Find a penny

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I saw this penny on the floor. I thought long and hard about  leaning down to get it. Sometimes the effort does not seem to be worth the reward. I wondered what I was going to do with the penny. I already knew the answer. I was going to put it in the brass tray where I empty my pockets at the end of the day. It would sit there for a long time. Someday it might get counted. Someday it might get put back into use, but I can't remember the last time I picked up and handful of pennies and put them in my pocket. 

After our long brutal hike this summer, where not much seemed to go right, we shuffled back slowly to our tent about an hour after dark. We took off our packs, cooked a little dinner and then went straight to bed. The next morning dawned brightly. Birds came to visit our camp. We started to pack things back into the car. Cindy saw a penny lying on the ground behind the car.

"Look a penny, " she said. Logan deadpanned, "If only we could have found that yesterday." We all got a good laugh.  I wondered about the connection of pennies and good luck. Why do we hold on to such ideas? Where did they come from? What am I supposed to do?

I leaned down and picked up the penny. I put it in my pocket. I forgot to take it out. It is riding around in those pants right now. It's in that little pocket inside the right pocket. Eventually, it will join the other pennies in the brass tray.

While on vacation, i stopped in a gas station and was buying something. I need three pennies to keep from breaking a twenty. I checked my pockets, nothing. I looked for the penny tray, nothing. I have put so many pennies in those trays, but almost never gotten one out. Last week, I purchased something and the computer signing pad asked me about donating to some cause. I declined. Later, it happened again. This time the request was, "Would you like to round up and we will give the pennies away to a good cause?" I immediately checked, "Yes."

I'm for rounding up and giving the pennies away to good causes. It seems like a simple thing that I could do every day. Then we could do away with pennies and create lots of good. 

Our church has been pinching our pennies recently. We are behind in our giving. It happens sometimes in the summer. We are six months through our budget year and are about 3 weeks behind in our giving. We need a few more people to round-up, to give a little more to help us complete our God giving commitments for this year.  

 

Miraculous

By Wade Huggins, Worship Pastor

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This week, America stopped to witness a miraculous celestial event - one that all lower 48 states were able to witness to some degree - a solar eclipse. On Monday at 1:14pm, here in Athens only 20% of our sun was visible. It was stunning, beautiful, miraculous. We briefly stepped out of the hectic routine of life to marvel at something that doesn’t come around all that often. As I began to see the images from the eclipse flood the news and social media feeds, I thought I would do a little digging around into the details of the eclipse… as I read more and more I could not help but be taken away by God’s master artistry. 

The diameter of the sun is 864,576 miles. 

The diameter of the moon is 2,159 miles. 

The distance from the earth to the sun is on average 93,000,000 miles.

The distance from the earth to the moon is on average 239,000 miles.

Take a minute to read those numbers again. How amazing is it that our tiny moon could come right between us and our massive sun at the perfect distance to create such a beautiful spectacle? To put this into perspective, if the moon is the size of a BB, the sun would be a ball 6 feet tall. Now, imagine holding that BB 12in from your face and going far enough away to just precisely cover the visibility of that 6 foot tall ball. 

Eric Metaxas writes about this miracle. He points out that in order for the miracle of the moon crossing the path of the earth and sun in such a perfect and beautiful manner, the size and distance of the two (moon and sun) celestial bodies had to be just right. Not only just right but precise to a degree that is difficult to comprehend (on a massive scale). On top of that, the distance from a person to the moon also had to be perfect. All of these massive numbers aligned in perfect fashion this past Monday and it was hard for us not to stop and marvel. 

Then just two nights later I was taken away again by something so beautiful; our moon, in a perfect crescent, reflecting the light of the sun through the clouds while a thunderstorm rumbled and flashed below. I was reminded that the miracle of nature doesn’t only come once in a while but is constantly surrounding us. Psalm 19:2 says, “The heavens declare the Glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge.” 

