Weekly Photo Challenge: Express Yourself

I was taking pictures of our annual Balloon Day’s Parade but had my back to the street for a moment. I heard my name called and turned to find myself face to face with a clown. In my surprise I immediately took this off-centered picture.

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A second later I recognized him as a young man who attends my church and a former classmate of one of my daughters. As he walked away, I took another (better) picture of Josh (I’m not sure what his clown persona name is). I’m honored that he uses it as his Facebook profile picture. He gave me a tootsie roll, too!

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In this year’s parade, I captured him, again (I knew Elvis was still alive!)

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I’m glad I don’t suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns). I have always enjoyed clowns, remembering trips to the circus as a child and laughing at their outlandish outfits and outrageous stunts.

I also like etymology and was curious about the origin of coulrophobia. “Coulro” is perhaps taken from the Greek word “kolobatheron” which means “stilt” with sense of “stilt walker” and thus “clown.” While Josh’s clown cohort with the Creston Elks Clowns isn’t a stilt walker, he is quite accomplished on the unicycle, dispensing candy from above. Click HERE for an article on his exploits.

Clowning is certainly one great way to “express yourself.” You can see more examples of this week’s theme HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

I have found myself at my 94 year old mother’s hospital bed for the past week and have been through the gamut of emotions as we have had differing opinions on her prognosis. While not yet out of the woods, I’m glad to report she has improved.

Hospitals are not generally spots of serenity. With the constant flow of health care professionals in and out of the room and the monitors with their incessant beepings, it seems to be at best organized chaos. But this hospital, being of the Methodist tradition, has a chapel that offers some moments of solitude and serenity.

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Jeanne Hoff Goodwin Chapel, Iowa Methodist Hospital (Des Moines, IA)

I had been in the chapel once before, exactly eight years ago, as I offered up prayers for a young woman from our church. A wife and mother of two young boys, she lost her courageous battle against leukemia that day. As I entered the chapel today, I was reminded of the roller coaster of emotions of that day and the difficulty the family had in making the inevitable decision to end lifesaving measures and saying goodbye. I know, especially after this week, that it is never an easy decision to make, no matter what the age of the loved one.

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Today, a painting on the west wall of the chapel caught my eye. I immediately knew it was a depiction of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, whose friends lowered him through the roof due to the crowds preventing access to “The Great Physician.” The painting, by that same name, is the work of Warner Sallman. His paintings, Head of Christ and Christ at Heart’s Door are modern, iconic images of the Savior.

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While the painting is especially appropriate in a hospital setting as it acknowledges the role of God’s power over disease, the biblical account reminds one of Christ’s power over our most deadly spiritual malady: SIN. As the man was laid in front of him, Jesus forgave his sins. Receiving criticism from the religious leaders about his audacious and divinely presumptuous statement, he discerned their thoughts. Responding to their challenge, Jesus said that while saying one’s sins are forgiven might not be discernable from their perspective, making a lame man walk would give proof of his divine power to pardon sin.

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Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

12 Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:9-12*

The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate authority over the power of sin gives the follower of Jesus a serenity to face life with a peace in turmoil and the afterlife without fear.

Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen
(Reinhold Niebuhr – 1892-1971)

wpid-img_20150117_114104.jpgSee more examples of serenity HERE.

My good friend and neighboring pastor, William Richardson, wrote about Warner Sallman’s life and art. You can find his blog HERE.

*Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

Weekly Photo Challenge: New

Michelle W. issued this week’s challenge with multiple options. I chose to “highlight a new person in your life, and all the possibility that relationship contains.” More accurately, it is new “persons.” My oldest daughter gave birth to twins (her third daughter and first son) last week and we were able to see the New Year in with them.

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Baby Girl

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Baby Boy

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Not to happy about leaving the hospital

We feel so blessed that my daughter had a wonderful pregnancy and was able to carry the twins to 37 weeks, allowing the babies to be fully developed and needing no time in the NICU. If fact, they were able to go home 36 hours after delivery.

As to the hopes and possibilities that these new relationships hold, I can hardly do better than what my daughter wrote in a post on the Fort Worth Moms Blog of which she is a regular contributor.

For you, I don’t desire that you be the most popular, the most athletic, the most beautiful and talented. Because those things, little boy and little girl, are fleeting. My last borns, there are better things if you want them.

For you, my third girl…I pray that your sisters and your brother will be your best friends on Earth, as your dad and I are best friends with our brothers and sisters. I hope that you will dance to the beat of your own drum and remember that YOU have been uniquely created to grace this world the way you are.  When people compare you to your big sisters, don’t listen. You are YOU. You are not them. When your friends are chasing after boys, I hope you remember that if a boy is worth it, he’ll chase after you. You don’t ever need to play dumb or pretend to like sports or worse, give your body away when you don’t want to. Wait for a guy who is like your dad: valiant, good, smart, and funny. Don’t settle for anything less. It’s worth it. I promise. When you choose a career someday, follow your heart-even if it lacks prestige or money. It’s ok to be adventurous and do the things no one thought you could do. You come from a long long line of determined women. You are able, baby girl.

