Singers 2 edited

“Now, guys… You’re going to go down on your right knee on the word ‘me.’ Ladies, you’ll spin in on two-three-four, sit on your guy’s left knee on five, and both of you will pop your outside hand up on seven. Got it? Let’s take it from ‘tell you what you mean.’ Ready? Five, six, seven, eight…”

Show choir choreography rehearsals used to be my favorite thing in all the world (‘cause you can sing anywhere, anytime—if you don’t mind weird looks—but you can’t pop your outside hand up just anywhere without risking bodily harm or, perhaps, incarceration).

But that was (quite) a few years ago when I was singing and dancing with the Auburn University Singers, by far one of the finest show choirs in existence. (That’s not a biased opinion—I must say that to avoid bearing false witness.) Now, however, the only time I pop my outside hand up is if I’m in the contemporary worship service at church, swatting a mosquito or, as I occasioned to be recently, at the weekend-long 45th reunion of those same Auburn University Singers, where I spent a couple hours on Saturday rehearsing the above choreography to “The Alphabet Song” along with all the reunion attendees who had been in the group during my era.

Although it would be tempting and would certainly add a little comedy to this post, I’m going to refrain from all the old geezer jokes; except to say that, thankfully, I made it down on one knee—and got back up—with a minimum of pain and suffering. (Equally thankfully, my lovely and lithesome dance partner was just that—lovely and lithesome. And talented and way too young to be dancing with this particular geezer. But we had a blast.)

Over the course of the weekend, 45 years’ worth of Auburn Singers (or just “Singers” if you’re a current or former member of that group) receptioned and banqueted and caught up and shared pictures of kids and grandkids and laughed and sang and danced and actually managed to perform the songs we rehearsed on Saturday at the Sunday afternoon concert.

It was a wonderful experience…

…but a slightly different one, compared to the 40th reunion five years ago—at least to me.

At the 40th reunion, I was almost two years into my faith journey and busting a gut to let my Singers choirmates—most of whom knew about my former life—know what had happened to me and that I was not the same guy they sang and danced with back in the day. (“The old is gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Since then, and partly because of that reunion, I have grown my fellow-believers posse considerably, rekindling old friendships and kindling new ones.

So as the 45th reunion neared, the text-o-sphere was awash with “woo-hoos” and “countin’ downs” and “can’t wait to see yous.” Even more important, though, were messages between me and my “I love Jesus” peeps promising to pray for friends who were going to be there who didn’t know Him as savior.

Before I left, one of those texts centered around concern for a mutual Singers friend who, for the duration of our friendship (which, unfortunately, had kind of petered out the past few years), had been searching for something they could never seem to find. My dear friend-in-the-Lord with whom I was texting and I knew what—or rather who—that something was, and we both committed to pray for this person, with the final message before I hit the road being, “Praying that ___ sees Jesus in all of us.”

In other words, that we’d be salt and light.

On the drive up, I got a call out of the blue from a good brother and powerful prayer warrior from church (non-reunion related). I told him where I was going and what I would be doing and that I had been praying for my friend ____ who would be there, a friend I was pretty sure wasn’t a Christian. My praying brother immediately said, “Let’s pray for _____ right now.” So I’m careening down the interstate at the speed of light while my buddy prays fervently that, not only would God work in my friend-at-the-reunion’s heart, but that He would use me in some way to show the love of Jesus to Him.

In other words, that I’d be salt and light.

(That whole phone prayer incident moved me so much I had to pull off and find a place to park so I could share a moment of thanks and praise with the Lord.)

I woke up the next morning with a text from another first-tier peep (peepette, actually) who knew about my concern and prayers for my friend: “My prayer for you this weekend is Colossians 4:2-6.”

A quick check on my Holy Bible app revealed the following:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6 NIV

I had to call her right then and share my amazement at all the ways God was providing encouragement. She told me, “I woke up praying that your conversations would be ‘seasoned with salt.’”

In other words… Yep—THAT.

(Of course you can’t see me right now—I hope—but I’m sitting here shaking my head in awe thinking about all that.)

Oh—and on Sunday morning I went to the church where I attended when I was a student. And what text did the pastor use? Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world.”

You think the Lord was sending me a message? A loud-and-clear message? One He was going to make sure I got?