This week take the time to marvel at the miraculous. Gaze upon the moon in all it’s beauty. Take time to watch the sun rise on the horizon. See how the stars marvel at the Glory of God. Be taken away by the strength, beauty and sounds of a thunderstorm. As we read this week in Colossians 3:1 ““Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Next time this miracle of the solar eclipse comes around, be sure not to miss it. Be sure not to marvel at it’s beauty. It's coming our way in 2024. But in the mean time, take the time to recognize the beauty that our Father has provided us every day.

Numbers and analogy referred to from:

https://pjmedia.com/faith/2017/08/21/the-incredible-miracle-of-a-solar-eclipse/#comments

Still

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I'm trying to visit all of the Presidential Libraries. I love the experience. I love the small slab of history, the patriotic passion, the reflection on contemporary society (all of them are since Hoover). We have three more to see all of them (one is under construction). This week we saw The Eisenhower Library and the Truman Library. The brochures say that most people spend an hour or two--we spent 6 or 7. I want to soak out of it all I can. I am in love with the experience. 

In the Eisenhower museum we had spent 3 hours when we looked at the clock for the first time. We realized we had not yet left the WW2 section, we still were not to the section of the presidency. Panel by panel, artifact by artifact we read and studied his command of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. The section on the end of the war and the liberation of the camps was particularly moving. 

I read the memoir of a soldier who helped liberate a camp. He shared this in a letter to his parents, "While there they showed us the stars which the Germans made them wear with the French word "Juif" meaning Jews. I told them now that we had arrived they wouldn't have to wear them again." The words jumped off the page. Why are we still fighting this battle! How can it be that people still think that Nazi ideology is appropriate?

We traveled to the Truman museum and read about his efforts to integrate federal employees. He had entrenched racist in his family, yet he knew that our constitution and our history spoke to fairness. He decided to work to change the world.

Our work is not done. We must continue to press forward to eradicate the narratives of hate, division, superiority until we achieve God's eternal design, "on earth as it is in Heaven" what we are calling Mañana Today.

Here is your sign

I go in the vehicle. I saw the sign. I saw the cup. I took the picture.

The sign could not be any clearer. The cup unquestionably was a drink. It was in the vehicle. This is no "grey area." There was a clear disregard for the rule. Let's say you are a "spirit of the rules" kind of person, then you read the rule as "No spills will be acceptable in this car." The simplest way to achieve that is to have no cups in the car, but I can see the logic of the person who thinks, I am not the kind of person who spills. Therefore, I can have a cup in the car. Unfortunately, it is still a fail. There is no lid on the cup. It would be easy for a simple turn or an urgent stop to send liquid over the edge of the cup. 

When you see a rule, when you hear a rule, what do you think? Are you trying to adjust to the rule or avoid the rule? Do you only follow the rules you like or agree with?

The people saw me taking the picture. They said, "That sign was put up by the previous management." I assume that means they did not agree with the rule, therefore it was ok that they were ignoring it. I wondered to myself, "Why not just get rid of the sign, it is only held in place with tape?" Upon clarification, they affirmed that other people were bound by the sign, just not them. 

What are the rules, the laws, the truths that apply to our lives that are in force whether we agree with them or not? I can say I want to float here, but the law of gravity does not care and exerts itself over my life. I can say, I don't need to rest, but your body will arrange down time for you even if it comes as a heart attack. You can cheat your family time, but time and truth will walk hand in hand and you will eventually be left alone by the people you leave alone. You can lead your family to put other things before God (sports, family time, rest, the Sunday morning paper), and the consequences will seem to be minimal. The truth, however, is that you cannot violate God's eternal, unchanging principle (6 days on 1 day off -remember the sabbath day and keep it holy) without terribly destructive consequences. 

In over 38 years of ministry I have never met someone who regretting giving up something (a sporting event, extra sleep, more rest) for a real relationship with God in corporate worship. I, however, have met many people who grieve that their children and grand children have nothing to do with church. I have met many people who realize too late that they taught their children that church was common and they were willing to sacrifice corporate worship for almost any diversion. I have met many people who know that they did not lead their family in the way God expects. The cumulative effect of ignoring God's command, "Do not give up meeting together" (Heb 10:25) is painful and real. As we approach a new season with the beginning of school, make a concerted effort and real choice to honor God, his bride, his body and his family this year. Gather with his people every week for corporate worship. The rule applies to you.

