Coyotes

Recently I posted about my early morning run-in with a pair of coyotes in my neighborhood. The presence of the coyotes never really concerned me before because our house backs onto a nature preserve and they have to live somewhere, right? But lately they have inserted themselves into my consciousness and are starting to become an unwelcome part of my life.

coyote

There is a pack of about a dozen that live in the preserve behind our house and they sing (very poorly, I might add) at the top of their lungs at 3:00 AM on most nights. I’ve found that if I open my window and yell, “Shut up!” they stop immediately. It makes me feel pretty powerful to tell you the truth.

They’ve become much bolder and don’t seem to try to move about under cover of night anymore. They can be seen walking pretty brazenly down our streets and through the large field behind my house. The concern for me is that our house also backs onto my daughter’s elementary school property and kids play in that field all the time.

They seem to stay clear of people for the most part but recently when I shared about my encounter with someone they put a new fear into my head regarding these coyotes–rabes! I hadn’t really thought about rabes before. Mainly I thought about where I’d kick them if they charged me, but now I’m paranoid that they’ll get a lucky bite in and I’ll be toast.

Do you have coyote (or other wildlife) issues where you live? Just thought I’d share a nice photo I snapped the other day of a coyote relieving himself in the field behind our house, marking his territory in a place that ain’t his territory.

Under the Sea

Having a quiet moment at the spectacular Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta with my two daughters. If you like sea life this is a must see. They have the largest indoor aquarium on earth there. It is so large that there are multiple whale sharks swimming around. 

The Atheist Church

A scene from a typical service at The Sunday Assembly in London

This morning I read a short article in the Spring 2013 issue of Leadership Journal entitled “Learning from London’s Atheist Church.” Apparently two atheist British comedians, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, have started the atheist equivalent of a church, called The Sunday Assembly.

They meet in a “deconsecrated” church building. On their opening day they expected around 20 people and got 200 instead. They grew to 300 the following month.

Here’s a short description of what an average service looks like:

[It] looks a lot like the Christian churches around the corner–just without God. After welcomes and announcements, the congregation sings along to hits by Queen and Stevie Wonder with a live band, a message is brought by a guest speaker, and readings are shared.

When asked if their services were merely a parody or mockery of organized religion, Evans’ response was pretty enlightening: “The point isn’t to put down other religions; it’s to say we don’t have faith, but what do we have?” The article goes on to ask this provocative question: “What does a church have when God’s not there anymore?

Evans says that the central message of the atheist church is that they want their congregation to “live better, help often, and wonder more.” Here’s how the folks at Leadership Journal summarized what we can learn from all of this:

  • No atter their faith or lack thereof, people deeply long for communal gathering and connection.
  • People want opportunities to connect with a purpose bigger than themselves. “Life,” “help,” and “wonder” are Christian values as well.
  • Never underestimate the power of an old idea with a fresh expression and energetic execution.

I agree with the above bullet points, but I also think they missed something. I couldn’t shake the eerie sense that the central message of the atheist church sounds an awful lot like the driving impetus behind much of what you hear at evangelical conferences designed for church leaders. Living better, helping often, and keeping a sense of wonder are great things, but they can be pursued apart from God as is clearly being demonstrated in London. This should be a clarion call to the church that the only truly distinctive thing we have is Jesus Christ.

A “Handy” Reminder

handThis morning I was staring at my hand and I started thinking about how each of our fingers has some cultural significance attached to it (in some cases more than one). That led to a host of other random thoughts and it occurred to me that our fingers can serve as a “handy” memory device to help us focus on some key things related to spiritual health.

Thumb – A thumb can symbolize approval (thumbs up) but it is also associated with hitchhiking. I’ll never forget the night I borrowed a friend’s car and realized too late that it was nearly out of gas. I ran out of fuel on I-294 at 1:00 AM and didn’t know what to do. This was in the years before cell phones so I did the only thing I could – I stuck up my thumb and tried to hitch a ride. There is a sense of total needfulness and helplessness associated with hitchhiking – you are totally dependent on the kindness of others. I think it’s important to remember that we are all dependent on others and it’s OK to reach out and advertise our need for help.

Index – The index finger is often referred to as the pointing finger. Often we point in an accusing manner, but sometimes we can point in an affirming way too. Consider when a basketball player gets a great pass and scores. As the stadium erupts in applause, they will often point at the player who gave them the pass that enabled them to score, effectively sharing the glory with the person who got the assist. I think it’s important to acknowledge those around us who help us do what we do and be who we are. It’s not enough to just know it in our hearts – it’s important to acknowledge them in tangible ways. It also helps us stay humble, admitting that we rarely succeed on our own.

Middle – If you’re confused about what this finger means, try raising it at someone and you’ll find out pretty quick. Although it’s just a raised finger, there’s an almost violent force to the gesture. There is nothing neutral about a raised middle finger. If you think about it, flipping someone the bird is usually a retaliatory measure – something we do because we feel we’ve been wronged. But when Jesus, the only truly innocent human being, was being persecuted and put to death for sins he didn’t commit, he said nothing in his own defense. The Bible is filled with admonitions against revenge, and Jesus commands us to literally turn the other cheek when we are slapped.

Ring – The fourth finger is called the ring finger because that is where we put the wedding band when we get married. Wedding rings are physical objects that remind us to be faithful in marriage. When are days are winding down and we are preparing ourselves for death, we won’t look back at the objects we’ve acquired or experiences we’ve had as much as the relationships that have defined our lives. Relationships are the substance of a human life, but too often we don’t honor those relationships while there is time. So many reach the end and are filled with regret about the words they didn’t say, the quality time they didn’t spend, the feelings they didn’t express. I think it’s important to value our relationships now while there is still time.

