Did Jesus Tell Ya'll to Do That?

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Last year, I read a book that has really stuck with me. It was called, Jim and Casper Go to Church. In it, Jim Henderson (no relation) describes hiring an Atheist (Casper) to travel with him to churches and then give honest unfiltered feedback about the experience. I love the book. I love the two guys featured in the book. They both seem like authentic people. They seem curious to learn from each other. They are not mean spirited, but kindly honest.

During the debrief from the church services, Casper almost always got to a point when he asked, “Did Jesus tell ya’ll to do that?” Since he had had less church expereince, he was often baffled by things people did in church. After attending a “healing” service in a church Casper asked, “If that guy can heal people, why do they need handicapped ramps?” An outsider looks inside and wonders what did Jesus want from his people most of all? That is a worthwhile conversation.

Lat week and Kings Day (Dia del Reyes) ,I was petting Humperdinck, the friendliest camel I have ever met. He was looking over toward the steeple of the church and I thought it was a fun picture. It got me thinking. When Jesus laid in the manger, could anyone have foreseen church buildings made of red brick with white spires reaching toward the sky? It’s funny, that the style of our church buildings follows the Greek temples of Athens from the time of Jesus. The church flows though that area and picks up the architecture of pillars and pediments and then flows though Rome and the Renaissance and then on to England and finally to America and Georgian architecture.

If the camel’s actually got to see Jesus, they would have seen none of that. They, however, would have seen what is most lasting and real about Jesus and therefore the Jesus community. They would have seen love. That, more than buildings, is supposed to be what characterizes us. They would have seen prayer—in a world where women died frequently in childbirth, a mom that survived was reason to celebrate. They would have seen awe and wonder as the strangest assortment of people find their way to the feet of the baby. They would have seen courage for the world did not receive him gladly.

May the world see us not as people under a steeple, but a group devoted in love to each other, calling on a gracious and generous God, including everyone in the circle of our care. May we have the boldness to step out of an ordinary life and to the extraordinary life of Jesus. I pray that is what Humperdinck could see.

A light in the sky

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We stepped out onto the streets of New York. Ever since I was a child New York City has been the image of joy and celebration. I get up on Long Island from the time I was 4-8. My Dad flew airplanes out of Laguardia Airport and we often took him to the city because we just had 1 car for the 5 of us, a VW Beatle. Driving to the city was like visiting OZ. I loved the lights and the bustle. I especially liked the library where I got my first library card and participated in a reading program.  Christmas held the promise of bigger lights and greater celebration. 

I’ve always wanted to go back. This year I had one Sunday of vacation left so we we made the choice to go for the weekend.  Our flight was delayed 2 hours and it had taken a day of travel so my plans were already off the rails, but when I stepped onto the street I was 5 again. The air was crisp and clean. The streets were not busy. I jumped and skipped and danced through the street, at least on the inside. 

Then it happened. The lights dimmed and flickered. Alarms began to ring. The there was light. The sky erupted in blue. All of the buildings took on a turquoise hue. People in the streets stopped and stared. One lady had her phone out and kept repeating the name of Jesus. This was not ordinary, it was a happening. People walked faster. We scurried underground to the subway. 

We texted our son pictures from the sky and Twitter, which was all twitter about it. Later that night we learned it was an electrical transformer explosion in Queens. 

We went downtown looked at lights and ended up at the skating rink in Central Park. It really was a magical night. 

It was fun being 5 again. It’s already been a great rest getting ready to be fully present in 2019 and if he does return in the clouds then be ready doing his work. 

Meetings

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I have been studying photography since high school. We had a darkroom in our house. I have read books about it and gone to museums to look at photographs. I have reproductions of numerous famous pictures by Ansel Adams up in my house. I even have a few pictures I have taken on the walls. One of my favorite photographers is Vivian Maier.

Discovered from complete obscurity when her belongings were auctioned off from a storage unit in Chicago, her legacy of photographs is largely tied up in legal wranglings that will last for years. Still, some of her pictures (there are over 100,000) have made it to the light of day. While in New York, I decided to go to the one gallery that is authorized to sell pictures made from her original negatives. I have a very soft spot for her pictures of children.

