Come Before Him with Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song. - Psalm 95:1, 2

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays, for a variety of reasons and sweet memories.

Some of my earliest memories of this day go back to my grandparents, Archie & Sallie McMillan. When I was a young child, for some reason, I wouldn’t call her “Grandma.” I heard other people call her, “Sallie,” which I tried to do, but she didn’t like that. I started calling her “Sa-Sa,” and the name stuck. So we would go to Sa-Sa & Pa-Pa’s house.

My grandmother, Sallie McMillan – “Sa-Sa”

I don’t really remember usually having turkey for that meal – I recall that she usually fixed a big hen, and usually in a pressure cooker to make it fall-off-the-bone tender. But what I REALLY remember about Thanksgiving at Sa-Sa’s house was her fruit salad. It had lots of big chunks of apples and bananas and fruit cocktail, along with chopped walnuts and coconut.

Of course, we had lots of other stuff to eat, and plenty of desserts, but I always loved her fruit salad. What was especially great was, if there was any left over, she would freeze it, and we would eat it at Christmas. Pa-Pa died in 1969, and Sa-Sa passed in about 1988, but I still remember them both, especially today. And I’m thankful for her, and for such sweet memories.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your
gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious
about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Thanksgiving also means football, of course; in our family, that meant the Cowboys. The greatest one was Thanksgiving, 1974, when George Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang” laid a vicious 3rd quarter hit on Roger Staubach and knocked him out of the game. The ’Skins were up 16-3 at the time, when an untested rookie from ACU came into the game as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, Clint Longley. He had earned the nickname of “The Mad Bomber” from his teammates, because of his default tendency to throw deep in practice.

What happened next, Cowboys fans still talk about. And Redskins fans have never gotten over.

This rookie put together what might be the most improbably comeback in team history. After leading the ’Boys to two other touchdowns, with just 35 seconds to play, Longley found a streaking Drew Pearson racing down the sidelines, and he scored. We won 24-23. It’s still one of the greatest wins in Cowboys history.

Four years later, Kathy and I were celebrating our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife. I was a senior at Dallas Christian College, and she and I were in a singing group known as Revelation. Thanksgiving weekend, 1978, we were in the recording studio, cutting a record. (Do I need to explain what “records” were for any of the under 40 crowd?) Since we couldn’t go anywhere for the day, Mom & Dad came to Dallas, and we had Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment.

Fast forward to 2010. My mom had passed away just two months earlier, and we were sharing our first holiday without her. My brother David and his wife Gina hosted the whole wild & woolly bunch of us at their home in Spring. He fried a turkey, my nephew made some amazing cranberry dressing on the stove, and everybody fixed their favorite recipes. I made one of my Jack Daniels Chocolate Pecan Pies. We shared the day and the warmth of shared memories as we surrounded our dad and comforted each other and gave thanks for the legacy we shared and the sweetness of her presence still in our midst.

I am thankful for family, for friends, for sweet memories and for wonderful times together. I am thankful for my job and for all of the blessings we enjoy. I am thankful for Jesus. And I know that the blessings I have received are not mine exclusively to enjoy but have been given so that I can in turn be a blessing to others.

I hope your holiday is filled with everything wonderful, and that whatever the circumstances, you can give thanks with a glad and sincere heart. Happy Thanksgiving!

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
 and His courts with praise;
 Give thanks to Him and praise His Name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
 His faithfulness continues through all generations.
 Psalm 100:4-5 

What’s Cooking?

Sometimes, if you stay open to trying new things, you’ll discover something about yourself that you never knew before.

Case in point: I’ve discovered that I love to cook.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved to grill. I think most guys do – there’s just something about an open fire, and being outside, and sizzling meat cooking on a hot steel grill that appeals to a lot of men. But I’m talking about more than that.

Several years ago, my family and I moved into a neighborhood ministry called “The Friendship House,” on Abilene’s north side near Hendrick Hospital. Part of my job was to host regular block parties and other get-togethers where we would eat and visit and get to know one another – and that meant I had to fix a main course, and the neighbors would bring the side dishes.

So I learned to cook. And in the process, I also learned how much I enjoy planning and preparing the meals, trying out new recipes, and experimenting with different ingredients and techniques. (I’ve also discovered that sometimes, even failures can still taste pretty good!)

