Tag Archives: Flint

almost heaven

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“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river…” And now most of you will have John Denver stuck in your head for the rest of the day. My apologies to my West Virginian friends, but I’ve never really thought of West Virginia as being “almost heaven”. For that matter, I have never thought about Odessa, TX or Flint, MI, or even Chattanooga, TN as being almost heaven either. Well at least not geographically. However, when I stop to think about some of my encounters in each of these places, I begin to see heaven breaking through a little bit. Bob Benson wrote a poem called Looking for the Threads that I think catches what I’m trying to say:

I used to think,
loving life so greatly,
that to die would be like
leaving the party before the end.

But now I know
that the party is really happening
somewhere else.
That the light and the music
escaping in snatches,
to make the pulse beat faster
and the tempo quicken,
comes from another place.

And I know, too,
that when I get there,
the music and the love and the praise
will belong to him
and the music will never end.

Maybe that’s the almost heaven part? The “light and the music escaping in snatches”. I like the way the writer of Revelation put’s it in his final description, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’.” – Revelation 21:1, 3-4. That new heaven and new earth part sounds pretty awesome. Because I think what limits our scope of heaven and seeing the “light and the music escaping in snatches” is because we are encumbered by time, death, distance, sickness, etc.

Maybe we’ve all experienced the “almost heaven” part, but our vision is limited by those things that will soon pass away. Maybe my visions of heaven in Odessa, TX will come to fruition in the new heaven and earth. I can see me spending a large part of eternity sitting around with Kenny Mayes and just talking about the goodness of God (and hopefully it will feel and smell a bit like his shop). Maybe my vision of heaven in Flint, MI won’t be hampered by the cold and the snow and some of the brokenness that has come to falsely label this great city. I can see myself spending a good part of eternity walking in the fresh grass with Sam Owens just laughing about how grace welcomed us both in. Maybe even the visions of heaven I’ve had from the town I grew up in will fully blossom as one day I find myself fishing with my grandfathers  Raymond Arp and Garland Patterson (who I never got to meet) and us just enjoying being fully in the presence of each other and God.

I’ve never really enjoyed moving away from a place…and it has nothing to do with the geography or the restaurants or the sights or the entertainment venues or any of that stuff. That’s not what defines life for me. But the people who have shaped and changed mine and my family’s life are for me the part that is almost heaven. And much like that same song, they are the path that will help to, “take me home to the place I belong.” This life is short, but I’m beginning to see how beautiful heaven will be through all the folks who have been Jesus to me.

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the cloud

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As we have for a few years now, my family and I spent the better part of the month of June with family in Northwest GA and Southeast TN. This is always an amazing time filled with cousins, swimming, day camps and food…we always seem to be eating. And I love this area of the country because it’s so familiar. I love the views of the mountains and the valleys and even the way the clouds roll in quickly before a thunderstorm; which seems to happen almost every summer afternoon. The crazy thing is that this familiar view also greeted us as we rolled back into Odessa a week ago. As we came in on the highway from Midland we could see lightning in the distance and the familiar cloud formations rolling in as Odessa was blessed with much needed rain. And luckily for us, we were able to get our car unloaded before the deluge hit.

There’s a verse in scripture that alludes to what the presence of a cloud might be in our own lives. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us , fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 I love the imagery played out in the the text. I recently was flying from Odessa back to Atlanta before our trek back into town and our entire flight was dictated by the presence of clouds (albeit storm clouds) in Atlanta. After we boarded, an hour later than scheduled, we then had to sit on the tarmac for an extra hour. Once we did get clearance to take off, most of the flight was smooth…until we began to descend into Atlanta. I guess the only way I can describe it is by the rides I seek to avoid at the amusement park i.e. it was a roller coaster of a landing. It was crazy how these clouds effected everything we were a part of even from a distance.

 

This Sunday I will begin delivering my last series of sermons for the people of Odessa First Church of the Nazarene. This has been a roller coaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t terrified and excited all at the same time. But I do know one thing. When I step onto the stage on Sunday it is only through the power of God and the presence of the overwhelming cloud of witnesses that go with me that I am able to do so. This cloud has gone with me from Rossville, GA to Nashville, TN, by way of Yulee, FL while building up strength in Flint, MI in order to serve for over three years in Odessa, TX.  And this cloud continues to grow as we prepare to serve alongside the families of Nashville First Church of the Nazarene in a few short weeks. This cloud is filled with families and loved ones who have cared for my family, invested in my ministry, prayed for me daily and loved me beyond words. Even as I type this your faces flash before me as my eyes fill with tears and I thank God for him bringing us together. It is only by the grace of God and your presence in my life that I can even call myself pastor. And I am both humbled and challenged by your cloud-like presence in my life. So I will continue to run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  And I will boldly proclaim the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it. All the while knowing  that I am surrounded by a cloud that is a testament to the love and faithfulness of the God we all serve.


