His Hands

After the transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time I was blessed to have a couple mornings where I hung out with my son before the sun came up. On one of those mornings his hand was in mine. I knew it was a fleeting moment, in seconds it would be trying to tickle me, climb me, or it would be picking his nose (just being honest). But in that one fleeting moment a thought raced through my mind, “What will his hands do over the course of his life?” I reached for my phone and grabbed this picture before the moment was gone.hands

Right now his hands are learning how to hold a pencil, how to manipulate scissors, how to color in the lines, how to build with Keva Planks, how to climb from one side of the monkey bars to the other without falling, and a whole host of other activities in which five-year-olds participate. But what will they do over the course of his lifetime? They will write papers and throw footballs and hold books. They will catch him when he falls and they will be used to pull him back up. They will fight and protect. One day they will demonstrate his affection for a young woman. They will change the oil on his first car. They will hang drywall and paint furniture. These hands of his have a lifetime of use ahead of them. He will use them for many things I can fathom and for even more that I can’t, or don’t want to (still being honest).

As his father I will hold his hands when he lets me or when I have to. I will put Lightning McQueen Band-Aids on them when he gets a cut. I will give him high fives when our teams are winning. I will feel them wrapped around me in an embrace when he is tired, or afraid, or successful. His two hands are amazing already and I am excited for what I will witness him doing with them over the course of my lifetime.

In the same manner I wonder, if this is how I feel about my son, what were God’s feelings the first moment he laid eyes on the hands of Jesus? Knowing what those hands would do; from cutting and sanding wood, to unrolling the scroll, to healing and serving, to breaking bread and lifting the cup, to being pierced and pinned to a cross beam, God the Father knew what He was calling His Son to do for all people. It was the highest of high callings and it was the calling of Jesus.

Even today we share in that calling, we are Kingdom builders and it is as the hands of Christ that we will build His Kingdom even here, among us, in our time, for all people to witness the God who loves us with a depth that we cannot begin to comprehend, yet we know it to be true.

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Saints

Steeple

It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I first celebrated All Saints Day. It tends to be a forgotten day among the faithful as the festivities around Halloween continue to grow in importance and celebration. However since first celebrating this day those seven years ago I have come to have a growing appreciation of its significance.

For some it is a day to remember those brothers and sisters in the faith who have already passed on to glory. I understand that reason for remembering, but in this day in age when we are so mobile and spread out it is equally important to remember those who are still living who have played an important role in our spiritual development. Both groups of people have had a hand in molding and forming me into the man of God that I am today.

All day today names have gone through my mind as I lifted them up in prayer. They are my parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, youth pastors, friends, parishioners, professors, my wife, my children, students, authors, and musicians. My life is richer for knowing them, and for experiencing God through them. I cannot write properly about them so instead I have drafted this poem entitled Saints:

Saints
Showed me the grace of the Father
Allowed me to recognize my need for Christ’s sacrifice
Instructed me in the faith
Nudged me when I strayed
Told me the old, old stories
Showed me the power of the Holy Spirit

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Are we messengers of life?

IMG_0905

I took this picture a few weeks ago as I was walking to the church on a Sunday morning. The picture is of a large number of turkey vultures roosting on the water tower behind our middle school/high school. What caught my eye was not just the large number of turkey vultures though.  Beyond that what caught my eye was for how many churches this could be a symbol.

Let me back up. I am a minister in the PC(USA).  As a denomination we are hemorrhaging members each year. I am blessed to serve a congregation that continues to grow and reach out to the community that lives around it. However this is not the case for many congregations within our denomination or some other denominations with which I am familiar. Instead what is happening is congregations get gradually smaller and smaller until eventually there is a small group of individuals to turn off the lights and lock the doors.

And that is why the vultures caught my eye. Secularly, Walt Disney quite often used the vultures in his art to depict impending doom or death. The Bible though, quite often uses water as a source of life and nourishment. Here are these vultures perched on a water tower. Within the water tower is life, yet all around the water tower are these birds that are associated with death and decay, leaving their filth all around the structure.

