Where is that button?

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I was coming up a flight of stairs and saw this button at the top. I stood and looked at it wishing it were true, to be able to push a button and then get rescued,  I would wear that button out!

The last several weeks have been particularly challenging - buildings, budgets, burdens and bruised feelings. Then, one of my mentors goes down in flames. Bill has been, for about 25 years, an important voice in my life. I have read his books. I have listened to his sermons. I have been in meetings with him. I have traveled to Ethiopia with him.  I have prayed for him. I have laughed with him.  I consider him a friend. He has frequently been generous with his praise for the work our church and team does for the GLS in Ethiopia. I wrote him to remind him I am still his friend.

My stomach has been churning for several months of agonizing silence. The women who were violated are also my heroes. They deserved better sooner. Nancy opened up a whole new world of worship with the addition of the arts. John is one of the best teachers I have ever heard. Jim leads and organization I love and helped us so much in Ethiopia. Many of the women I do not know personally, but hearing their stories has broken my heart. I reached out to the women. I told them I believed them. I offered respite to them and their families in our town. They thanked me for the offer and declined, but told me that believing in them was the best gift I had given.

Last Sunday, early in the morning, I read the clearest, most detailed account of abuse and I was sick. It was very hard to preach. I wanted to believe it was all a misunderstanding, but that position is no longer tenable. My mentor failed. He abused women. He failed his family, his church, his friends and the community of individuals he led. I want to find that button and push it.

I reached out to an individual from Australia. His mother was sexually abused. It was dark and destructive. My Aussie friend took it upon himself to try to stop the Global Leadership Summit. He is not a Christ follower. I have been embarrassed by the behavior of Christians toward him. One pastor, a good friend of mine, was the rudest to him of 500 pastors he wrote. I contacted this pastor who then wrote the following apology,  "I apologize for insulting you. Since you were so aggressive, I did not realize this would hurt your feelings.  That was not of Christ, and I could have just asked you to leave us alone. Forgive me for that.'  I cringed when I read it. I have tried to walk with my Australian friend through this pain. He flew halfway around the world to attend the GLS with us. He hated it. He was charming and funny and rough around the edges. He told us his story, it a painful story of those who use religion to abuse the most vulnerable and protect the powerful. He is a champion for victims. I applaud his passion if not always his method. I wish I had a button.

The rescue I need is some time and some space. I'm going on vacation this week. I need to unplug and enjoy. I need a long walk in the woods. I need to stroll through museums and read until my eyes are exhausted. I'm going to go to church and have no responsibilities. I plan on laughing and crying. I'll be praying. I'm praying for the victims to feel heard and receive due justice. I praying for Bill to find the courage of confession. I praying the our building gets finished. I'm praying that God rescues some people out of this mess, including me.

 

 

Move In day is Sunday, September 9!

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We can see the top from here! It has a been a long climb, but we can confidently announce that  we will start regular Sunday worship in the refreshed sanctuary on September 9th. There are still many items to be done in the building, but we are ready to commit to a day so that we can all start getting ready. 

We will have a great day. We will have one unified worship service that will start with Baptism and we will launch a five-week series on the book of Mark. We will be encouraging Bible Fellowship groups to host fellowship breakfasts as they will start meeting in their new locations. 

It will be a great opportunity to invite friends and family to come and celebrate the great things God is doing in our church.

Please help us in the next few weeks:

  • One, we still have to take down the chairs and take up the green tarp each week and our teams have gotten a little thin the last few weeks-lets finish strong in the tabernacle. 
  • Two, in mid August we are asking for Bible Fellowship Groups to tour their new meeting spaces and to help us make sure they will be ready for Sept. 9.
  • Three, prayer for the worship teams preparing for the dedication service.
  • Four, reaching out and inviting people to attend, friends, family, people you have not seen in a while. It will be church amnesty day-a day when we all give grace to each other and launch a new season of ministry for FBCA.

Butterflies

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There was this huge butterfly sunning near a mountain stream. His wings kept opening and slowly pulsating. Then he would float into the air. Like a leaf falling from the sky, the yellow particle fluttered above the water and then would sudden wheel around and against a stiff breaze would fight back upstream. Over and over again it made the same loop. Occasionally, it would stop on the ground and open and close its wings. 

We, and a number of other visitors to the National Park, watched the beautiful dance in the sky. We all waited with our cameras outstretched. In the brief moments when the butterfly stopped, we all tried to get a good photograph. It never happened. Somehow it never fully opened its wings unless it was in the air and it moved too fast. 

We had come to climb ladders and stairs to the top of a cliff dwelling so we left the butterfly and its audience. We climbed too fast. The high altitude made us feel like we were drowning and our lungs could not find any oxygen. Eventually, high above the valley floor we arrived at our destination. We could look down on the stream and we could see the huge yellow spark. 