Then a few years later, when I resigned from that job and moved back to Southeast Texas to be my elderly dad’s caregiver, I was able to fix his favorite meals and make his closing days a little more enjoyable. It was a real treat for me, to share those dinners with him.

Enjoying a meal with family and friends has a number of genuine benefits. For one thing, food creates community. I’ve seen it more than once – people arrive as strangers and leave as friends. There’s something about the act of eating a meal together that helps people tear down the walls they’ve built and get to know others in a way that few other activities can.

It should come as no surprise that, in the Bible, one of the most common images God uses to describe heaven is a fabulous feast. For example, in Isaiah 25:6, we read, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines.” The prophet goes on to say that in that day, God will “swallow up death forever,” and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

And speaking of creating community: in Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.”

Here’s another reason I enjoy it: cooking links generations together. My mom has been gone for over ten years, but when I drag out one of her recipes, in her own handwriting, and make that special item, it’s like she is right there with me. And when my kids eat it, they know that at some level, it’s with love from Maw-Maw. The same with that Roast Venison recipe from Grandpa Garison, or Aunt Bib’s Christmas Divinity. We tell the family stories about those loved ones, and it’s like they are with us again, in a very special way.

I have an Hispanic friend who told me about growing up in a home where they always fixed tamales for Christmas, and how multiple generations would be working together in the kitchen. Everyone had a specific job to do, she said, and one of the ways you knew you were getting older was that you were given a more important job to do in helping make the tamales. And as she talked about working with her beloved “Abuela” (grandmother) and her precious “Tía” (aunt), both long since deceased, it was obvious that this was more than just something good to eat.

My wife and I were talking the other day about what a significant part food has played in so many of our family gatherings. Everyone has a favorite dish, and so as we fix that item, a little extra love goes into it while we think about that family member. Sharing together in a good meal makes for very special memories that can span generations, and even lifetimes.

One final blessing: food connects us with our Creator. When we are cooking a meal from scratch, we know that there is more to it than just opening a can or removing the plastic and sticking something in the microwave. When we have handled those raw veggies, just the way they came from a green plant – whether we picked them out at the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or our own garden – when we have peeled it and put love and time into preparing it, then we are reminded of God’s gracious bounty. When we have cut and cooked that meat, or scrambled those eggs, or whatever we’re doing, it’s an opportunity to be connected more closely with the “Giver of every good and perfect gift.” It’s also a good time to be thankful to the farmers, the ranchers, the grocers and others who were God’s partners in helping to grow and provide that food for us.

The holidays are coming, and even in this season of a terrible pandemic, even when we can’t be together, we can still be thankful for the blessings of food, family and friends.

A Look Back: 19 Years Ago

There are certain days that stand out in one’s memory. In fact, you can often tell a person’s age by the first significant news event that they remember.

For some people, it’s Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. For some, it’s JFK’s assassination, November 22, 1963. Some folks have January 28, 1986, seared into their memories, as the day the Challenger exploded. They are days where you know that the world has changed. History has been made, right in front of your eyes.

Nineteen years ago today – September 11, 2001 – was such a day.

Terrorists succeeded in hijacking four airliners. Two were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York; both hi-rises caught on fire and collapsed. One plane crashed into the Pentagon, causing significant damage to the military office complex. Another was also headed for Washington, D.C., perhaps to be dived into the Capitol building or the White House, but some gutsy passengers fought back, and the flight crashed instead into the Pennsylvania countryside. Thousands of our fellow citizens died in the first major attack on American soil made by foreign terrorists.

Much has changed in the years since the attack. The United States has gone to war in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and our nation has paid a costly price to bring about a more secure world. We have learned many lessons as a people, and along the way, discovered things that are now more precious to us than before.

One of the lessons that 9/11 taught us is to appreciate our first responders: our police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and others, who are the first to answer our calls for help. I wouldn’t say that they were completely UNappreciated before 9/11, but I believe that the events of that day helped us to see just how special those men and women really are. There were entire battalions of New York City firefighters who were practically wiped out by the tragedy of that day when they went to Ground Zero to help the people there.

These are the people who answer our calls for help, 24/7. These are the folks who run INTO burning buildings; they are the ones who run TOWARDS the gunfire. They are some of the everyday heroes who walk among us. And I believe that the events of 9/11 helped us all to see, perhaps a little more clearly, how special these first responders really are, and how much all of us depend on them.

