Sunrise, Sunset

We started the long drive back from Colorado in the early morning light. Between Stonewall and Zamara we stopped along the side of the road to shuffle our seating positions. I pulled up beside this church. The early morning light created a glow around the front of the church. I got out of the car and took a picture. 

This little church looked over a beautiful valley of farmland and forest. We saw deer and cows grazing in the fields. The community and the church looked like it had seen better days. I thought of this tattered structure sitting alone in this valley and wondered whether it was experiencing a sunrise in its life or a sunset. Was it beginning and being born anew or was it struggling and about to close its doors?

We live much of our lives trying to answer these questions. Is this job beginning or ending? Is this relationship growing or fading? Is this project going to succeed or fail? Am I going to pass this class or be in summer school? 

If you saw this picture out of context you would need to know if the church is facing East or West? When you know that, then it is easy to know it is a sunrise. The difficulty is that most of our lives are not lived on a map and can be externally measured. Instead, life is lived on the filed of relationships. They are much harder to measure, much harder to discern. 

We drove into the morning light and I watched as the sun grew strength and floated above me out of sight, but the church stuck with me. I have gone back to the picture over and again. It's been making me pray, "God gives us a sunrise of strength and joy and light."

Between the earth and the sky

We raced off for a long weekend in Colorado last week. It was an amazing, simple, primitive trip. We had little time to plan and almost nothing we needed to accomplish. Our plan was to get to the mountains, set-up our campsite and do nothing for about 50 hours. We would camp like we did when we were just starting out-cooking simple meals and relaxing around the campfire. I located a place in southern Colorado that fit my requirements, high, cool, running stream, remote and no cell service. We had never been to that area before and I was a little afraid that it would be "Colorado light." I was wrong. I was spectacular. 

We drove on Friday night to Amarillo and spent the night and then drove the rest of the way on Saturday. We took our time stopping by a National Monument, Capulin, and eating at a great sandwich shop in Trinidad. Then we drove into the mountains. We had a difficult time finding a campsite. We were turned away at four different locations. We, however, were told that we could camp anywhere in the National Forest if we could find a pull out place. We checked location after location only to find every place filled. We pulled into the last place with a plan to drive back 35 miles to a town and return in the morning to find a campsite. It was already occupied. As we were turning around the occupant motioned for us to roll down the window. He told us he was about to leave and we were welcome to the place. He quickly finished his packing and disappeared in the trees. It was as if he was holding the spot for us until we arrived. 

It was perfect. It was an isolated place. Our nearest neighbors were over a half mile away. It had a large clearing perfect for our tent. A ring of rocks designated the spot for our fire. It sat twenty feet from a roaring snow melt river. The previous occupant bragged about the trees. He was right, they provided almost continuous shade. It was nestled between a steep forested mounatin side and exposed monumental soaring rocks. We lay down to sleep and the air was cold, but our sleeping bags were warm. 

I got up early on Sunday morning and set up our hammocks. I picked a big strong tree and placed all four of them radiating out of it like rays of sunlight. I tied the foot of mine to a very tall Aspen tree. I had taken a book of sermons by Eugene Peterson to read. I sank back in the hammock and listened for the voice of God.  I watched the Aspen leaves quiver between bright green and white. Tiny dust particles sifted through the broken shafts of light. Insect wings sparkled like a snowfield in winter. The sound of the rushing water at first overpowered and then faded into the background. I lay in the hammock and was embraced by a slow rocking motion. Then, I felt a much deeper movement. 

I looked up. The top of the Aspen tree rose above its neighbors and there the wind caught it like a sail. Like vibrations on a bow the quivering came through the tree and and into me. I felt small and afloat on the sea of the forest. The tree strained and resisted, but the wind did not relent. I hung between the earth and sky surrounded by fabric and color and read the beautiful words from Genesis, "In the Beginning God Created," which formed the title to the first sermon. 

There, in a cradle made of fabric, surrounded by ancient rocks and watching trees I read and listened and learned again the great lessons of God's love, God's purpose and God's leadership. I was so glad to be there with a friend who has so often helped me be with God. I was so thankful that God can speak so clearly. As it says in the book of Revelation, "his voice was like the sound of rushing waters" (Rev 1:15).