After visiting the top we made our way down the ladders and to the valley floor. The yellow butterfly was still in the same spot making the same loop. The ballerina danced. The stream played the music. The performance was repeated. People watched and snapped photos. it was beautiful. 

It all happened in the shadow of an ancient civilization. Other people, long ago, sat by this same stream, listen to birds, watched the light play against the walls and lived their whole lives. They farmed, and fed their families. They carved a few faint images on the walls. That is about all they left.

When you visit a fallen, faded culture you ask the relevant question, what happened to them? Where did they go? What did they leave behind? You then realize that maybe all we can ever really do is to try to live beautiful lives. The butterfly might have it right. The dwellings have fallen apart. The fields have returned to the natural grasses, but the air is clear, the sun bright and new. Maybe we should dance and float on the wind. Maybe we should live lives of reckless beauty. Maybe we should live for love deep and powerful. That is the world we should build, because love lasts. 

What's in the stump?

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I have a stump. It sits in my backyard. I think there is something inside of it. By that I mean, I think there must be a sculpture hidden inside of the wood and I am supposed to release it. I have this dream of using a chainsaw and carving away all the un important parts and leaving something amazing in its place.  Sometimes, not when it is this hot outside, I sit in the swing and look at it. 

I really want it to be a bear. I really want it to be standing on its legs and pawing toward the sky. Then if anyone ever breaks into our backyard at night, they might a shock as they see it in the darkness. I have a collection of bears. They sit on the shelf and make me smile when I look at them. We brought one that was bigger than the shelf and set it on the floor. Our dogs wigged out. They barked and growled. Eventually, they learned to ignore it. 

Im afraid that has happened to the stump. I have ignored it for a long time. Suddenly, this week, I was in the backyard and was reminded of the the encased image. I decided that I am going to take a series of pictures from different angles and then see it the silhouette might give me a clue of what is inside. 

It is easy to get used to something to the point of ignoring it. The stump is eight feet tall, but it barely makes a blip on my screen. The dogs walk past the wooden bear as if it is invisible. 

What are you ignoring? What have you seen so often that you do not see it any longer? Is there a behavior that you know you need to change, but have almost forgotten to fix it? Maybe take some time and try to see your life with new eyes and remember to get around to the things that really matter to you.  

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Slowly, rhythmically they pushed the tree. After a few seconds the dead tree groaned and then leapt toward the carpeted forest floor. Its contact with the dirt was sudden. I could feel it in my bones. It was a deep, resonate sound, both flat and intense. The shock wave swept through me. It was very satisfying.  

Even if no human had been there, the forest would hear the sound. The leaves rustled as the trunk passed-almost like an honor guard. The grass riffled and then fell silent. The birds paused and then returned to their songs. The insects almost immediately went to work breaking the wood down into smaller bits. This tree would feed the forest for many days to come. 

What happens when we are not around? The echo of our lives fills the air.

Over the past several years we have been turning parts of our buildings into opportunities for the message of our church to be heard when we are not around the building. 

We added a clock to the steeple tower reminding people that every day is precious and time is moving toward God's coming day. We should make use of the time.

We added special lighting to the steeple (which will be reconnected and working when the renovations are completed). Several people who were skeptical after seeing the lights on special occasions becomes champions of the lights. They will become a way to celebrate our town. We want people to know that our church is proud to be at the center of our community.

We added our Mañana Today banners. It is important to us to tell our community that we have a bilingual church where everyone is welcomed. Since the elementary grades are overwhelming  bilingual, any church that wants to be relevant in this community must have a plan for reaching all of Athens.

The new letters above the columns allow us to lift high our three great values. Love God, Live Like Jesus, Serve Others. For the first time, people who come to our building will immediately know something about us. How great is it to have the name of Jesus high above our town? Jesus said, "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself" John 12:32. I'm so proud that our church stands for these three things and that everyone who sees our building will know that is what we say.

Our lives will give evidence if what we say on our buildings is true in our lives.

 

By a thread

 As I drove up to the stop sign, the leaf fell from the tree. Except it did not fall all the way to the ground. It stopped about 18 inches above the asphalt and then began to spin in the wind. I parked my car and went back to take a closer look.  At first I thought it was a leaf caught in a spider web, but then on inspection saw that it was leaves. They were bound together. In the middle was a caterpillar of some sort. His head was sticking out of the top. Well it might not have been its head. I think the slender thread was coming out of that area. The whole top portion writhed in a very creepy way.   I watched as it spun and drifted in the wind. The next car that came through, would not likely see it. Its next destination was going to be a bumper. I headed back to my car thinking of this dive bombing bug. It launched itself out of a tree expecting to find-freedom or a better tree? I'm not sure at all why this pathway was going to produce anything for the worm except heartache. He should have just stayed in the tree. It was full of leaves. It is a big tree. There was room for him and many more.  It is the way of many of us. We decided to reject the way we know in favor of the unknown. We trade the values we were given as children for the values of our society. We ignore the advice of wisdom for the advice of untested peers. I have seen people trade in relationships of love for the hypothetical greener grass.   Don't get blown around by the wind and end up squashed on the street. Hold on to what is true.