We followed the map to a non descript location in upper Manhattan. The lobby that opened before was nearly empty and very plain. The skeptical doorman asked what we were doing. “Trying to find the Greenberg Gallery.”

His demeanor changed and he escorted us to the elevators and sent us up to the 14th floor. We walked around the corner and found the gallery. We were greeted by a friendly receptions who asked where we were from. We exchanged information and found out that she had graduated from SMU. Two exhibits covered the walls. One was huge photographs that were amazing in detail and color and structure. They are hard to describe landscapes that capture awe and beauty and wonder. The second was of Vivian Maier’s exquisite color work. We browsed through the exhibits consider each picture in turn. It was delightful.

Then I returned to the receptions. I explained that I was thinking about buying a Vivian Maier. I have been thinking about it for several years and I decided that it is on my bucket list. I asked her how the process works. She asked me about my interest. She collected about 10 photos and brought hem to a viewing room. It really was breathtaking. She gave me the pricing. The first photo of the ten run from each negative is the least expensive. Each one that sells increases in price. The one I was interested in was the 10th image and therefore the most expensive (of course). I told her I want to wait until new ones come out and try to get in on the front end instead of the back end of the line.

I asked for her card. Then we were saying our final goodbyes. I asked one final question, “How did you get to SMU?”

She told us she came to study dance, because SMU has one of the few programs that awards a degree with a concentration in dance. I asked the follow up, “Do you know Amanda Owen?” (Amanda is the daughter of James and Laura Owen and grew up in our church). She stopped and looked at us.

“Yes! She is in Latvia. When we had recitals she always had lots of people come because there were so many people in her family. “ Several other ideas bubbled into our conversation and we left having made a new friend through a mutual friend.

You just never know who you will meet, so treat people right.

Is Our Church a House of Prayer?

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I read an article in the Gospel Coalition that affirms much of what we have been learning the last few years about the habits of family and church that generally produce long term faith commitment in the children of that home and church. The following are some of highlights of the article by Trevin Wax (almost entirely in his words). He is quoting from a study that produced a book titled, Nothing Less.

Research has indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present.

BIBLE READING

The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults.

PRAYER

The practice of prayer did not specify whether it was private or corporate, before meals or before bedtime, or in the morning. But prayer was present.

SERVICE

Note that the church-related factor is about service, not just attendance. It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. The habit of serving others in the church and community likely formed these young adults in a way that kept them from identifying merely as a churchgoing “consumer,” but instead as a contributor to the building up of God’s people. Down the list a little, church mission trips show up, another indicator of the power of active service.

SINGING CHRISTIAN SONGS

Augustine’s ancient observation that we sing the truth into our hearts. When we sing together as congregations and when we praise God on our own or sing songs that fortify our faith, we reinforce the beauty of our faith.

THE POWER OF IMITATION AND ENVIRONMENT

Also notable is the impact of the parents’ example of reading Scripture, taking part in service projects, sharing their faith, and asking forgiveness after sinning. In other words, the more the repentant, joyful Christian life was modeled, the more likely children were to remain in the faith.

It is more likely for kids to grow up and stay in church, if worship was a singular priority-not an option in the family, but a way of life.

We launch “Teach Us To Pray” beginning in January. This will be an important year for us.

Exhausted

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My batteries ran out, literally. I was trying to broadcast the NorthPole live on Facebook. It was an experiment, a fun oddity. I decided to do it dressed in a Reindeer costume. Then I decided to replace the lame antlers (fabric) that came with the costume with actual antlers. Several hours later I had a bicycle helmet covered in fox fur and sporting a nice set of deer antlers (no reindeer antlers were available).

Then I attached a special streaming camera to the back of the helmet. The contraption weighed a ton, but I gave a great image. I added colorful socks to because the costume was little short. I started walking around talking to people and welcoming them to the event. It was a blast.