And so, on this anniversary of the September 11 attack, let us all pause and pray for the families who lost loved ones on that horrible day. Let us pray for our service men and women, and their families. But let us not forget also to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and support for those who serve us as first responders, and for their families. More personally, when you see one of these quiet heroes, be sure to give them a “thank you,” and let them know you appreciate their work

And, God bless America.

Praising Him in the Hall

Last summer, while I was living with my dad in Southeast Texas, I had the privilege of preaching every week for my friends at the West Orange Christian Church. There was a poster in a hallway in their building that said, “While you’re waiting for God to open a door, praise Him in the Hall.”

Good advice.

For the past several months, I have been looking for a ministry job. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard – after all, I keep hearing about a nationwide shortage of pastors. And I’m not hard to please. All I want is the opportunity to work with a local church, preach and teach the scripture every week, and make a living to support myself and my family.

Unfortunately, whether it’s because of my “advanced” age – I’ll be 62 in a few months – or because I don’t neatly “fit in” to a traditional denomination, or some other reason, I’m not hearing anything back from the numerous applications and resumes that I’m sending out. And I’m talking a LOT of applications. It’s very discouraging. And certainly, very depressing.

Meanwhile, I still like to eat, and I still have bills to pay, so I’ve had to go back to a career that I thought I had left in my past – retail sales. I’m working at the Mall of Abilene, at J.C. Penney’s. I like Penney’s, and I especially like the heritage of the store’s history. When Mr. James Cash Penney first opened his store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, it was part of a chain known as the “Golden Rule Store.” It’s good work, I like serving customers, and I’m enjoying getting to know my co-workers. As one of the oldest “sales associates” on the floor, I’m finding that my background and experience in sales give me a different perspective on the meaning of “customer service.” And I’m enjoying that, too.

Make no mistake: I still want to return to a full-time job as a minister, to be part of the team at a missions organization, or to do some other kind of work specifically for the Kingdom of God. At the same time, I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that I’ll serve God “later,” or to fail to see the ways I can serve Him, and others, now.

The Bible class I get to teach at our church remains a rewarding, fulfilling part of every week, as does the Sunday night Bible study I share with several good friends. And the opportunities to witness and minister at my everyday job are becoming more and more precious to me.

Whether it’s a kind word, a listening ear, or a Christian example, I’m rediscovering lots of ways to live out my faith in the “secular” workplace. So while I am more than ready for God to open the right door for a full-time ministry position, He is teaching me, by His grace, to praise Him in the hall.

Remembering a Very Special Trip

Today – February 10 – is the anniversary of a day that is very special to me, part of a very special trip that I was blessed to take, nine years ago in February. (If you would like to read the details about the trip, and the miraculous way God worked it so that I COULD go, see “Visiting Israel,” from this blog for Feb. 18, 2013.)

February 10 was my favorite day in Israel.  We started out driving up to the top of the traditional site where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  It was very cloud and misting rain that day, but this picture shows the side of the mountain sloping down to the Sea of Galilee below.

Then it was on to the coastline itself, to the area where it’s believed that Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples after His resurrection  (John 21), and then He and Peter went for a walk along the beach – “Feed my sheep.”

We went to Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum next.  Words cannot really describe how special this part of the trip was for me.  We know about more miracles per square foot that took place there, than any other place In Israel.  The synagogue leader’s daughter, and the woman with the issue of blood.  The centurion’s servant, and the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through the roof.  Peter’s mother-in-law, and a miraculous catch of fish.  And on, and on, and on – yet most of the people did not believe.  (This picture shows Pastor David leading us in our morning devo, in a little park just outside the ruins of the synagogue there.)

Something very special and personal happened to me while we were in Capernaum. (This picture shows me standing in the synagogue there.) I began to think about all that Jesus did there, and all the stories from the Gospels – inviting Peter and the others to become “fishers of men,” visiting Matthew’s tax collecting booth, teaching in the synagogue, and more.

Capernaum is not a very big place – the entire village would easily fit on the campus of ACU – and all the spots where these things happened were just yards from where I was standing.  Here’s the weird part: it was almost as if I could see the faces of all the Sunday School teachers that I had when I was a kid, and I could almost hearing them telling me those stories again.  And here I was, standing in the midst of where all those things happened.

I had never felt the Spirit of Jesus more keenly than I did in that moment.

