Sweat Tea

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It had been a really long day. We finished youth camp. I drove 2 hours to Arlington to the hospital to check on my Dad. Right as I got their they came to move him tot he rehabilitation hospital so I didn't  get to talk tot him except to say, "Hello." They hurried him out and I got the address to follow the ambulance. 

I stopped to write my article and send a couple of things to the office and then headed to the place. I knew there would be that check in chaos, but it was worse than I expected. Person after person came in needing forms signed and information. Sometimes, they were competing with each other. Frequently they seemed mad at us for not being finished. The director came down and told one of us that we had to go to the main office to check in. She left in exasperation. We were exhausted. It took nearly 2 hours before there was any moment to ourselves. 

After a trip back home to receive some things it looked like Mel was buttoned in for the night and I felt like I could leave and head to Athens. I was hungry. I had missed lunch in the hurry to get to Arlington and now I was on the edge of grouchy. I decided to stop at a fast food place that I enjoy. I was going to sit. Eat oriental food and drink a tall glass of sweat tea. 

I got in line and waited. It took a little while. The attendant looked right past the guy in front of me and asked me what I wanted to order. I immediately pointed to him and said, "He was here first." The attendant turned and looked at him. He looked at me and then at her and handed here a bag of food. "I want my money back," he proclaimed. She did not move.

"These are not any good," came out of his mouth as he produced a bag with some mystery item in it. "We can replace them" was his reply. "No, I just want my money back." More hesitation. The two cashiers talked for a bit. They finally decided to give him his $1.47. They gave it out like it was taffy stuck in a raccoons fur. I was amazed at their reluctance and his persistence. I went back to his seat tired from the encounter.

I placed my order, got my food, paid my bill and then headed to the drink area. This was the tricky part. I do not like the regular fountain drinks at this place, but they have great sweat tea. I was really looking forward to the tea. Before I ordered, I checked to see if they had the container for sweat tea. I filled the cup up with a mound of ice. I was hot and tired and I wanted something cold. I pulled the handle. Three drips released into my ice maze. I took a deep sigh and went back to the counter.

"Can I have some sweat tea from behind the counter?"

"We ran out. We will have to make some." I had been in line for at least ten minutes. They already were aware of the missing tea. I shook my head. "I would really like to have some sweat tea." I shuffled over to me seat. I just needed to sit for a little bit. I also needed to send an email, so I worked and chewed and waited. I watched. No tea was in my future. I had a two hour drive home and was counting on that tea to get me home.

After thirty minutes, I had licked my plate clean done all the work I could do and could tell that they had not yet responded to my request. I went back to the counter. "I would like some tea," I said with as little heat as possible. "Well, we have been really busy." I held up my receipt. "It has been thirty minutes since I asked you for tea. You said you were going to make some." She stared at me.

"I would like my money back." She seemed stunned. "I don't think we can do that." I was incredulous. I knew they could give money back. They did not move. I asked for the manager. I reviewed the process and again asked for my money back. It was $1.99. He went in the back and came out with $3.00. I told him I only needed what I paid for, but he insisted. I went down the street and bought two one dollar sweat teas from another place for $2.00. 

Later, I wish I had given the money to the cashier and told her that the gap between the request and the response is the measure of great service. I wanted her to remember me, not as that cranky guy, but that surprising guy who gave a a money tip and a life tip. I bet she went home and told a story about how this really demanding guy ruined her night. I bet she got jumped on my her manager. 

I listened to the sermon last Sunday about adding value to others. I don't think I did a very good job. The sermon last week made me want to do better. 

Unexpected

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My Dad fell and broke his hip on Monday. I was on my way to Youth Camp when it happened and in and out of cell phone coverage so I did not get the message until I stopped and got out of the car at camp. I called his wife Wanda for an update. They had been going out for pizza at lunch time. They were going to an old Arlington hangout, Mama's Pizza that had gotten a write up in the paper. Somehow as he was stepping up from the parking lot to the sidewalk he got his feet tangled. They were holding hands and so they fell together. He landed right on the curb. She landed on him and then she hit the sidewalk with her face.

After 5 hours in the ER, they had a room and a plan which involved surgery on Tue. I got up that morning and drove from camp (south of Waco) to Arlington. I arrived and we waited for the surgery to start. It was later than expected, but finally they came to take him about 2:30. I decided to slip across the street to get lunch and then hurry back before the surgery was finished. Wanda had several friends with her and I told here I would be right back.

