One From the Archives: Souvenirs from Parke County


Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

Note: seeing that we just returned home from a trip back to Indiana, this oldie from the archives seems apropo.  Enjoy and be blessed!

The road started out paved. I crossed the covered bridge at a walk, listening to boards creak and squeak beneath my slow rolling tires. A hard left, a hard right, a high climb up the steep hillside. The close trees on both sides broke open to reveal acre upon acre of muddy fields, cattle, and barns – many leaving so hard that they look like one brisk wind would topple them.

Then the pavement ended, and the mud-and-gravel path began.

This didn’t look familiar.

Yes, I had to admit. I was lost. I had driven off the beaten path to find a different route to Bridgeton.

But, being lost can have its advantages. As I drove around Parke County, I had time for quiet relaxation, reflection and prayer. By God’s grace, the skies were sunny, ribboned with jet trails hanging high in the still air. The temperature was warm.

Here is some of what the Lord showed me, and reminded me of, as I drove around the Big Raccoon Creek area:

1. As I felt my way along the winding country roads of Parke County, I knew that, as long as I followed my compass and kept heading east and south, I would eventually intersect with Bridgeton Road and, from there, the town of Bridgeton. When we lose our way with Christ, all we need to do is follow our compass (faithfully following God’s Word). He will put us back on the path, headed in the right direction.

2. The joy is in the journey itself, not merely our destination. I could worry because I didn’t know where I was. But I knew I would end up where I was meant to. Far better to have faith, rest, and enjoy the ride. Absorb the scenery. Learn from what you see and experience. Be inspired. There is no sense in hurrying through life just to get from point A to point B. We miss so much when our final stop is our sole focus.

3. The adventure won’t truly begin until you face your fear and say, firmly and decidedly, No. The idea of driving – think crawling with wheels – across a 104 year old wooden covered bridge that sounded like it might give way beneath me was not exactly what I would call fun. But, once I had braced the steering wheel and slowly made my way through the bridge – getting past the part of the drive I dreaded – I was ready to move onward into the unknown. When we face our fears head on, we see how irrational they truly are.

4. It is good to go back and remember. Bridgeton is a place my dad used to take us fishing. (Too bad I didn’t like fishing. But that’s another story for another time…). Bridgeton Baptist Church is where I began to learn to appreciate – at age 12 – strong Biblical teaching and a love of Scripture. Big Raccoon Creek at Bridgeton is where I was baptized. I can still feel the sensation of being dunked in the cold creek water, feeling the unnerving loss of control as I went down into the current, and coming up cleansed. That was 35 years ago. A lot happens in that span of time. We change, we grow, we learn, we are influenced… It is good, in a soul correcting way, to go back and remember. Just don’t try to pitch a tent and stay there.

5. There is still at least one place on earth where, if you wave at a stranger you pass along the road, he will wave back. If he wasn’t the one to initiate the wave, that is.

Don’t get so caught up in your planned life route that you inflexibly ignore the surroundings you pass. Don’t forget where you came from. And don’t forget that you are never at a place where the Lord cannot find you and right your path. Life is an adventure. Trust in the Lord and appreciate the trip.

Anxious Pariah

14  Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

Please consider this a plea to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of we, your fellow believers – fellow parts of the body of Christ – who do not have it all together (so to speak).

Even if we appear that we do.

If you have never dealt with anxiety and depression, you cannot possibly have a firm understanding of how it feels to be in the midst of such hurt.  And it makes facing people with depression daunting and uncomfortable.  What does one say?  How should one act?

I want to help you understand.  You need to understand.   And I will tell you why.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders.  That’s 1 in 18 people in the USA age 18 and over.  Statistically, if you attend a church of 200 people, 36 of your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from anxiety (statistically speaking).

So, I ask you, please… if you love those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression as much as you say (and, trust me, I truly believe you do… I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t…), take a few minutes and read this and try to understand.

1. We are not pariahs

Dealing with anxious and depressed thoughts and feelings will make a person feel very isolated.  Even in a crowd.  These feelings are only intensified when we feel shunned.  Please don’t let not knowing what to say or how to act stop you from interacting with someone who is dealing with very complex (like anxiety and depression).