The camera uses my phone to broadcast the image to Facebook. The camera has a large battery that is supposed to last six hours. My phone, however, needs to be recharged after a couple of hours of full time use. I had a battery hooked to he phone, but the connection kept coming undone. Eventually, the phone gave up.

I reconnected my phone to a portable battery and tapped it in place and then waited for the phone to get enough charge so I could start broadcasting again. That is when I shed my antlers. My neck was like jelly. Several of those muscles had not been used like that in years. Then my back was having spasms so I just rolled over and laid down.

That is the moment caught in the photo. It is such a confusing picture. I looks like pastor got run over by the jeep. I was told several times that I was brave to wear a deer costume during deer season and the a number of people would be interested in taking a buck like me if I would just step out into the woods. I stayed in the light and the parking lot.

The North Pole was such a great exhausting night. We had 333 volunteers and 1900 guests. Wow! I love working hard for something worth doing. I was so proud of our church and all the hard work people did.

After my battery recharged I put the helmet back on and started to broadcast. It was a great night. I say, work hard, rest well and make a difference.

Absorb

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His black head stuck up out of the leaf pile. We could see him from across the park. Several times he bounded out of the leaves to greet people walking and running the pathways. He seemed joyful. He would take long bounding jumps then curve his back down almost like he was bowing. Then he would bounce away and finally end up in the leaves.

We were in Istanbul on the way back from Ethiopia. Dogs have it marginally better in Turkey than Ethiopia. One of our pastor friends in Ethiopia was shocked to find out that many of us had dogs as pets and that we let them inside of our homes. In a strange twist of fate he ended up staying with one of of partners in Chicago who has a tiny indoor dog for several days last summer. I can’t wait to talk to him about it.

The dogs of Istanbul have a long history. In 1869 Mark Twain wrote in his famous travelogue, Innocents Abroad, that he had seen lots of dogs on the streets. “The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city. From one end of the street to the other, I suppose they will average about eight or ten to a block.” There have been attempts to deal with the problem, but nothing yet has worked. The problem just keeps getting bigger. There is an ugly trend of buy cute puppies and then when the dogs get older, taking to the forests and abandoning them. They dogs eventually make their way back to the city and live on the streets as best they can.

All most dogs want is to be fed and loved. A friend posted on my facebook a moving little video. It shows a person getting up and facing the day. Slowly, through the human interactions, the person absorbs the hurts and bruises of the people he meets. The tears, the sorrows and confusions build up and the character that left the house in the morning buoyant is now burdened down. Finally, arriving back home with drooped shoulders the character trudges up the steps to their door.

On the other side is a dog. The dog waits on the floor, melancholy from a day of waiting. Then the door opens. The dog and person meet. In an instant both are renewed. I have watched it over and over. It is so they way I feel. Days are long, the hurts are real and it gives me great joy that waiting for me when I get home are two creatures whose only purpose seems to be cheering me up.

I wish the world were more filled with love and support. I wish that is what we valued and protected most. I wish that people could go through the world and constantly get their needs met. Isn’t that what the God tells us, that our gifts, our lives, have been offered to each other, for “the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7). Like the piles of leaves in the park we should be stationed around each other ready to bound out at a moments notice and cheer each other on.

Red

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What is it? When I pulled the handle I had no idea what I would find. I was trying to repair a broken piece of equipment and I was trying all of the knobs and doors to see if I could get into the inside. A small curved protrusion was the only hint that I was able to move the panel. This is what I pulled out.

It was bright and red and I kept my distance. I knew at once that it was ink. It was strong ink. It lived inside of the mailing machine. I have no idea what this is. It is far away from the printing element. It even seems far away from the ink cartridge. The machine has sat on the counter for a number of years and none of us remember seeing it.

It looks like it could be a celestial display, like a bright red moon is rising on a snowy day. The light filters through the crystals. Or it could be a big dollop of strawberry jam that has been dropped on white carpet. Or it might be a hole drilled into a catchup container. It could be a wound.

It feels like a Rorschach test-those strange ink blots that tells us more about ourselves than about he inkblot.