I marked the location on a map. I will return to that place. 

Fear

I answered the phone. It directed me to call the IRS immediately. I called the number and identified myself. I was given a case number. The officer told me his name. I wrote it down. I made him stop and spell it carefully. I noted his badge number.  He then told me that a warrant for  my arrest had been issued. Local officials would be coming to arrest me. I would have to post bond. The IRS was going to freeze my bank accounts. They said I had been audited and had filled out my taxes incorrectly. That means I had committed a federal offense. This was a serious case. I would have to adjudicate the charges in Washington D.C. They told me I owed $4256.23.

They wanted an immediate answer. I could pay the amount which included penalties right now. Upon receiving the amount they would cancel the warrants or I could get arrested and fight it in the courts. It would be expensive and embarrassing. I was told anything I said on the phone was being recorded and would be used in my prosecution.  The officer demanded that I tell him what I was going to do next.

I told that I was first going to call the IRS number listed on the IRS website to see if this was a legitimate call, which I doubted. Then, I said, if it was a legitimate call I would contact an attorney and would not answer any questions until I had consulted him. Finally, I told the officer that I was going to call the local officials because I knew them and check on the status of the arrest warrants. I would go turn myself in if necessary to avoid the hassle. The officer got unhappy and hung up on me.

I immediately typed "IRS fraud" into Google and found the page explaining this scam. I documented the encounter and submitted my report. Later, I got another similar call from a different number in a different area code. It went to voicemail. It says in part that if I want to "avoid initial appearance before a magistrate judge of a grand jury" then I must call immediately. I did not call. 

People use fear. It worked on my for awhile in the conversation. My heart raced. I thought through the long hours of tax preparation, I do my own, and had to admit that maybe I made a mistake. Maybe this was somehow true. During the call my heart began to slow as my mind began to engage. It just did not add up. I became more and more convinced that it was a scam, but the guy was good. I have heard noises outside my door a couple of times and thought, "OK they are coming to get me." 

The Bible says, "Fear not" Is 41:10. It's just really hard sometimes. What fear comes, I rehearse in my mind what i know to be true. I'm loved. While I was a sinner lost in sin, I have been redeemed, my debt has been paid in full and I am free. Satan keeps making the same call, Jesus keeps calming me down.

 

Bad hair day

I met the chicken in the petting zoo on the last day of VBS. I felt like I had met him before. I kept searching in my mind and I finally remembered an old photo that I had recently rediscovered. Yes, the chicken seems to be sporting a fro like I used to wear. In college, one of my nicknames was "Brillo Head."  I have naturally curly hair and when it gets long it wreaths my head in ringlets. My hair is out of control. It thinks it is going back to high school. 

I'm getting a haircut this week because it feels like in a few days my hair is going to completely overwhelm my head. How did this happen? I just haven't had enough time. 

I have been moving too fast for the last few weeks-since Easter- and have barely had time for reflection let alone haircuts. Easter, sanctuary move out, family campout, crusade, Ethiopia, family dedication, Intern arrival, Intern Orientation Tour, Sr. Adventure, Sr. Sunday, Memorial Day, Downtown Athens Leader Gathering, Youth Camp, VBS. And during the middle of this one of our cars got totaled and we have been down to Cindy and I sharing a car.  It feels like I've been spriting.

Does life ever get to be too much? I'm ready to get off the treadmill for a couple of days and tend to some of the not urgent but really important things in life. I've got a couple of books I really want to read that keep getting pushed to the bottom of my to do list. I really need to clean my gutters. I have to go find a car to buy. 

What is it that you are putting off, that needs your attention? Some of the things we can't hide for very long. If you put off haircuts everyone knows it. If you put off your spiritual life it takes longer before people start noticing. Time and truth walk hand in hand. Eventually, what you neglect will become obvious to all. Of course we all understand a hectic season, but we have to find a way to carve out sometime for the really important  things of life. 

Tracking

I'm not sure who left the tracks. I thought the one on the left was a racoon. It seemed small and agile compared the the boot print on the right. I compared it to pictures online of raccoon tracks, but was not convinced, but it doesn't look like a classic dog print either. I would love feedback from people who know more about tracking than I do. 