Peachey

Last week in my sermon I talked about the legacy of peach loving that my mother gave to me. I brought a fresh peach with me. The smell was intoxicating. I borrowed the peach from Cindy. Her Dad had given it to her. He told her, "This is a great peach and it does not deserve anything other than the very best. Wait until you can eat it with Blue Bell."

She drove it back from Tyler with high hopes. We did not have time to eat it on Saturday and had pinned our hopes for it on Sunday. I forgot it after my sermon and left it in the ROC. Fortunately Cindy remembered it and got it during chair stacking. We went to eat lunch and decided that we could not leave it in the car or it would get roasted. We put it on the table as if it was a center piece. It was a beautiful peach.

After lunch, Cindy headed home, I went to drop off one of the boys at their car back at the church. When I got about 3/4 of the way home Cindy called and asked me if I had the peach. I turned the car around and headed back to the restaurant while she called to see if they still had our table decoration. I pulled up with a little trepidation, but could see our peach on the counter. The waiter caught my eye and proudly held it aloft. I explained that it was a special peach. It had been given to us by my father-in-law.

Later that night, I ate my portion of the peach with Blue Bell. It was perfect. I saw on facebook that the Bluebell flavor of peaches and homemade vanilla is back in stores after a two year absence. It can not substitute for the real thing. 

Too often we accept substitutes for reality. How is your relationship with the Father? In what ways are you pursuing his mind and his heart for your life? God has not gone anywhere, but is patiently waitng for you.

Greetings

Its a terrible picture. Its grainy and dark, but it was a great moment and I decided to keep it. Last Saturday Cindy and I drove to Houston to be with a good friend. The husband had acted in such a way that he lost his job and might lose his marriage. The husband and wife are dear to us. We sat with them separately, different locations, looming darkness. We cried with them. We cride in the car. Cindy and I cried in each other's arms. It was painful and it is ongoing. We wanted to lift the pain and heal the hurts, but betrayal is real and lasting. It will take time and grace, forgiveness and faith if they are going to make it. We wished there was more that we could do. Our hours came to an end and we started the long and lonely drive home. We talked and cried again. It was dark when we came into the neighborhood. We rounded a corner and i stopped as the headlights caught an huge owl sitting in the street. He scooped some water out of the gutter. I waited. He winked at me. He gulped again. I gazed. I tried to turn a little to see him better and he hopped up into the tree. we stopped and watched. He didn't screech of flee. He just sat quietly and it was enough.  His quiet wings sounded like a comforter hanging on a clothes line. His eyes were open and almost unblinking. It was enough. He didn't do anything. He did not say anything. He just showed up. In over 50 years of watching birds it was the longest and closest I had ever had with an owl.  I wish I could have helped my friends more, but all I could do was show up. I could listen, I could play close attention. I could surround them with my arms. I'm praying it was a help and that it will be a help in days to come. Maybe there is a place you need to show up. It will be enough.

Its a terrible picture. Its grainy and dark, but it was a great moment and I decided to keep it.

Last Saturday Cindy and I drove to Houston to be with a good friend. The husband had acted in such a way that he lost his job and might lose his marriage. The husband and wife are dear to us. We sat with them separately, different locations, looming darkness. We cried with them. We cride in the car. Cindy and I cried in each other's arms. It was painful and it is ongoing.

We wanted to lift the pain and heal the hurts, but betrayal is real and lasting. It will take time and grace, forgiveness and faith if they are going to make it. We wished there was more that we could do. Our hours came to an end and we started the long and lonely drive home. We talked and cried again.

It was dark when we came into the neighborhood. We rounded a corner and i stopped as the headlights caught an huge owl sitting in the street. He scooped some water out of the gutter. I waited. He winked at me. He gulped again. I gazed. I tried to turn a little to see him better and he hopped up into the tree. we stopped and watched. He didn't screech of flee. He just sat quietly and it was enough. 