Jesus gives us a new way of seeing and new way of viewing the world. As we put on the way fo Christ, we begin to see the way he sees. Slowly but surely we begin to choose a new set a values, a new set of loves. This week we are reading in Isaiah. he tells us to see the world differently. Seek Justice, Defend the oppressed, Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (1:17). This is a profound challenge to the old way of seeing. In the old way power tramples over the powerless, the weak are ground underfoot or neglected completely. The Jesus way is to see all things new.

We are glad that God sees us new. He does not hold on to our old status, but makes us new and clean. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Is 1:18.

Experiment

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I went with Cindy to the store to buy all the supplies for a our Thanksgiving feast. We went late at night to avoid the crowd and becasue we were Lae getting off from work. The aisles were filled with other shoppers who were on similar missions. We began to help each other.

“Chopped pecans?”

“They are in that middle aisle.”

“Do they have ground ginger in a smaller size?”

“No, just the bigger bottle.”

“Where is the cranberry sauce?”

“Its on the top shelf, but the box edge is high, so you can’t see the labels.”

The problem with going late is that I was tired and a little punchy. I began to pick up random items and sneak them into the basket. I managed to get a pepper grinder with multiple colored corns into our cart. I got a bottle of Carmel Macchiato from the dairy section. Then I stopped at the deeply discounted damaged and discontinued shelf. Behind the damaged cans and broken boxes stood a section of cereal boxes. They were held the price of their similar cousins.

I was made for this box of cereal. You have to know that “Special K” is my cereal for an obvious reason, I am a “special” K. It has stood proudly in our pantry for many years. More so since they started adding strawberries tot he mix several years ago. Now a great cereal is linked to my favorite fruit. Now, I was confronted with this new flavor. I love autumn. I love the smell of piles of leaves, smoke from the chimney and holiday flavors. The box proudly proclaimed that the cereal had pumpkin spice and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. They had me at cinnamon.

As I put it into the top of the basket, no hiding this proud purchase, I counted the remaining boxes. I was planning my strategy for cornering the Athens market of this breakfast delight. Im writing this on the morning that I am going to crack open the box and try it, Ill be back in a second.

Its good. Pumpkin spice can be over done, but this is subtle. It is slightly sweet with burst of flavor. It was unexpected. It was really good. I’ll be heading back to the store before this newsletter gets posted.

I love trying something new. Why not crawl out of the rut and try something entirely new? I imagine that there are so many more experiences we can all have, but we wall ourselves off with familiarity. God tells us that there is something new in this day, why not find it?

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lam. 3:23

No Rain, No Rainbows

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The wind was howling, the air was biting, the temperature was dropping and the rainbow was beautiful. We were standing on the edge of the Bosporus, the channel of water separating Europe from Asia cutting right through Istanbul. We had been watching the boats and the water when this storm blew through the city. It had been a beautiful morning with no need for a jacket. I was wearing short sleeves and had left my coat in the hotel. Cindy had brought her jacket.

We were taking a picture of the water and the city and not really paying attention when we looked up and saw the quickly forming rainbow. It stretched across the sky. It was beautiful. The bible indicates it was in this area that the first rainbow announced God’s loving intentions to the world. It was a stunning and encouraging sight.

We ran for the subway. The rain increased and our clothes absorbed more and more water. This had been our last stop before heading to the airport and now a clothes change would be required. We ran from building to building trying to find some shelter, but found very little. We eventually reached the subway entrance and rain out of the rain. Drip by drip we proceeded down the long escalator to the awaitng car. We jumped on the for the four minute trip to the next stop, the one nearest to our hotel.

I reached up to hold on to the loop as the car lurched forward. I noticed my exposed arms and hands. They were bright red from the cold. Water dripped from my hair on to my arms. I looked up and down the train, which extended three or four cars in each direction. It was one big open tube. As far as my eyes could see I was the only one wearing short sleeves. I was the only one dripping wet.

