Oh, what a beautiful day.

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We slipped into the back entrance of the State Fair. We waited for a few minutes for the birthing barn to open. It is a great way to start a day at the fair. The first case was filled with small oval shaped eggs. Some were rocking every so slightly. A few had the tell tale signs of life within. On one, the shell was cracked and the chick was actively trying to escape its white prison. Four or five dirty, wet and exhausted chicks lay in the wood chips. Occasionally one would rally and take a step and flay its wings.

The next case held fluffy little chicks scurrying from one side the other side. People wandered around looking a smiling and it was hard to tell who was having more fun. The sounds of contents peeping and the chattering of people all blended into a cacophony of joy.

Then our eyes rose to the surrounding pens. A mama cow was so ready to give birth. Her tail swished and the body was stretched and she waited. Any day or probably any moment the calf would make the journey. In the very next stall, an attentive mama licked her 22 min old calf. She nudged it. She moved down one side and then the other. Then the calf stretched out it’s legs and slowly stood. Then with an exhausted wobble fell back into the wood chips. The mom kept licking and the calf kept struggling trying to find its feet.

We headed for the door and the rest of the fair, but honestly I could have left right then. It was so refreshing, so enlivening, so encouraging. The fresh, the new, the excited surrounded us in that room. It made me drink in hope and love and support.

The rest of the day was filled with pleasure (fried food winners and corny dogs!) and friendship as we wandered from the Strong Man to the Butter sculptor on to the food sampling circuit and to the Texas Hall of State and then finishing up with the car show and the bird show. It was a great day.

We should start every day asking God for the new creation that is promised to us.

“God make me new today. Love me like a mother hen or a mama cow. Give strength to my feeble legs. Fill me with wonder and joy and let me share it with my friends.”

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I pulled into the parking lot and saw it sitting right by the curb. It was a car seat. The orientation meant that I could not see into the seat until I got a little passed it, I braced myself as I pulled next to it. Thankfully, it was empty. I scanned the area. There was no one near.

I drove on to the store and conducted my shopping and then headed out passed the car seat. Some other people were bringing it into the gas station. They had also been bothered by its presence in the lot.

How does a car seat get left in a parking lot? It did not looked damaged and if it had been, then why not put it in the nearby dumpster? The store did not sell car seats, and then nearest store that did was a mile away, so it was not someone looking to trade up and had no room for the old car seat. Why was it in the lot of a home improvement center? it was very confusing.

I still have not come up with a good explanation for the abandoned car seat. It’s an item that does not just wear out on the side of the road. It implies that it had a passenger when it go to that gas station. If it had been a booster seat, then maybe it was the moment the child out grew it, but this was seat for a young child. What would cause person to drag it out and dump it? What happened to the loving feeling, the family together, the safety and embrace around this child?

I don’t know the information, but I can tell you the feelings it gave me. I made me feel that someone must have been hopeless—”I don’t need this anymore.” They must have felt overwhelmed—”I don’t know what else to do but abandon this here.” Or maybe it was an accident. it was in the back of a truck and wind caught it just right and when they got home they were just so thankful that it was empty the whole time. It represents the disintegration of something.

Recently have seen several empty and abandoned churches. This seems as incongruous to me. A place built for hope and protection and joy and worship has become cold and dark an abandoned. Somehow the seats which had been filled became empty. People grew up and decided they no longer needed God or community and walked away. They no longer told the story of Jesus.

God desires you to fill your seat in the family of God. God desires that we watch over each other. God desires that you be surround by love. Please get back into the car.

Look Up

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On the last day of vacation, we stopped in South Bend to see the campus of Notre Dame. We have done this at several “famous” schools just to get feel for a place. We stumbled on to the Purdue campus while visiting g a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Indiana. After leaving Cincinnati we stopped by the campus of Kent State to see the memorial to the shooting of the students protesting the Vietnam War. We were headed to the airport in Chicago Notre Dame was right on the way.

We headed over to the book store and then a visitor center. I knew I wanted to see “touchdown Jesus” and the football field (have you see Rudy?). They gave us a nice map and suggested an hour long walking tour which we took. One of the stops was the beautiful gothic chapel in the middle of campus.

Inside we met a very friendly guide who told about his long association with the school. He was rightly proud of his university. We looked at the beautiful stained glass windows. Most catholic churches have a nativity window, so we went looking for the baby Jesus. Then it was time to go. The parking meter was ticking and we had places left to visit.

We headed to an exit, but our path was blocked. Two men stood transfixed looking up in a 10 foot by 4 foot lobby. Their fixed stare turned our eyes upward. Suspended from the ceiling was a hanging light. It took a second for our eyes to adjust and then we saw it. It was a helmet from WW1 that had been tuned upside down. The doorway was a memorial to those who had served in that terrible war. It was a remembrance of life lost and service rendered.

Many people walk in and out of that door and never look up. They never see the object which so personalizes the sacrifice. They walk past it without noticing.