2. You do not have to know all the right words to say

Just love us.  Hugs work wonders.  Even letting us cry on your shoulder (sometimes figuratively, others literally) can be very cathartic.  Listen.  Love.

3.  This is not necessarily the effect of some secret sin…

There are a lot of factors that contribute to anxiety and depression.  Sin is one of them.  However, there are also physiological contributors (such as one’s brain being unable to produce the proper amounts of serotonin or dopamine).  A huge contributor is stress: major life changes, overwork, troubles in life… Do not be so quick to play the “sin” card.  Judge not, friends…

4. Do NOT tell us to “get over it”

Nobody who deals with anxiety and/or depression enjoys it.  It is no fun.  In fact, it can be downright agonizing.  Personally, my low point was a hellish bout of fear that terrorized me for nearly a month.  I couldn’t sleep.  I was so exhausted I couldn’t think straight.  I had fits of anxiety that felt like lightning bolts surging through my body.  If overcoming anxiety and depression was as simple as simply bucking up and getting over it, I would have done it.  So would anyone else who can relate to what I’m writing.Again, just love.  If you can’t understand, that’s all right.  Just be there.  Just love.

5. Don’t give us grief about counseling and antidepressants

It has been said so many times before, but it is so true that I have to say it again.  You would not condemn a cancer patient for taking chemotherapy.  God created the medical profession for our benefit.  Just because we have a medicine that helps right our serotonin production and makes us feel and function better does not mean it is any less the work of God.  And as for counseling… we put too much on the plates of our pastors.  They are spiritual counselors, not mental health workers.  Sometimes the source and strength of one’s anxiety and depression is outside of our pastor’s wheel house.  We often expect too much from these already overloaded men of God.

I could go on, but I think I have hit the high points.  The main point I feel the need to stress is love.  Love one another. Understand this if nothing else.  If you don’t know what to say or how to act, just let love lead.  Say nothing more than “I love you brother / sister.  I’m here.”    Be supportive.  Be loving.  Be normal.

Just love.  With all that agape entails.  Don’t try to make things all right.  Just love.

Transformitive Humility

6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:6-11 (ESV)

Tonight has been a night of prayer and preparation, seeking and expecting, letting go and looking up.  And, as I studied God’s Word tonight, one word in 1 Peter 5 stuck firmly in my mind: humble.  The act / art of lowering one’s attitude toward themselves, to “not… think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3, ESV).

Peter tells us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.  In other words, we are to submit to God and His will.

And stay submitted.

Just before Paul warns us against thinking too highly of ourselves, he tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).  If we want to be transformed in our thinking – truly changed from the inside out – we have to start with humility.

Humility lets go.  When our thoughts are Godward, anxiety isn’t an issue.  Worry evaporates.  Troubles shrink.  This is because being humble requires faith.  Faith that God is in control.  Faith that He knows every circumstance that will come our way, every stone to stub our toe, every obstacle in our path.

We have to humbly trust that God knows what He is doing in our lives.  If we feel stuck in a painful circumstance, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, or another person we are to help.  Any way we look at it, there are no accidents.  We are where we are, when we are and why we are because of God’s purposes.

And when we stay focused on ourselves… well, that just isn’t what God has in mind for us.  We are called to love, to put others first and above ourselves.  We are instructed to cast our cares to God and trust that He has it all under control.

We are to be sober-minded.  Not anxious or fearful, but calm and faithful, filled with joy and peace, resting in the Lord.  Humbly.  In faith.  It is humble firmness in faith that sends the enemy running.

Humility helps us focus where we ought, by focusing our efforts in the right place: Godward.

Be transformed.  I like that.  I pray that for us all.

Back to the Old House

The old house on Billtown Road, where I lived for the first five years of my life, still looks the same as I remember it all those years ago.  The front porch – where my dad stood with me during rainstorms to show me I had no reason to fear thunder – is still there.  The door to the basement, the only defense my brother and I had against the evil, demented monkey that lived down there, is probably still standing. The kitchen must look different from 1970, when I used to watch fuzzy black-and-white images of Sesame Street from a distant public television station while Mom did dishes.