death to me

The month of my birth isn’t the most glamorous of months. Sure February has Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and my birthday, but I think all those things are there to distract us from February itself. And this month was always much more difficult when I lived in the great white north of Michigan. And regardless of where you live it is still a difficult month for so many. You look outside and what do you see…death. Dead grass, dead trees, dead shrubs or you can’t even see it because it is buried under snow. The one thing I did appreciate about this latter reality I experienced in Michigan was that you knew that this dying of nature and the frozen landscape that seemed to be overwhelmingly depressing was laced with promise. The promise of spring and summer was about the only thing one could hold onto in the dead of winter in Michigan (see, they even call it the dead of winter). But nature has a funny way of revealing to us truths about God and our experience. St. Francis saw everything in creation is a reflection of the Creator. Bonaventure taught that everything is a fingerprint or footprint of God (vestigia Dei). And perhaps even what we experience in Winter is cause for Divine reflection.

As Jesus was coming closer to the end in the book of John he was speaking with His disciples one day and he said, “ Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24 In fact, in many of Jesus’ and even Paul’s allusions to the Christian life, the image of death is used quite often. But we don’t like to talk about death. We don’t like to think about death or loss or anything attached to the idea of separation from what we know and experience. Yet it is in the death of a seed that a harvest comes. It is in the death of Christ that we receive our freedom. It is in death itself that we pass on from this life to the next to be with God. Jesus came into this world to redeem death and even show us how metaphorical death to self leads to life and yet we hold on so tightly to elements of life that I think we often miss what God is getting ready to do.

Since Michigan came to my thoughts earlier in regards to Winter I think it also fitting that I reflect on a story 20 years in the making. 20 years ago just before Christmas eve Flint Central Church of the Nazarene burnt to the ground. Everyone saw this as a great tragedy, as it was, but God also saw it as a new beginning. Out of the ashes and death of what the church had been God was busy giving life to something newer and greater that now impacts the city of Flint in a way the old church never could have. Flint Central is now one of the largest Nazarene churches in the US and has empowered countless people in ministry fro the Kingdom. Out of death to life. Maybe this is something you need to hear today. Maybe you are having trouble letting go of your expectations or memories or old ways of doing things and the whole time God is there waiting for you to die to the old so he can bring forth the new. Death is still scary. But God is in the business of redeeming death and bringing about new life.


powerless

Moving across the country is for the birds. Literally. Granted their migration pattern is usually north to south, but moving is just not that much fun. As some of you reading this know my family just recently moved from Flint, MI to Odessa, TX via Chattanooga, TN. For those keeping track that is roughly 1800 miles, 3 overnight hotel visits, countless car DVDs and a lot of Cracker Barrel stops. Needless to say when we finally arrived in Odessa we were both relieved and exhausted. Then came the ice. Now a lot of our Odessa family have been trying to hand out blame regarding the ice’s arrival being so close to ours, but let me assure you…we left the cold in Michigan (or at least tried to). Cut to two days later and we even lost power at the parsonage on the Saturday before our first Sunday. Add in two more hotel stays due to our powerless state and it makes for an extremely memorable move and introductory Sunday at Odessa First Church of the Nazarene.

All the while in the midst of this last week I was having conversations with God that seemed to go a bit like this. “God, are you sure we are making the right move?” “God, this seems like more than my family and I can bare.” “God…I need you…” It started to sound like an exchange we find in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – II Corinthians 12:9-10 I wasn’t pleading with God to necessarily take away a “messenger from Satan”, but it has been a long time in my life since I have felt so powerless, both figuratively and literally. Over our time with the families at Christmas I had gotten the stomach flu, our dog had been sick, my wife had gotten a sinus infection she is still on the mend from and did I mention we were moving halfway across the country.

I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy, but to point to the One whose strength shone through in my difficulties. Our first Sunday here was awesome. We felt so loved and we sensed God’s Spirit in such an amazing way. Even now into my first week in the office I have seen God’s hand in so many ways and sensed His leading and guidance as we start to walk with the people here at Odessa First. We know God is walking with us and we are assured that this move is in His hands. And I now know I can take refuge in my powerless state and ultimately in my weakness…for when I feel weak, I lean into God’s strength and know He is strong.


the cloud

This Christmas season my family and I spent the holidays with our extended families in Northwest GA and Southeast TN. This is always an amazing time filled with laughter and food…lots of food. Even Christmas morning began with a large breakfast that my dad and sister prepared at her house. On the way in though, my mom pointed out to me a print my sister had recently bought that she thought I would like. It was a picture of a pastor preaching in a pulpit. The beautiful thing about the picture were the ghostlike silhouettes of the men surrounding the pastor while he spoke. You could clearly see Jesus, Moses, Peter and David among others who had their hands upon the pastor as he shared God’s word. The funny thing is that my mom had even contacted the artist to see about how much it would be to paint me into the print as a gift; needless to say, it was a bit too much.