I was standing at Kent State with tears in my eyes. We had listened to a person who shot that terrible day. We had watched a film. We had read the words of the grieving parents who lost their children that day. I was standing a bit overwhelmed on the sidewalk and watched as college students strolled around the campus who were not thinking about what I was thinking about. They were light, I was sad.

It’s so easy to miss the moment, to miss each other, to exist on a surface level. I think God is asking us to step closer to each other and look up and stand for a while in the awesome wonder of his sacrifice and love for us.

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I saw the book on vacation. It’s all about the word, “OK.” The subtitle of the book is, “The improbable story of America’s Greatest Word.” I bought it from a used book store when I got home.

I read a bunch of the book standing in a tiny book store in Upstate New York. It was the book store, ranger station, headquarters for the Martin Van Buren National Historical Site. It was his home. It is a beautiful place high above the Hudson River. It is covered with trees and long sweeping drive. He served as president in 1837-1841. He was trying to get re-elected in 1840. He was born in Kinderhook, New York.

Just the year before, a popular parlor game involved misspelling words on purpose and then abbreviating them and then making fun of people who did not get the joke (the spelling elites are a barrel of fun). Like KG stood for “no go” because of the play on the word “no” which sounds like the word “know.” See what I mean, really fun game. OK stood for “all correct,” but spelled “oll korrect.” This hilarious game did not last long, but the artifact OK lurked around. By the end of 1839 it had been used a dozen times in the newspapers of the area.

Then came the election. Van Buren was running against William “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” Harrison. Van Buren needed a catchy slogan. They settled on Van Buren was “OK.” He was the “Old Kinderhook” (see birthplace) and he was kinda hip because the young people liked the word game so it was kind making fun of him for being old while saying he was in touch with the modern world.

The voters did not return him to the presidency, they did however keep the “OK.” It spread to every corner of the country. It was repeated in newspapers around the world. One linguist claims that the only English word to spread more widely is Coke.

As words go, I hear it frequently, but for me OK is not good enough. OK is middle, bland and acceptable. It’s another version of “fine.” I want the world to be “fantastic,” “excellent,” or “amazing.” I wonder if the word spread so rapidly because so many people in the world really expereince the world as disappointing. Jesus wants us to have more than an OK life. He promises, “I Have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10). I’m going to adopt the phrase, I’m AOK. “Abundantly Outstandingly Kyle.” How about you?

Distance

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We landed for vacation at Laguardia Airport (LGA) near New York City. We were meeting our son Logan at the airport as we were flying in from Charleston and he was flying in from DFW. We got our bags and texted hi our plan. He was about to board the plane from Dallas. We would go get the rental car and then find a way to waste time until we needed to come back to get him. His plane took off. We headed to the rental car shuttle bus.

The map said it was 1.5 miles to the rental car place. We stepped out onto the curb and saw a mass of frozen steel. No cars were moving. Horns were blaring. People were standing six deep. We pushed through the crowd to get to the middle island to stand where the shuttle picked up. Then we waited. We consulted our phones. We talked to our neighbors. The cars did not move. For 45 minutes not a single car moved an inch. It was like an episode of the twilight zone. Tempers were rising, urgency began to creep into my extremities.

I furiously searched for a way to walk to the Avis center, but was assured over and over again, that it could not be done. Since the new travel restrictions the airport is surrounded by fences and highways in such a way that it is nearly impossible to walk from where I was to where I wanted to go. It was no use to call a taxi or an Uber. Nothing was moving.

Then a tiny trickle of movement began. Another hour passed and no shuttles had arrived. Eventually, one came. We got on, or in or inbetween. We were pushed in so tightly as people scrambled for a space on the bus. It was hot. It was excruciating. Cindy and I were separated by a dozen people. We could not move. The bus began to creep. It took three hours to get from the curb to the Avis counter. We were exhausted. Logan had arrived at the terminal before we got the rental car.

I had cound a blog that described a nearly secret path that the works use to get to the airport. I told Logan were to wait and then we drove to a nearby neighborhood and I jumped out of the car. I wove my way across a bridge, through a walkway, near a parking garage and into the terminal. I found Logan and then we repeated the process to get back to Cindy who was driving the getaway car. We drove to Albany to spend the night quicker that we had gotten our car.

Sometimes the last part of the journey is the furthest. Sometimes the closer we come to that which we want, the resistance increases. As we journey this fall into becoming a House of Prayer for all Nations, don’t be surprised if we move slower, if it gets harder, but let us push through and find a way for our prayer lives to become deeper and richer and more meaningful.

An Unexpected Encounter

Nature has its ways of surprising us in fascinating fashion. Just to sit, listen, and watch always has its way of drawing us into its beauty. The last month or so, we have had a daily encounter with a baby coyote out on the ranch. For a while, it seemed like every day as we were on our morning commute, there he is running down the road. At first, it startled me. If you’ve never seen a baby coyote they look very much like a small fox, or even a chihuahua. I wasn’t sure what he was doing so I slowed down and looked for his mother, who certainly wasn’t far off. But day after day, there he was and he was not afraid. Always alone, or seeming to be he was comfortable with us. He didn’t run away, and as you can see in the picture, he even would sit down in front of us in the road and just watch us as we watched him.