Salt and light: two analogies Jesus gave describing our role in and relationship with the world. While He didn’t say, “When I compare you to ‘salt and light’ what I mean is…” we can put on our 1st century cultural thinking caps and pretty much surmise what He meant.

You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)

Fish was a staple of the middle-eastern diet during Jesus’ time. But dead fish don’t last too long in the heat. (It’s hard for us spoiled, modern kids to envision a time when there was no such thing as opening the door of the Frigidaire and popping the morning’s catch in to keep it from going bad.) To avoid ruined fish and that gag-inducing ruined-fish smell, salt was used as a preservative, since most bacteria, fungi, and other narsty organisms can’t survive in a highly salty environment…

…HIGHLY salty being the key. To truly preserve it, the salt has to penetrate the food, which means it has to be used in abundance—no skimpin’ on the salt.

Plus, there’s that whole “this fish could use a little salt” piece, because salt also influences the flavor and enjoyment of everything. (It’s likely that more than a few people sitting on the slope of that mount where Jesus delivered his famous sermon had some salt-influenced fish in a purse or pocket for a snack.)

So to be salt to the world—to truly penetrate and influence it—we can’t just huddle up in church with the doors shut tight against all the tax collectors and sinners outside (‘cause then we’d just be trapped with a bunch of tax collectors and sinners inside; although hopefully some saved ones). We have to get out there and be heard and be visible.

You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)

Light is the best way to make something visible (that and wiping the schmutz off your glasses). Just as salt preserves and influences food, light preserves… well, light and banishes the darkness while revealing the truth. But again, we can’t shine our light in secret. Jesus said that no one turns a light on and sticks it under something…

Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Matthew 5:15 NIV

We’ve got to get out there among “the people walking in darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV) And I’m sure you’ve noticed there are a bunch of those these days.

Salt and Light and Jazz Hands

So basically, Jesus said, “You ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” not “You know what? It would be a good idea to be salt and light” or “Hey—here’s a thought: why don’t you guys try being salt and light?”

It wasn’t a suggestion. He didn’t give us the option to opt out.

How can you be salt and light? You don’t have to have a Jesus fish on your car or stand on the corner with your Bible and shout the good news at passers-by. I mean, you can, but I’m not sure that always has the desired affect…

  • Do you thank the cashier and bagger warmly and with a smile at the grocery store?
  • Do you tip well, even if the service wasn’t world-class (especially on Sunday when you’re eating out in your church clothes)?
  • When another lane of traffic merges with yours, do you smile and let somebody in? (You don’t have to let ‘em all in—there are rules.)
  • Would people at work be surprised to find out you’re a Christian? Do you get there on time and stay as long as you’re supposed to and take projects no one else wants and finish them in a timely manner?
  • Do you act like a Christian on Facebook? You don’t have to always post Bible verses, but it’s a good idea not to share things or comment on things others share with cuss words in them (for starters).
  • Do you ever attend school board or PTA meetings? Do you know your kid’s teachers and what they stand for? Do you know what they’re being taught in school? Do you speak out when it’s the opposite of what you want them to be taught?
  • Do you vote? Do you ever write or call your government representatives? Do you pray for them?

I’m sure you can think of others.

The question for me and my weekend in Auburn with the Singers then becomes: Was I salt and light to my friend at the reunion? Did I penetrate and influence and banish the darkness?

Maybe. I don’t know. It was boisterous and busy and there were no quiet moments to pull my friend aside and sit and let the Holy Spirit erect a little spiritual bubble around us. But I did my best to engage and reconnect and rekindle our friendship. Plans were made to keep in touch. Salty and light-ish kinds of seeds were planted.

Time will tell.

You can join me and my posse and pray for ______. Make up any name you want—the Lord knows…

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, if you’re a Christian you ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world—even if you’re in a choreography rehearsal.

And sometimes you just have to pop your outside hand up and let the love of Jesus shine through…

• • •

Click here or on the Facebook logo below and visit my page. Ready? Five, six, seven, eight…

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Holy Spectacles

untitled“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Ummm…”

*click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Two… I guess—maybe just a little.”