After lunch in Tiberias, we went to the museum of “The Jesus Boat” – a truly stunning archeological discovery of a wooden fishing boat from the time of Christ, very typical of the kind of boats Jesus and the disciples would have used. I won’t go into how they discovered and preserved this boat, but it’s a fascinating story.

From there, we walked down to the lake (AKA, the Sea of Galilee), and boarded a small motorized boat of our own, for a ride out on that famous body of water. (We call it the Sea of Galilee, but it’s actually a freshwater lake.)

Brenton Dowdy began leading us in worship, but in just a matter of moments, the weather changed from a sunny, pretty, spring-like afternoon, to a cold, windy, rainy day!

Remember those stories in the gospels about storms coming up suddenly? Well, God let us see one in action. (That’s rain you’re looking at in the picture – and a few whitecaps!)

Finally, with the day winding down, we drove south to where the lake empties into the Jordan River. There, many of us chose to be baptized in the Jordan. It was cold and still raining, but it was a very special, sacred moment, and the perfect close to a wonderful day.

For my part, I still hope to return to Israel some day, maybe even to lead a group over there. It is no exaggeration to say that the things we saw, and the experience of being there, continue to shape and inform every sermon I preach and every lesson I write. I thank God for the opportunity to go, and I still pray blessings over the anonymous friend (or friends) who made it possible for me to go.

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:1, 2, 6.)

 

Adjustments

March 10, 2017 – Friday morning

As I write this, it’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve moved in to live with my dad as his caregiver. I knew this would be an adjustment in many ways, and certainly it has been. Some of those adjustments have been tougher than others.

I knew I was going to miss my family in Abilene, and I do. I miss our home, and especially my wife, Kathy, and her sweet smile and her gentle sense of humor. She is wonderfully attuned to hearing the Spirit of God, and I miss the blessings of just being around her. As many of you know, she also has an amazing singing voice, and I have always loved standing next to her as we worship, and hearing that beautiful voice offering up a sacrifice of praise in gorgeous harmony.

I miss my many wonderful friends. Many of them are from church and from our Bible class. Proverbs says as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and I am a better student of God’s Word because of the “sharpening” these friends have provided. It has been a privilege to study with them. Others have shared with us through life groups and other ways. Whether sharing from the bread of the Bible, or sharing Chinese food at Szechuan’s, the sweet friendships and fellowship have been a rich blessing.

As I said to some friends before I left Abilene, most blessings in this life are temporary, and when those blessings are gone, we can either be angry that we’ve lost them, or be thankful that we got to enjoy them for a season, and I choose to be thankful.

I don’t want to forget my friends from our model train club, and the fun we had running trains together and sharing that great hobby.

And that’s not all. Certainly, I miss the good friends and colleagues with whom I worked at CCC, and I miss the work of meeting neighbors and building a better neighborhood. Yesterday was the second Thursday of the month, which was the regular day for “neighbor lunch” potluck dinner, where I would prepare the main dish and the neighbors would bring the sides. I miss the good food, and the good conversation that we had together.

I miss my CCC co-workers, and the shared struggles that we had together. That’s what it means to be part of a team, so that “joys are magnified and disappointments lessened,” because we went through them together. And in shaping teenagers to become Young Leaders of Abilene, or in helping families move towards better financial stability, or just giving someone a ride to the store, they are still doing that work, and God knows, we need more good neighbors in this world.

So yes, there are people and things that I miss greatly about Abilene. But I am receiving many blessings as well.

I enjoy sharing time with my dad, and hearing stories about the interesting life he’s led, people he’s known, places he’s been. He has worked hard his whole life, and always put his family first. Imagine: all those years, I thought he LIKED the dark meat of the chicken! Turns out, no, he actually prefers the white meat, but he was letting his family have the first pick.

So now, if he needs a little help with the chores of everyday living, it’s my privilege to assist him with that. I figure he’s earned it.

Just the other day, he showed me a picture from his days in the army. He was about 23 or 24, a corporal in charge of a crew manning an anti-aircraft gun. The picture shows him, kneeling down, with the members of his crew all around him. They’re all smiling, and you can tell that these are young men in the prime of their lives, defending their country during the Korean War, but also ready to have a good time when they’re not on duty.