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In the evenings, we sit on the porch and just enjoy everything about our surroundings. The sound of a storm rolling in, the wind as it passes the trees, the clucking of chickens, and the chirping of all sorts of birds, even the sound of coyotes calling out as they search for food in the evening. We are not alone. They are there doing what they all do to contribute to the symphony of nature.

It is a reminder that we are just as much a part of their ecosystem as we are of theirs. I used to think anytime you saw a coyote it was bad news. They certainly can be pests. But I’m beginning to change my mind. I went to see a movie called “Big Little Farm.” It follows a farm in California near the time of the fires last year. They had a coyote problem. The coyotes were getting into their chicken coops on their search for dinner. Throughout the movie, each “problem” they encounter eventually finds it’s solution in nature itself. When they put a dog with the chickens to guard them, they saw a decrease in their gopher problem as well as stopped the unwanted coyotes and foxes from ravaging their chicken coop. 

Coyotes, like this young one I’ve been watching have their place in nature. While they can become a problem, they are also part of the solution that God designed to keep our world working as it should. Just as the trees provide us oxygen to breath and a place for birds to perch, our little friend plays a similar role in helping to control the population of other small animals who are potentially, if not controlled, a problem. 

Sometimes, we see something and quickly jump to conclusions about whether or not they are something good or something bad. We can be quick to judge, quick to act and that can lead to making fast mistakes. Nature reminds us that we are a part of something much bigger, something so inspiring and so beautiful. 

I haven’t seen the little pup in a few weeks. I’ve wondered where he has gone. But I believe that he is probably out there doing his part. I will keep on doing mine as well.

Spend some time in creation this week. You might be surprised by what you will see.

This is my Father’s world. And to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres,

Wade

Circling

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Can you draw a circle? That was the question I was confronting. I can draw something that is like a circle, but could I actually draw a circle? The picture above represents a quick try. None of them are even close. I could have traced a circle or used a compass, but the challenge was to draw a circle freehanded. I could get the ends to nearly match, but they turned out like eggs or clown noses, not circles. I don’t mind you knowing that I can't draw circles—that I am far away from perfect.

Last week I was asked to share something in the staff that no one knew, not even Cindy, my wife of 36 years. I thought long and hard. I’ve told so many stories about my l life in my sermons. People who have been here a long time know many of them. I thought and thought and then a story popped into my head. I was about 4 years old. I had gone camping with some family friends. My two brothers and I were loaded in car with other kids and had gone to the beach.

I don’t remember much about the trip. I only rememberer the car ride home. I was the youngest and I was sitting next to the window. The older kids were in the back of the station wagon in some seats that faced each other. Slowly, I become very aware that I need to go to the bathroom. The urgency continues to rise. I don’t know how much longer it is until we get home. I don’t know the adults that well-I was mostly an add-on of the trip. I sat and fidgeted. I tried until I could not. Then the flood waters came. Still I sat quietly. I did not move, I did not cry out. I did not let anyone know.

I remember the humiliation. I remember the fear. I think I thought they might leave me by the side of the road if they found out. I think I put my jacket over my legs. I sat and waited and I was afraid. I have no idea if they ever suspected or knew. All I remember is the embarrassment.

This week, we were on our way back from the water park with the children and a young child needed to stop for a restroom break. I had lots of sympathy and was glad that they felt they could trust us with that information.

We all tend to show people our best. If we ever let our guard down we tend to do it on our own terms-like telling you I can’t draw perfect circles ( I figure you can’t either). Telling about the more shameful acts is another story entirely. Somewhere in telling the truth and being loved still is real freedom. I think this is why the bible says we should confess to one another. Not so that we might act as some judge or arbitrary, but so that we might actually experience the life transformation of being loved while still a sinner.

Overheard

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I was in the auto parts store buying the glue to glue on a rearview mirror. This is the second or third time. I chuckled when I read the package, “permanent” was in bold print. I paid for the supplies and was turning to go out of the store when the man behind the counter spoke to a couple that was walking out of the store. They had been in line in front of me and I had not seen what they bought. They had been lingering by the door looking at their package.

The worker said, “If that does not fit, it will be wrong.” My eyebrows betrayed my inner thoughts. I was trying to not react. I was in the store with my son and we did not make eye contact. We were essentially eavesdropping on their conversation. The statement rolled around in my head. I got out of the store and saw the corners of my sons mouth turned up as he pursed his lips. We got in the car and both laughed and blurted out the statement at the same time.

I have tried to reconstruct the sentence to find an angle which explains a deeper meaning. It seems so obvious, “not fitting” is a synonym for “wrong.” Why did he need to say this? What was he trying to say? Could it be that a part could go on and not fit exactly but be close enough to try to ignore? Then the ignoring turns into a bigger problem over time?