His quiet wings sounded like a comforter hanging on a clothes line. His eyes were open and almost unblinking. It was enough. He didn't do anything. He did not say anything. He just showed up. In over 50 years of watching birds it was the longest and closest I had ever had with an owl. 

I wish I could have helped my friends more, but all I could do was show up. I could listen, I could play close attention. I could surround them with my arms. I'm praying it was a help and that it will be a help in days to come. Maybe there is a place you need to show up. It will be enough.

Sunrise, Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

Between the earth and the sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bad hair day

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

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

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

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

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

Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

If you have further questions, please let me know,

Kyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not in Kansas anymore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light them up.

We officially turned the lights on the steeple on Easter Eve and we have gotten lots of compliments. Last Tuesday, we turned on the TVCC setting for the first time. The lights are capable of producing many different colors, we have not yet perfected maroon, but we continue to tinker with it. We have a number of different settings, which we showed at the fish fry. 

We have a setting to AISD, for ACPA, TVCC, Easter, St. Patrick's Day, Patriotic celebrations, Christmas and more are coming. We hope the steeple is both encouraging and fun. We want people who are looking to see if the Cardinals won to come looking to the steeple. We want people to see the steeple as a focal point of the community. Always, the cross will stand above it all to remind us that Christ is Lord of all.

We have not developed all the boundaries of the program, but at the moment think we will focus on varsity sports, on district games. Highs schools will get Friday nights, TVCC Saturdays, unless one of our holiday lightings preempts the school lighting. It is a work in progress.

Last Tuesday, the TVCC football team came and helped more the pews out for the renovation. It was hard work. Three pews had been stored in the attic and were like wrestling an alligator to get out of the tiny storage space. The football guys did fantastic work. Coach Poteet made that happen. They all deserve a big thank you. After they were finished, we took them outside in the front and told them thanks and that we were for them. We turned on the TVCC red setting and told them, "TVCC won tonight!"

I love it that we will get a chance to tell people we believe in them. Our website is lovingtheworld.com may this be another way that we demonstrate to the love of Christ to our community.

Second Picture

This is my fish

This is my fish

Mike Jones told we there were Bald Eagles at Lake Athens. I decided to make them my new project. I have been out three trying to get a good image. The first try had a brilliant background, but it meant the birds were too dark. The second set of images were better, but the background was flat and we were still too far away. The third time was a bit better.

I called the land owner who gave me permission to go onto her property to take some pictures. Steve Gonna and I got up early and headed to the spot to be ready at sunrise. We parked his truck picked up a tent and our two chairs and walked silently to the east side of their sitting tree. The eagle was not fooled nor very happy. He soared away to his other sitting tree while we set up our tent and then tried to sit silently awaiting his return. 

Eventually, we could hear his distictive screech as he circled the area. Then we saw him land in the field. He sat quietly on the ground with a flag right in front of him. He had a fish in his feet. Then the took flight again and circled the area and then eventually came in over our heads and stopped on the sitting tree. 

We both furiously worked our cameras as we tried to capture the moment. He was on the tree for 44 seconds (from 7:45:40 to 7:46:24). We invested about three hours in the whole adventure. I got 22 usable images, of which two showed enough promise for me to edit them and post them. The one above is my favorite. I like how the shape of the bird is mimicking the shape of the top of the tree. I like his open beak as I can still hear his call. His eye seems so fiery. His tallons grip with such power. 

Its the best eagle picture I have ever taken, but it is far from the best eagle picture. There are things I like about it, but my dream is to take one so good, that National Geographic would publish it. I need to be closer with better light and better background. I need mountains or bears or golden clouds. I want him to pop against the background with a brilliant white head. 

The gap between our dream and our reality is rarely as clearly seen as in a photographic comparison. We think of ourselves as good, virtuous and impressive. Then the true plumb-line is held up next to our lives and we find that we are flawed, sinful and ordinary. We might delude ourselves, but the truth is we are worse than we want to admit. We are more sinful that we are willing to confess and more in need of grace than we are comfortable accepting. 

