We officially turned the lights on the steeple on Easter Eve and we have gotten lots of compliments. Last Tuesday, we turned on the TVCC setting for the first time. The lights are capable of producing many different colors, we have not yet perfected maroon, but we continue to tinker with it. We have a number of different settings, which we showed at the fish fry.
We have a setting to AISD, for ACPA, TVCC, Easter, St. Patrick's Day, Patriotic celebrations, Christmas and more are coming. We hope the steeple is both encouraging and fun. We want people who are looking to see if the Cardinals won to come looking to the steeple. We want people to see the steeple as a focal point of the community. Always, the cross will stand above it all to remind us that Christ is Lord of all.
We have not developed all the boundaries of the program, but at the moment think we will focus on varsity sports, on district games. Highs schools will get Friday nights, TVCC Saturdays, unless one of our holiday lightings preempts the school lighting. It is a work in progress.
Last Tuesday, the TVCC football team came and helped more the pews out for the renovation. It was hard work. Three pews had been stored in the attic and were like wrestling an alligator to get out of the tiny storage space. The football guys did fantastic work. Coach Poteet made that happen. They all deserve a big thank you. After they were finished, we took them outside in the front and told them thanks and that we were for them. We turned on the TVCC red setting and told them, "TVCC won tonight!"
I love it that we will get a chance to tell people we believe in them. Our website is lovingtheworld.com may this be another way that we demonstrate to the love of Christ to our community.
Mike Jones told we there were Bald Eagles at Lake Athens. I decided to make them my new project. I have been out three trying to get a good image. The first try had a brilliant background, but it meant the birds were too dark. The second set of images were better, but the background was flat and we were still too far away. The third time was a bit better.
I called the land owner who gave me permission to go onto her property to take some pictures. Steve Gonna and I got up early and headed to the spot to be ready at sunrise. We parked his truck picked up a tent and our two chairs and walked silently to the east side of their sitting tree. The eagle was not fooled nor very happy. He soared away to his other sitting tree while we set up our tent and then tried to sit silently awaiting his return.
Eventually, we could hear his distictive screech as he circled the area. Then we saw him land in the field. He sat quietly on the ground with a flag right in front of him. He had a fish in his feet. Then the took flight again and circled the area and then eventually came in over our heads and stopped on the sitting tree.
We both furiously worked our cameras as we tried to capture the moment. He was on the tree for 44 seconds (from 7:45:40 to 7:46:24). We invested about three hours in the whole adventure. I got 22 usable images, of which two showed enough promise for me to edit them and post them. The one above is my favorite. I like how the shape of the bird is mimicking the shape of the top of the tree. I like his open beak as I can still hear his call. His eye seems so fiery. His tallons grip with such power.
Its the best eagle picture I have ever taken, but it is far from the best eagle picture. There are things I like about it, but my dream is to take one so good, that National Geographic would publish it. I need to be closer with better light and better background. I need mountains or bears or golden clouds. I want him to pop against the background with a brilliant white head.
The gap between our dream and our reality is rarely as clearly seen as in a photographic comparison. We think of ourselves as good, virtuous and impressive. Then the true plumb-line is held up next to our lives and we find that we are flawed, sinful and ordinary. We might delude ourselves, but the truth is we are worse than we want to admit. We are more sinful that we are willing to confess and more in need of grace than we are comfortable accepting.
I once asked my mentor, Henri Nouwen, why he had called his major work The Wounded Healer instead of calling it the Healed Healer. Was it not the case the Christ has healed us and therefore we offer hope to the world out of our healed reality. He paused after my question and thought for a long while. Then he said to me, "I never get to the point that I feel like I do not need Jesus. If we ever get to a place where we do not need Jesus, then we are in the wrong place." We are always in need of healing because we are always in the condition of being a sinner.
I can see all the flaws in my picture. May I see my life as clearly.
Thank you all for the encouragement and loven we felt last week at the celebration of our twenty year anniversary. We feel so blessed to be part of this church and it is honor to be pastor here. We have spent time reflecting on lots of things. It has been fun looking through old photographs-my boys have grown up right here in Athens. We always prayed to God that they would get to be from somewhere. Thank you for loving our family in a way that this can always be home.
I was asked for a list of things I might enjoy that would be an honor and then a bit of a surprise. So I gave a list of 9 things (that was actually a fun exercise) from inexpensive to wildly expensive. I gave ideas. The one selected was fantastic. It was a camera and lense designed for bird watching or better bird photography. I have always marveled at great bird photos, but never had the right equipment. I could blame lots of bad shots on the camera or the lense. Now there is no excuse.
I got them home and decided I would read the manual before using them so that I could have a better chance of taking great pictures. The lense has more choices than I have ever had. The camera is going to require some serious study. I could not wait to get it all learned so I assembled the camera and took it outside.