Sometimes we make little compromises which in and of themselves do not seem to be a pig problem. We just plow on assuming no one will notice. We say something that is slightly true and shade the truth. Then that new narrative takes hold. We look better, another looks worse, but we do not set the record straight. We go most of the way to make something right, but then hold back the most crucial step. We make a half apology. Over time the truth keeps bubbling to the surface. “If that does not fit” is the present tense. If we don’t do the right thing now. “It will be wrong, “ is the future tense, it will have consequences. We build our future bit by bit.

Through the Looking Glass

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Our pathway was clear. We had a plan. Then I changed the plan. We were headed from Leavenworth and the Frontier Army Museum to St. Joseph and the Pony Express Museum. Then I saw a tiny note that Atchison Kansas, which was only 30 minutes out of the way, was the home of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. We were following the path of great explorers, Lewis and Clark, and I was excited to throw this pioneer of aviation into the mix.

We headed out through the flat back roads of Kansas. From horizon to horizon all we could see was crops. It was like we were driving through a huge shag carpet. We approached Atchison from the West. We passed the Dairy Queen and the Pizza Hut and then crossed the railroad tracks. We slid down Main Street and right before we turned the Missouri River opened before us. The river and flood plain stretched for nearly four miles.

We turned sharply north and and the road turned into a steep climb. Then at the crest of the hill we turned on Santa Fe Street and drove right to the edge of the hills overlooking the river. It was a breath taking view. Standing on this high hill we could see the water stretched out as far as the eye could see north and south. The hills four miles away testified to the immense water that had flowed past the place for thousands of years.

What a place to grow up. At the corner of Santa Fe and Terrace. The Santa Fe trail had it roots and beginnings right here. The other settler’s trails started just across the river. The wind was pushed up by the hills and as I stood at the top it felt like I could reach out my arms and fly. We toured the home and looked at the artifacts. I stood gazing out of this window and thought of a little girl who believed that her horizons were open. She believed she could. She imagined discovery and exploration. It was inspiring.

We are all shaped by our environment. By the physical realties certainly, but more so by the spiritual, intellectual and emotional landscape of our lives. May we all lift those around us to see hope, possibility and a better future.

Badlands

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The first time Cindy and I traveled to the Badlands it earned its
reputation. It was B-A-D. We were headed from Mt Rushmore to
Yellowstone via Devils Tower. It was going to be a long day. Then we
decided to add a side trip to quickly see the Badlands National Park.
We got up very early, packed up the tent and drove the opposite
direction of our destination of the day. The miles and prairie slid
past the window. What we saw was underwhelming. We turned around and
headed back the other direction. The three-hour side trip made a full
day overflow with tension and frustration when the gate of Yellowstone
was closed and we had to add another two hours to our trip. I was
uncertain if we would ever go back to the park. It was low on my
priorities.
This week we went back. Our mission trip lead us through the park and
we stayed just on the southern edge of the park. Somehow the park had
been transformed. Rangers explained to us that the sweet clover was
blooming. This happens on a three-year cycle when enough rain has
fallen. Enough rain had fallen and the prairie is ablaze in yellow.
The canyons were hued with reds and browns. It was beautiful. We saw
buffalo, prairie dogs, big-horn sheep, and birds galore. The sunrise
comes early and the last light of day happens at nearly ten at night.
We drove to overlooks and watched lightning storms. I got up early to
film sunrise at 5 am. The rains would come and clean the air.
We stopped by Wall Drug and were inspired by the story of one family
who began offering free iced water to people coming out of the
Badlands and turned it into a huge successful business (Buckees before
Buckees). We had two great visits to the place. I would call the area
Goodlands after our visit. I cannot imagine two completely different
trips.
Have you ever had two different experiences at the same place?
Sometimes a place can be great. Sometimes it can be disappointing.
Church can be that way. Sometimes we don’t get our needs met and we
decide never to return or to turn off or to lower our involvement.
However, giving a place a second chance might be what is necessary. On
my second visit, I came with a different attitude and I got a
different result.
We saw this empty and abandoned church on the prairie. I wondered what
had happened that emptied the place. I wonder if it was disappointment
with church because Jesus has not changed. I wonder, if we all had more
grace for each other, would we get a different result? Why not give
church a second chance?

Home

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On the way to the South Dakota mission trip, we took a detour through Kansas City. We stopped to see a couple of museums and then followed the path of Lewis and Clarke up the Missouri River. On the second night, we were headed to a classic Kansas City diner. Google was taking us off the main road because it was rush hour. I was completely helpless without the guiding hand of the regular updates.

I turned obediently and scanned the neighborhoods. We saw big houses and little houses. We saw boarded up businesses, thriving communities, and some urban blight.