The birds use the water tower as a place to roost and then in the morning as a place to warm up their wings before they begin their day in search of food. As followers of Christ, we have a calling to take the message of where life is found, out to the world. We cannot be the ones who perch in the pews and go out into the world seeking to be fed by that which is decaying and dead. We have, in Christ, the source of life. Let us embrace our new life in Christ and let us show that life to those who have yet to experience it.

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Cookies

My kids are usually some of the last people to leave the church on Sunday morning. Because of this they are around when the fellowship hosts are packing up whatever left over goodies remain. It’s always more fun to give tasty goodies to kids than to pack them up and take them home. Sometimes there isn’t much, but sometimes, there is some really good stuff left over. This past Sunday was one of those days. Our gracious hosts had provided numerous treats including those delicious store-bought cream-filled cookies.

I was in conversation with someone when my son proudly came up to me with this giant bag of cookies, thirty cookies wouldn’t be exaggerating. He was beaming with joy and his eyes said, “Guess what I’m having for lunch.” He asked me to hold them and he was off to play with a friend.

I held on to that bag for a few minutes until it was time to head to lunch with a guest who came to speak during worship. As I was getting ready to leave I set the cookies down on my desk and got my things so we could head out for Mexican food. Neither of my kids asked where the cookies were, or if my wife or I even had the cookies. They were long forgotten.

Fast forward to this morning, my first day back in my office since Sunday and there sitting on the edge of my desk was a large Ziploc bag with at least thirty delicious looking cookies inside. This got me to wondering. How often does God bless us with something and we quickly forget about it because something new enters our lives? Our lives are filled with blessings daily and in the midst of our frenetic schedules, social media addictions, and DVR run lives we miss witnessing them, savoring them, we don’t remember them.

Like a bag of freely given cookies to a child, we set them aside because we can’t enjoy them immediately. We entertain the myth that we will take the time later when we have more time. It is a myth. There isn’t more time later. To experience the blessings given today we have to take time today to enjoy them. The world around us is amazing. Breathe it in, see it, hear it, feel it, enjoy it. God is blessing you this very moment.

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Leaf Cycle

Leaf Cycle

Melting snowfalls
Thawed, dampened earth
Buds on branches
A new leaf’s birth

Growing more full
Fearing late frost
Vibrant new green
Spring rainstorm tossed

Soaking in rays
The power plant
Creating shade
From sun’s bright rant

Summer’s long heat
So hot, so mean
Endless summer days
The leaf stays green

The sun moves South
Leaf’s job complete
Green changes hue
New colors meet

Orange, red, yellow
Green lingers on
Autumn is here
Summer is gone

First frost arrives
A cold front stall
The stem detaches
Leaf starts to fall

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Mullberry Tree

Mullberry Tree

Long have you stood
On this plot of land
Split trunk at your base
So majestic and grand

You’ve shed millions of leaves
As each autumn transitions
When temperatures drop
And the sun changes positions

Before there was Freeborn
Welch or Roosevelt
You were a young sapling
Watching winter snows melt

Seasons have changed
And many years have past
You’ve grown impressive
A most beautiful shadow you cast

A home for birds
And insects alike
A haven of shade
From the summer’s hot light

A tower of blessing
You stand ever strong
I’ll continue to admire you
For many years long

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React

For the past two afternoons I have begun reading a chapter a day of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids. So obviously we are not too far into it. Yesterday I had my daughter next to me helping me hold the book and my son on my lap sitting very still, which for him and most any five-year-old boy is a minor miracle. We got to the part where Mr. Tumnus begins describing the terrible things the White Witch will do to him if he fails to deliver Lucy into her hands.

“…she’ll have my tail cut off, and my horns sawn off, and my beard plucked out…”

Next thing I knew my son had jumped off my lap and was hiding around the back of the loveseat. He didn’t want to hear any more and he was not interested in waiting around to see if Lucy made it back safely to War Drobe.

