Friday, June 25, 2010

Poison Ivy

I spent this past Tuesday afternoon kayaking with my friend Harry who lives on the other side of Lake Pelham in Culpeper. He’s only about a mile and a half away as the crow flies, but to drive to his place is a ten-mile trip through town. Harry always has the itch to go out on the water. We’ve talked about going many a time, but finally set a time and date.

Even before we set out, we saw some amazing things. Not fifty feet away, there was an adult white swan with two young dull grey cygnets. At first, you could only see one, paddling around dad. The other, it turns out, was hidden from view because it was actually sitting on dad’s back. The swan had his wings tilted up to form a kind of safety cage for the youngster.

From there, we paddled out on the lake and enjoyed a peaceful few hours. While it was in the mid-nineties outside, it didn’t feel too bad on the water. We had a gentle breeze that helped keep our cool. That and drinking LOTS of water.

At one point, Harry asked if I had ever crossed under Route 29 to get to the pond on the other side. I had seen that little pond often as I drove back home from Charlottesville, but hadn’t realized that it was accessible. To get to it, we had to pass under the road via a concrete culvert. Harry warned that there might be poison ivy hanging down, but we’d check it out anyway. It turned out that the entrance was clear, so we paddled into the gloom. The water gently lapped against the boat and the walls, reflecting every sound we made. I kept waiting for a monster to pop up and devour us, but we made it to the other side without incident.

The small pond was actually was bigger than I initially thought. After circling around the center, we paddled to the far corner and began following a small creek upstream. We were completely surrounded by the woods. The canopy overhead protected us from the hot sun, and the woods to our right and left swallowed up any noise coming from the highway. I couldn’t believe that this gem was so close to where we lived. I had earlier told Harry that we were blessed to live so close to nature, but now I was truly spellbound. We followed the creek up as far as the kayaks could go, then turned around and began to head back.

It was on our way back that I brushed against what I believed was some poison ivy. Actually, brushed isn’t the right word. I was building up some speed to get over a sunken tree trunk and ended up way too far to the right; ending up in a large outcropping of a certain three-leafed plant. My entire right arm was engulfed with it as I pushed to get away.

I was not happy at this point.

Looking for a rash, I noted that my arm was red, but that could have been from the hours spent in the sun. The effects of poison ivy sometimes don’t show up for a while, so I experienced some serious paranoia on the rest of the trip back to Harry’s. When I got home I washed my arm several times with a degreasing soap and hoped for the best.

In the end, it wasn’t poison ivy, and I am very thankful. I had a friend who unknowingly made a necklace from the leaves when she was a child and almost ended up dying because her throat swelled up. They may be pretty, but you’d be wise to heed the old adage “leaves of three, let it be.” Had I been more careful, I would have enjoyed the trip back better instead of wondering if I got exposed.

Why are we so prone to ignore warnings? Time and time again, we are given access to wisdom, but so often we ignore it. We sometimes even get angry when confronted with the truth! Why do we let our pride control us so often?

What misperceptions have held you back from living the life God has called you to live? What warnings have you ignored? What do you need do to move forward on your journey?


Proverbs 4
My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions. For I, too, was once my father’s son, tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live. Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.

If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.” My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life. I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble.

Take hold of my instructions; don’t let them go. Guard them, for they are the key to life. Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving.

For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble. They eat the food of wickedness and drink the wine of violence! The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over.

My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart, for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Adventure Pants

The school year has ended and the hallowed halls of our educational system are filled with shrieks of laughter, high-fives, and random acts of petty vandalism as teachers vacate their buildings, staff meetings, and schedules that have imprisoned them for the past nine months.

Adventure is in the air! What should they do first (that is, what should they do AFTER they sleep in)?

When I was in grade school, I had a pair of tan pants. These were heavy-duty pants; tough enough to take a beating, but comfortable enough to lounge around in. The only thing was, when I was wearing those pants, I never lounged around. They were special “adventure pants”. I’d pull them on Saturday mornings when I knew my friends Danny and Kenny were coming over. The house next to us had a backyard that had an enormous kennel; behind it was a large wooded patch that was hidden from view. Visiting it with my brother and friends was always a special adventure. Once they’d arrived and we had secured the appropriate supplies (ropes, flashlights, fireworks, snacks, etc.) we’d hightail it to the seclusion of my dad’s workshop, which bordered the “woods” and screened our entry into it.

My dad built this workshop in the westernmost corner of our yard out of what appeared to be random pieces of lumber, flooring and plywood. That it stood for as long as it did is a testament to my dad’s ingenuity at cobbling together the unlikeliest of materials to solve a problem. Duct tape and baling wire were never in short supply here. You entered the workshop through a wooden gate into sort of a courtyard (or junkyard if you asked my mother). It was here that we raised chickens until the local ordinances evicted them. Leaning against the fence on the left were large slabs of plywood under a roof. To the right, lumber, PVC, and metal pipes rested (and rusted) under another structure.

Straight ahead was the three-room workshop in all its musty glory. It consisted of a supply room filled with hundreds of boxes that had a window overlooking the aforementioned “woods” next door. Next to that was the main workshop area where he kept his tools, his vise, and assorted hardware. I never could figure out how he found anything in that mess, but then again, my “piling” systems defy logic as well. Finally, we had what I always thought of as “the garage” where the big and dangerous stuff (like a gas-powered tiller) was kept.