When I’m back home, I like to drive past the old house.  I slow down and quickly soak in the memories.  But I don’t stop.  I can’t just walk in the place.  I can’t shimmy through the bathroom window where dad once lowered me onto the toilet when we were locked out of the house.  And, even if I could, I certainly wouldn’t go down in that basement.

You see, it isn’t my home anymore.  Walking in the door is no longer coming home.  It is now breaking and entering.  Besides, even if I could just walk into the old house, it would feel… well, weird.  It is someone else’s home now.  None of my stuff is there.  And I certainly can’t go next door and go tadpoling with friend Jimmy.  He, too, is grown up and gone.  As is his old house.

And, besides, I’m not five years old anymore.  I have grown considerably since my tadpole catching days.

There are times when it feels good to look back at the past and remember.  It warms the heart to talk with family and friends and reminisce about the old days.  But, there are also times past that are less enjoyable to revisit.  Times of sorrow and loss, of shame and embarrassment, of pain and harshness.

Either way, whether good or bad, the past is gone.  The old house is just the shell where you spent those days.  Just as, one day, our bodies will be no more than the shells where we spent our earthly days.

The apostle Paul certainly had a past.  He used to terrorize Christians.  This man who wrote roughly one-third of the text of the New Testament (or half of the books thereof) was at the very least an accomplice in the stoning of Stephen.  Yet the Lord got ahold of Saul, and made a change in him so thorough and complete and amazing that his very identity changed (Saul becoming Paul).  And Jesus righted the wrong path of his past.  Saul’s sins were forgiven; Paul’s new path in Christ was set.

And Paul was not about to let the past drag him back:

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)

The past is gone.  You can do nothing about it.  The future is not guaranteed to any of us.  Not on this earth.  While we have the promise of eternity with God in Heaven, in this life all we have is now.  This very instant.  This moment.

What are you going to do with this moment?  Will you waste it on a past that is no longer there?  Or will you press on in Christ, realizing that you are His, and free from the tentacles of days gone by?  Don’t bother fretting about – or pining for – what was.  Don’t look back.  Keep your focus joyously on Christ, and on the road ahead.

Besides, most monkeys don’t live past thirty or forty years.  That menacing primate in the basement is probably long dead by now.

The Butterfly Effect

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:18-19 (ESV)

The theory goes like this: a butterfly in Indiana is doing what any butterfly does.  He is flapping his wings.  However, the butterfly is doing his fluttering at the precise place and time that the waves he creates move through the air and grow until they become a hurricane over the Atlantic.

Ridiculous, right?  It is hard to look at the destruction left behind by one of these storms and say, “A butterfly did this.”  And yet, there is a kernel of truth in all of this.

It is quite clear that everything we do, everything we say, effects the people around us in some way or another.  We joke, people laugh (or, in my case, they usually moan).  We yell, people respond negatively.

But, that effect goes farther than our immediate audience.  Each person we encounter, every life we touch, is impacted.  Something as seemingly small as a kind word of affirmation can make a change in another.  Think about it.  You can be talking with a co-worker, or friend or family member, who is facing a difficult situation.  You may have just the right words, or actions, and just the right time and place to inspire that individual, giving them new found strength or joy or whatever that person needs.  They, in turn, may do the same for someone else.  And so on and so forth…

Some may call it the Butterfly Effect.  I call it the work of God through His people.

When we follow God’s lead and do as He commands us – that is, to love one another – we unleash the power to impact people, to change lives, to show others that love is the more excellent way.  Love can bring hope to one who sees no hope, warmth to those who feel no warmth.  And, in turn, inspire them to do the same.

What we do, what we say, may seem like small, insignificant acts.  But, whether we realize it or not, with every interaction we are investing in others and making an impact.  We are inspiring – for better or for worse – and affecting those around us.  Making a negative impact is easy.  Look at Adam: he didn’t plot to disobey God and eat the apple.  He fell in a weak moment.  And look at the effect we feel to this day, thousands of years later.