Suddenly, a red brick building emerged on the right side of the road. I saw the sign out of the corner of my eye “Holmeswood Baptist Church.” It flashed by. I knew immediately what it meant. This is where my spiritual journey with the body of Christ began. Fifty-seven years and 4 months  ago, my mother and father took me to this church building. Inside were Christ followers. They delivered me to the waiting arms of nursery workers. I was enrolled in the “cradle roll” (I still have the certificate). The people inside that building were the first people outside of my family that loved me in the name of Christ.

We had to keep going to meet friends at the diner, but as soon as we finished, Cindy and I headed back to the HBC. We pulled into the parking lot. An event was going on, but it was not a church event. I wondered if there was anyone still in the church who would have watched me when I was a baby. They could be in there late 70’s.

None of those people who showed up that day so long ago had any idea who I would be. They did not know who I would become. I was not theirs, yet they served me and my family.

The years my family spent in Kansas City were hard years. My mother was recovering from the breakdown that came after the death of my sister during childbirth. My grandmother had cut two tendons on her foot when she stepped on a broken jar in our flooded basement where the family was sheltering from a tornado. My mother was often stuck at home with no car and no friends. The church was their lifeline. The people, that community gathered around the cross, enfolded my family. When my parents talked about the time they spent there, they always said Missouri as though they had said “misery.” The bright light was the Holmeswood Baptist Church.

Each week, volunteers in our church stand ready in rooms to receive babies and children so that moms and dads might find the community they need to survive the brutal realities of life. The single largest volunteer army in our church are our extended session care givers. Everyone ought to  volunteer. It makes a huge difference. Even if you only serve once a year, it is an investment in the future of the body of Christ.

 

Missed it by that much

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Last week, for Father’s Day we got to go to Arlington and be with my Dad. We went to lunch at an old favorite place and then we went to a movie. There was not much on we were interested in until I found out that “Field of Dreams” was playing on the big screen celebrating its 30th year of release. We got in our seats and only one other person was in the theater. Eventually, 6 people joined us.

The movie began and the lights did not dim. Logan got up and talked to the workers. They came in and pushed a button. It was right there by the door. Never again will we have to ask. We know how to turn the lights out. We had just missed it.

The movie proceeded just like it has every time I have seen it, but it was much better in the theater. It got to sit next to my Dad and we laughed and smiled and choked up at all the right moments. It was really fun.

I got interested in the location. I remember that the farm chosen as the movie location did not turn it back into a corn field, but left it as a baseball field. I searched for the information, I got caught in a rabbit hole of the division between the two families, ownership tug-o-war and the eventual buy-out. I clicked on the map. and then saw it.

Last year, on vacation, we had spent the night at Fort Dodge, Iowa. The next day, we drove to Charles Mound and hiked to the highpoint of Illinois. It was a long drive across Iowa. Then I realized that I had been just 2.7 miles from the field. Admission is free, so I could have stopped by for just a few minutes and enjoyed the place, but I missed it. I just did not know that it was only over the crest of a field. Have you ever missed something by being just being unaware?

On the way back from our D6 Mission Trip in South Dakota we were trying to map out a route. I discovered that Fort Hays is right on the path and it is very near the the Nicodemus National Historic Site. We are making the effort to not just drive by in such a hurry that we miss the point of living.

Lift your head up and look around. There may be a place or a person near that needs your attention.

Operation World

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One of my favorite daily apps is “Operation World.” Each day I am sent a short an update about a country. I am given statistics about the country and 4-5 prayer requests for the people. It does not take me more than a minute or two to review the information and then say a prayer for the people.

On Friday June 14 the information and request were from Haiti. First, I had totally forgotten that it shared and island with the DR (which has been in the news for the multiple and strange deaths to American tourists stay there). When I looked at it I at first thought, “How can they share and Island?” Then I quickly thought, “We all have to share the world.” Just that moment was worth engage in the geographical prayer movement started years ago by Brother Andrew. I learn new lessons every time I review one of the countries.

Early in the week the emphasis was on Guinea-Bissau. Honestly, I don’t ever remember ever hearing about this country. Nearly two-million people live perched on the Western Edge of Africa. Most do not believe in Jesus. (just under 11%). Last SaturdayI opened it up and prayed for Guatemala. it also happened that on that day my Tyler family was headed there for admission trip.

If you download just one pray app this would be the one I would recommend. It helps us fulfill the Great Commission and the commands of the Bible, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, TNIV). pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (Colossians 4:3, TNIV).

The desire for the world forms first in our heart. There is nothing like starting each day remembering that everyone I see needs to know the Gospel. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Mat 28:19-20.

Sinking

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We showed up at youth camp and eventually headed to our cabins to drop off our stuff. The sharp sounds emerged from the bathroom. Clearly there was something unusual in the bathroom. I went to check it out. There in the sink was a scorpion. It was alive and unhappy. It did not invite me to wash my hands. The first group of camp each summer literally has to work out lots of the bugs. The scorpion did not survive the encounter.

Later, I was leaving to come home when Cindy’s father passed away. As I was driving out of camp, a skunk was also walking toward the exit. We patrolled him as he scuttled along in the grass. He did not seem to notice. Then it dissapeared into the zipline tower.