I’m learning other things too, and receiving blessings beyond measure. And I’m thinking that somehow, in some way, maybe this is what God has in mind for us. Not that we should all move in with our aging parents, necessarily, but that we should be more willing to care for each other, to give up some of our own conveniences and comforts when necessary, for the sake of helping someone else.

And just this morning, we got a phone call that my niece and her husband had just had their first baby, a little girl. Everybody is doing well, and the pride and love in my brother’s voice was special beyond words. It was a wonderful moment, being with my dad when he saw the first picture of his newest great-grandchild – this makes number eight. And thank You, Lord.

So there are compensations for the things I’m missing. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

No matter how much we try and plan for the future, none of us can know the twists and turns of “what’s next.” The truth of this principle has recently been reinforced to me. I have resigned from CCC, effective by the end of February. How this came about is a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one, so please bear with me.

My 88-year-old dad has been battling a crippling neuro-muscular disease for about 10 years. (Some of you may recall that I wrote a post about him back in the fall of 2016.) This disease has left him unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and essentially homebound. He lives in Orange County, Texas, between Orange and Beaumont, in the same house where I was raised, and on the same piece of land where he was born and raised. Recent events, including a visit last month to help care for him, have convinced my brothers and me that dad is simply no longer able to stay by himself.

My brothers and I have discussed this at length, and considered all the various options available – hiring an outside caregiver, relocating dad to live with one of us, moving him into a nursing home. For various reasons, none of these options can work for him, or for us. We have decided that the best course of action would be for me to move in with dad and serve as his full-time caregiver.

While I am looking forward to spending more time with my dad and serving him, I am overwhelmingly sad about leaving Abilene and the non-profit I work for, Connecting Caring Communities. In the nearly nine years since I joined CCC, I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends and see amazing things done, working with neighbors and others to better our community.

(I’m also going to really, REALLY miss our church, Beltway Park, and so many friends from our Sunday School class and our Bible Study life group. The folks in my Sunday class gave me a great send-off yesterday, with lots of prayers, hugs, tears, kind notes & cards, and even gifts of cash and more. Our Sunday night group had a farewell dinner for us last night. It was a very rich, full day of love and friendship, and one more thing I will miss about Abilene. But right now I’m talking about work…)

I have learned so much during my time with CCC – especially about what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The opportunity to meet some great people, to get to know neighbors from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions, and to host them in our home – these have been priceless blessings that I will always cherish.

I think of friends I made who have passed away: people like sweet Sandy, a tattooed elderly lady that I met through Meals on Wheels. Sandy, you must have lived an interesting life in your younger days; I’m sorry I never got to hear the stories I’ll bet you could have told. People like David, confined to a wheelchair, yet always with a smile on his face. Rhonda; Jimmy; Paul; all of you blessed me with your friendship, and I thank you. I will continue to miss you, and remember you fondly.

I think of the kids who spent part of their afternoons with me and our volunteers at “Kids’ Club,” and the parents who trusted me to watch their little ones for a while. It was my honor, and my pleasure. We had a good time doing homework, drawing on the sidewalks, climbing trees, doing crafts, and more. And I remember the Bible stories we told – “they say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.” The Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God, David, Deborah, Moses and Esther. Mary & Joseph, Peter and John and the boys, and best of all, Jesus, the manger, the parables, the miracles, and the cross. And the twelfth and final egg, which is, of course, empty.

I think of the meals, and all the laughs we had around the table and out in the yard. Easter egg hunts and Halloween carnivals. Banana boats and dirt cake, hot dogs and Frito pie. A dunking booth on a certain very cool October day, and kickball games. Swing sets and bluebonnets. The prayer walks and recruiting volunteers. Working with teens for the “Young Leaders of Abilene.” Finding unexpected skills, like the time I handed my neighbor Diego the spatula during a cookout, then couldn’t get it back, only to learn that he used to be a short-order cook! I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

And I think of so many friends who have supported, and continue to support, our work through your prayers, your gifts and your financial participation, a huge and heartfelt “thank you.” We literally could not do this without your gracious assistance and partnership.

To the colleagues I’m leaving behind, past and present: Please know that I’ve enjoyed every minute of working beside you. It has been a privilege to serve with you. I’m praying for your continued success.

Working for CCC has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I shall always cherish the opportunity to live out the call to love our neighbors, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to seek the shalom of our city. Thanks to everyone who participated in this ministry, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide all of you, as you continue to work on behalf of CCC, our neighbors, and our community.