I headed to the parking garage and called Cindy who was immersed in VBS preparations to give her an update. As I approached my car I dropped the call, too much concrete. I started the car up and headed toward the exit. I did not make it. I heard a noise. I stopped the car. I got out. My tire was completely flat. I knew intently what I had to do. I had to change the tire, go get it fixed and then hurry back so that I could return to Youth Camp that night. 

I hoped open the trunk, grabbed the necessary equipment and started the process. It was the first time in this car so I was unfamiliar with several things. I had to crawl around to find the gift spots. I could not figure out the twisting part of the jack and so it took tons of extra time. I got the flat tire off easier than getting the donut tire back on. All the while I was trying to keep my kaki pants and yellow shirt clean. Finally, the flat tire was int he trunk, the new tire was one and I got into the car dripping wet. 

I headed to a tire place. I waited in line and asked if they could fixe my tire. They came and looked and said yes. It was clear that a screw or a nail was in it. There were several people in front of me so I sat down and waited. I called and texted Wanda my update, but got no response. I waited. Eventually, they took my car to the shop area. I tried to do some work while I waited. I kept checking my phone to see if Wanda had gotten my messages. Still nothing. Then the text came through, Mel was out of surgery. I screamed a little on the inside.

Not long after, the attendant handed me the bill. He told me the car was out front. The bill was confusing it looked like it had several charges on it, but the total was blank. I waited in line to pay the bill. the attendant came back and asked if I had any questions. I said, "No, I was just waiting to pay." He said, "Oh, its no charge." I was confused, then grateful. (I want to thank the Discount Tire Store on Division street just across from Cowboy stadium for their generosity and help)

I walked out of the place and got into my car and headed back to the hospital. Dad was wheeled into his room not long after. He had had three screws put in and I had had 1 taken out. A screw in the right place can do a lot of good, in the wrong place it can be deflating. He was in good spirits and sent me bak to youth camp. After Camp ended, I headed back to Arlington on Friday afternoon and got to see him walking. I'm writing this at Starbucks as I wait for him to get delivered to a rehab center to help strengthen his muscles and get him back on his feet. 

It has been a great, difficult, trying, exciting, surprising week. Youth Camp, Broken Hip, Surgery, sermons, relay races, blobbing, rehabbing, driving, praying. A typical week in my life. Life is complicated, hard and rich.

Where are the lions?

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I read the news early this morning. It said that the Eifel Zoo in Luenebach, Germany had been inundated by floods and that lions and tigers and a bear had escaped, "Oh, My!" Later, it was confirmed that only the bear had escaped and tragically had to be shot. The other animals were still in their enclosures. 

It happened that I was also painting lions today on the gates of Babylon, well it was blue cardboard boxes, but we are using our imaginations. The blue entrance adorned the ancient city and the throne room. Daniel, from the Bible, would have walked passed the lions on a regular basis. They are made from beautiful glazed bricks. The first time I saw one, I was stunned by the intensity of the color. It made me rethink the ancient world and my preconceived notions. 

Through an odd set of circumstances, happy accidents and occasional planing I have managed to see many of the actual remains of theses lion sculptures.

When I was a boy, we went to the British museum and saw my first Babylon Lion. Then I saw one in the Louvre. Over twenty years ago our family went on vacation to Chicago. We went to the Oriential Museum on the campus of the University of Chicago. They have a huge display of materials from Nebuchadnezzar's palace, including two lions. On vacation to New York, we stumbled upon one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We saw the gates themselves and numerous of the glazed brick animals (it includes cattle and some mythical beasts) in Berlin. Two summers ago we went to the oldest Baptist Church in America, in Providence Rhode Island. We had a little bit of extra time and some people recommended the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). We had low expectations, and then suddenly were confronted by one of these ancient feline statues. In January, Cindy and I went to the Archeological Museum in Istanbul to see and artifact from Israel. After exhausting the main part of the museum we stepped into our last building and were delighted to find the largest collection of these Ancient Babylonian decorations.  (I missed one in Boston last year). Apparently you cannot have a legitimate museum without one of these lions. (Museums in Copenhagen, Detroit, Gothenburg, Sweden, Munich, Vienna, Toronto, and Yale all have some).

There were 120 lions, made of forty-six bricks in eleven rows. They lined the Processional Way which extended nearly half a mile into the city of Babylon. 2600 years ago the city was a marvel. I love that archeologists found these remains in the late 1800's and they reinforce the stories told in the Bible. They found the remains of the King's throne room, his ancient inscription dedicating the gateway. When people think that the Bible is filled with fictional stories, I like to show the the truth. Daniel really did live and work in a kingdom obsessed with lions. It does not take much to believe that they had a lion's den. Then we are confronted with the stories that require faith-that God protected Daniel and his friends in this foreign and hostile place. I for one believe the stories. That is why we will be teaching them to our children during Bible School in two weeks. our theme is Dare to be a Daniel. Why not join us in Babylon?

