The Tree of Life

treeoflife2What is the most memorable piece of artwork your child has ever brought home from elementary school? Is it a drawing, a sculpture, a painting, or maybe a poem? Whatever it may be, did it take the position of honor on the refrigerator in your home? Did you put it on the mantle or put it in a frame and hang it on a wall? Late last school year, I was fortunate to have my then third grade son bring home a drawing that has become one of his most memorable to me.

I was taking my third grade son’s homework folder out of his backpack and saw a black piece of construction paper peaking out of the top of it. I opened the folder and inside it was the black paper folded in half. I took it out of his folder and unfolded it. What I saw put a smile on my face.  He had drawn an expressively colorful, free flowing tree on the black piece of paper. Fortunately, it had not been folded and mangled in various different directions as seems to happen to many of the papers in his back pack. The drawing was only folded once down the middle. I immediately put the drawing aside and in a safe place so it wouldn’t get shuffled around with all the other papers he brings home.

I asked him about the drawing and he told me the tree that he had drawn was his version of the Tree of Life. Of course. Could there be any doubt that this was the Tree of Life? There was life drawn, colored and designed all over that black piece of paper. It breathes a kind of life and creativity that it seems only children can capture within their artwork and is a blessing to me as it reminds me of the preciousness and joy of life contained within the beauty of creation. This drawing on black construction paper turned into a gift that I will treasure always.

I need to go find a frame. I’m hanging this picture in my office!

A Hallway in Buffalo

As I was walking down a hallway at Bennett High School in Buffalo, NY two weeks ago, I crossed paths with a man who told me he had a story he wanted to share with me. A story of a changed heart after forty-five years.

The man was a resident of Buffalo and lived in one of the homes that was painted or repaired as part of a high school work camp run by Group Mission Trips. I participated in the camp as an adult leader and called the high school home for the week. He had come to the high school that evening to join the crew of students and adults who had worked on his home. They gathered together with the rest of the camp participants for the final worship service of the camp which took place in the school auditorium.

After the evening service, I was walking down the hallway of the high school by myself when I first noticed this man turning the corner down the hall and walking towards me. As we got closer to each other, he asked me for directions to the nearest bathroom. After I pointed him to the nearby bathroom, he stopped and told me he had to tell me something.

As we stood in the hallway, he began to explain that he and his wife had been married for forty-five years and over those forty-five years he had tried and failed, again and again, to get his wife to read the Bible. No matter what he tried, he had never had any success in getting her to read scripture. However, during the week of work camp, he began to notice a gradual change in his wife. The change began when she joined the students for their daily work site lunch and devotion time. As the devotions with the students went on through the week, he noticed his wife thinking about what the students read and discussed each day. The daily devotion time with the high school students led his wife, on the last day of camp, to turn off the TV and open the Bible they had in the house. She began reading it for the first time in forty five-years. The man could not express enough how grateful he was for the students being at his home. He knew their faith and service in Christ’s name had caused his wife’s faith to come alive.

This man’s story reminded me of one of the reasons why student ministry and organizations like Group Mission Trips matter. They matter because they give students the opportunity for God to use their faith to transform lives around them as their own faith grows through service. This was evident in Buffalo and in the transformation that took place in the wife of a man I met in a hallway.

How Do We Grow?

Today, I came across the following video from Right Now Media titled “How Do We Grow?”  The video and poetry work together beautifully to illustrate how Christ causes people to grow and mature in their faith as they live their lives for Him. The poetry mirrors what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Below are the words to the poem in the video.

How Do We Grow?

By strength or resolve?

Can we make it so?

Can we shape the course of our lives according to our purpose and designs?

Or add a single hour to the measure of our time?

How can we ever venture into what is unknown when we are incapable of the smallest change on our own?

Looking back over the span of our lives we can see the marks that testify

The how far we’ve come

How much we’ve grown

How much of His grace we have been shown

The marks of maturity on our lives the evidence of the work of Christ

The seed that He has planted in our heart the Lord has also watered and will refine every part

It is His intention to give a growth until it comes to fruition

He has sealed it with His oath

That he who began this good work in you will see it through

In this lies our hope not in what we do

But we do not grow alone our roots are intertwined

One with another so that your strength is mine

While we wait in expectation no growth can be seen

The tender shoots that so quickly spring up must go strong less they remain frail and green

Would we be overwhelmed be perils in store that His timing seeks to prepare us for?

Let us endure our trials with patience for it’s in His goodness that we trust

and hold fast to our commitment resting in His faithfulness to us

His goal is for our good on this our assurance falls

That he who began this good work will surely make it grow tall.