I decided that the first picture would be of a bird. There were robins near the driveway as I stepped outside. Robins are the first birds that really got my mother's attention and what lead us down the path of birdwatching, so it seemed fitting. They flew away before I was ready. I stalked them for a little while. They were hiding among the leaves. Then one flew and sat perched on the gutter for just a second and I took the first image. It was not great, but it is memorable to me.
Thank you for your kindness, the gift and to our future together.
PS. On Monday April 3 at 6:15 we are going to leave (at 6:22PM) the ROC parking lot and go take pictures of a nesting pair of Bald Eagles near the lake. You are welcome to come, take a picture and look through the lense.
Go online at lovingtheworld.com go to the bottom of the page and click Pastor Kyle's blog to see more pictures.
They turned on the saw and started into the wall. Dust emerged liked a cloud and covered the room. The first steps of the Refresh process started. We are on a short timetable as we try to get the gym ready to be a worship center for the next year. Through the week we checked in on the team as more and more of the wall gave way to their persistent effort.
It was like an archeological dig. First came off the sound board that we installed right after I came to Athens to help the gym be a meeting space where everyone can hear. Then came the green carpet that was installed when the gym was first opened. Beneath that was the cinder block wall. As the grey concrete came out a column was revealed. It went from the bottom and then up about ten feet, but did not connect to anything. This was a remnant of the old grocery store and it’s much lower ceiling. Beyond that the red bricks of the outside walls were revealed. It will make a really cool background for DNOW. The next phase, the extension building, will begin after DNOW is completed and and we are working hard to have it ready by our move in date (April 23).
If these walls could speak, the things they would say. There has been so many times of joy in the gym. It served as the bridge sanctuary during the renovations in the early 90’s and stands ready to serve us again. It has been the location of Bible School, Youth Group, GLS, volleyball games, the League, pick-up basketball, practices, Gracefalls, banquets and even an Angry Birds test facility. It has been a respite from the rain and heat, a warm place in cold winter nights. Thanks to all who made it happen so many years ago and sacrificed to accomplish this amazing facility.
If you tore something down and were to examine it from the ground up, from the very foundation, what would you find? In the ROC we find a desire to take a building, a grocery store, that helped feed people and turn in into a center that feeds people’s souls. This has been a huge success.
What about our lives? If, at the end, we could see all the layers that make us who we are and could start peeling them back, what would we find? At the bottom are those promises we made to ourselves, that we made to our God about the kind of life we wanted to lead. The framework was built on those moments, or else we whitewashed the walls and tried to ignore our core. It’s not too late to get back in touch with some of that deep programing. What were you made for and how is that going?
Last week Cindy and I drove to Alexandria Louisiana to perform a burial for one of our church members. I have driven through the town a few times, but the last time I was off the road in the town was 45 years ago. When I was a kid, we used to drive there every year to see my mother's family. Her uncle lived there. He was a preacher and a legend in Baptist life. I still have the Bible dictionary he gave me for graduation.
We would go to the Zoo, see our cousins (technically they were my 2nd cousins, but we called them our cousins) and eat weird food. We often drove down to Baton Rouge to visit with more family and occasionally we would end up in New Orleans. It has been a long time ago.
On the trip down this week, we stopped on the side of the road to change drivers. Right at my feet was a huge pile of crawfish. It looked like an ice chest had been turned over. I grabbed the photo and we continued on our way. I have looked at the photo over and over again. The shapes are so foreign and alien. It is very creepy, but something kept me coming back to the image.
Out of the blue an image came to my mind--the creek. Behind my house was a creek. It was my playground. We jumped the creek, dammed up the creek and dug in the creek. We got soaking wet in the creek. We spent hours fishing in the creek. There were no real fish, but monsters dwelt in the deep. We would take a piece of string and tie a chunk of bacon to it and dangle it in front of the holes dotting the banks of the creek. Occasionally, a wary little pincer would slowly emerge from the darkness and grab the meat. A brief tug of war would ensue and we would almost always emerge with a crawdaddy. They always looked like they were ready for a fight. We captured them. Sometimes we observed them. We were never kind or gentle too them. I feel a little bad for the way I treated them and from snatching them from their homes.
The crawdads made me think about about some quiet simple moments of my childhood when I had little responsibility and an abundance of time. I spent hours outside playing in the water and the woods. I had friends all through the apartment complex which was on the other side of the creek. That area was our Central Park. I feel so fortunate to have grown up by its banks.