As I drove up to the stop sign, the leaf fell from the tree. Except it did not fall all the way to the ground. It stopped about 18 inches above the asphalt and then began to spin in the wind. I parked my car and went back to take a closer look.

At first I thought it was a leaf caught in a spider web, but then on inspection saw that it was leaves. They were bound together. In the middle was a caterpillar of some sort. His head was sticking out of the top. Well it might not have been its head. I think the slender thread was coming out of that area. The whole top portion writhed in a very creepy way. 

I watched as it spun and drifted in the wind. The next car that came through, would not likely see it. Its next destination was going to be a bumper. I headed back to my car thinking of this dive bombing bug. It launched itself out of a tree expecting to find-freedom or a better tree? I'm not sure at all why this pathway was going to produce anything for the worm except heartache. He should have just stayed in the tree. It was full of leaves. It is a big tree. There was room for him and many more.

It is the way of many of us. We decided to reject the way we know in favor of the unknown. We trade the values we were given as children for the values of our society. We ignore the advice of wisdom for the advice of untested peers. I have seen people trade in relationships of love for the hypothetical greener grass. 

Don't get blown around by the wind and end up squashed on the street. Hold on to what is true.

A Little Joy

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I saw him behind a glass case. I knew instantly that I wanted him. He is a character from the new movie the Incredibles 2. He is the clear star of the movie. His name is Jack-Jack. The toy comes from a fast food place and its the first toy like that, that I have ever really wanted. I could tell that he hangs below and arm held by a magnet. What I could not tell at first is that his head has a tiny point on it and he spins freely in circles. 

He is sitting on my desk right now. He is very sensitive to vibrations. Each touch of my keyboard makes him quiver in the magnetic field. Its like he is moving super fast. He looks like he is laughing. Every so often I reach out and give him a spin. He loves it every time. 

The pressure of life has gotten a little much. the stress of the building project has reached maximum intensity and I can tell I need a little pressure to be relieved. I just need to focus on joy and peace. Jack-Jack just said it so well to me today. His upside-down stare and opened armed gesture was just what I needed. I think he might sit on my desk for a very long time.

I have a dear friend, Stan, and I called him this week and said, "I need to come see you. I need to get to the mountains and I need to hang out with you." We arranged to meet in Taos in a couple of weeks. It has already brightened my outlook. We pray for each other regularly and getting together nourishes my soul. He is a Jack-Jack. Everybody needs a little joy in their life. Everyone needs friends and the Lord for moments like this. 

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. Ps 94:19

 

Tennis Balls

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We got to the parking lot and realized that Dad had lost one of his tennis balls. Now, Dad is not playing Tennis, but he is walking with a walker while he recuperates from his fall, broken hip and surgery. I had folded up the walker and put it behind a bench so that it would not be a tripping hazard and it must have fallen off under the bench. I went back into the restaurant. I got a quizzical look. "Im retrieving a tennis ball," I said rather flatly, as if it was a common occurrence. I got no objection and the receptionist went back to looking at her list. 

I went to the bench and could see the ball. It was behind a wrought iron bench. I reached over, but my arm was not long enough to reach it. I stopped and regrouped. I got down on my hands and knees to see if I could come from the front, but I was blocked by various obstacles. Then some people leaving had halted as they waited for me to get out of the aisle. "I'm trying to retrieve a tennis ball," i said sheepishly. They did not want to wait for the longer objection. I'm sure when they got into the car there was a lot of eye rolling and wondering why a grown man was brining a tennis ball into the restaurant. 

I decided the only way to get the ball was move the bench. I pulled on the right end and heard a crunching noise as a big pot nestled under the end fell to the floor. It rolled away into the aisle. I got the ball, replaced the pot (which did not appear to be hurt) and headed to the door. I replaced the ball on the foot of the walker and started to wonder.

Are there more tennis balls being used today on the bottoms of walkers or on Tennis courts? When does the ratio have to be so high that we call them walker balls instead of tennis balls? It made me think about lots of the words of Jesus. its one thing to no the words, its an entirely different thing to do the words. I can call it a Tennis Ball all day long, but when it is slit open and put on the bottom of a walker it really is something else. 

Its not enough to have the words, we have to do them. 

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