Each morning I was at camp I would go for a walk. The thing that I hate the most is that I would come back covered with spider webs. They were everywhere and I they made my skin crawl. After months of only weekend interest, the camp is open almost every day for the summer and the animals and insects will have to make adjustments if they intend to survive.

Clearing away the cobwebs and underbrush is what is necessary to do the spiritual work of renewal. It is what makes lots of growth possible. The wilderness has been the crucible of spiritual change from the beginning of time. It is there that we take the steps to unpack and unwind from our normal pathways and try on new ways of living. I have been attending church summer camp yearly since 1978 and each year is does me good.

This year was different from all the other years. I went as we moved my father-in-law to hospice care. I left and returned home after he died. I drove bak to camp from the graveside service. I came back from camp after the last night of camp and then prepared for the memorial service. Camp was a beautiful oasis in the middle of that stress. It was calm and quiet and beautiful. I was thankful for the retreat in the middle of the chaos.

The perfect picture.

This is not the perfect picture. There is a version of it that I can see in my head that is. It was a rainy night in Rome. We were out for a walk and we came to the Spanish steps. At the top is an ancient obelisk from Egypt that was placed to guide pilgrims coming to Rome find their way. Standing on the middle landing were these two people under this brilliant red umbrella.  I saw them from a long way off and was drawn to the image. I walked closer and began taking pictures. They were consulting a guide book, so hey were not moving. I really wanted them alone on the steps right in the middle with the glow of the street light bathing them in a warm red glow.  I took the first picture at 9:00 PM. I took the last picture at 9:15. A bunch of people were waiting on me, so I could not wait longer and the rain began to pick up, so I lost my opportunity. Each time I would get the shot framed and free of other tourists, someone would walk right into my frame to take a selfie. This guy walked right past me almost bumping me as I was poised to take a picture. Then he went on to take pictures of himself for about 5 minutes. He seemed very happy with himself.  Last week I was filming for one of the long psalms. We, Wade and I, had gotten up at sunrise to film at Mickinney Falls State Park. The process involves scouting a location, choosing a pathway and then slowly and quietly walking and filming without shaking the camera. It takes concentration.  I started down a pathway. The opening shot was great-flowers and cactus opened on to a vast exposed shelf of rock. The morning sun accentuated the ripples in the rock. We could hear the growing rumble of the waterfall. We try to film for four minutes to get enough usable material. I was three minutes in when I heard a disturbance behind me. Then it happened, a woman on a bicycle came ridding right behind me. She photo bombed the image and it was ruined. Wade had asked her to stop. She did not.  We walked back to the beginning and started to film again. As I got closer to the waterfall, I avoided her bicycle strewn on the ground, but then saw her sitting right in the middle of the falls. Another failure. We took our cameras to take close ups of the water, but most did not come out, because though she could see our cameras she decided to place herself in the middl of the falls as if her feet were concrete. We stayed for thirty minutes, but she never decided to share the space with us.  It says in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (2:3). Both photos were lessons to me on the amazing self-centeredness of our society and how contrary it seems to the way of Jesus. Life can’t be just about us, about placing ourselves in the middle of the world. We are called to live a life of serve to others.

This is not the perfect picture. There is a version of it that I can see in my head that is. It was a rainy night in Rome. We were out for a walk and we came to the Spanish steps. At the top is an ancient obelisk from Egypt that was placed to guide pilgrims coming to Rome find their way. Standing on the middle landing were these two people under this brilliant red umbrella.

I saw them from a long way off and was drawn to the image. I walked closer and began taking pictures. They were consulting a guide book, so hey were not moving. I really wanted them alone on the steps right in the middle with the glow of the street light bathing them in a warm red glow.

I took the first picture at 9:00 PM. I took the last picture at 9:15. A bunch of people were waiting on me, so I could not wait longer and the rain began to pick up, so I lost my opportunity. Each time I would get the shot framed and free of other tourists, someone would walk right into my frame to take a selfie. This guy walked right past me almost bumping me as I was poised to take a picture. Then he went on to take pictures of himself for about 5 minutes. He seemed very happy with himself.

Last week I was filming for one of the long psalms. We, Wade and I, had gotten up at sunrise to film at Mickinney Falls State Park. The process involves scouting a location, choosing a pathway and then slowly and quietly walking and filming without shaking the camera. It takes concentration.

I started down a pathway. The opening shot was great-flowers and cactus opened on to a vast exposed shelf of rock. The morning sun accentuated the ripples in the rock. We could hear the growing rumble of the waterfall. We try to film for four minutes to get enough usable material. I was three minutes in when I heard a disturbance behind me. Then it happened, a woman on a bicycle came ridding right behind me. She photo bombed the image and it was ruined. Wade had asked her to stop. She did not.