 

Be careful near the edge

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High above the floor of the capital building are circular walkways. They each have a railing, but all the railings seem exceptionally short. I would like for all of them to be about 5 feet tall. Anything sorter than that, and I get queasy. While on Sr. Adventure, we stopped at the Capitol and roamed all over the place. 

One of my favorite stops is the Agricultural Museum. Way down at the West end of the building, it seems to be rarely visited. While walking towards it a helpful guard assumed we were trying to use the West exit, which was closed for repairs, and tried to turn us back to the main building. It must not have occurred to him that me might want to go the the agricultural museum. It is a beautiful room meticulously restored and filled with some of my favorite artifacts. I love to look at the official set of state weights. 

I brought my own set of weights and asked if I could compare mine to the state's set. The first hurdle was getting them through the security area. I had them in a wooden box wrapped in twine. The x-ray man was skeptical. I showed him. I got that look I am used to getting which tells me I have inducted another person into the "Kyle Henderson is Eccentric Club." I took them out and placed them near the official weights. When the state official arrived, who I had contacted several weeks ago with my request, I was told that they never open the cases. I was a little sad. 

We traveled to the third level, where I hugged the wall away from panic inspiring plunge. I always go to the top to see my ancestor, James Pinckney Henderson, the first Governor of the State of Texas. I hate that he hangs at the top. I never want to linger and I never can get a straight shot at the picture. I only see it from the side. It lets me keep my hand on the wall. 

Heights make me crazy, because I cannot convince my body of what my mind is saying. I know that it is safe to walk near the edge, but the butterflies in my stomach will not listen. Sometimes by shear force of will I will go near scary edges. At the capitol, I crawled on the ground, but I circled the top of the dome, outside! It was amazing. 

There are lots of things in life that keep us from living to our full potential. May be it is the self-imposed limits (I would never ask to open that cabinet), or it could be physical realities (I get sick when I go near that edge). At some point we have to throw off those limits and be bold and brave if we want to become the person God intends for us to be. What limit do you need to challnge today?

Miss Matched

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I saw the box sitting in the hall. The saying was plastered across a dozen boxes. I stopped and stared at it for a while. I can't put my finger on it, but it unsettled me. I'm all for discounts and I have ordered numerous items from this company, but I have never paid any attention to this branding. It did not compel me to want to order more. 

It seems to mix things together that don't go together. Christianity is not about less, its not about cheaper, its not about easier. Christianity for less seems to cheapen the Gospel. It reminded me of Bonhoeffer's famous passage:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” The Cost of Discipleship.

I finally decided its the word, "Everything" that is bothering me. If it said, "Christian books for less" or, "Christian trinkets for less," then I would not even have paused. It says, "everything Christian."

I made a list of things Christian which can't be had for less. Salvation comes only by the death of self. It is not a bargain, it can't be had by a lesser means. Until we come to Christ in repentance, we cannot be saved. Character is never measured in portions, it is something revealed over time and when it is lost, it is difficult to recover. Servanthood is the path Jesus took and it requires carrying a cross. It goes against our nature and there is not a less expensive version of it. 

Too often, Christianity has tried to become user friendly, less demanding, simpler, but these are usually attempts to have a discipleship that does not require me to change my life and to follow Jesus. He calls us to the narrow path, the more difficult path because the reward is vast-the love of Christ. It is better to pay a higher price now for the exceedingly greater reward. I want to see new boxes with the slogan, "Everything Christian. Huge Cost. Worth It."

Piñata madness

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This is the worst piñata ever! On family campout, we were decided to have fun while celebrating Cinco de Mayo-that means piñatas. They were bought in Athens and then stuffed with candy and tiny oranges that are even better than candy. 

Everyone gathered around for the fun. The little kids were going to go first. The first child swung and connected. The crowd tensed asking to themselves, "Will all the children get a chance?" The next child made serious contact. By the time each child had a chance to wack the thing a normal piñata would have given up its contents, but this piñata was stingy. It held on tightly. 

Round after round, all the children chopped and hacked at the tormentor. The crowd drifted away and the children kept attacking. The cones came off, the paper was in tatters, but still the belly of the beast remained intact. Finally, nearing compete exhaustion a hit tore enough a hole that a few things came trickling out. The rope holder shook violently and most of the items slumped to the ground. 