Now look at Jesus: everything He did was measured, purposeful, meaningful.  And look at the impact His love has on us today, some 2000 years later.  Indeed, both brought effects that are eternal: Adam introduced us to death, Jesus offers eternal life!

So, today, consider the impact you may have on the people around you.  Be deliberate in your words and actions.  Love others – even / especially those it is hard to love.  Each of us is influencing the people in our spheres of life.  A small event, forgettable in it’s seeming inconsequence, can cause a major effect.  What impact will you make today?

Romans 12 Resolution

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Today we bid a fond farewell to 2014.  For some of us, “goodbye” seems not quite as fitting as “good riddance.”  However this past year went down for you, the New Year always springs forth with hope – a clean slate, a chance to afresh, a whole new year ahead, brimming with promise.

Many people will make New Year’s resolutions. Most will not keep them, either because they planned no follow through on setting their goals, or they’re waiting for a genie to pop out of a bottle and fulfill their wishes.  Perhaps we approach the idea of change all wrong.

We all have aspects of our lives and ourselves that we want – need – to change.  But before we change our behavioral patterns, we have to first change our thought patterns.  We have to change how we view the world around us, other people, ourselves.  (When the Bible says we are to love others as ourselves, it is not a prescription for self loathing.  The Lord is telling us to love others just as much!)

Romans 12 lays out a great set of parameters for a transformational New Year’s resolution: to truly live out what it means to follow Christ.  But, before we can do that, we have to change our thinking – “renew our minds” – and be transformed (literally metamorphosed) from conformity to the world’s ways of thinking and acting to God’s will and ways.

It isn’t easy.  Be ready to face opposition.  Be prepared to be tempted.  But be strong in the Lord.  Commit to Him and keep following His Word.  Trust in the Lord.  Stay in Scripture every day and, as Paul says, pray without ceasing.  Love others first.  Accept God’s grace.  Quit beating yourself up.  Stop trying to change everything by your own power then feeling defeated.

2015 is upon us.  Ring out the old, ring in the new!  Take some time to prayerfully read Romans 12 and make a commitment to change.  You are not the one doing the transforming.  God is.  But, we are called to be faithful in doing what the Lord calls each of us to do.  So keep on truckin’.  Keep following Jesus.  Trust Him, follow Him, seek Him, watch for Him.  Don’t worry about the results.  That’s God’s department.

Have a blessed and wonderful New Year!

Fading Lights

When a star is young, it burns hot and bright, giving off a reddish hue. As it ages, gasses are burned off, and the star cools, turning bluefish in color. Despite being less active and bright, the blue stars are still burning. Still functioning. Still hot.

Blue stars still support solar systems. They still radiate light. They have a beauty that is unique in color and luminescence. And, considering the years it takes for their light to reach earth and beyond, stars continue to “shine” long after they have burnt out.

I think of all my friends and loved ones who have lost grandparents this year nearly passed. And I think of my grandmother, who I got to visit while in Indiana. We were blessed to celebrate her 90th birthday. As the effects of Alzheimer’s takes its toll on her short term memory, it’s the reminders of her past that she still clings to that amaze me. Over he course of a couple if visits, she must have told me half a dozen times about the red velvet outfit she bought for me when I was born.

Our grandparents hold a special place within each of us. They are sources of wisdom and guidance. They love us grandkids in a way no one else can, and let us get away with far more than Mom or Dad ever did.

They are, for many of us, the gateway to our genealogical pasts, filling in the blanks about family we never knew, sharing stories and info that help fill the picture of who we are, where we came from, and why our families are the way they are. And they influence heavily who we grow to be – DNA and teaching, nature and nurture. They play a vital role in who God formed each of us to be.

I write this simply from my heart, a heart filled with memories and heavy thoughts as I travel back from a week at home with family. I am reminded once more of the part each of my grandparents played in my upbringing. I can still see their smiles, and hear their voices. And, whether long departed or slipping under the blanket of Alzheimer’s, they are still in my heart. Here I thank God for them, rejoice in their memories and mourn the loss of their physical presence.

All the same, they are all with me, burning bright blue and beautiful, each in their own way. And I thank God for that gift.