*click* *click* *swivel* *click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

And so it went. My optometrist would click a lens in place—“one”—then click a different lens in place—“two”—and ask me which one made the little teeny-tiny row of letters I was looking at more clear. Sometimes it was pretty obvious, but most of the time it was more like a Moe’s burrito vs. a Chipotle burrito—it’s a tortilla with beans, meat, and cheese. Bueno.

While the whole optometrical once-over—including the air rifle blast in the eye and the blinding dilation drops—is kind of a chore, it’s worth it to get a new pair of glasses every year.

And now for the rest of the story…

messy-w_text

“…And this bedroom belongs to—” My friend stopped dead in her tracks. “Seriously?”

She quickly closed the door, but not before I got a shot of pretty-in-pink, teenage-girl chaos. Clothes festooned every surface; shoes were strewn about, with not a single one in near proximity to its mate; “delicates” littered the floor…indelicately…

“I’m so sorry you had to see that. I told them I’m not cleaning up after them.”

I just laughed. “If you think THAT’S bad, then you can NEVER come to my house!”

(I write this while sitting in my office that includes an elliptical machine, weights and a weight bench, a pair of crocs and socks to wear while ellipting, an unassembled bed leaning up against the wall, three dining room chairs, an unused scanner, a storage box full of shoes, various lengths of 4×4 pressure-treated lumber providing a make-shift corral for an exercise ball on top of the storage box full of shoes, and a zippered vinyl portfolio with Liberace’s logo on it holding a collection of Liberace piano books for the beginning pianist. She can NEVER come to my house.)

And now for the rest of the story…

New Year, New You

my-hope

Christmas seemed especially joyful this year, at least to me. I think after the past year or so of nasty politics—and I’m going to blame both sides for that… and no fair saying “they” started it (if you think that, you weren’t on the same Facebook I was on)—all the joy was kind of sucked out of our country.

All the biased news stories, both sides waiting and wishing for the other candidate to implode—and that looked like a distinct possibility for either one of them—hateful responses on social media from supporters of both parties…

…I don’t know about you, but I really needed a little Christmas, as the song goes—and I got it:

  • The Christmas music seemed a little more joyful (I’m digging on the new Pentatonix Christmas album)
  • The glitter seemed a little more sparkly (and if past experience holds true, that same glitter will still be making an appearance in and around the house next July)
  • The lights seemed a little brighter this year, even in Florida where they DO NOT know how to tastefully put up Christmas lights outside (sorry Florida peeps—all those blinking, chasing, half-colored, half-white Christmas light displays with a bunch of inflatable “Despicable Me” minions in Santa hats in the front yard… To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say ‘no’”…)
  • Even the Hallmark Channel movies seemed a little more fun. (Although I still don’t know what happened to the princess who ran away from her hotel room in New York City and took up with the contractor guy whose girlfriend dumped him. If you saw that one, leave a comment—I need to know how it ended.)

And now for the rest of the story…

A merciful and faithful High Priest

From the I Am the Clay “Story” Series

mary-visits-elisabeth-large

It was necessary for [Jesus] to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17 NIV

The priest who is anointed and ordained…as high priest…is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for…all the members of the community. Leviticus 16:32,33 NIV

“Barnabus!” the woman called from the mouth of the cave. “It’s almost time for dinner.”

“Coming!” Her husband’s voice echoed from deep within the animal shelter.

He stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight holding a strip of cloth. “What’s that?” his wife asked.

“It appears to be baby swaddling. That young couple must have left it behind.” He handed it to her.

“My, my,” she said as she examined the cloth. “This is fine linen. Where did those poor children get this?”

“I don’t know. I guess they brought it with them, knowing she might have her baby while they were here,” he replied, closing the gate behind him. “And we don’t know that they were poor.”

“She had her baby in a stable.”

Our stable—warm and comfortable. I tried to give them our room but they wouldn’t hear of it; insisted they would be fine.” They made their way toward the inn.

“And they were fine—a beautiful baby boy and a story they can tell their grandchildren,” she said folding the piece of cloth as they walked. “Still, I wonder where they got this linen…”

And now for the rest of the story…

You gotta have heart

cliffside

…your old men will dream dreams… Joel 2:28

I sat there staring at the sky, trying to wrap my head around it. It was definitely blue, brilliant and stunning, but a blue unlike any I had ever seen before.

