Vintage Camper Project

I needed something cheerful to work on during this pandemic. We purchased a 1965 Nomad camper for our church. My good friend Sam Heys and I traveled up to Morristown, Tennessee this past Monday to pick it up. It was quite the adventure that included a beautiful story of the woman who sold it to us (I’ll tell it later). And we were accompanied by Ben Bishop who will help us with the renovation. (Ben is also in a Nirvana cover band and plays around the Atlanta area). The aim is to renovate the camper into a mobile hospitality camper for the church. In particular, we plan to use it in our Christmas Tree lot at Haygood as a hot chocolate bar.

This might be one of the more crazy ideas I have pursued, but that’s what a pandemic will do to you. My bigger hope is that a fun vintage camper with lights and Christmas cheer will be a small sign of hope during a dark time. The plan is to use the proceeds to support In-town Collaborative ministry, the local food bank. I’ll keep you posted on our progress as we go along. The inside of the camper had already been renovated with vinyl flooring, side paneling, lights and electrical outlets. The next step is to cut out the serving window and give it a good paint job. I’ll keep you updated. And here’s a shameless plug…if you want to contribute to the renovations, let me know. We have some ideas about some extra add ons. Many thanks to the North Georgia Conference for a hospitality grant to help us purchase it.

Good morning fall

It’s hard to believe we’re in the 7th month of COVID. School has started back for our children. I’m at home today. I have to give a big shout out to our school system. We’re doing virtual learning. Last Spring when we did virtual learning, parents were asked to teach our children. That was pretty rough given I was also trying to balance leading our church. This fall, the teachers are teaching them. Our main job is to make sure all their devices are working.

I have been trying my best to keep a normal schedule. On most mornings I am at the gym before 7 for a HIIT class. We do the class outside. Dripping in sweat, I hurry back to help Blair get the kids plugged in for the day before taking a shower. The routine is good. No doubt, there are some days that are harder than others.

We have so much to digest each day. We’re entering an election season. We’re dealing racial tensions in our country. I’m working hard to be a bridge builder in these conversations while at the same time trying to articulate my support of our African American community. They need to be heard. Far too long they have gone unheard! (When we try to deny racism still exists, we just sound crazy). If you’ve grown up in the south like I have, you know the racism is there and you know we’ve all been a part of it. And you know we have also seen beautiful moments of compassion and love. That’s the strange thing about living in my part of America. There’s so much love and hate twisted together.

The African American experience with law enforcement is far different than mine and is drenched with injustice over the long haul of their time in America. I’m also sympathetic to the cries of our law enforcement. It’s not fair to paint them with a broad brush. Their hurts and cries need to be heard too. Their public service and courage must be valued and appreciated. There must be some way to build bridges in the midst of this. I feel the divisiveness will only grow in a political season which means we need more voices to seek peace and justice with compassionate and listening hearts.

Enough rambling for today. The kids are done with their ‘brain break’ and it’s time to get back to tech support. 

The gift of agitation

I wanted to give a quick reflection over an image I stumbled across. I was reading Tom Berlin’s book, Reckless Love. Berlin remembers visiting the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglas. A part of their tour included a video on Douglas’ life. In his later years, Douglas was asked by a young black man for some advice. Douglas repeated one word: “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”

As Berlin was guided around the Douglas home, they were shown a washroom Douglas had added. Their guide picked up a tool. Berlin describes the scene:

“It looked like a plunger, but had a conical end made of metal rather than rubber. ‘Does anyone know what this is?’ she asked. ‘An agitator,’ called out a member of our group. ‘That is right!’ she said happily. ‘This is what you used to make sure your clothes come out clean and fresh. You use this to agitate the water and the laundry so that the soap can clean the fabric.'” (Reckless Love, Tom Berlin: 71,72). 

Think about a modern washing machine. Do you know the middle spindle in top-loading machines? That’s an agitator. It’s job is to agitate the water so the soap can do the work of cleaning the stains.