During my late adolescence the town decided to pave the creek and turn it into a drainage ditch. Now there is broken glass, graffiti and weeds growing in the cracks of the concrete. I rarely saw anyone playing in the water. That life is all gone. It's amazing how three seconds on the side of the road has occupied my mind this week with nostalgia, regret, joy and delight. One of the most common words in the Bible is, "Remember." We can look back and see lots of moments of grace if we stop and think. It doesn't sound as good as "stop and smell the roses," but I might say today, "stop and smell the crawdads."
In 1995, Bogota had a problem. This city of six million was plagued by horrible traffic. The accident rate was climbing, the death rate chilling and corruption rampant. People were ready for a change. They elected a new Mayor. A retired professor with no prior political experience sought the job.
He knew he need to act and cat quickly. So he got rid of the traffic police, 2,000 of them. The were notorious for accepting bribes. People did not respect them. Instead he hired 420 mimes. They were trained to stand on street corners and confront traffic problems. Because it was almost always gridlock, they could easily walk into the streets and confront the bad actors, those who refused to wait their turn, those who were honking to no end. They stood on corners and chided those who refused to obey the crossing rules. If a person ran across a road they were followed by the mime and "his every move" was mocked.
The Mayor, Antanas Mockus, believed that people were more afraid of ridicule than of being fined. The changes seemed to bear out his theory. Traffic fatalities dropped by 50%. They expanded the program and handed out 350,000 thumbs up and thumbs down cards. When someone did something right other drivers praised them. When they violated the social contract, the got "Red-carded" with a thumbs down. The people of Bogota began to change because they began to think about others, what they thought and what they saw. They began to care about strangers whom they used to speed by or cut off without much thought.
No amount of external laws will control behavior. Action is born in the heart and the mind. What we all must have is a desire to obey the laws, a desire to honor others. If it is not first written on our hearts it will not matter if it is carved on rock tablets. If mimes showed up (assuming you did not die of fear), what would they mock in your behavior? Why does it take a mime for people to become more human?
The Office of Presidential Libraries oversee a system of 14 libraries around the country. I am trying to visit all of them. When I found out that the Global Leadership Summit meeting was near Los Angeles, I made arrangements to go a day early (my birthday) and visit the museum. It was a great experience. It brought me to tears many times. I was reminded of his grace, dignity, and humor. I remembered where I was on Baylor's campus when I found out he had been shot. I was encouraged at the many bipartisan initiatives that benefited our country. I reminded myself of the frailty of leadership as I resaw the Iran-Contra materials. We are all mixtures of good and bad.
Each of the 14 museums tells a unique story. They tell about a person and a time. They are selective, often showing the person in the best light possible. For instance, the Nixon Museum has little to say about Watergate, but about 1/3 of the Ford museum tells the story, because it is how Ford came to be president. His pardoning of Nixon and the aftermath of that choice colors the Ford legacy and informs the exhibits. The Carter museum tells about the Iran Hostage Crisis. The Reagan Library gets to tell of them coming home.
When I tell people that I am visiting the museums I get three different responses. One, bewilderment. Many people have no idea what I am talking about. They have never been to one of the presidential libraries, they did not even know they existed. Two, head shaking curiosity. Some people have heard of such places, but they could not imagine why a person would go to one of them. They look at me as if I am from some deserted desert Island. Three, a knowing comradery. Perhaps they have been to one of the museums and therefore they know generally about them or they have been to several of them.
I sat down next to a pastor from Long Island New York. I had a book on Reagan I had bought at the bookstore. He noticed and asked about it. I told him I had bought it that week. His eyes sparkled. He told me he had been to the Reagan Library three times. We then talked about the other libraries he had visited. His list included only Republicans. When I told him my goal was to visit all of them the conversation turned a little more chilly. I was sad that people can barely have conversations about our leaders that do not turn partisian and judgmental.
I have visited the libraries of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John F. Kennedy. This summer I'm planning visits to the libraries of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, and Herbert Hoover. Which will leave me just FDR's to have visited the offical 14.
After each visit I have been deeply inspired at the courage, dignity and service of these that have been president. I have been impacted by the words they spoke and wrote and their acts of leadership. Each visit has caused me to pray more specifically for our country, that we live up the high ideals espoused by our Constitution and embodied in its finest leaders. Most of the libraries have a discussion of the personal faith of the presidents. It makes me want to pray even more for our leaders. If you have never visited one, do yourself a favor and go. We have three in Texas and they are only a few hours away. It will make you a better American and it will help you pray better for our country.
I came around the corner and saw it. My heart jumped and my brain started to scan. I found the file. It was from the summer of 1978. It was the summer after my sophomore year in High School. Our church had lost its youth pastor and an interim had been hired. He was a film student at UT in Austin and we spent the summer making movies together.