I also had the biggest smile. Lots of people were wrapped up tight in warm cloths with their hoods pulled over their heads and the eyes cast down. The storm and the cold and the rain had driven them inside their shells like turtles. I, on the other hand, wanted to dance and sing like Gene Kelly. I could not have picked a better ending to a great trip, without the rain, there would be no rainbows.

Gone and Forgotten

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At the end of a hall, with only a small sign sits a modest lion statue. It’s not very big, not particualry beautiful, but it has a storied history. It used to adorn a famous building. It used to decorate, along with 20 other lions, the top story of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Take a break and see how many you can write down. How many did you get? (Colossus of Rhodes. Pyramid of Giza, , Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus). I got five and half. I thought it was a statue of Athens not Zeus. Artemis totally slipped my mind. The lion statue is from Halicarnassus.

Only a handful of artifacts remain. It stood for many years on the southern coast of Turkey, but by the Crusades it had been toppled by Earthquakes and then scavenged to build new buildings. In the late 1800’s during a period of intense interest in Archeology this lion was discovered. Through careful reading of ancient texts an archaeologist bought a piece of land and stared excavating. Then he burrowed under the neighbors lands until he found the ancient ruins. He then went and bought the plots of land he really needed, knowing what was beneath them. (It harkens back to a story Jesus told about buying land containing a treasure).

We stumbled upon this lion in the archaeology museum of Istanbul. There is not much fanfare. You can take a selfie with it. People were casually touching it. Most people just walked past it and did not notice. I was shocked at how little interest most people paid to this important artifact that represents the best of the ancient world. Later in the museum we looked at several other world class, earth shattering artifacts. One was hidden in the dark. The other was made so hard to see that most people dismiss it without a second glance.

I wanted to shake people and make them take notice. I wanted to tell them the story, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be that guy, so I just looked intently at the items and enjoyed them myself. I think that is what a lot of us do about Jesus. We know he is more than just an ancient prophet. We know that he deserves our full attention, but don’t want to be thought of as crazy as too sold out and too annoying. So we just enjoy him ourselves and don’t share.

Take a Pause

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On the way back from Ethiopia we stopped in Istanbul for a little rest. The week had been very long and tiring. Most days we were without power. Cold showers were the norm. The Internet hardly worked making communications nearly impossible. Supplies we had taken were being held in customs. Supplies we were getting in Addis were late. Printed programs were delayed by the lack of power in the city. Each day we got up and worked hard and then slept fitfully due to the drastic time change. When we left, we were all exhausted, satisfied, but exhausted. We had had four great GLS events around the country. We had prepared materials for the next 8 events and left everything in working order.

We arrived in Istanbul at 6 in the morning after getting on the plane at midnight. We were all in a sleep deprivation daze. We were driven to our hotel and our rooms were ready for us. We went immediately to sleep. After a short nap we got up to see the city.

Our first steps lead us to Gülhane Park. This area used to be reserved for the sultan, but in 1839 was opened as a park for all people. It was a beautiful respite after seven stressful days. I had intended only to walk through the park on the way to the Archaeological Museum, but we lingered. We watched birds and dogs and cats. We listened as a children’s field trip ang as they walked. We took pictures and watched people. We spent an hour an hour doing nothing.

The grounded was covered with leaves. I started looking for a beautiful one. I found this one. I stopped and looked at it for a long time. I love the fact that the yellow color was always present-that the green color just masks the underlying color. As the days shorten, the chlorophyll stops being produced and the underlying reality is revealed. I grew up with a saying, “Time and truth walk hand in hand.” It means that given enough time the underlying reality of a situation we become clear. Or another way, you can fake something for only a short amount of time.

As fall emerges around us, take some time to slow down and watch the world. Practice a little autumn in your life. Let somethings go that are no longer producing for you-let go of an idea, think something new. We can’t always be in spring mode instead sometimes we need a strategic pause to get ready for the next things.

Can you give me a hand?

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I came into the house through the laundry room. I was not paying attention because the dogs were so glad to meet me and were twirling around my legs. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a disembodied had on the dryer.

