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”).


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.


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.”


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.

Hawk to the finish line

Hawk to the finish line in early heat.

Official T-shirt

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.



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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

I was excited to come home from vacation and find a new playground unit installed on our church property.

Some of my first experiences of “descent” were on backyard swing set and public park slides. I have vivid memories of the climb, the quick slide down and the run back to the ladder to repeat the process all over again. No curving slides in my day…just a straight shot down a shiny and hot piece of metal- the taller the better. If the ride down was slow, you just got some of your mom’s wax paper and rubbed the surface down. Then, you better make sure you were ready for a running landing or else you were on your backside or face down on the hard ground (no mulch, pea gravel or safety mats for us).

While those safety measures are now in place with plastic instead of metal slides, I’m happy that kids still have slides. A private, Christian school uses our facility and helped fund this project. The squeals of students at play during daily recess brings joy to my heart. I am sure that this multiple-slide unit will elicit its fair share joy.

Click HERE for more examples of “descent.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art

We have found that coming to our vacation spot on this Florida beach during the month of October might inspire the cover art for a book entitled:

Off-Season Vacations  – Having the Beach to Yourself


Click HERE for more contributions to this week’s challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

As a child, I remember laying on my back with my buddies and watching the clouds pass overhead. We would imagine different objects as the shapes of the clouds shifted and changed with the winds. I have not given up that pastime and offer a few of those clouds here. Do you see what I see? (Hover over the photo for my interpretation.)

Perhaps these serve as more of a Rorschach test and reveal something phobic or sinister about me, but I still love to daydream about what’s in the clouds.

For more examples of “dreamy”, click HERE.