This notion of an agitation works too to help us think about our conversations around race in our country. It’s hard to have these conversations at times, maybe even a bit agitating. But when done with love, care and peace, people who agitate the waters help us remove the stains of racism that have long plagued our country. They help us have meaningful conversations that help us see where we have missed the mark. My encouragement to us is to view this season as a time of being cleansed, purified and made more holy in the eyes of God.

 

 

 

Gardening has much to teach us. Angry? Try jumping on a shovel.

My family gardened with me today and we had a blast. Over the last two years, I have spent many days in our front yard trying to get it into good shape. And it’s a beautiful front yard (IMHO). I love the work. Gardening gives me an escape, a way to process my emotions, dig out my frustrations and ultimately have something to show for it. There’s nothing like jumping on a shovel when you’re mad at someone! (It’s more constructive than getting in a social media thread war). And there’s nothing divisive or political about a garden. It just something beautiful people can enjoy and you feel good about it. The rest of family, however, is not so passionate about it. I was thrilled they got in the dirt with me today.

In fact, it was the last part of their Father’s Day gift to me. On Father’s Day, they gave me new tools. The kicker was they also told me they would devote a whole day to gardening with me. And they did. We took to the back yard. It had started to get away from us. Blair and our two girls tilled roots. I dug out an old spiky knock out rose bush (not a fan of knock-out roses!). Tilling and digging will wear you down. After a two hours, I could feel the dehydration.

If there was one word that sticks out to me about today, it’s the word ‘cultivate.’ Cultivating soil for a garden is real work. You have to dig up those old stubborn roots from plants no longer blossoming and taking up resources and space. You have to mix in compost to replenish the nutrient-deprived soil. We used our own compost from old bananas, coffee grounds and egg shells. It was absolutely disgusting which means it was perfect. (As an aside, my brother-in-law thinks I’m becoming a little too I.T.P. with composting).

For ministers, there’s a lesson in there about ministry. Many times, we allow ministries that are no longer blossoming to consume all the time and energy, nutrients and resources. Sometimes, you got to say thank you to those ministries. Then get in there and start tilling the roots, dig up some dead plants, mix in some smelly compost and plant something new.  ‘Cultivate’ sounds like such a happy, blossoming word, but in reality it’s a smelly, sweaty word. I’m sure that’s the reason new church starts are called “church plants.” Ask a church planter. It sounds glorious until you realize the exhausting work of cultivating a new church.

It’s interesting to me that the first task of Adam and Eve was to tend a garden. That was real work. God asked them to spend their days shaping wild land overgrown with weeds (were there weeds in Eden?) and thorns that prick through gloves. I have a new deep respect for farmers!

I’m a hobbyist at best, but the work is always worth it. Cultivation leads to flourishing. Today, I was certainly happy to have a partner to help me. Blair and our two girls worked for 4 hours today in the dirt. I’m sure Blair would have loved to have watched Hamilton for the third time. Gardening is a lot like painting a room. Seventy percent of the work is preparing. After a quick run to Home Depot, we planted lantana, coneflowers, a hydrangea and begonias. We took a moment to admire the work. It was a good day. We have done the human, earthy part of cultivating and planting. Now we get to watch God do something beautiful.

 

 

Life in Atlanta today

We are finishing up week 12 in the pandemic life. Our family is heading out tomorrow for vacation to St. Augustine. We’ve rented a condo on the beach. We like St. Augustine because it’s not as crowded as other beaches.

Blair and our two girls were dropping off our dog at my brother-in-law’s home. I went for a run and took the longer route where Monroe and Piedmont Park come together at the Beltline. I was about to take a left to make the triangle to Virginia-Highlands. Along the way, however, I heard helicopters. I knew why they were there. Atlanta is under a 9 o’clock curfew. And I knew that Piedmont Park tends to be the gathering space for marches in the midtown area over the killing of George Floyd. I wanted to see what was going on.

Sure enough, there were national guard soldiers lined up along the street standing next to their jeeps. These soldiers were young and I could see my college-age self in them. I saw one group of protesters with their “F—Trump” sign and others that said, “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” There was a car with “I can’t breathe” written in white shoe polish on the windows.