I once asked my mentor, Henri Nouwen, why he had called his major work The Wounded Healer instead of calling it the Healed Healer. Was it not the case the Christ has healed us and therefore we offer hope to the world out of our healed reality. He paused after my question and thought for a long while. Then he said to me, "I never get to the point that I feel like I do not need Jesus. If we ever get to a place where we do not need Jesus, then we are in the wrong place." We are always in need of healing because we are always in the condition of being a sinner. 

I can see all the flaws in my picture. May I see my life as clearly. 

7:44:11

7:45:40

7:46:24

First Picture

Thank you all for the encouragement and loven we felt last week at the celebration of our twenty year anniversary. We feel so blessed to be part of this church and it is honor to be pastor here. We have spent time reflecting on lots of things. It has been fun looking through old photographs-my boys have grown up right here in Athens. We always prayed to God that they would get to be from somewhere. Thank you for loving our family in a way that this can always be home. 

I was asked for a list of things I might enjoy that would be an honor and then a bit of a surprise. So I gave a list of 9 things (that was actually a fun exercise) from inexpensive to wildly expensive. I gave ideas. The one selected was fantastic. It was a camera and lense designed for bird watching or better bird photography. I have always marveled at great bird photos, but never had the right equipment. I could blame lots of bad shots on the camera or the lense. Now there is no excuse. 

I got them home and decided I would read the manual before using them so that I could have a better chance of taking great pictures. The lense has more choices than I have ever had. The camera is going to require some serious study. I could not wait to get it all learned so I assembled the camera and took it outside.

I decided that the first picture would be of a bird. There were robins near the driveway as I stepped outside. Robins are the first birds that really got my mother's attention and what lead us down the path of birdwatching, so it seemed fitting. They flew away before I was ready.  I stalked them for a little while. They were hiding among the leaves. Then one flew and sat perched on the gutter for just a second and I took the first image. It was not great, but it is memorable to me.

Thank you for your kindness, the gift and to our future together. 

PS. On Monday April 3 at 6:15 we are going to leave (at 6:22PM) the ROC parking lot and go take pictures of a nesting pair of Bald Eagles near the lake. You are welcome to come, take a picture and look through the lense.

Go online at lovingtheworld.com go to the bottom of the page and click Pastor Kyle's blog to see more pictures.

 

Just look at the details in the toes!

Just look at the details in the toes!

Layers

 

They turned on the saw and started into the wall. Dust emerged liked a cloud and covered the room. The first steps of the Refresh process started. We are on a short timetable as we try to get the gym ready to be a worship center for the next year. Through the week we checked in on the team as more and more of the wall gave way to their persistent effort.

It was like an archeological dig. First came off the sound board that we installed right after I came to Athens to help the gym be a meeting space where everyone can hear. Then came the green carpet that was installed when the gym was first opened. Beneath that was the cinder block wall. As the grey concrete came out a column was revealed. It went from the bottom and then up about ten feet, but did not connect to anything. This was a remnant of the old grocery store and it’s much lower ceiling. Beyond that the red bricks of the outside walls were revealed. It will make a really cool background for DNOW. The next phase, the extension building, will begin after DNOW is completed and and we are working hard to have it ready by our move in date (April 23).

If these walls could speak, the things they would say. There has been so many times of joy in the gym. It served as the bridge sanctuary during the renovations in the early 90’s and stands ready to serve us again. It has been the location of Bible School, Youth Group, GLS, volleyball games, the League, pick-up basketball, practices, Gracefalls, banquets and even an Angry Birds test facility. It has been a respite from the rain and heat, a warm place in cold winter nights. Thanks to all who made it happen so many years ago and sacrificed to accomplish this amazing facility.

If you tore something down and were to examine it from the ground up, from the very foundation, what would you find? In the ROC we find a desire to take a building, a grocery store, that helped feed people and turn in into a center that feeds people’s souls. This has been a huge success.


What about our lives? If, at the end, we could see all the layers that make us who we are and could start peeling them back, what would we find? At the bottom are those promises we made to ourselves, that we made to our God about the kind of life we wanted to lead. The framework was built on those moments, or else we whitewashed the walls and tried to ignore our core. It’s not too late to get back in touch with some of that deep programing. What were you made for and how is that going?