Pinky – Many people lock their little fingers in a “pinky promise” as a sign that they are taking that promise very seriously. While that can be a good thing, consider what it suggests about all the other little promises they make. In fact, Jesus tells us not to make grandiose vows and oaths, but instead to let our yes mean yes and our no mean no. In other words, we should be people who mean what we say and say what we mean – people whose word is worth something. That way no special gesture is required for others to trust us or take us seriously.

If you’ve stayed with me and read to this point, hopefully the next time you look at your hands you’ll remember some things that I think are important for each of us to keep in mind as we journey through life.

Preaching and God’s Timing

PodiumRecently a friend who relocated to another city let me know that one of the big reasons she decided to stay at her current church is that for the first several weeks she attended that church, every sermon the pastor preached spoke directly to where her heart was.

I think we pastors can put too much emphasis on the quality of our verbal communication but sometimes what it boils down to is that God has been preparing someone’s heart and life to hear the words he gives us to preach. On any given Sunday I have no idea how someone is going to receive the sermon God’s given me to deliver, but I know that God has often orchestrated a happy collision between a person’s spiritual needs and the message that is scheduled for that day. Sometimes a visitor from out of town just passing through, who found us via a Google search, will tell me that their coming to our church was a divine appointment.

Reflections like this remind me not to put so much stock on the delivery of the message. The real emphasis needs to go into praying up every sermon, entrusting what happens to God’s orchestration, not my communication skills or verbal persuasiveness. In fact, it has been my experience that a hungry and open heart will forgive lackluster communication if what is spoken is what God wants that heart to hear.

Greetings from Bolivia

Our team just landed in La Paz, Bolivia and were so warmly greeted by a contingent from Bethesda Church in El Alto. Nearly 20 people came out, including some beautiful children, and they sang us a song of greeting. It’s a great feeling to be so genuinely welcomed as you exit customs.

It was a pleasure to see Mark Lennox of Bright Hope International who is serving as our host/guide/translator. We were also joined by two young ladies, Taylor and Corrina, who are currently serving as Bright Hope interns. I’m always so blessed by people who love the Lord deeply and have put feet to that love by going where God sends them.

I’ve been to high altitudes before but this is the highest, and it’s already affected me far more than I’d anticipated. I’ve climbed to 10,000 in Africa with no ill effects so I assumed I’d be fine, but we’re at over 12,000 feet and those extra 2,000 feet seem to make a huge difference. I feel a bit spacy, chronically out of breath, etc. I found out that we can have an oxygen tank with mask delivered to our room🙂 That’s definitely a first for me.

It’s been really need to see all the women walking around with shawls and bowler hats perched on their heads. It’s such an iconic image and I’ve seen it often on television but it’s neat to see it in person. I definitely want to buy one of those hats before I leave. Maybe one for my wife Jeannie as well.

Gonna try to get a bit of rest before the day kicks off in earnest. If you’re reading this in real time we’d definitely love your prayer support. All for now…

Update from Europe

I’m sorry that I don’t have any photos to share on this post. It’s very late, we just checked into our Paris hotel, and I have to get up early tomorrow so I just wanted to write a few things to update anyone who might the interested on how the trip to Europe has been going. 

The ministry in London went really well. The conference was a great success and succeeded everyone’s expectations. I am so impressed with my host, Nick Mukuna. He is a young leader who God is raising up to help bring the message of love and unity to the Congolese diaspora in Europe and beyond. It’s just awesome to see such a clear evidence of God’s favor resting on an emerging leader. 

I had the interesting experience of getting to do 3 spots of live TV broadcast on a network called Olive TV that is received all over the world. The format was a live teaching followed by call-in questions and prayer requests. We got requests from all over the globe and had the privilege of praying for many people. We sat in a simple studio with a green screen background but they put up a very impressive virtual studio background behind us and the final product looked pretty professional. 

It’s been so much fun having my daughter Jordan with me for this trip. She’s been having a blast. Before the conference started we had a free day to explore the city and we saw so much of London – Buckingham Palace, Green Park, St. James Park, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Picadilly Circus. We squeezed every penny of value out of our all-day Underground (Tube) pass. 

This morning we left the UK around 2:00 PM via the Channel ferry out of Dover. Got to finally see the white cliffs of Dover in person – one of my life wish list checkboxes.When we landed, we were surprised that there was no clear signage pointing the way to Paris. The destination port was in the middle of the countryside (there was a tractor dealership down the road!). My host had an in-dash GPS unit and a dash-mounted unit as well. The problem was that both of them were telling us to go in opposite directions. Very frustrating.

Finally we settled on one of the two units and started driving. But because of a snafu with the GPS we ended up going in completely he wrong direction. My host had gotten tired so I drove one shift. As I was driving I started to grow concerned that the signs looked different and the language didn’t seem to be French. I pulled over to discover that we were in Belgium! I’ve been lost before but never “in a whole different country” lost. Sheesh. We finally rerouted, put a different final destination into the GPS, and seemed to be headed in the right direction.With the +1 hour time change between the UK and France, we ended up rolling into Paris just after midnight. What an adventure. So proud of my daughter for having an amazing attitude throughout the whole driving fiasco. One benefit of getting lost was that we entered the city when there was very little traffic, and go to see the Eiffel Tower lit up like a jewel – so beautiful. The best part is that the Eiffel Tower is just a couple blocks down the road from our hotel. 

Well, it’s late and we need to get up early to start our day of exploring Paris. Can’t complain about anything – God has been exceedingly good to us thus far. I made some wonderful new friends in London, got to minister to some great folks, and spent time connecting with my daughter in one of the most exciting places in the world. 

Miss home and all the people I love back there. Really looking forward to getting back home, but for now we are fully engaged and enthralled by Europe.