But I do love the verse that was an inspiration for this painting. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us , fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 I love the imagery played out in the the text. I don’t know if you quite get what it means to be surrounded by a cloud, but I had a recent experience with this. While we were in Chattanooga for Christmas we also visited one of my wife’s lifelong friends who lives on Signal Mountain on Christmas Eve Eve. I think the clouds must have come down and swallowed the mountain because our visibility was roughly about -20 feet. Because of her propensity towards car sickness my wife had driven up the mountain, but as soon as we got to the top she pulled over because you really could only see about 10 feet in front of you. And so I drove roughly the speed of a sloth the rest of the way to her friend’s house. The fog/cloud/whatever you would like to label it was so overwhelming it effected everything we did from that point forward.

This Sunday I will be delivering my first sermon as a lead pastor for a body of believers. This has been a roller coaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t terrified and excited all at the same time. But I do know one thing. When I step onto the stage on Sunday it is only through the power of God and the presence of the overwhelming cloud of witnesses that go with me that I am able to do so. This cloud has gone with me from Rossville, GA to Nashville, TN, by way of Yulee, FL while building up strength in Flint, MI in order to make the trip to Odessa, TX. This cloud is filled with families and loved ones who have cared for my family, invested in my ministry, prayed for me daily and loved me beyond words. Even as I type this your faces flash before me as my eyes fill with tears and I thank God for him bringing us together. It is only by the grace of God and your presence in my life that I can even call myself pastor. And I am both humbled and challenged by your cloud-like presence in my life. So I will continue to run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  And I will boldly proclaim the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it. All the while knowing  that I am surrounded by a cloud that is a testament to the love and faithfulness of the God we all serve.


gates of hell

I imagine the title of this one probably caught your eye. Most of the time when someone throws out the word “Hell” in the church it creates some sort of a stir, although not always for the right reasons. But, title aside, I was running around Flint this morning and I couldn’t help but think about Hell, violence, poverty and the church. Let me try to bring you along on my thought journey (my mind goes everywhere when I run, so this may not work).

Last night during youth group our text that we covered came out of Matthew 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- Matthew 16:16-20. This text is unique because of Jesus’ geographical location when he spoke these words. He was in Caesarea Phillipi which was one of the Roman centers of culture and actually a locus for the worship of Pan. Attached to this worship was a cave, referred to as the Gates of Hell/Hades, where much of the Imperial based Pagan worship took place. So essentially Jesus was saying that Peter’s confession of his Lordship (the son of the Living God) was such an affront to the surrounding culture that even the gates of Hell couldn’t stand against it.

That’s the thing about gates…they aren’t an offensive strategy. Very rarely do you hear of someone being injured or beaten with a gate. They are actually a defensive strategy. So our confession of Christ/our alternative way of living is actually an offensive against the gates of Hell. Against the dominant culture. When is the last time you thought of Christianity as being rightly offensive instead of weirdly defensive?

Which gets me back to my morning run. My run this morning followed the blue line that is the Crim course through and around downtown Flint. Flint is a city known primarily for it’s violence and poverty (at least by much of the country). You might say these are the things that define the dominant Flint culture (i.e.i. the Flint logo with a handgun for the letter L). But you can see the effects of this culture and my question to us is, “How is the church attacking the gates of Hell in Flint?” Where is the church being effective in combating the violence and poverty in Flint? These aren’t issues where we rely on political rhetoric or voting polls to do the work of the Kingdom for us, but these are the trenches we need to get in and espouse the values of the kingdom (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control). One of my favorite quotes in understanding what an offensive church looks like goes like this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are we driving out darkness? Are we driving out hate? Or are the gates of Hell standing strong against us?


good flintonians

The story goes a bit like this. I received a call from a mother of a student last Sunday as I was getting ready to head home. Evidently her son had gotten a flat tire and was stranded on the side of the road having never really changed a tire before. So I gallantly rode in to help out. Strangely enough he had made it down the road a ways and was parked in front of a church. So I jumped out to help out and found out we were in for more than we thought. Evidently the tire had rusted/froze onto the wheel well and there was no budging this thing. Although, we did have a couple of guys try to stop by and help us. The first, who was smoking like a chimney jumped out even though he was late to a meeting with some guys about a job. In his attempts to help us he even let a few choice words fly. And he apologized sincerely for his inability to help. The second guy who stopped by was covered in ink from head to toe and also had less than desirable language. But he even worked for a tire shop and helped us to realize our efforts were futile and we would be better off calling a tow-truck; which was the eventual solution. But the weirdest part about all of this is that it was 12:30 PM on a Sunday in front of a church, twenty degrees outside and not one person in “church clothes” stopped to ask what was going on or even offered help.

Kind of reminds me of a similar story. It goes a bit like this,                                                                                                                                                                                “Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.                                                                                                                                                           “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’                                                                                  “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”                                                                                                                                                       “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” – Luke 10:30-37 The Message

So my question is, what keeps us from compassion? Lunch appointments…the cold…not wanting to get our clothes dirty? I just hope that maybe the next time we encounter that moment for Christ’ action that the roast and potatoes can wait.


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