It was with Cindy’s computer bag, so I knew what it was. It was a prop. It was going to be used for a skit in the Lodge. The Lodge is one of our attempts to link parents and our church more deeply together in the task of spiritual discipleship. Each week a group of youth and adults practice and perform a 30 minute presentation of the bible, a value and a contemporary story applying the idea.

Frequently, we are the prop department. This prop, however, was more unusual than most. It was really weird. I thought I should have been warned before I open the door. “By the way, don’t mind the arm on the dryer.” I came into the house with a strange look on my face. I just had to say, “Arm?” We have laughed about it for several days.

When do you need a warning? When do you need to give someone a heads up?

Jesus give us lots of warnings. Most of which we ignore. He tells us to be careful because we are about to enter into a complicated situation, and don’t be surprised. He tells us that following him will cause trouble. People will misunderstand. People will think less of you. People will think you are weird. We have a phrase, “That will cost you and arm and a leg.”

It started during the First World War. It was a measure of the real cost of standing up for our cherished beliefs. We should not imagine that we can get through the battle for the truth in our world without paying the real cost. Sometimes its money, more often, it is time, commitment and choices. This is what it will cost us to do the work God has called us to.

The Mark You Leave Behind

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I was trying to distract myself. I was in the dentist’s chair and trying to be somewhere else in my mind. During a lull in the action, I reached up and touched that really bright light shining into my mouth. The Dr. and assistant were busy preparing for the next step in the process and so they did not see me. It had been and impulsive act. I saw the tiny sliver of a fingerprint and wondered if an intentional fingerprint would show up. The answer is, “YES!”

My index fingerprint popped off of the glass. LIke the red stains on Lady Macbeth’s I searched around for something to wipe off the evidence. I was on my back in the chair and there was nothing in my reach. If I sat up, I would draw attention to myself. If I ran to the bathroom to get a tissue, all the subtlety of the situation would be gone. I decided I need to stay put.

They returned to my mouth. My eyes could not see anything else but the fingerprint. I told them about my mischief right away. They were in sterile mode, so no one reached up to touch the light or eradicate the image. Instead they continued working and I continued watching the image I had created.

Most of us have been living with at least some sensitivity to the question, “What if people opened my high school yearbook?” What are the marks I made on the lives of people around me? At my five and ten year high school reunion the most common response I got to my answer (I am a pastor) to the question, “What do you do?” was stunned disbelief. I sorted through some old photos wondering about people I have not see in nearly 40 years.

We all make a mark and often they are indelible. They cannot be easily washed away. The impressions we gave people, the things we said, the things we did all create the picture of our life that we put in their hands. There are no throw away days, no do overs. There is forgiveness. There is redemption. There is new creation, but it comes at the cost of the cross.

The fingerprint will be erased before the next patient sits in the chair. Our legacy is built day after day and is not easily rewritten. Leave a good mark every day.
The fingerprint

I lost my shoe

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I walked out of the door. I saw a tiny red jelly bean. I briefly thought about eating it, but realized it did not meet the three second rule. The bright red oval called for my attention. I turned around and went back. I got down on my knees and saw at once that it was not a jelly bean, but a tiny little shoe.

I saw at once the the tiny naked foot with no red shoe, and a doll unable to stand without toppling over due to the imbalance. I thought of poor Cinderalla running away from her prince because she was afraid to be seen as she really was, realizing she would be judged by her tattered clothes and not her sterling character. All the fears of the haves and the have nots wrapped up in that moment. I was wondering if the reason this story has endured is because of this one moment-when the fear of transparency leads to shame , fleeing and hiding. We live in an ungracious time and the consequences seem to be impacting us all.

Then all at once I thought about my sock. I have this sock that I really love. Due to my blood clot I wear support socks. They do not have many attractive choices. I bought a dozen pair of ordinary black socks just to mitigate the predictable sock loss of life. I, however, did find some stylish socks that meet my support needs. I bought four pair—colored stripes, polka dots, argyle and color blocked.