I was on a run and without a phone or else I would have recorded the sight. Obviously, we’re in a tumultuous time. I was trying to get a good run in before the vacation so I could sweat out the business of the day and take a shower when I got home. But the helicopter was a jarring sound. I know I need vacation. Trying to produce sermons and worship virtually each week for the last 3 months has been taxing on the spirit. I love it, but it’s time for a change of scenery. And yet, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast of my need for vacation and the deep hurts of the people in our country.

I live in a community of mostly white residents. It’s a beautiful place and the people are friendly, but I am no doubt sheltered from the hurts of the black community these days. In some ways I always have been. Although, growing up in Jackson, Georgia I shared the days with many more black friends than today. School and sports helped bring us together and I’m forever grateful for those experiences. But still,  I live only a couple of miles away from one of the hubs of this movement happening in our country. And I live only a couple of miles away from the MLK center where one man’s life and witness changed the entire world.

I don’t know what to do with this flood of emotions. I’m not sure if it’s guilt, or whether my heart was punctured and felt the hurt of the black community and the rise of something new. After asking two young women about any upcoming rallies, they simply said, “You just missed it. They headed out 20 minutes ago, but you can still catch up with them.”

Blair and the girls would be home soon and it was time to pack for vacation so I told these young ladies I would try to catch the next one. I walked and jogged and walked and jogged up Virginia Avenue to Highlands and made my way home. The march is probably over anyway and the curfew is about to go into effect. As I walk in the front door, I still hear the helicopter hover above and see my children return in their innocence, excited about the beach. I suddenly feel heart my jump back into gear and throb with the thoughts of sand and water.

 

Lost in COVID-19? You will be found.

It’s been a while since I posted. When we started this COVID-19 journey, I thought there would be more free time for blogging. It turns out, there was less. Between homeschooling, attempting to work and doing the dishes, there’s little time for much else.

I want this post to reach whoever might be suffering with mental health through all of this. People are on edge. It’s easy to get lost and lose your way, lose your purpose. We began the COVID-19 crisis in a spirit of unity as we all tried to do our part to keep people safe. After weeks of this, we’re starting to unravel. We feel the pressures of work, parenting and increasingly more, politics. I want to encourage everyone to take care of their own mental. Whether you’re a divorced dad, hurting doctor, pressured governmental leader, vulnerable grocery store worker, working parent, business owner trying to ensure the safety of your employees while keeping your business alive, you matter. The pressures are real.

I don’t want people to lose their way. Over the last few weeks, I have come around to this musical Dear Evan Hansen. My wife Blair tried to introduce it to me a couple of years ago. I’m thankful to be married to a Broadway nerd (her words, not mine) to keep me in touch with pop culture. I was especially struck by the song, “Waving through a Window” that captures the loneliness going unnoticed. Check out this rendition of the song. It’s not from the original cast, but I found it to be moving.

It takes me back to some of the dreadful middle school years of trying to fit in. And I’m not ready to think about my daughters finding themselves on the outside looking in. Maybe you feel misunderstood or feel like no one is noticing you and what this crisis has done in your unique circumstances. The reality is that depression and mental health are real issues. Mental health is not a political issue. It’s a human one. You can get help. You can find your way back. And if you need mental health resources, call a pastor. Talk to a counselor. Reach out to a friend. Here’s the website to suicide prevention hotline https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

I’m a pastor, so please know I will pray for you. In our holy scriptures, there’s a story of a shepherd who loses one out of a hundred sheep. He goes on a rescue mission (Luke 15) until he finds that lost sheep. If you’re lost, the God I love and serve, goes on rescue missions. To quote a song from Dear Evan Hansen, “You will be found.” It’s true.

 

What schedule?

We are in week two of homeschooling due to COVID-19. During week one, we began with this highly organized schedule and routine.

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We did a decent job for the first week. On Monday, Blair and I had to recalculate. We both had virtual meetings. As the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip on American life, we had some important meetings. In fact, I had preached two sermons yesterday that were filmed and to be aired for March 29th and April 5th. We knew it would probably be our last opportunity to film. And we were right. The mayor called for a “shelter in place” last night.