For you, my only boy. I never knew I wanted a boy, until I saw you dancing around on my first sonogram. You looked like nothing more than a little pea, but I knew in my spirit, you were my boy, and that made me happier than you will ever know. I pray you are strong and confident; you’ll need to be with those three crazy big sisters. I pray that you’ll look after them, even though they are older. You will learn young that we women, can be sort of crazy…sort of emotional, and so you will foster the art of compassion. It will serve you well all of your days. I pray you will pursue truth and justice and respect and that you will be a strong force of goodness in this family and in our world. And that you and sweet baby sister will be the best of friends for all of your days. I cried one day thinking about the woman you will someday marry. Choose wisely. Choose a woman who is strong and smart and not afraid to speak her mind. It will be hard, but it will be worth it. Work in a job that makes your spirit fulfilled…no matter the paycheck. Do what you love.

It has become my tradition to take a picture of each of my newborn grandchildren with them grasping my thumb. With the exception of our grandson, who died at birth last summer, the tradition has continued with the twins. The grid below represents each of our six grandchildren, beginning almost five years ago. The pewter hand represents our grandson, who was about the size of the 1 lbs, 6 oz child, whose hand was the model for the key chain that promotes the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
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Click HERE for more examples of “new.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow

My primary interest in these pictures were the monarch butterflies as their fall migration took them across the Florida panhandle. The area serves as a refueling spot for the butterflies, the last stop before they make their way across the Gulf to winter in Mexico. However, their feeding stations fit this challenge as they feasted on the flowery nectar of goldenrods and golden asters (I think my plant identification is right…at least I know they are “yellow”).

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Check HERE for some great examples of “yellow.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

IMGP1083As we celebrate Advent, our church’s 12-foot Christmas tree stands on the platform beside the Cross. The tree that celebrates the birth of the Christ-child, its twinkling lights representing the Light of the World, is in stark contrast to the representation of the instrument of death upon which the Savior surrendered His life in the work of salvation.

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IMGP1084While not going into the explicit details of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, the Apostle Paul, nevertheless, speaks of the humble birth of Jesus Christ, His selfless life, His sacrificial death and His ascension on high:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Speaking of the glory of eternity, the Apostle John recorded his revelation from God – a preview of the Second Advent and beyond. The glory of eternity will be such that there will be no night and the light of God’s presence will be the only illumination that will be needed for believers.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5 (NASB)

Thus, every twinkle of a Christmas light serves as a reminder of not only the first Advent but of the one yet to come.

Check out more examples of “twinkle” HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

My father died before meeting my first grandchild. However, my daughter and son-in-law, wanting to memorialize two of their grandfathers, named their first daughter after those two “Charlies.” While we grandparents thought “Charlie” might be an appropriate nickname for the more feminine Charlotte or Charlene, it now seems a perfect fit for our almost five-year old. From names to mannerisms passed down to later generations, Pop is “gone but not forgotten.” These pictures of a one year old Charlie were taken almost four years ago at my father’s gravesite.

While my daughter doesn’t like to pick trendy names, it seems her choices of older names occur just as they are beginning to make a resurgence in popularity. Coincidentally, the use of the name Charlie for girls is on the rise, perhaps because of Disney’s “Good Luck Charlie.” Additionally, Kenneth Pattengale of indie duo, The Milk Carton Kids, wrote a song entitled Charlie about his daughter, who, according to band partner, Joey Ryan, “does have a song written for her and a name assigned to her, [but] she doesn’t yet have a specific due date or even a mother” It’s a great song you can watch here:

For more examples of “Gone, But Not Forgotten,” click HERE.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

My submission for this week’s challenge could be seen as the convergence of lines and girders to maintain the power grid. However, as we stopped in Clarksville, Tennessee for gas on our recent vacation, what drew my attention was the noise and flight of tens of thousands of starlings converging on the electrical lines and the lattice transmission towers to roost for the night. Certainly this was a literal example of the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

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IMGP0195IMGP0194Because I was pumping gas, I had a flashback of the explosion of the gas station in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds. Needless to say, we did not linger long.

Check out other examples of “converge” HERE. Additionally, HERE is an article of a similar event a few years ago in Hopkinsville, Kentucky (just 30 miles north of Clarksville).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

For the lowly dachshund, the annual “Halloweener Derby” at Seaside, Florida, is the opportunity to showcase one’s speed and focus. As the dog’s human entices it to the finish line, one can easily be distracted by fellow competitors, the humans at the fence or an interesting smell along the way. But the finalists were true competitors and did not disappoint. Dash, the first female champion, beat out Hawk* in a close final of the 5th Annual Halloweener Derby.

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Hawk to the finish line in early heat.

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Quarter final match with both weeners flying to the finish.

Seaside, a planned community on the Florida panhandle’s Emerald Coast, was the film location for the movie “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carrey. The founders of Seaside, Robert and Daryl Ellis, were owners of a dachshund, named Bud. The loveable dog went everywhere with his owners and connected the community. While raising funds for Kind Heart Kennel (a shelter for pets of domestic violence victims), the event honors the memory of Bud.