We went to a new camp facility for Youth Camp this year and I tried to spend some time exploring the grounds. One morning I walked slowly around the lake at the center. The whole path is about a mile. I listened and watched. There were big fish in the lake who splashed away when I got near. Birds teased me from the tops of the trees. Insects filled the air with a pulsing wave of sound.

I saw big deer prints and deer. I saw the tiny flicks of insects legs and insects. I saw the curving swishes of snakes and some snakes. One snake was right in the middle of our walkway, so we decided he either had to leave or die. We were pretty sure it was a copperhead. Google image search confirmed the identification.  Someone finally found a stick long enough and I coaxed him to leave our area. 

In the woods, I saw small pads of concrete testifying to the long ago presence of a building. In another area, I found a mound of wood from some torn down facility. It was clear that the land had some history. 

I wondered at all the things that had happened in that space, all the things that were happening late at night when we were asleep. The place was alive and rich. People continue to meet God in places just like this camp. The ancients called them "Thin Places." They were areas where people had gone for years and met with God. This week at camp we experienced a thin place, where the distance between our world and God's world is very small. We saw the stars blazing in the night sky. We saw smiles radiating out of our beautiful youth.  We had a Psalm 8 week. It was beautiful. The footprints I saw were God's as God lead us closer to himself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refresh is well on its way and I wanted to give you several updates.

1. Finances. Giving to refresh is strong and consistent. We have finalized our plans with our lender, but have not needed to draw down any of those funds yet. Since launching Refresh we have given over $625,000 towards the project and we are in the strongest cash position going into any building project in the last 30 years. As we continue in the process, we are acquiring accurate bids and finalizing our cost projections. It looks like our initial 1.9 million estimate is on target. The Refresh team is deeply committed to bringing the project to completion within this budget constraints. 

2. Design. Since the church approved the project, the Refresh team has been working with the architect to complete the final construction documents which will guide the bidding and the building process. There have been many hurdles, but the team has completed the design work. This is a new rendering on the stage which includes the in-platform baptistry. This is the way it will look for baptism. During regular services it will be covered and the stage will extend over the area.


The team has also agreed upon the color selection palette for the room. After months of work and with the consultant's expert advice the colors have been selected. While we have sought much input on the project design, this is one area that individual preference type voting can create hurt feelings and long term damage to the church. Churches have split over voting on color choices. The original colors of the room were greens. In the early 90's the room was changed to reds and tans. The new selections will come from the grey-taupe family. The final product will be beautiful. There will be an accentuation of a "rock" type feel that connects the room and our worship to the ancient practices of the church. We cannot wait for you to see the overall impact. 

3. Construction. The first steps have been completed. The sanctuary has been cleared, and the platform removed. In addition, the asbestos abatement process has begun. This is a multi step process that involves detailed testing (completed), a separate company that designs the steps and the removal project (underway) and the third company that removes the asbestos. Here is a photo of the cleared sanctuary. 

4. Schedule. The Refresh team approved a construction schedule that will put us back into the sanctuary for Easter of 2018 (April 1). We will be able to begin worship at that time, but as projected, the organ renovation project will take approximately 18 months (Dec 2018) before the organ will be ready to play. The visual pipes will be reinstalled, but the upgrades to the inner workings of the organ will take considerably longer. 