I’ll confess. Yesterday, we (by we, I mean Blair) made time for the kid’s school work, but also let Apple TV do some parenting. Katie and Bethany have gotten into the Star Wars and they are watching each episode. I’m quite proud, but Blair is frustrated they are watching them out of order.

In the midst of this, I’m trying to keep my spiritual life strong. I’m currently reading Adam Hamilton’s, “The Walk” and reading through Luke’s gospel for devotions. We have a small group that meets virtually on Tuesday mornings. I’m trying my best to keep up with the news without being consumed. It makes for a challenge.

If any of you are feeling overwhelmed, you’re in good company. We’ll make it through this. One of my favorite scriptures that has helped me throughout hard parts of my life is, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This verse is like a good, trusted friend.

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This picture is from last night’s attempt to find balance! We’re doing our best.

To those with questions about Jesus.

Not long ago, I was speaking to a friend who said to me, “I love going to church. It’s good for me to hear about how to live morally. I’m glad my children can learn these teachings about loving your neighbor and stuff. But that’s about as far as I can go.” 

I asked, “What do you mean?” 

He said, “Jesus. I think he was one of the greatest teachers ever to live. I try to learn from his teachings. But it’s hard to believe he was the Son of God. I admire people who can believe that. It’s just hard for me. I have questions about it.” 

In previous years of my ministry, I may have backed away or changed the subject and said something like, “Yes, it’s a big claim. I’m glad your kids are enjoying church.” 

But the truth is many people struggle with this question. As Christians, it can be hard to address peoples’ doubts about our most cherished belief because we’ve staked our life on it. We can become defensive or seek to avoid the hard questions altogether. 

I used to have a little joke I’d tell in gatherings.

“A lot of people say, ‘I don’t believe in organized religion.’ And I always tell them, ‘then you’ll love our church. We’re not organized at all.’”

Not only was it a cheap laugh, it was a way to deflect the reality that many people feel like the church isn’t big enough for their questions. 

What I love about Jesus is that he could handle the hard questions. Such was the case when Jesus met with a man named Nicodemus in chapter 3:1-17 of John’s gospel. Nicodemus was a religious man, a Pharisee in fact. He understood the ins and outs of the Jewish law. He had the answers, until Jesus’ claim came along. He came to Jesus at night to learn more from him about his claim to be the savior of the world. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he’s not going to be able to understand unless he’s been born again. 

Nicodemus can’t quite get there. Taking Jesus’ statement about rebirth literally, he questions how a person can be born again. Nicodemus’ question sets the stage for Jesus to deliver John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” You would think you’d then read about Nicodemus falling to his knees and shouting out for the world to hear, “I believe.” But we don’t. Nicodemus slips back into the recesses of the night. Even though  he was talking to the light of the world, Nicodemus remained in the dark when it came to spiritual rebirth. 

We hear from Nicodemus two more times in John’s gospel. The next time we hear from him, the Pharisees are strategizing about a way to kill Jesus because of his claim that he’s the Son of God (it trips a lot of people up). As one well versed in the law, Nicodemus advocates for Jesus by reminding the other Pharisees that the law permits everyone to have a fair trial. He hasn’t been able to get Jesus off his mind. Then Nicodemus goes silent again, fading into the background.

The final time we hear of Nicodemus is after the crucifixion. No longer hiding, Nicodemus is lugging around a hundred pounds worth of spices to anoint Jesus’ body. John’s a good writer because he tells us that Nicodemus acts in the day, out in the open. No longer in the dark, he has seen the light. Something has come over Nicodemus. He’s moved from questioner to advocate to believer. As he made his way to the tomb, he would discover for himself that Jesus is alive.

God knows we need Nicodemus. There are lot of people today like Nicodemus who are set in their ways about what they believe. And yet, for some reason, Jesus keeps tugging at their hearts to keep asking these questions. One of the many miracles about John 3 is the way Jesus invites this dialogue. He doesn’t shut down Nicodemus or scold him. He invites his questions. I’m thankful Nicodemus doesn’t come to faith in that moment because he might have shut out a lot of future believers.