Welcome Home

My wife and I have very different TV habits, but there is one show that we both like, and it’s on the HGTV channel: “Fixer-Upper”

In case you’re not familiar with it, “Fixer-Upper” features the husband and wife team of Chip & Joanna Gaines, of Waco, Texas. Chip is a contractor, and Joanna is a designer and owner of a local boutique. Together, they operate Magnolia Homes.

Chip-and-Joanna-Gaines-HGTV-Fixer-Upper-with-kidsEvery week, a client hires them to help find them a home, which they then remodel to suit the client’s needs and desires. As Chip says in the show’s opening montage, their goal is to take “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods,” and turn them into their client’s dream home. The show is unabashedly, unapologetically, Texan.

One of the things I really like is that a lot of the renovations feature old “Craftsman” style homes. With their client’s input and approval, they will strip the old home down to the bare studs and original floors, then restore it to its original appearance – only better. Each episode demonstrates this husband and wife duo working together. Chip and his crew do the heavy demo work, taking out walls, opening up rooms, enlarging doors, in accordance with the vision that Joanna and the clients have developed. Then she takes over, directing the construction team as they install and make the house into the home the client wants.

Along the way, there’s lots of playful interactions between these two, and their chemistry together is really attractive. Many times, Chip will bring their kids over while mom Joanna completes the staging for the client.

On the day of the “reveal,” they will bring the clients, with their eyes closed, to the front of the house, and have them open their eyes – only to see a giant photo of the UN-restored front of their house. (This photo is in two parts, with each half mounted on wheels.) They will talk about why they selected that property, and what was wrong with it. Then Joanna will ask, “Are you ready to see your fixer-upper?” At that point, she and Chip will each take hold of a different end of the photo on wheels, and open it up to show them their house.

(Of course, this being television, they have to cut to commercial right before that happens.)

But then, they will look at the new and improved curb view of their home, and talk about whatever landscaping and other external work was done. They walk to the front door, Joanna opens the door and leads them inside. As she does, she says, “Welcome home.”

Then they walk through the house together. Chip and Joanna will show them all the features of the new house and point out all the little touches that were just for them. They will express their good wishes for the new homeowners, and how much they hope they will be happy in their new home for many years to come.

It’s good television, and I like that they’re restoring old homes and repurposing old items that would otherwise end up on a junk pile somewhere, but that’s not the best part, at least in my head. I think the best part is knowing that, in a spiritual sense, Jesus is doing the same thing for me.

Even now, in my life, He is ripping out old ideas and enlarging my way of thinking. He’s removing old habits and refurbishing broken parts. It’s going to be like new, only better. As C.S. Lewis once described it,

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

And one day, when my room in the Father’s mansion is completed, Jesus will open the door for me and bid me enter, and He will say those words we all want to hear.

Welcome home.

October Blessings

autumn_railroad_by_celem-d5ogfhqI love October. It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year.

I don’t think this will come as a galloping surprise to anyone – I mean, LOTS of people consider autumn their favorite season. But for me, October specifically is my favorite, for several reasons. (And no, I didn’t take that picture; it’s one I found somewhere online. But I love it!)

And okay, yes, full disclosure: my birthday is in October (the 11th, if you’re wondering). I remember as a kid feeling a kinship with others in my school grade who shared October birthdays. I seem to recall that Paul Christian and Carlene Chandler were two in my class who shared this month with me. Later, I learned that my best friend from college, Kurt Stallings, has an October birthday, and my brother Jimmy and wife Christy got married in October. (On Kurt’s birthday, as a matter of fact.)

Of course, once you get over the age of 10 or 12, people stop making a big deal out of your birthday. Still, I enjoy mine. But that’s not the only reason I love October.

Getting to October means that we’ve survived another Texas summer. This is not a small thing. Summers around here are brutal, and September is nothing but a tease. The calendar may say that summer is over, but really, it isn’t – even in late September, the highs can easily reach the upper 90s or more. But October is a different matter – there are still warm days, to be sure, but the evenings and mornings have a delicious chill about them.

Another thing I like about October: postseason baseball. By this time of year, only the best teams are still playing. Playoff baseball is a thing of beauty – even more than the regular season. Big players make big plays in big games. And there’s a reason nobody in baseball is nicknamed, “Mr. April.” (Thank you, Drew Bowen!) So bring on the World Series, and Let’s – Go – Rang – ers!