HERE are more great examples of “achievement.”

HOMILY: My wife will often see situations and say, “There’s a sermon illustration in there.” That was certainly true of this event. While the length of the race was relatively short, some dogs did not finish it. There were a few that were content to stay with their “human” at the starting line. Others were distracted along the way with the sights of people on the other side of the plastic fencing. At least one had to take care of some bodily functions.

Then, there were the ones, who spotted the goal, usually attracted by some object or treat in the owner’s hand. These were the dogs that made it successfully to the finish line.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the Bible wrote:

12 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

This dog race was a small picture of the pilgrimage mankind faces. Ultimately, there is a finish line, but many do not have their hearts and minds and affections attuned to it. They are the ones who linger at the starting line, seeking what they can out of life with no real understanding of how much they are missing out on.

For those who began a pursuit of Christ, many of us run with the encumbrances of this world – the pursuit of passing pleasure, power and possessions. We fail to see the lasting, eternal prize at the finish line – Jesus in all His fullness and glory – and allow the temporal to rob us of eternal focus and pursuit. We, who fall into this category, will ultimately finish, but not reap the rewards that could have been received.

But like the writer of Hebrews, there are those who keep their eyes focused on the Source – the Creator, the Provider, the Sustainer. Like the dog that salivates upon seeing the treat at the finish line and runs with all of the rest of his appetites in check to receive the prize in his owner’s hand, the follower of Christ must have that kind of focus on the Author and Finisher of the faith.

I pray that you experience that most significant of “achievements,” which in not based upon your own work but based upon the completed work of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10).

*I had the pleasure of talking with the owner of Hawk, asking the dog’s name at the end of the heat in the first picture. It was only after “tweeting” the picture with the #halloweenerderby that I discovered the owner was Ryan Michaels, Meteorologist of WJHG/Panama City, FL. I hope for Hawk’s continued success!

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

I’m a “catch and release” kind of person for most living things. When my administrative assistant came into the office and told me there was a tiny frog in the church’s vestibule, I looked for a way to get it back into a more natural habitat. I managed to capture the miniscule frog in a 12 oz translucent, plastic cup and placed my camera phone (Moto X) on top to secure the frog. The thought occurred to me, “Take a picture.” Thus, mini(malist) frog in a cup.

 

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Here are the before and after capture/release photos.

This in in response to the challenge – minimalist

The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

members_6997cnIn my church tradition (Southern Baptist Convention), the welcome time has always been incorporated into the worship service. It varies from church to church, but it is typically a time when members and guests stand and offer and hand-shake and a word of welcome.

In a recent post, Thom Rainer, a denominational leader, reported the results of an informal Twitter poll of first-time church guests and what factors made them decide not to return. Surprisingly, the “stand and greet” time was the number one reason. He found:

1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Rainer admits that there were strong feelings on both sides of the question about the practice’s helpfulness in reaching guests. He summed it up by saying churches must considering its place in their local context.

I decided to do my own informal poll on Facebook and found a similar mix of responses. From germaphobes to introverts, a few tried to avoid it. It saddened me to hear from one that said it was partly the reason she stopped coming to church. Curiously, those who most vehemently objected to the exercise came from outside our region of the country. Those associated with our church who are not members left comments like:

I like to meet and greet and sure it can be a little intimidating at first but it helps you to get out there and get to know those around you. Otherwise we’d all be caught in our own little shells.

I like it! When your new to the church, people notice and make you feel welcome.

My thoughts:

  1. The church is all about creating healthy relationships – with God and others. When people see a church that has genuine care and concern for others, it is appealing. I have had multiple conversations with people who were considering coming to our church and I’ve stepped them through the “what to expect” list. When I mention the greeting time, they’ve not been put off and have even mentioned that their own church was so cold that no one spoke to them AT ALL! I would much rather err on the side of a friendly greeting time.
  2. We must be considerate of those who are uncomfortable and not expect everyone to fit our mold. We have several in our body who don’t like hugs. I respect that and don’t force myself on them.
  3. I shake hands with more people than anyone else on Sunday…I am germ conscious and have probably gotten a few colds through this practice. But, we encourage “fist bumps” in flu season and keep a large jug of sanitizer at the welcome center.
  4. A forced and contrived greeting time (except on Easter – “He has risen…He has risen, indeed”) has never been our practice. I object to being told to repeat something and insincere greetings are obvious.
  5. It saddens me to hear that people would not come because of the “howdy-do” time. However, as one respondent related, it may be the most affirming moment some have during their week. As Christians, we are called to move beyond our own wants and needs and consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.). A widow in my last church said the thing she missed most after the death of her husband was no longer having hugs. We made sure she got those hugs after hearing that. Even if you don’t like the “stand and greet” time, someone around you may need that greeting, hand shake, hug, fist bump…think about what someone else may need in the moment.

I believe churches must always evaluate their methods of conveying the love of God in their context. In rural Iowa, despite some who are uncomfortable with the practice, it still seems to work.