If you have further questions, please let me know,

Kyle

We arrived in Dire Dawa early in the morning. We went to the church and set-up for the GLS. After several hours we were almost ready. The technology, my responsibility, was working. The computer and video projector were tested and working. The sound technician for the church was not available, so I was a little nervous, but had to wait until the next morning to connect the sound system. The conference books were sorted, the name tags ready, registration was set-up and it appeared that all of the logistics were in order. We went to lunch with a good feeling that we only had about an hour of work left to do. We walked the block back to the hotel and sat down to lunch on the patio. It was hot, but a whispy breeze made it almost tolerable. We ordered food and were waiting for it to arrive when a nice young man stopped by our table. He addressed our translator, Israel, in Amharic and then strolled away.  We asked, "What did he say?" Israel answered, "He is a local tour guide and asked if we needed help."  We had a quick conversation and realized we might have some time to see something and so Israel went after him and brought him back to the table. We asked about the rock paintings of the area. He told us how long it would take to get to them. The conference lasted until 5 PM each day and we realized we could not make it given that time. We were a little discouraged. Then we realized. We are going to finish today by 3:30 PM. We can make it. We quickly finalized the plan and sent everyone to their tasks. At 3:30 we gathered at the hotel. Our guide had rented a four wheel drive vehicle. We piled in and drove hard out into the wilderness. About 4:50 we parked the car and started to hike. Twenty five minutes later we arrived. The site was unguarded and open. We walked right up the the caves that were covered with these ancient rock paintings. They said they were 7000 years old. Time and decay were taking their toll. A huge 18 wheeler sized portion of the rocks and recently collapsed. Kids had come and scraped off some of the images.  We were back in the car by 6 PM and headed back to town. It took an hour longer to return because we had a flat tire and had to dodge camels in the road and it was incredibly dark. We saw only one other vehicle during four hours we were off the pavement. This might be the most remote spot I have ever traveled. It is hard to get to in Ethiopia.  As we were walking back to the car we saw a cell phone tower on the ridge opposite the cave paintings. Two technologies on opposite sides of time, but both with the same goal, communicate with others. There, on the edge of civilization, people have the same essential needs to be heard, to matter, to reach out and make a mark on the world. Here people are no different. People must find others and form community. We cannot go it alone. Why not reach out and communicate to someone, they need you.

We arrived in Dire Dawa early in the morning. We went to the church and set-up for the GLS. After several hours we were almost ready. The technology, my responsibility, was working. The computer and video projector were tested and working. The sound technician for the church was not available, so I was a little nervous, but had to wait until the next morning to connect the sound system. The conference books were sorted, the name tags ready, registration was set-up and it appeared that all of the logistics were in order.

We went to lunch with a good feeling that we only had about an hour of work left to do. We walked the block back to the hotel and sat down to lunch on the patio. It was hot, but a whispy breeze made it almost tolerable. We ordered food and were waiting for it to arrive when a nice young man stopped by our table. He addressed our translator, Israel, in Amharic and then strolled away.  We asked, "What did he say?" Israel answered, "He is a local tour guide and asked if we needed help." 

We had a quick conversation and realized we might have some time to see something and so Israel went after him and brought him back to the table. We asked about the rock paintings of the area. He told us how long it would take to get to them. The conference lasted until 5 PM each day and we realized we could not make it given that time. We were a little discouraged. Then we realized. We are going to finish today by 3:30 PM. We can make it. We quickly finalized the plan and sent everyone to their tasks.

At 3:30 we gathered at the hotel. Our guide had rented a four wheel drive vehicle. We piled in and drove hard out into the wilderness. About 4:50 we parked the car and started to hike. Twenty five minutes later we arrived. The site was unguarded and open. We walked right up the the caves that were covered with these ancient rock paintings. They said they were 7000 years old. Time and decay were taking their toll. A huge 18 wheeler sized portion of the rocks and recently collapsed. Kids had come and scraped off some of the images. 

We were back in the car by 6 PM and headed back to town. It took an hour longer to return because we had a flat tire and had to dodge camels in the road and it was incredibly dark. We saw only one other vehicle during four hours we were off the pavement. This might be the most remote spot I have ever traveled. It is hard to get to in Ethiopia. 

As we were walking back to the car we saw a cell phone tower on the ridge opposite the cave paintings. Two technologies on opposite sides of time, but both with the same goal, communicate with others. There, on the edge of civilization, people have the same essential needs to be heard, to matter, to reach out and make a mark on the world. Here people are no different. People must find others and form community. We cannot go it alone. Why not reach out and communicate to someone, they need you.