To all of you like Nicodemus out there, keep asking your questions. We religious leaders need not get defensive over Jesus. Jesus loves a good dialogue and he certainly loves the people who engage him. The more we are sensitive and willing to receive people’s questions, the more we build a bridge for God to work in their hearts. Jesus is alive which is why we can handle the questions. To believe is a miracle. It’s a work of God. It takes being born again, born from above. As we see with Nicodemus, being born again doesn’t happen overnight for everyone. For some, it takes time. In God’s good time, the light does come and questioners find themselves unexpectedly visiting the tomb to find it empty and their hearts full. 

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The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

It happens every morning like clock work. “Hurry! Eat your breakfast. We have to be in the car in 3 minutes. We’re going to be late for school.”  It’s like I forget school starts every morning at 8a.m. My poor children! Part of the problem is the distraction.

In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer cites a study that says the average I-phone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. It’s on the verge of addiction. He continues,

“There’s a Silicon Valley insider named Tristan Harris doing some really interesting work right now. Labeled by the Atlantic as ‘the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” he points out that slot machines make more money than the film industry and baseball combined, even though they take only a few quarters at a time. Because the slot machine is addictive. And those small amounts of money feel inconsequential in the moment. It’s just a few quarters, right? Or give bucks, or twenty. But over time they add up. In the same way, the phone is addictive. And small moments–a text here, the phone is addictive. And small moments–a text here, a scroll through Instagram there, a quick email scan, drinking around online–it all adds up to an extraordinary amount of time.”

It was a gut punch for me as I started to do the math of how often I touch my phone each minute. Therefore, I’m going to keep my blog short and sweet. It’s getting late in the afternoon and the weather is unseasonable warm and I have two kids to pick up from school.

A scripture that comes to mind is from John 11. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus has died. They send for Jesus to help. John points out that Jesus waits around two extra days before he makes his journey to Lazarus. Why was Jesus not in a hurry? Martha points out to Jesus that had he been there on time, Lazarus may have lived. In savior-like fashion, Jesus calls into the tombs and says, “Lazaraus, come out.” And Lazarus comes out of the tombs and lives again.

Jesus teaches us that he’s on God’s time. He is not rushed by death or our deadlines. He is the resurrection and life. In a world of constant hurry, efficiency and distraction, perhaps the great challenge is to get on God’s time. How might we all work to eliminate hurry in our households? In fact, I think it would be a good experiment to rid ourselves of that word for one day and see what happens.

The sacred in the ordinary

Alfred Hitchcock said the movies are “life with the dull bits cut out.” Most of the content of our lives could make for a good cinematic drama. With the right director, those awkward first dances, betrayals in the family, the wedding that went wrong and the redemption of a career choice could all make for a good Netflix Series. The problem is that covers only 300 minutes of our lives. What about the rest of our lives the drama doesn’t include like washing dishes, taking walks, hunting?

This is the subject of a new book I’m reading, “liturgy of the ordinary.” The author, Tish Warren, seeks to help us see the sacredness God gives us each day. The psalmist once sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). God counts each day blessed and each day unfolds with grace. There will be reasons to rejoice if we learn to pay attention to what God is up to during the more mundane duties of daily life. Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

This morning, I rose for my ritual cup of coffee downstairs in the quiet of the house. I’m sure it was providential that I was reading this chapter on finding sacredness in the ordinary. I heard footsteps and to my surprise my daughter was dressed for school 45 minutes early. She looked at the book cover with a picture of a sandwich. She said, “Dad, you’re reading about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”

I said, “Well, no. Ok. Sure.”

“Well, let me tell you how to jelly is made.”

For the next 45 seconds, I learned everything my 7 year old could teach me about making jelly. For the next 30 minutes, we simply talked without the hurry of morning routines.

Indeed, the ordinary is sacred. Jesus taught his disciples in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” May we all see today the sacredness of the ordinary.