we only looking for people to validate our own opinion. The more siloed we get the less we trust each other. The more we create a world where, "My ideas are the only right ideas," the lonelier the world gets. Do you have many friends who disagree with you about politics? about religion? about guns? about the justice system? We have been told over and over again that we should not bring up these topics, that they are off limits in our conversations. It seems like we will never solve these problems until we can talk about them.

That patch of clover reminded me of a simpler time, a more gentle time. I wish we could have longer conversations about things people disagree on without the temperature getting too high, without the language getting too personal or without someone withdrawing friendship. I would like to get back to the sweet smell of clover, the buzzing of bees in the air, and a good argument followed by riding bikes together.  

Paul projects a person in the book of Romans who is listening to his argument. This fictional listener is nodding right along as Paul describes the sinfulness of the gentiles. Then Paul turns the searchlight directly in the listeners face, "You have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1)" Less judging of each other. More listening and loving of each other. That would be better than a four leaf clover, if we could just find it.

Bugging Me

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I left after church on Easter feeling pretty good. We had managed to have multiple services back to back in tight spaces. We had a great crowd. The music was fantastic. The tomb was still empty. Awesome.

I had locked up my office and was headed to my car through the courtyard. As I rounded the corner near the front of the sanctuary a huge flying bug came flying down and dove toward my face. I turned as it kept getting bigger in my field of view. It was as if it had a homing signal in it. It obscured my vision as it entered my eye! I reflexively closed my eye pinning it between my eyelid and my eyeball, and it resisted. The pain was instantaneous. I forced my eye open and rubbed it and something fell away which I stomped. I could not see any of it very well because I was crying and jumping in pain. 

I stumbled toward my car holding pressure on my closed eye. I thought about calling Cindy for a ride, but figured I could blink my eye a few more times and it would be clear. Unfortunately, the pain just grew worse. I made it home using my good eye and then we flushed my eye. I took a couple of Benadryl and took a long nap. I got up and my eye was better, but not perfect.

We took a walk in the Cain Center. It was pretty. Flowers were blooming, the dogs were running,  and people were out playing disk golf. The sharp pain in my ankle announced the presence of fire ants. I stopped and shook out my sandals, but the damage was done. All week long the spots have blistered and grown and itched. 

On Thursday I woke up with a pain on my hip. It was a tick! He was sunk in and full. I doused him with fingernail polish remover and wrenched him free. He did not survive. The spot is still irritated. 

Easter does not mean ease. It does not mean done. It means the fight has just begun. It means the attack is coming. The first thing that happened after Easter was persecution and struggle for the Gospel. It's not a time to rest, but a time to resist the powers and principalities-that's what the little messengers reminded me this week. Especially, because the enemy does not have to fight us big, the enemy can fight us small. We lose the battle when we let little things become major things. When we let preference win over substance. Keep your eyes on the empty tomb. 

 

Animated

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I made a movie in High School. It was called, "Bald Tires Can Kill You." I'm afraid it is lost. Years ago we transferred it from 8mm to VHS, but I have not been able to locate tape for a long time. I can't imagine throwing it away, but it is not where I can put my hands on it. It was the product of my tenth grade year of school--I have little else to show for the year, but I was proud of my film.

We entered it into a film festival. We won "New comers of the year." Several of my friends and I shot the film and starred in the film. It was a stream of consciousness, Avant-garde comedy. One of the interludes used stop motion animation. I have never recovered from the experience. I have dreamed of making a much more substantial movie for years and years. Every so often I would think about it, but the process was too complicated and I was too busy.

For Christmas, I made a significant step forward. The cell above is from some animation software that allows easy frame by frame control. It was inexpensive. It is powerful. Last Saturday I had a few hours to begin experimenting and learning the process of frame by frame motion and animation. I learned how to replace the background and simulated a forest.

The animation armature represents the skeletal structure of a rabbit (the object of my animation). I got those supplies at Christmas also. It was originally designed to be a person, but through some creative swapping and careful examination of rabbit skeletons, I feel good that it will serve as the basis for the bunny. 