We are not in Kansas anymore

We were driving down the road in Bahir Dar Ethiopia when we came upon a man wearing a white backpack. Quickly, we realized it was not a backpack, but a sheep. The sheep's legs and been tied together in such a way that he could wear it like a backpack. The look on the sheep's face as we passed him, made us think the sheep might actually be having fun. The look on the man's face initially told us he was not. We asked our driver to stop. I got out of the van and asked the man if I could take his picture. he posed. A small smile emerged on his face. The sheep peered around from behind the man. The sheep did not make a sound. It did not struggle. I wonder if it knew what we knew. That sheep was not being taken on a pleasure journey. He had been invited to dinner, in fact to be dinner. It was a strange moment. We thought of the moment often while we were in Ethiopia. It made us laugh. It also made us so aware of how different our worlds are. I have never seen someone wearing their dinner as they rode down the street in Athens (or for that matter anywhere else I have ever traveled). I felt sorry for the sheep. It did not look comfortable. There is almost no refrigeration in Ethiopia, because there is uneven and sporadic power in Ethiopia.  They live more day to day than we do. They prepare food for the day. They understand "daily bread." I never return to the U.S. without being incredibly grateful that I won the geographic lottery and was born in this imperfect, but amazing country. We have so much. We are not nearly grateful enough. Clean water, refrigeration, adequate food supply, air-conditioning, social services, infrastructure, flushing toilets, toilet paper, consistent power, representative democracy, a free market, low corruption, way less bureaucracy, education, opportunity, and hope. I was amused by some of the things we saw, and grieved by much of what I saw. I saw people miles out of a remote city that likely will never have any opportunity for education or advancement. They will be subsistence farmers eking out an existence hacking away at a rock strewn field. The area is 95% non-Christian. We met some pastors who are trying to reach them for Christ. These pastors have almost nothing, but they have the Gospel, their passion and love for the people of Ethiopia and the Spirit of God. I return with a bigger prayer list. Jesus, the Bible says, "took up our pain and bore our suffering, ...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; ...was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,  so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53: 4-7. Jesus takes up the suffering of the world and carries it in his own body that everyone might know of his love.

We were driving down the road in Bahir Dar Ethiopia when we came upon a man wearing a white backpack. Quickly, we realized it was not a backpack, but a sheep. The sheep's legs and been tied together in such a way that he could wear it like a backpack. The look on the sheep's face as we passed him, made us think the sheep might actually be having fun. The look on the man's face initially told us he was not.

We asked our driver to stop. I got out of the van and asked the man if I could take his picture. he posed. A small smile emerged on his face. The sheep peered around from behind the man. The sheep did not make a sound. It did not struggle. I wonder if it knew what we knew.

That sheep was not being taken on a pleasure journey. He had been invited to dinner, in fact to be dinner. It was a strange moment. We thought of the moment often while we were in Ethiopia. It made us laugh. It also made us so aware of how different our worlds are. I have never seen someone wearing their dinner as they rode down the street in Athens (or for that matter anywhere else I have ever traveled).

I felt sorry for the sheep. It did not look comfortable. There is almost no refrigeration in Ethiopia, because there is uneven and sporadic power in Ethiopia.  They live more day to day than we do. They prepare food for the day. They understand "daily bread."

I never return to the U.S. without being incredibly grateful that I won the geographic lottery and was born in this imperfect, but amazing country. We have so much. We are not nearly grateful enough. Clean water, refrigeration, adequate food supply, air-conditioning, social services, infrastructure, flushing toilets, toilet paper, consistent power, representative democracy, a free market, low corruption, way less bureaucracy, education, opportunity, and hope.

I was amused by some of the things we saw, and grieved by much of what I saw. I saw people miles out of a remote city that likely will never have any opportunity for education or advancement. They will be subsistence farmers eking out an existence hacking away at a rock strewn field. The area is 95% non-Christian. We met some pastors who are trying to reach them for Christ. These pastors have almost nothing, but they have the Gospel, their passion and love for the people of Ethiopia and the Spirit of God. I return with a bigger prayer list.

Jesus, the Bible says, "took up our pain and bore our suffering, ...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; ...was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,  so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53: 4-7.

Jesus takes up the suffering of the world and carries it in his own body that everyone might know of his love.

Light them up.

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.

Second Picture

This is my fish

This is my fish

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. 

7:44:11

7:45:40

7:46:24

First Picture

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.

 

Just look at the details in the toes!

Just look at the details in the toes!

Layers

 

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?

Going back home

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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." 

Mimes to the Rescue

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?

Ride along

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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. 

Little Church in the Woods

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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.

Is this good or bad?

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?

 

Refresh Update

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.

Kyle

Hello, World!