Tag Archives: Odessa

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.


week after week

Tuesday morning I engaged in one of my yearly rituals; Easter clean-up. You see, for most pastors, Holy Week is the busiest week of your entire church year. There are extra services, extra practices and Easter Sunday itself is often composed of different elements than one would traditionally have on any other Sunday. So by the time all of this is finished, it’s usually Tuesday morning before I even begin to think about clearing out the random collection in my office or the extra pageantry from the platform. One of the most arduous tasks here in Odessa each year is the removal of our cross from the stage. I only say this because our cross is probably about 8 feet tall and made of 4 X 6 beams which amounts to roughly about 80lbs plus of wood. It’s also supported by a solid metal base into which it drops about a foot…I sometimes wish there was a hidden camera of me trying to remove this cross each year. It would probably go viral. But nonetheless, each year I put the cross back into storage until it’s time to bring it out for Holy Week again the following year.

It’s almost like it’s a sign of some of those who show up annually for Easter Sunday. This isn’t meant to be a slam at those who come to church once a year, but I sometimes wonder how they do it. How do they make it through life when you’re only here for Easter? Yes, it is the definitive day and moment in the life of the church, but it doesn’t stop there. It even gets me thinking about how I put away the cross each year, but that also doesn’t stop there (side note: luckily in our church we have a lot of other crosses as a constant reminder of our identity). The apostle Paul wrote this in speaking to the church in Corinth, “We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.” – II Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around with us the cross in order for the life of Christ to be seen in us.

And that to me is kind of what the life of the church enables me to do. Why do I come week after week after week and not just on Easter? Because I need to be reminded of who I am. I need to be reminded that I am called to carry in me the cross/death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be lived out in me every day. And I can’t do that on my own. I need my church to help me. I need my church to remind me. And I need my church because it is a weekly realization that I am not alone in this. As we gather to worship each week we are reminded that this life we are trying to live is bigger than any one individual. We belong to the Body of Christ. So may you be encouraged today. May you be challenged to continue to carry on. And may you find yourself connected to a body of believers that weekly remind you of who you truly are.


in control

Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?

I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “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. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25

Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.


walk me in

Moving to Odessa has allowed me to reengage with one of my favorite activities; taking my son to school. I remember when he attended Pre-K right behind the youth building at our last church. Whenever the days were nice (so for about two weeks before school let out) we would walk to school. And then there were the car rides where we would pray and then rock out to something “heavy” like Mumford & Sons or Old Crow Medicine Show. Needless to say I have been thrilled to get this tradition added back into my daily routine. Since he has begun a new school, I have been walking him to class every day so far. And let’s be honest, I love this piece too. So on the drive in the other day, I asked him, “Hey buddy (that’s what I call him sometimes), do you want me to walk you in today?” “Yeah dad. I want you to walk me in all the time.” “All the time? Even when you are in High School?” “Yup. Because I love you dad.” Talk about a melt your heart moment.

Sometimes we refer to our Christian journey here on earth as a walk. And I think for the most part this is a pretty accurate analogy. I think the hard part for a lot of us is fathoming what it means to walk with/be in relationship with an infinite God as finite beings. Because of God being all around us, but not necessarily being physically tangible we have a hard time always being connected. But then I reflect on the words of the writer of Hebrews. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16. Jesus stepped into flesh in order to help us understand what it means to encounter the Divine. Not only that but He wants to walk with us in our trials and struggles in order for us to encounter grace and mercy at the throne of God.

I think about my son’s response before. I will always want to walk with him and help and assist him as much as I can. In fact, I am probably a breath away from being a helicopter parent. But I know that is not how love works. Love simply waits in the wings. Ready to be that hand to hold, that hug to give or that shoulder to cry on whenever it’s needed. God incarnate came to express that same love through humanity to us. He is ready to walk us through whatever life may throw at us. We just need to ask Him to walk us in and He will be right there with us. May you sense God’s presence walking you into life today as you never have before and may you be overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father.


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.


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