And the water—well, that was a whole other story. From my vantage point atop the cliff it could have been a sheet of glass stretching to the horizon; crystal clear, a little deeper blue than the sky. Sort of. Or maybe it was just reflecting the sky.

The people who name paint colors would have had a field day with what I was seeing.

Whatever the hue, it took my breath away. When I finally breathed in again, I caught the faintest scent of… something beautiful… like…

I chuckled. “I give up,” I muttered to myself. What I was seeing was vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t prepared for how intense it was. It wasn’t disconcerting—nothing had ever felt so concerting.

So I sat there—peaceful, content, oblivious to time—waiting for Him. He would come; He was why I was there. That much I knew.

And now for the rest of the story…

Band of Brothers

bofb

Random guitar riffs, bass runs, and drum licks echo throughout the large room in a cacophony of band noise. Occasionally John will kick off a pattern on the drums, Luke will pick it up on his bass, and they’ll run with it for a few bars, but for the most part it’s all random bits left-over from everyone’s former band days, none of it in the same key or rhythm. (Since I’m the odd man out as far as having no former band days, I’ll occasionally throw a little Beethoven piano sonata into the mix, just to add to the joyful noise.)

Six of us—Kenny, Kurtis, Mark, Luke, John (all we need is a Matthew) and I, the “Band of Brothers”—rehearse every Tuesday night in the same room where we’ll be leading in worship the following night for the Wingman men’s Bible study. Once sound levels are finally set and everyone settles down to practice, we do the most important thing we can do to ensure a good rehearsal…

“Let’s pray it up.”

And now for the rest of the story…

Fuego

fuego

The flames leapt hundreds of feet in the air, an enormous fiery tongue licking the sky as it darted from the peak of the volcano Fuego – “fire” in English; a tongue dead set on devouring and dispelling the darkness of the Guatemalan night. Beauty and destruction shared the stage as great, glowing jewels of lava streamed down the slopes of the cone-shaped behemoth, molten necklaces forged in the heart of the earth, destroying any- and everything in their path.

Barely a day earlier, our team of tourist missionaries had put the finishing touches on 14 homes built for the same number of families in the small village of Trinidad, a village lying squarely in the shadow of that fire-spewing giant. But not to worry – no villagers or their new homes were harmed in the making of that dazzling display of geological pyrotechnics. In fact, the Guatemalan locals no doubt had a “What – that again?” attitude about the whole event. Our vans and trucks filled with mission-trippers, though? Just the opposite. Any sense of personal space was all but abandoned as everyone piled to one side of the vehicle, noses vying for a spot to press against the windows, transfixed by the nighttime spectacular we were allowed to witness as we made our way back to the mission house after distributing food, clothing, and the love of Jesus to 300 families.

It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And now for the rest of the story…

Holy guacamole, Batman!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

avocado

It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.

All. The. Time.

‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.

If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:

  • a boost to their immune system
  • a drop in their high blood pressure
  • a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)

The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

And now for the rest of the story…

War (bed)Room

I promise I’m done writing stories about the floors in my house. There’s still a few square feet left to do in the kitchen, but I’m just puttin’ on my rose-colored glasses, adopting a glass half-full attitude, and considering it done.

BUT… (this’ll be quick)

…several months ago I had moved everything out of the still-untiled bedroom one Friday night, thinking my God-send of a Christian brother (who did all the hard stuff) would be able to come the next day and finish laying the tile in there.

Didn’t happen. So instead of moving the bed, et al. back in there, I grabbed an easy-to-move, comfortable chair and a small side table – along with my Bible and my Moody and MacArthur commentaries – and made myself a makeshift study nook slash War Room. (I loved that movie. I know the Kendrick brothers’ films aren’t Oscar contenders, but they’re well-done and tell compelling, Christ-centered stories. Works for me.)

It turned out to be a great spot to read and study my Bible in the evening, but was even more conducive to Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) in the morning. The bedroom sports an all-important ceiling fan kicking up a cool ruah (which is the Hebrew word for wind, breath, and spirit, all meaningful for PT); there was also nothing in there to serve as a distraction: no bed, no pillows, nothing on the walls, no dresser, (and no stuff on the dresser) – not even a floor. For someone with my sometimes sketchy attention span, it was the perfect location to devote time to being with the Lord.

And now for the rest of the story…