Madonna, Ellen and Horns

Are you ever in a situation where you watch TV without the sound? When I run on the treadmill at the YMCA, I am put in that situation. At the YMCA, there are a few TVs that are on, facing the treadmills, but you can’t hear the audio unless you have ear buds and a way to tune into the station that is listed on each TV. Since I can’t stand exercising with ear buds in my ears, I simply watch the TV without the sound. Because I can only see the images and not hear what is going on, I think the images make a stronger impression on me then they would normally.

Two days ago I was on a treadmill at about 4:45pm. As seems to be the normal daily schedule, one of the TVs had that day’s episode of the Ellen show playing. In the episode, Madonna performed a song that included men with masks and black horns in the production. At the end of the song, Ellen put on a set of horns and knelt down in front of Madonna. Madonna; Ellen DeGeneres

These images made a strong impression on me as I watched them with no audio. I wondered what exactly it was that I was seeing? Was I seeing blatant demonic imagery in the performance? Is it possible I was missing important details because I wasn’t able to hear the audio? Was I overreacting to what I saw or was there indeed a darker message beyond the music? I haven’t yet watched the video of the performance to gain more information. Before I do, I wanted to find out what others who viewed this video thought of it and the messages it contained. Let me know what you think.

Dancing Lessons From a Two-and-a-Half Year Old

A few weeks ago at church, the band played the song “After All (Holy)” by David Crowder.

As I was singing, I noticed off to the right side of the room a two-and-half year old girl dancing to the music in the free space by the table at which she was sitting. She had on a red and black dress with a red ribbon in her hair. With her red and black dress moving as she jumped and twirled, she danced. She danced freely, joyfully and worshipfully as only a two-and-a-half year old can. It was a moment that served to remind me of what it looks like to worship God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37). Her dancing was a reminder and perfect example of worship as described in Psalm 149:3, which states, “Let them praise his [the Lord’s] name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!” I believe God was working through that little girl that Sunday to remind me and others of what worship can be if we remember to focus on God’s greatness instead of ourselves. To that little girl I say, “thank you” and “keep dancing!”

Letting Go a Little More

I taught my oldest son to drive this fall. Truth be told, the first time we backed out of the drive way and drove down the street together, with him in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger’s seat, I was nervous and scared. To be sitting in the passenger seat with no control over the vehicle as your first born drives you down the road into the unknown, is a frightening thing!

As we started driving down the rode together, I couldn’t help but flash back to when I taught him how to ride his bike when he was little. I remembered the first time I let go of the bike and he was able to ride away, a little wobbly, with out my help. It was a happy but nervous event for me. I was initially thrilled that he had learned to ride his bike but as I watched him go down the side walk and get further and further away, it hit me that I no longer had control of where he was going. I could no longer run along side him and catch him if he fell or steer him if he lost control. At that moment, my mind started to play all the typical bike accident scenarios in my head as he became smaller and smaller as he rode further and further away.  Of course, he eventually turned around, came back towards me and all was well. As he approached me on his bike, I realized that as he learned to ride his bike I learned something too. I learned to let go of him a little more.

Flash forward twelve years or so and there we were sitting in a car together with him driving us down the road. He was trusting me to give him correct instruction as he navigated us and I was trusting that he would listen to my instruction and not crash. We had a few stressful moments as we worked through the complexities of a left hand turn at more than one intersection and how to merge on the highway, but we made it every time. We nearly got into an accident once in a parking lot, which was not his fault, but still an anxious moment from which I hope he learned a lesson. Even though he did a good job and we had no serious mishaps, I have to admit there is probably a dent in the passenger’s side floor where my right foot pressed the imaginary break peddle numerous times!

Eventually it got to the point, just like when he learned to ride a bike, that he needed to go down the rode without me. He needed to drive down the road on his own and I had to trust that he would come back safe. Later in the fall, he passed his driving test on the first try. He now has his license and has taken another step towards becoming an independent adult. Similar to when he learned to ride his bike, I learned a lesson as well. I learned to let go of him a little more, again.

Saved By Grace

Following is an expert for a sermon given by Karl Barth in Basel, Switzerland on August 14, 1955. It is a powerful and concise proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace. The entire sermon can be found at the following link Saved By Grace.

“Let us hear therefore what the Bible says and what we as Christians are called to hear together: By grace you have been saved! No man can say this to himself. Neither can he say it to someone else. This can only be said by God to each one of us. It takes Jesus Christ to make this saying true. It takes the apostles to communicate it. And our gathering here as Christians to spread it among us. This is why it truly news, and very special news, the most exciting news of all, the most helpful thing also, indeed the only helpful thing.” – Karl Barth from his sermon “Saved by Grace”