My favorite pair (colors blocked) is no longer a pair, but a solo. I have searched high and low in hopes to find my sock. I have checked in suitcases, sock drawers and the lint filter. Knowing about static cling I have checked blankets and towels. It cannot be found. I have kept the sock out on the top of my dresser reminding myself each day to search again. Sometimes I’m too tired. Sometimes I can’t figure out where to look next. Sometimes it makes me sad.

Jesus tells a story about a woman who lost a coin and searches till she finds it. I am going to keep searching. Its not a very important search to find a sock. I can replace it.

Searching to find each other is important—to see each other truly. To love each other fully regardless of the prejudicial issues of the day (race, gender, economics . . .). Why do we hide from each other? Because we don’t have a culture of love and trust. I am too afraid to show you my whole self, warts and all, because too many people are willing to judge and destroy.

When people met Jesus he loved them as they were and people were transparent with him. They did not have to hide. Oh that when people meet us they felt that love and acceptance.

Eruption

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I looked out into the backyard and saw a flash of white. I could not figure what the dogs had gotten into and then dragged around the yard, but I intend to find out. I took three long steps to the door, grabbed the handle and was about to raise my voice when I saw the mushroom. It was a traditional mushroom tall slender base with a umbrella like top. It was delicate and fancy. The dogs walked back and forth past it with very little interest.

Later we were on a walk in Cain Park. I was trying to figure out how to walk around the park, but stay in the shade. It made for a Family Circus route (click here to see one of those old comics). There in one of the shady spots was this round thing. At first it looked like a golf ball, but on examination it was not. The deep structure looked like repeating heptagons. I’m not sure what it was, but it was elegant. The light fell on it and made it glow. The dogs passed with little interest.

Beauty and wonder are categories that make us human. We see things that delight us, that intrigue us, that brings us the simple joy of observation. I called Cindy on the phone as I walked out of the sanctuary toward the ROC, “Hey come outside and look at the clouds, they are amazing!” The intricate color only lasted a few minutes, but it filled me up. I good friend posted a photograph of clouds that was spot on a T-REx (his nickname) and it made me laugh out loud.

We have been taught to stop and smell the flowers, but I would add, stop and stare at the mushrooms, lie down and dream about the clouds, pause and consider the intricate structures. It really is a beautiful world.

Watch Out

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The sign came whipping by very fast. I was driving at highway speed and was the only one in the car to see it. Twenty miles later I was prepared and stopped and took a picture of it. I don't think I had ever seen it before. I have seen deer crossing signs. I have even seen them for moose, bighorn sheep and elk. This was a new sign for me. 

I admit, I gripped the steering wheel more than usual. My eyes scanned the underbrush for movement. We came out of the twenty miles unscathed. My hands throbbed as I tried to get the blood flowing through them again. I did not see a carcass on the road. I was relieved.

We drove over 2,000 miles on vacation. We frequently saw deer near the roads. Some right in the middle of the city. I saw a racoon waddling down the shoulder of the highway. A fox ran across the highway right in front of me. We did not make contact with any of the fauna. We have had impacts with animals in the past: deer, hogs, dogs and a racoon. Not only does it make me really sad, each incident was filled with loads of adenaline.

Life comes with a warning. There is danger ahead. It is not going to be easy. There is going to be trouble. You don't know when or where it is going to come from so you have to keep scanning ahead. It's just that I don't want to be living with such a tight grip on the wheel. I don't want to live in fear. I want to be careful enough, but more carefree.

We hiked to the highpoint of Connecticut. It started to rain, not a gentle drizzle, but a drenching deluge. The trail filled with water and became a stream. I happily stomped through the water. The sound of the rain was all around us and the forest was beautiful as it was washed from above. The rocks were slippery and the decent tricky, but I was joyful in the journey. 

We were walking down a path and I looked at Logan's shoe. There was a green snake flailing beneath his heel. We all stopped and watched the bright green against the dark black asphalt. The snake disappeared quickly into the grass.  I really don't like snakes, but it was beautiful.

Take a risk. Get wet. Go somewhere off the beaten path. Don't play it safe. Don't live with so much fear. "Do not fear, for I am with you" Is 41:10.

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.