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…

The Web

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… 1 Peter 5:8

As spider webs go, it was spectacular – elegant in its construction and beautiful in its symmetry. The silk formed a perfect, dizzyingly tight spiral radiating out from the center, each concentric circle intersecting the spun spokes anchoring the impressive construction to the exterior frame of the rather large window. It was truly a marvel of engineering.

The weaver, herself a marvel, was nowhere in sight, tucked away in the shadow at the corner of the window frame, waiting patiently for just the right vibration on a gossamer strand of the lethal lattice.

Interestingly – and key to its deceptively benign function – the web all but disappeared in the afternoon sunlight, leaving nothing but the reflection behind it of the trees and shrubs surrounding the house in the window glass. If one were not paying attention, one could easily dive headlong into the viscid clutches of the fine-spun thread…

The dragonfly darted through the trees, performing aerial maneuvers sure to shame the most accomplished pilot, as much a virtuoso of flight as the weaver was at creating a web. It lit, seemingly weightless, on the tip of a tussock grass plume, lacey wings spread wide, its prismatic body shimmering against the bluish-green stalk. After a moment’s rest, it took flight again, continuing its tour of the yard.

It eventually veered in the direction of the house, straight toward the window, stopping a few inches from the glass. It hovered there for a few seconds, its beating wings a blur as it hung in mid-air. Maybe it saw the alluring reflection of, as yet, more unexplored trees; maybe it saw a reflection of itself and decided to investigate the intruder. Whatever the reason, it suddenly awakened from its suspended reverie, made an imperceptible adjustment to the bearing of its wings, and dove toward the window.

And now for the rest of the story…

Walking on Bare Concrete

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Summer is back with a vengeance — so is the need to recover from the lazy non-summer months (which in Florida, are few) and tackle long-procrastinated-on home improvement projects here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “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.) And whether I’m having a DIY moment inside or outside, I have a lot of time to talk to or (even better) listen to the Lord. Invariably, by the time I put down the shovel, the paint brush, or the watering hose, I have an idea for a blog post.

Below is the first one for this season. Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Time has a way of getting away from me. (Hold that thought for a moment…more to come…)

The past few weeks I’ve been making final preparations for the book I’m writing. To date, I’ve made umpteen editing passes through my manuscript. I’ve also allowed 3 times that many days to go by without writing something new for Clay. (I’m not sure what 3 x umpteen equals. A scad? An oodle? A triscuit?)

Those famous, fortunate, and affluent authors who can hand a raw book manuscript over to a publishing company and then head to the beach while waiting for a formatted proof copy to come back ready for corrections and final approval don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe they do; maybe that’s the reason they’re at the beach: they’re celebrating all that free time under their beach umbrella, waiting for their next cold beverage to arrive. The self-publishing rest of us are forced to do our own formatting and spell-checking and reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of our fledgling books while chained to a computer wishing we’d had the foresight to buy stock in Microsoft Word back when it was affordable.

In the end, though, it’s been worth every keystroke, as I’m happy with the progress on my book manuscript. I do feel bad that I put all blog activity on hold, though. My poor Facebook followers were subjected to republished versions of former posts while waiting for something new to come out. As I hadn’t sent out one of my “A new article on Clay” emails in a “triscuit,” one of my subscribers asked me if I had dropped him from the distribution list. Another friended me on Facebook just to make sure I was still alive.

Like I said, time has a way of getting away from me.

And now for the rest of the story…

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

Homemade soups and stews—I revel in ‘em. They’re hearty, healthy, and happy-making. And you only have to wash one pot when it’s all over.

I kind of fancy myself a Renaissance man when it comes to cooking these scrumptious olios, sort of the Sultan of Soup, the Star of Stew, the Bon Vivant of Broth, and the Leading Man of the Liquid Lunch.

In short, I can throw down on some homemade soups and stews.

So when I went home to see my parents a couple Christmases ago, I decided to make one of my favorites: “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew.” Not only does it have those three oh-so-tasty title ingredients in it, it also has tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, green chilies, Cajun seasoning, and the pièce de résistance: peanut butter.

Peanut butter—for real. (Don’t be all “eww…” until you try it. It’s magical.)

And now for the rest of the story…