The film will be about eight minutes and thirty seconds long. That means that I will need to create 12,240 different pictures to animate the film. If I can complete one a day, it will take thirty three and one half year just to finish the animation. I'll be 89. I think I am going to have to speed up the process, but it certainly gives me something for which to shoot.

What are your dreams that you have parked? What idea has died in you, but might need a resurrection? Maybe you could do something different than you are doing--an attitude can change, slowly over time, or maybe overnight. The situation you are in does not have to be the situation you stay in. I listened to a biography of FDR. He contracted polio at 39. It took him seven years to rebuild his life. I was stunned by his grit. He could have easily given up, but he did not. He continued to pursue his dream.

Let us not become wearing in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6;9

 

 

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We were driving to a birthday party in Dallas. We knew it would be the trip when the odometer would go from 299999 to 300000. As we approached Dallas it started to rain. It started raining very hard. I wanted to film the event and had set a timer to remind me when it would be about time. My first image starts with ten miles to the big event. 

Cindy was driving, so I was trying to get the camera to see the odometer without obstructing her view of the road and the speedometer. I strained hard against the seatbelt and could not get a good view. I unbuckled. I pushed my arm closer, but the road was like a cheese grater and the images were all ruined. I tried timelapse. I tried stills. Nothing worked.

As I look back at the blurry images, I can remember the growing frustration with the bouncing road and my inability to hold the camera steady. The last set of pictures captured the moment of the turn, but it was a disappointment. When odometers actually where wheels it was fun to watch the numbers roll in a slow sweeping wave. On this lime green glowing screen it was 299999 and then it was 300000 with not transition, just instant change. 

We have had the van for 18 years. It is like part of the family. It has been on most of our family trips. It loves the mountains. It loves camping. Once, it went to the beach with us and the wind was howling and the sand grinding off its paint while I started a fire in a box in the back cargo area. It has driven us safely through the rain and ice and snow. Once, we were descending a long hill in Colorado. It suddenly turned to ice. I could feel the van become and ice skater gliding down the hill. The road turned slowly to the right. I told everyone to brace because we were going to crash. We told each other of our love. It was a long fast descent and we checked every seatbelt and pressed ourselves into our seats. In front of us, a car started rotating in a gracefully pirouette. Another car to our right gained angular momentum and the two cars met and then foced each other apart. Our van slid between the two vehicles as they bounced and remet behind us. I have slept in the van, laughed in the van, prayed in the van and cried in the van. It is sacred space.

The number tells us that the van is beyond its prime and will have to find a decent retirement, we are just not ready yet. 

Time is moving forward and change is always coming. Those places where we find rest and security are really important. Church is one of those. It's a place we find safety from the storms of life. It helps us move forward. It helps us feel safe. but it also has to grow and change and adapt. As we inch closer to our new sanctuary I was reminded about how many important things happened in the old sanctuary. While the 'new" sanctuary is beautiful, it will be a change and we are asking our church to pray and seek the filling of the Holy Spirit for the new space in expection of greater things than we can think or imagine. 

FISHING

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We were walking across a bridge in Istanbul, Turkey. The long span hovered above the Bosphorus, the ribbon of water connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and separating Asia from Europe. This water is at the very center of the three major land masses of the ancient world. I hung over the edge and looked into the water.

First, we rode over the bridge on a streetcar. Then we rode back. The next day we rode over on the train (the best Baklava in town was just on the side of the bridge) and walked back across the bridge. It's a little over 4 football fields in length and it is double deckered. We had ridden over the top so decided to walk across underneath. The space was filled with restaurants. It was just about dinner time, so lots of maitre d's were trying to cajole us to sit down to eat.

It meant that we hung closer to the railing. This was complex because dozens of fishing lines extended off the top road and past our heads into the water. On regular basis, the thump of a weight would cause our heads to spin. The desperate flapping of a seagull caught in a fisherman's line was too sad to watch (the bird eventually freed itself and flew away to our great relief). It was quite the gauntlet. Hungry fish on one side, and even hungrier fish sellers on the other side. 