We walked back to the beginning and started to film again. As I got closer to the waterfall, I avoided her bicycle strewn on the ground, but then saw her sitting right in the middle of the falls. Another failure. We took our cameras to take close ups of the water, but most did not come out, because though she could see our cameras she decided to place herself in the middl of the falls as if her feet were concrete. We stayed for thirty minutes, but she never decided to share the space with us.

It says in Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (2:3). Both photos were lessons to me on the amazing self-centeredness of our society and how contrary it seems to the way of Jesus. Life can’t be just about us, about placing ourselves in the middle of the world. We are called to live a life of serve to others.

Sunning

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We got up early with the sunrise. It is one of my favorite things about 30 seconds after I get up. The first few seconds when he alarm goes off, that I have set to get me up at the crack of dawn, is disorienting. Sometimes my slothful side wins and I turn off the alarm. If I can push through that early resistance then I remember why I am awake. I get to greet this beautiful day.

I got into my swim gear, splashed water in my face and then headed to the waterfall. We were trying to film before the crowds showed up, well before the crowds of people showed up. We drove the half a mile to the parking lot and then walked the 100 yards to the waterfall.

Songbirds flitted away from the trees. Water rushed over the rocks with thunderous applause. Two huge turtles plunged off a boulder in the lagoon. A huge heron exploded from the alcove below us. Obviously, many others had the same idea I had. We sat down and started filming. We were taking time-lapse shots so we were still and quite and the area began to return to normal. The song birds alighted in the trees and began to serenade us. The water kept churning. A brave turtle emerged from the depths and hoisted himself out of the water and stretched in the sun. The heron slowly began to wade in the water opposite our location.

Flee and return. This is the way of life. Something happens and we flee. We turn inward and away from others. Maybe it is a misunderstanding. Possibly it was a deliberate offense. Sometimes it is boredom. The result is that our world is out of balance and we end up alone. Then slowly we find a way to return. We find that what drew us in the first place is still in place.

This pattern repeats itself and one of two things happen. One, we flee longer and further away until we stop returning all together. Two, we get more resilient and stop flying away when change occurs. I told the birds they had nothing to fear from me, but they did not listen. I told the turtles they were wasting energy, but they fled anyway. The only way to stay connected to people for a long time is to learn the way of grace and forgiveness. Without it, we will keep fleeing and isolating ourselves until we are complete alone. People are hard work, but worth it.

Grumpy

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On Friday, “Grumpy Cat,” the internet sensation, died from complications of an infection. It made me think of this cat that I met in Ireland. These two cats might have been able to tolerate each other if they had ever met. It also made me think our grumpy cat.

The cat that I shared a house with while growing up was called Tippy. She was almost completely black except for her paws which were mostly white, and a face patch that was white leaving enough space for a dark black mustache. She moved in to our lives and took over when my parents lived in Germany. My mother found her clinging to the back screen door. Mom freed her and then fed her and Tippy assumed she had found an obedient servant, which she had. I was born into the house she ruled.

We got a dog when I was three. The puppy came bounding into the house. The cat swatted him on the nose instantly. The dog hid and the pattern was established. Tippy never walked, she always stalked. She never purred, she grumbled. Her tail never swayed, it always slashed. When I was little she seemed to get enjoyment out of riding in the car and was an occasional guest in our tips. One day, she was standing on the top of the back seat and my Dad had to slam on the brakes. Tippy reached out and grabbed my brother right behind the ear and nearly tore it off. We rushed to the doctor for the stitches to reattach it. He had that scar his whole life. It was Tippy’s last joy ride. All the rest were in a cage to go to the vet. Tippy had two rules: “Feed me on time,” and “Leave me alone.” We complied with her wishes.

When she died we all cried. We longed to have a better relationship with her, but were never able to break through to her. Her death meant our dreams died. We always hoped she would mellow with time and enjoy coming to sit by us on the couch. One time, we found her in the living room sitting right in the walkway. we thought this might be the moment. It was the winter and for several days we gathered in the living room around the mantle my father had made and the warm glow of a fire. There the cat sat in our midst. I got down on the ground to see if Tippy was in the petting mood (which she rarely was). I quietly laid down next to her. You had to approach her very slowly. As I lay on the ground I noticed it was very warm. I invited my Dad to come feel the floor. The hot water pipe had broken in the slab. Tippy was looking for warmth, but not from us.

Being grumpy is a path that many people take. They decide to complain and gripe and see the worst. They treat people with disdain and slowly over time that get more and more alone. Proverbs 29 tells us, “A fool lets it all hang out; a sage quietly mulls it over” (Pr. 29:11 Message). Grumpy cat could not help what her face looked like. We, however, get to choose our response to the world around us. Choose joy and thankfulness over grumpy.

What do you see?

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Last week I was hiking. I was not looking for anything, I was just looking. The fog gentle caressed the earth. A light breeze made the leaves lift and fall like wings. The birds soared above on wings and the songs soared from below. I stopped and felt a huge rock. The sharp edges of the crystalline granite grabbed by fingers. It was cool to the touch. Then I lifted my eyes, and saw the heart. I took the picture. I love it. I love the greens and blues of the lichen. I like the red of the underlying granite against the water stained granite behind.