As adults we forget the power of words. Somewhere along the way we’ve written so many, heard so many, read so many, that we are simply immune to the power that they truly do possess. As my son flew off my lap I was reminded of just what it is like to be present in a book for the first time. 

My son loves books about dinosaurs. He loves stories about what they eat and how they fight. So there’s something that happens with fiction, with fantasy. It engages us on a whole other level and draws us in with the author to the world they are writing about. Stories help us understand The Story that is happening around us. 

Jesus told His followers (John 104,5), “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Part of parenting is helping our children recognize the voice of Jesus in their lives as we’ve heard it in our own. My son’s reaction to Mr. Tumnus’ description of impending suffering was not a strange one, it was him actively saying, “I don’t like this! I don’t like people that cause others to experience pain.”  We adults know that life is not without pain and suffering in our fallen world, but I believe we are closer to the voice of Jesus when the desire to be in a world without pain, without suffering fills our hearts and defines our actions.

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Hutchmoot 2013

I fly six to twelve times a year. I’ve been flying since before I can remember. It was second nature to get on a plane to go see my grandparents in Pennsylvania for Christmas or summer vacation. So for me flying is routine.

This past weekend I attended Hutchmoot. What’s that you ask? I couldn’t begin to define it. Pete Peterson and his brother Andrew, not to mention an army of other people, put it on in Nashville and people from all over the country who love Jesus, read books, write novels, paint, make music, listen to music, cook, or participate in any other form of art, show up to spend a few days together celebrating those things in each other’s lives.

During Artmoot, the final session of the weekend, I was given a tile to fill with color and tasked with coming up with a word that our group agreed captured the time together. The word that came to me was “vision”. The people at my table agreed that it was a fitting word and so I included it with my tile. I didn’t realize how profoundly that word spoke to me during my time at Hutchmoot.

Andrew started the weekend talking about his hope that this time together would give us an opportunity to see anew. My first session with Lanier Ivester, Jennifer Trafton, and Eric Peters was a reminder that what we create is an expression of who we know God to be and how we see the world with that knowledge. My second session with N.D. Wilson was a call to me to always be improving my craft, whether it is in writing a sermon, a column for the newspaper, or an article for the monthly church newsletter. Because of God’s role as creator, I have a role in creating as well and it reflects poorly on God if what I create is crap. Then during my time with Jonathan Rogers and Andrew Saturday morning I was blessed to hear how significant the world around us actually is and to embrace it in my life and my craft. I took Pete’s recommendation in the afternoon and visited Radnor Lake. It was a beautiful Tennessee lake nestled in a wooded area. There were busy squirrels and skittish chipmunks. I allowed myself opportunities to stop and watch them move. Then as I entered into the wooded trail I came across a mother deer and her two adolescent fawns. And at the other end of the trail there were five more. There were wild turkeys and water snakes as well.  As I was enjoying the serenity of the woods I was brought quickly back to reality when a walnut careened out of the tree and hit the ground with a very serious thud. I found myself taking the time to see.

So this morning I got to the airport and the line for Southwest baggage check was ridiculously long and I groused to my wife about that on the phone. Then security was even longer, again more grousing. I finally made it through and got to my gate, enjoyed some breakfast, sent a few emails and then got on the plane where I was a sardine stuffed next to the window with two other guys bigger than me in the same aisle. My vision was just about back to where it was before Hutchmoot and then something wonderful happened. As we were taking off I quickly learned the little blonde boy in front of me, maybe five years old, was flying for the first time and when the wheels left the ground he exclaimed with awe, “We’re off the ground! We’re off the ground!” Then we got the play by play. “We’re higher than the cars! We’re higher than the trees! We’re higher than the birds! Uh oh we’re going down; nope we’re still going up!” It brought a welcome smile to my face, because for me that was it. Life is filled with awe and wonder and I have simply been blind to it as of late.

What is Hutchmoot? It’s hard to say, but for me it was a great eye exam and I came out with a new prescription!

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