The changing season means some changes to the menu. I love a good pot of chili, and there’s something about good chili – especially venison chili – that is warm and comforting and satisfying. I don’t know why we don’t eat chili when the weather is hot – we eat other soups and stews – but chili is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. And I know, at some point before the calendar changes again, I’ll be making a pot of it.

October means the holidays are coming, but not here yet. We have the excitement and anticipation of those good things, but don’t yet have to put with the craziness of too many events and too little time to do them all. I can, and do, look forward with a child’s excitement to the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I love the colors of fall: red, orange, yellow, golden brown. Even though we don’t have the brilliance of New England or Appalachia (or even East Texas!), it’s still nice to see the changing colors of leaves, and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

In some ways, autumn is like a parable. The changing colors can inspire us to glorify God by taking up a new interest and exploring new opportunities to grow. The loss of leaves can remind us that sometimes we need to let go of some things, to allow old habits and destructive patterns drop away.

October is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Seasons change. Life is transitory. Make the most of every opportunity. Summer’s over, winter’s coming, but for now, October is here. And I’m happy about that.

Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Looking Back: The First Year

It’s hard to believe that nearly a year has gone by since we moved into the North Park neighborhood. It’s been an eventful year! Here are some of what I consider highlights of the just-completed twelve months.

Neighbor Lunch. One of my favorite things about this neighborhood is the tradition of meeting every other week to share a meal. The Friendship House hosts the meal, and I get to prepare a main dish, and the neighbors all bring side dishes – usually veggies and desserts. As we eat together, we sit around the table and share life together. It’s a wonderful slice of real community, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made many special friends – and had some great food! – sharing neighbor lunch. (The tradition continues, every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month. Come join us!)

Serving Line 4 Thanksgiving Meal. Speaking of eating together, one of the real highlights of the past year was sharing a Thanksgiving meal with about 25 neighbors and friends. The kitchen “island” was filled with a massive assortment of delicious dishes, and we had extra tables set up where folks could sit, and it was a wonderful day of visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

IMG_20150604_145902Youth Day Camps. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ruth & Bill Burton Family Endowed Fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene, CCC was able to plan and conduct a series of youth day camps across the city during the summer of 2015. Our plan was to bring together a team of older teens, train them, let them practice, then have them serve as staff members and counselors for the younger kids who would participate in the camps. The camp was a great success, and it started with training week here at the North Park Friendship House.

IMG_20150718_094520Landscaping Project. The Bailey family have been friends to CCC since before the Friendship House ever opened, and it’s been a blessing to share life with them. For his Eagle Scout project, Tanner Bailey wanted to do something to “give back” to the Friendship House and to this neighborhood. He planned, and with the help of his BSA troop, carried out a massive landscaping project that included new crepe myrtle bushes, planter barrels, mulching flower beds, and installing a new basketball goal. We are so honored by his generosity and unselfishness.

Neighborhood Cleanup. Late last spring, I was approached by some Hardin-Simmons students who wanted to organize a neighborhood cleanup as a service project for this fall’s incoming freshmen class. And so on, in late August, over 300 new HSU students spread out through the neighborhood, picking up trash, hauling off junk, getting to know their neighbors, and making a difference. Then they all came back here, and with the help of neighbor Jay Barbian, we cooked hot dogs for them. It was a great morning, and I hope they received as much of a blessing as they gave to others.

Meeting Great Neighbors. The best part of any neighborhood are the neighbors! It’s been such a joy to get to meet and get acquainted with some incredible folks who call North Park home. World War II veterans, young families, teenagers – North Park is blessed with a variety of wonderful neighbors who give the community its heart and its character, and all of whom have great stories to tell. I’m blessed by their friendship.

It has indeed been a great year – what’s next? In the year to come, I look forward to continue meeting and getting to know our neighbors. We’re planning to resume another old tradition of an “end-of-summer” swim party at HSU. We’re helping organize a neighborhood observance of National Night Out. We’re looking into how we could offer some exercise classes. We’re hoping to put in a community garden – at least a small one – share the work, and share in the harvest.

We’ve made a good beginning, but this is no time to quit. I know that, working together, and alongside with our partners at Hardin-Simmons, we can continue to make North Park an even better neighborhood for everyone.