At the midpoint the pathway lead again to the topside. We decided to walk up above for the second part. Now we could see the conductors waving their wands up and down willing the fish to rise in unison. They did not hold the rods steady, but drew them up and down in a perfect slow rhythm. 

Then we saw it, someone caught something. I was expecting a big fish. This is deep water, this is important water, this is dark and foreboding water. He pulled up the line and a small minnow dangled from the hook. "What a shame," I thought, "it still just has the bait on it." Then the fisherman took the minnow off and dropped it into a clear plastic container. It raced around with the dozen or so other confused fingerlings. They were fishing for minnows. We began to notice that this was all they were catching. We looked closer and were told that they are a local delicacy and eaten on sandwiches. 

What are you fishing for and where are you fishing? What do you want and what will you settle for? Jesus asks us to fish for people, to rescue them for them deep waters of sin and death. Sometimes we settle for minnows. Let's not settle, instead fish deeper and harder.

Under

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We walked into the Hagia Sophia and it took my breath away. This huge church was built in the 500's. It is massive. It is beautiful. We wandered through the church looking at the mosaics and marveling at the ingenuity of the architects. After some initial gawking we got down to the serious business of touring the church. 

I opened my guidebook and started to read. We followed the suggested route, step by step, reading, and then looking. One of the first stops was a small external courtyard. It was only recently added to the tour in 2011. In it, was a huge marble baptistry. Carved out of one solid piece of marble, it was installed in the church in about 550. It was still in an era when many adults were converted to the faith and were immersed in baptismal waters. For nearly 1000 years Hagia Sophia was the the center of the Eastern church. Then the Ottoman empire conquered the area and turned it into a mosque. 

The baptistry was in its own building. The building was eventually converted to a tomb. The large marble baptistry was dragged into a courtyard and buried. It remained there, underground for about 500 years. As some renovations were being done it was rediscovered. It is now open to the public. It was amazing. It is the largest immersion baptistry still in existence from the ancient world. At almost the same time, the new baptistry for our church was being delivered. The similarities are amazing. Our new baptistry has four steps going down and four steps coming out on the other side. It is the same in this marble pool. Both have a curved middle to accommodate the people being baptized.  I wish they would have let me stand in the one in Turkey. I have already stood in the one in our sanctuary. 

Deep down, under all of the trappings of church, is this one truth: Ours is a church built on the idea that individuals can and must choose to follow after Jesus and upon that confession follow him through the waters of the Baptistry. I can't wait for us to get into our refreshed sanctuary and watch people go under. 

Waiting for the words

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The mole got larger quickly. It got ugly and it hurt. I waited a day thinking I  had just bumped it, but the next day it hurt more and I called the doctor. The next day, I was in the office waiting for him to take a look. 

I have had too many friends whose lives have been interrupted or destroyed by one of these things going wrong. I waited for a response. I watched the creases around his eyes. He did not break a sweat, but said we should take it out and send it to a pathologist.   

He numbed it and the excised it. He plopped it into a vial. It looked weird. Stitches closed up the hole, a bandage protected the stitches, but I was in charge of the area. We made an appointment for the next week.  

Five days later, I was getting out of a friend’s truck and I banged it hard. It started to bleed. It was unpleasant. I was ready for it to be healed. Seven days after the removal I was back at the doctor’s waiting for the words-waiting for the diagnosis. 

He came in with the report. It was a “ulcerated pyogenic granuloma.” I stared and then blinked. My mind was no help. Is that good or bad? He added that it was “completely excised.” Is that what an exorcist does? He looked up and said. It’s good. We got it all. There is nothing else we need to do. 

He clipped the stitches, frowned at me, I had done some damage to his beautiful work. Three steri stops later I was out of the door and headed back to work. 

Later that night I googled it. It was good to read several articles affirming that it was not a problem, that it was not a bad cancer.  It’s anazing how a few words can be liberating and healing. 

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.