Going back home

IMG_9685.JPG

Last week Cindy and I drove to Alexandria Louisiana to perform a burial for one of our church members. I have driven through the town a few times, but the last time I was off the road in the town was 45 years ago. When I was a kid, we used to drive there every year to see my mother's family. Her uncle lived there. He was a preacher and a legend in Baptist life. I still have the Bible dictionary he gave me for graduation. 

We would go to the Zoo, see our cousins (technically they were my 2nd cousins, but we called them our cousins) and eat weird food. We often drove down to Baton Rouge to visit with more family and occasionally we would end up in New Orleans. It has been a long time ago.

On the trip down this week, we stopped on the side of the road to change drivers. Right at my feet was a huge pile of crawfish. It looked like an ice chest had been turned over. I grabbed the photo and we continued on our way. I have looked at the photo over and over again. The shapes are so foreign and alien. It is very creepy, but something kept me coming back to the image.

Out of the blue an image came to my mind--the creek. Behind my house was a creek. It was my playground. We jumped the creek, dammed up the creek and dug in the creek. We got soaking wet in the creek. We spent hours fishing in the creek. There were no real fish, but monsters dwelt in the deep. We would take a piece of string and tie a chunk of bacon to it and dangle it in front of the holes dotting the banks of the creek. Occasionally, a wary little pincer would slowly emerge from the darkness and grab the meat. A brief tug of war would ensue and we would almost always emerge with a crawdaddy. They always looked like they were ready for a fight. We captured them. Sometimes we observed them. We were never kind or gentle too them. I feel a little bad for the way I treated them and from snatching them from their homes.

The crawdads made me think about about some quiet simple moments of my childhood when I had little responsibility and an abundance of time. I spent hours outside playing in the water and the woods. I had friends all through the apartment complex which was on the other side of the creek. That area was our Central Park. I feel so fortunate to have grown up by its banks.

During my late adolescence the town decided to pave the creek and turn it into a drainage ditch. Now there is broken glass, graffiti and weeds growing in the cracks of the concrete.  I rarely saw anyone playing in the water. That life is all gone. It's amazing how three seconds on the side of the road has occupied my mind this week with nostalgia, regret, joy and delight. One of the most common words in the Bible is, "Remember." We can look back and see lots of moments of grace if we stop and think. It doesn't sound as good as "stop and smell the roses," but I might say today, "stop and smell the crawdads." 

Mimes to the Rescue

In 1995, Bogota had a problem. This city of six million was plagued by horrible traffic. The accident rate was climbing, the death rate chilling and corruption rampant. People were ready for a change. They elected a new Mayor. A retired professor with no prior political experience sought the job.

He knew he need to act and cat quickly. So he got rid of the traffic police, 2,000 of them. The were notorious for accepting bribes. People did not respect them. Instead he hired 420 mimes. They were trained to stand on street corners and confront traffic problems. Because it was almost always gridlock, they could easily walk into the streets and confront the bad actors, those who refused to wait their turn, those who were honking to no end. They stood on corners and chided those who refused to obey the crossing rules. If a person ran across a road they were followed by the mime and "his every move" was mocked.

The Mayor, Antanas Mockus, believed that people were more afraid of ridicule than of being fined. The changes seemed to bear out his theory. Traffic fatalities dropped by 50%. They expanded the program and handed out 350,000 thumbs up and thumbs down cards. When someone did something right other drivers praised them. When they violated the social contract, the got "Red-carded" with a thumbs down. The people of Bogota began to change because they began to think about others, what they thought and what they saw. They began to care about strangers whom they used to speed by or cut off without much thought. 

No amount of external laws will control behavior. Action is born in the heart and the mind. What we all must have is a desire to obey the laws, a desire to honor others. If it is not first written on our hearts it will not matter if it is carved on rock tablets. If mimes showed up (assuming you did not die of fear), what would they mock in your behavior? Why does it take a mime for people to become more human?