Many of the small oranges were squished. The stick had crushed them and they were sad as they hit the ground. I scurried around trying to find ones that were intact. I picked one up an offered it to a child. They stared at it in confusion. They wanted candy. They had not worked that hard for an orange! I ended up eating the orange and it was way better than candy, but the child did not think so. 

What is the pot at the end of the rainbow that is worth working for worth sacrificing for? I'm fearful people spend a great deal of energy for all the wrong rewards. They work and struggle and at the end realize they have given themselves to things which don't bring the desired reward. Even worse, they work and struggle for a reward and when the best is offered, they select the substitute, the worse reward. Its not grades, but character. Its not wealth, but contentment. Its not power, but servanthood. 

God invites you to the path of following Jesus. It is hard, but it leads to the best life. I might not be what the world is expecting, but it truly life itself.

The force of nostalgia (in honor of May the 4th)

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I once lived about a mile from a Toys R Us. We didn't have much money or time and we had little kids. Toys R Us was an oasis. I can't remember how many times we went, probably hundreds. We had great kids and they did not whine and fuss to get more toys, but there eyes lit up as we walked down the aisles. 

At the same time, Star Wars was rebooting. We had a chance to share the experience together. I can remember so many times going to the store, walking to the Star Wars aisle and looking at the characters protected in their plastic cases and Hans Solo frozen in carbonite. Then there were the really big toys, always out of our reach. There was a huge Lego ship that had hundreds of pieces it was so expensive that we could never pull the trigger, but we wanted it together.

 It hard to believe that ToysRUs is closing. Our family grew up sharing it as a family place. We went to New York when the kids were little and visited all of the tourist locations. We also visited the ToysRUs in Times Square. It was huge and colorful and amazing. Recently as the boys have gotten older we have walked into the store to buy gifts for cousins and kids and it is always a nostalgic walk. 

Last week we visited the Tyler store. The discount signs were around the parking lot. We went looking for a deal. We walked slowly up and down the aisle. I compared the discounted prices with the Amazon prices and and found that the sales prices were still higher than the online prices. We bought a couple of toys that were a good deal. Then after we checked out, just past the register we saw the Landspeeder.  It is huge. It is beautiful. It is electric. It is big enough for 2 kids. It is on sale! I really wanted it. If I still had little kids, I suspect I would own it. We left it sitting in the store. I didn't notice till I got home that it was made by the Radio Flyer company. That catapulted me back to our red wagon. 

When I was little we had one and would pull the handle up and fly down hills. It was our version of a Land Speeder. We hauled stuff in it. With our imaginations and that wagon we could be on the western frontier or the middle of the ocean. It was our time machine and transporter. 

The best play grows from the imagination. I'm sad that one of the imagination destination is closing. The best world grows when we imagine things getting better. Imagination is the engine of change and the future. Imagination is about hope. I'm so grateful that I get to work in one of the most future oriented churches and with open minded people. There is a verse from Ephesians that rolls around in my head frequently, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (3:20). I love that God defines the boundaries of imagination and invites us to dream bigger and better. 

Kyle 

 

 

 

No Sense in Hiding

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We were playing disc golf in Cain Park. As we approached a hole that overlooks the lake, we saw a large moving rock. It was covered with moss and it was making a hasty retreat to the water, but it was too slow. I stepped near the beast and it immediately withdrew into its shell. 

It could not have known that I meant it no harm. It could not have known that I was cheering it on. I was a fan and an admirer. It saw me as an enemy. I leaned down to take its picture. The frown was etched in green. I spoke to it kindly, but I could not coax it out of its shell. It just sat and waited for me to leave. The communication gap is real between people and turtles. Maybe one day, scientists will develop a system by which we could understand each other, but for now turtles and people live in different worlds.

Unfortunately, the communication gap between people is no less real. We have language and science on our side, but still much communication is blocked. One reason is our shells. We seem to all have them. It's the place where we go to defend ourselves, to justify ourselves. We are so ready to be right and seen as right, that we can hardly listen to any criticism. Sometimes, however, another person loves us and wants to help us. They want to help us heal. It could be an apology or a change of behavior, but we interpret the communication as an attack and so we retreat.

Not without good reason. Too often we live in a culture ready to pounce, ready to mock or ready to scold. Too often a mistake which might have been corrected quickly if dealt with in love, is turned into an opportunity to shame us. We have learned to retreat to our shell due to bad expereince.

If only there was a loving community of grace whose goal was to lift, to encourage, to correct gently and restore. If only there was a place where fear was understood, where misbehavior did not become a label, where change was expected and possible. If only the church would be the best place to be broken and not the worst place. If only the people of Christ could say with Jesus, "Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing" and in so doing draw people out of their shells.

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.