Our summer long epic involved a group of soldiers who were carrying a secret message through enemy lines. Along the way members of the group died until only one was left to deliver the message. I learned tons about film special effects. I learned how to make explosions, squibs, matt paintings. I learned to cut film, and splice it back together. I learned about sound editing. At the end of the summer we premiered our movie. We all loved it. Some of the older adults did not get it. When the last soldier passed the backpack along and they opened it a Bible was revealed. We understood that it would be difficult to keep the Word of God alive, that we only get to keep it for a little while and we must pass it on to the next person. Our enemy is trying to keep that from happening. We loved the film, but were bothered by parts of it.
We never could find the location we were looking for, so we had to use a matte painting and it was not very convincing. We were looking for a white painted church, all alone with no other buildings near it. We pictured the group of soldiers hiding in the church for the night. We spent hours scouting for such a location. This was before google maps, instagram or the internet. We gave up the search, except I never did. Last Thursday, I found the location.
We were on the way to the location of our new Youth Camp and when I saw it. I immediately pulled the car over to look at it. Then I started to drive off. I stopped again and got out of the car. I took a photo. I am sending it on its way to several of my friends who were involved in the project. It was a really fun moment.
The passion I developed in those days has never really left me. It frames my ministry. I love creativity in the cause of Christ. I love the Bible and fell like it is my responsibility to study it, protect it, and share it. I believe I am in a battle that is real and we cannot afford to let the enemy win. I love getting to do it with a group of soldiers (community). I hope I never loose those passions.
I saw this picture on the National Geographic news feed. I have looked at it a bunch of times. I have showed it to people. It's like an inkblot test. People tend to try to see in it what they want to see in it. Is it a picture of a carnivore with a snack or a mother with a small baby? Is this a picture of the cruel world or the tender one?
It is the expressions of the faces that are so hard to read. The larger animal, a fox?, looks so calm and peaceful. There does not look like there is any malice in the face. The animal in the mouth does not look like it is struggling. It even looks like it is smiling. Am I seeing things? I checked the picture caption and it did not help. it did clarify that the larger animal is an Ethiopian Wolf. The smaller animal is not labeled. While I wish that I could see a loving mother lifting her cub to safety, i'm convinced that the smaller animal is a giant molerat and it is resolved to its fate.
Would I go quietly? Many times in history people have been faced with huge choices and they had to decide if they would go along or they would resist. Racist policies got into law because well meaning people just went along. The Jews were taken off to destruction and most people turned a blind eye. We look back on history and fashion ourselves as virtuous and heroic. We imagine that we would have been different. We would have stood up. We would have said, 'NO.' More than likely, we would have gone along.
The bible challenges us to see the heroic in daily living. It challenges us to wake up in the morning and start running. We need to run in pursuit of the future. Author Graham Greene, wrote in The Power and the Glory, “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” I would say that after the door opens we have to keep kicking it open else it will slam shut and we will stay in the past. What are the heroic struggles of our day where can no longer just go along, but must step out into the future God is creating?
Nineteen years ago, our church bought a piece of property from AISD. We have called it the HELP Center. It housed the non-profit by that name. It helped thousands of people get access to many government programs designed to lift people up and give them a chance. Last week, the last employees of the HELP Center moved to their new location on North Palestine. We are so proud of their efforts, their new location and their continued work in our community.
On March 1 we will take possession of the building and start the process of discerning what is next for the space. We are beginning to believe that God might use it as perfect timing to help us deal with some of the complications of closing the sanctuary for 10 months and relocating worship to the ROC.
As we approach the April 17 move out date, we want to inform the church about decisions that will be required to accomplish the Refresh project.
Adult Bible Fellowship Group Locations. We now know that we will be moving a portion of our adult Bible Fellowship Groups into the ROC during the construction phase. This will help us protect a guiding value adopted in our church as we built the CORE and renovated the Chapel building: Provide ground level BFG space for those with mobility impairment. Final decisions will be made in the next few weeks in meetings with class leaders. We estimate that 6 adult classes will move to the ROC.
Youth Bible Fellowship Group Locations. The youth BFG will be displaced entirely. We have two ideas that are being considered. A. Moving them to the Fellowship Hall and surrounding Classes. B. Doing some minor wall deconstruction in the HELP Center and moving them to that building.
Worship in the ROC. We will come to the church on Wednesday February 22 with a proposal to add a stage area to the ROC that will serve us during the renovations, and then will serve the Youth as they have outgrown the Refuge for Wednesday night worship. If we don’t add this space, then we will probably loose the gym for regular use on Mondays and Fridays of each week for the ten months.
Academy Exploration. On Thursday, February 9, the Leadership Team voted to empower the Athens Christian Academy Board to do a full analysis of the HELP Center as a possible future home to some or part of ACA.
I was asking myself what I had done this week, and I realized that the Refresh project had pushed out almost everything else, so it seemed a good idea to give you some updates.