I have lots of pictures of hearts that I see in the natural world. I have lots of rocks that I have slipped into my pockets while hiking that are heart shaped. One I remember clearly was from a black sand beach. Cindy and I were celebrating our 20th anniversary and walking and listening to the sea. There was a bright white piece of coral that had been tumbled by the waves and smoothed into the shape of a heart. Whenever I look at that photo, I remember the joy of the discovery.

I also remember that as a boy I had been on a black sand beach with my family. I was in the 3rd grade. We were skipping rocks, and juggling coconuts and running to the waters edge like sandpipers and then running away as the water lapped at our heels. Then suddenly it happened. A huge wave rose up and tendered ashore and took my brother and my mother from their feet to their faces in a flash. What came next really matters to me. There was laughter.

My mother and my brother were shaken, but not distressed. They looked like wet rats. The dry clothes were miles away, but the response was joy. We picked them up and took a few health steps away from the water and laughed and kidded about it for as long as I can remember. Years later, I was walking with Cindy and Steve Akin along a rocky shoreline and the same script was repeated. They both got drenched with water and the giggles.

What are you looking for and what do you see? I think we take a perspective with us wherever we go. Some people see the darkness others the light. Some people hear the birds and others the noise. Some people feel the bumps and the scrapes others sense the age and the wisdom. Some people see love wherever they look. Paul proclaims in the book of Romans, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (1:20). I think it means that you can look around and see the fingerprints of God. In the world and in the people around you. You just have to be looking for it.

Sing

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The first thing I saw was his red underbelly. It was just a flash in the undergrowth. Then I heard him sing. It’s a chaotic song that goes up and down and the falls apart in a tangle. I could hear him sing over and over, but I could not see him. 

Then he showed himself. A Painted Bunting is one of my favorite birds. My mom loved them. When I was young we searched for them. This was the first one that I had seen since I got my new lense. I really wanted him. 

I lifted the camera. I focused on his eye. I pushed the shutter. Nothing. I scratched my head and tried several times and then realized. My battery was dead. I had to leave the bird and make my way back to the car. I got anew battery and then tried to require contact.  

I stopped and got quiet. Then he sang. Slowly I threaded my way through the trees stopping and listening. Each time I would adjust my course as the bird toyed with me.  

Finally, he came out and stood on a top branch. He sang and sang and sang. I thought of my mom and could almost hear her voice in the song. I snapped a slew of pictures.  

Praying is listening. It’s reconnecting to the voice that called you into being. God spoke and the world was created. Sometimes we have to get quiet to hear his voice and then we have put ourselves into position to hear him again and again.  

Found Him!

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The year my oldest son was born, 1987, was the same year that a Waldo was turned loose upon the planet. People have been looking for him ever since. We have for different, “Where’s Waldo?” books on the shelves with the books we kept form our kids childhood (which is all the books). I have spent hours with my boys in my lap watching as they trace their finger across the page trying to find the elusive Waldo.

The pictures frequently had eye traps designed to fool the reader into mis-identifying the elusive traveler. His books spawned an empire and a TV series. I had lost touch with Waldo and had not even wondered about his location for a number of years.

Three weeks ago I was in Austin. Cindy and I were walking with friends when it happened. Waldo came walking out of a cafe. There he was just standing on the street. After such a long and meticulous examination he was in Austin. We were all stunned. Then we jumped into action. They sent me.

“Could we take our picture with you?”

He smiled, “Yes.”

The next time I’m on game show and they ask, “Where’s Waldo?” Il’l be able to answer definitely, Austin, Texas.”

Looking, seeking and finding-that is the journey of life. It starts when we are young as we explore the world. We see, we hear, we touch, we sniff, we taste (always with babies is the taste and the drool). Then we advance and explore further afield. We ask the questions, “Why?” “Where?” "When?” and there always seems to be another question. Then we start to ponder the deeper questions of life, faith and pain.

Sometimes we settle on and answer and it is a watershed for life. Other times we rivets the question over and over turning it in our minds. Occasionally we just stuff the question down deep in our soul and try to ignore it. Then come the surprising moments when the encounter with life posits and answer to a deep question. We watch someone suffering in grace and we are able to trust God a little more. We see the rippling consequences of actions and realize that life does not feel very accidental, but instead it feels like we have been created for a purpose. Then our deeps doubts are revealed and faith hangs in the balance and a moment of transendence a momentary miracle occurs and we are brought back to Jesus fresh and new.

Last week we met the risen Lord on the shore of the sea of Galilee. He did not announce himself with a band or a parade, but a bit of fish cooked over a fire. It was in the ordinary grace that they reconnected with Jesus. It was in going back to where it all began that they found Jesus. The women answered the disciples when they wondered where Jesus was saying, “He is in Galilee.”

Maybe you need to look for Jesus again where you met him the first time. He has something to share with you, friendship and love and he is waiting for you there.