With Danny and Kenny in tow, we’d climb over, around and through the various rooms, never knowing what we might find. Sometimes we’d cross through the window into our neighbor’s “woods” and explore. Other times, we’d get on the roof and utilize a pair of steel poles as a flimsy bridge to crawl from the roof of one structure to another. Every time I reflect on my childhood, I wonder how we all survived to adulthood.

Those were adventures!

Where do we seek for adventure today? Do we go to movies or watch TV to live vicariously through others? Do we go to new places or try to meet new people to escape the familiar daily grind? Why are we so enamored with “the exotic”?
How many adventures await us from within the daily grind if we would only open our eyes to see them?

What if we lived our lives as if every day was brimming with adventure? Even washing dishes or preparing dinner can take on new meaning as we live out our calling to serve each other.

Where might some of your adventures await this week?

John 13:1-17
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Bad Eye

When I was a senior in high school, our history teacher took us on a field trip to the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum in Key West. To this day, I still don’t know how she pulled off getting this trip approved. We practically had free reign through the streets of old town, and perused quite a few of the curio shops. At one store, I got a fake tattoo (of what, I cannot remember) and gleefully put it on my arm, under my shirtsleeve.

Upon returning home that afternoon, I walked up to my mom, pulled up my sleeve and said “Look what I got at Key West!”

I’ve never attempted doing anything like that again.

She literally collapsed onto a chair as the blood drained from her face. She seemed to age ten years right before my eyes.

Scared out of my wits (but not quite as frightened as her) I hastily assured her that it was a fake.

Back to Key West. At the Treasure Museum, we saw the treasures recovered from the Atocha, a Spanish galleon that was lost in a hurricane centuries ago. To date, over $450,000,000 has been recovered (only about HALF of what was on the ship) including 40 tons of gold and silver. Touring the museum, you only saw a fraction of the recovered loot.

In one VERY sturdy display case, you could actually feel the heft of a bar of gold. You slipped your hand in a three-inch cutout and you could push it up with your fingers. Gold is very weighty indeed.

But I actually wanted to FEEL the gold, so I maneuvered my hand so I could wrap it around the bar…then realized I was stuck. I casually looked around and was fortunately able to extricate my fingers (sans the gold bar) without setting off alarms.

I was reminded of my futility yesterday at the library as I witnessed a young boy rattling the lock of our Plexiglas donation box by the circulation desk. He pushed and pried until I finally asked him, “Excuse me sir, can I help you?”
He looked at me and innocently replied, “Oh, I was looking to see if it was locked.”
“Yes. It is,” I replied.

Why do we so often want more?

My mother told me that my first word was “Mas!” (MORE!). No wonder I was such a pudgy baby!

What do we do to ourselves when all we want is just a little bit more?

When Jesus spoke about having a “bad eye”, he was using a Jewish term for being stingy. When we’re stingy, we fill ourselves with darkness instead of light.

I have always found that heartfelt generosity is the fastest way to find satisfaction with what you have.

Who has God placed around you that can benefit from your generosity?

Why not give a little instead? Why not give A LOT instead?


Matthew 6:19-24
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Hebrews 13:5-6
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,
“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,
“The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

Friday, June 4, 2010

Love, Redefined

Growing up, the frequent drives from Miami to New York City made me somewhat familiar with the scenery along the I-95 corridor. Each state has its own peculiar feel (some more peculiar than others). Florida is long and flat. Delaware in comparison is mercifully short. New Jersey? It isn’t the “Garden State” along the New Jersey Turnpike (so keep your windows rolled up).

The Carolinas though…The billboards alone are worth the trip.

You see, just south of the North Carolina border, there exists a traveler’s mecca that’s wholly unique.

I’m talking about South of the Border. For anybody who’s driven on I-95 in the Carolinas, you KNOW what I’m referring to.

It’s a stylized rest stop that covers a square mile. It has everything from restaurants and indoor mini-golf (yes, an 18 hole indoor miniature golf course), to fireworks, shops, motels and campgrounds. You can find a US Post Office there and it even has its own police and fire departments! The 165 foot tall Sombrero Tower makes it impossible to drive past at night without sunglasses on.

The whole place is lit up like Las Vegas, and the HUNDREDS of billboards that advertise it begin over a hundred and seventy-five miles away. Some of the more popular billboards read: Pedro’s FIREWORKS! (Does yours?), Keep yelling, kids! (They'll stop.), Pedro's Weather Forecast: Chili today - Hot tamale!, Keep America Green! Bring Money! And on…and on…

People hear so much about this place, that by the time they actually see it on the horizon, they often decide to check it out.

If you had a billboard, what would it say? If your life were a billboard, what would people read? Would it attract people or repel them?

We believe that crazy acts of love are appropriate billboards for the Kingdom of God. 1 John 4:11-12 reads: “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”

The second part of our vision deals with this very topic.

Love, Redefined
Love is the melody and chorus of this song. Taking the example set by Jesus, we focus on loving and serving people as they are and where they are; no strings attached. Our motivation is to love people simply because they are loved by God. Instead of trying to get people to come to church, we bring the church to the people. When we tell the good news by BEING the good news, we offer Jesus in person to a world that is weary of being tied to religion. Living our faith in this manner results in light invading darkness. We believe that the love of God is realized with every kind act, every addiction broken, every injustice made right and every truth proclaimed.

May you light up your world with God’s love this week.


Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.

For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.