5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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LEAVE ME ALONE

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I was leaving church last night, turning onto College Street, when I saw a figure crossing the road.

My car lights cut through the silhouette, revealing it to be a young woman, walking by herself.  She could have been high school or college age.

She kept her head down as she crossed in front of me.  Once she’d crossed, I was able to see what she wore on her back.

In huge letters, on the back of her hoodie, were three words:

LEAVE
ME
ALONE

So many thoughts went through my head:

  • She could have chosen so many messages to wear.  Why would she choose that???
  • Maybe she was a total introvert, and truly just needed her space.
  • Perhaps she was deeply troubled.  Coming from a rough home.  Broken and isolated.
  • How do we share God’s love with someone who wants to be left alone?

She passed on by.  I have no idea who she was.

But I’ll admit it.  It bothered me.

It made me wonder where she got that hoodie from.  Did she put the letters on herself?

No, it turns out there’s a market for that kind of catch phrase.

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I found her hoodie online.  $50.

There were t-shirts, bomber jackets, hoodies, hats, pants, and more, all with that same slogan.

I wish there wasn’t.

It’s one thing for a person to desire solitude. For regenerating, for peace and quiet.  It’s another for a human being to send out a message to the cosmos expressing a desire to not be part of it.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. –Genesis 2:18

I believe this is true.  Men and women were not created into isolation.  We are a people of family, a people who live and love together, even when things are tough.

The fact that there are millions of kids out there wearing these messages of isolation reveals nothing we shouldn’t already know:  Some people have been so burned by being with others, they’d just as soon go it alone.

Hey, maybe she wore it to be cool, or ironic, or trendy.  I don’t know. And I want to respect her privacy if that’s really what she needs…

But I’ve also learned not to automatically believe everything I read.

If I knew that girl…she’d have definitely gotten my attention.

Whether she thinks she wants it,

or not.

Have a great week,

Mitch

together

The Winter Stream

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I took this picture on my recent flight from Kansas to North Carolina.

Look at all those tiny boxes.  Each of them a mile-wide pasture.

From the air, you can clearly see the structure and order that humanity superimposes onto creation.  And it’s beautiful in of itself.

But what is truly breathtaking to me is the river.

* * *

When I was 10, we lived in the country, outside a little town called Saline, Michigan.

Winters there were pretty heavy duty.  We’d pull on our snowmobile suits, build snow forts, go cross-country skiing.

Snow was everywhere.  White like the surface of the moon.

One year, out in front of the yard, in the large ditch by the dirt road, the snow began to melt.  There were still big piles of the stuff everywhere else, but as the sun passed overhead on that late winter day, a single stream of water began to form.

How can I describe the magic of this next part?

There in the ditch, the tiny stream pushed back the snow, and wound its way back and forth around tiny trees. stones, and discarded brush.  My friend and I watched it work, and nudged the dirt here and there to help it expand and stretch.

There in that desolate-white landscape, we were staring down at something that was Alive.

It was revelatory for us.  Almost incarnational.

We were caretakers of that stream up until darkness came, and we were called in for dinner.

* * *

Back in the airplane.

Take another look out of my window seat, above.

See that S-like line weaving its way across the middle of the picture?

When I saw it, some 10,000 feet overhead, I instantly remembered looking down at that winter stream, some 35 years ago.

I love how it winds its way across the landscape, charting its own course, crossing all boundaries.

It is clearly Alive.

Streams of living waters, Jesus said. Yes.  A living Spirit of God that nurtures and refreshes.

I wonder.  Is this how God views God’s self at work?  Staring down from on high?

Is this the perspective of Creation?

Lord knows I’m still just an ant,

but I have seen the winding snake, and the living water.

I have drunk deeply from the winter stream,

and I have believed.

* * *

Have a great week,

Mitch

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25 one-minute faith fixes

A lot can happen in a minute.

If your faith feels a little faded today, try one of these quick fixes and reconnect with God.

1.  See the sky

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  If you’ve been cooped up inside all day, give yourself a glimpse at the sky.  Feel the wind on your face.
Remember that the Holy Spirit is present.

2.  Give yourself a temporary tattoo

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Really!  Take a pen and make the tiny sign of a cross or fish (ichthus) on your hand.
Every time you look at it today, you’ll remember Jesus.

3.  Remember your baptism

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Use the drinking fountain or a sink.  Just wet your fingers and then make the sign of the cross on your forehead.
You are blessed and made clean by God!

4.  Go Green

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 A potted plant, the tree outside the window, a flower, a weed — it doesn’t much matter.
Being in the presence of life like this points you towards the one who gives it.

5. Laugh.

laugh

 Make a joke, watch a Youtube video, remember your favorite episode of Seinfeld.
Every time you laugh your body, mind, and soul get a little healthier.

6.  Do this quick guided imagery

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Take 3 deep breaths.  Close your eyes and picture the following, using your imagination to add detail:
You are in a giant hall.  God is there, with you.  In front of you is an ornate chest.
You hear God’s voice telling you that there’s something specifically for you, today, inside the chest.
Open it.  What do you see?

7.  Donate for free with the click of a mouse.

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Visit Greatergood.com and with the click of a mouse, you can help
support veterans, rainforests, orphaned animals, and much more.  See for yourself!

 8. Invite someone to church

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What?  In a minute?  Why not!
We spend more time fretting about inviting people than it takes to actually do it.
Ask a co-worker. Send someone an email.  You’ll feel good to have reached out.

9. Strive for silence

silence

Take a minute and simply be in the presence of God.  What the heck.  Take two.

10.  Look at your hand

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Look at the lines on your palm.  Your fingerprints.  The color of your skin.
You are a unique being, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

11.  Pray for someone in particular

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It could be anyone.  It could even be yourself.  The person you pray for doesn’t have to be sick, even.
But for one concentrated minute, you are channeling your spiritual energy in praying God’s blessing upon them.

12.  Memorize a Bible verse

6. memorize

In one minute, you can commit a simple Bible verse to memory.
Visit http://ministry-to-children.com/easy-bible-verses/ and you’ll find 10 simplified verses you can pick up easily.

13. Tell someone “I love you”

3. i love you

Who do you need say those 3 magic words to today?  Giving love to someone else helps you to feel it too.

14. Light a candle

1111 flame

There’s nothing like a simple flame to point us to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

15.  Remember your communion

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We have the opportunity to take communion all the time — but not necessarily right this moment.
So take a moment and remember the bread and the cup, and what they mean for you and your life.
The love of Christ is still nourishing you — even now.

 16.  Pet your pet or kid with your kid

2. dog kid

The innocence of animals and children is like a giant arrow pointing towards God.
Call up a few fond memories and smile in God’s direction.

17.  Draw Creation

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I’ll bet you can draw the story of creation in one minute.  No time for perfection here–just sketch it out fast:
The Sun and the stars.  The sky and the water and the land.  The birds and the fishes and the animals and the humans.
Remind yourself of the grandness of God’s gifts.
And don’t forget to put God’s pronouncement on there somewhere:  IT WAS VERY GOOD.

18.  Confess

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You don’t have to carry guilt around a minute longer.
Don’t beat around the bush — just lay it out there for God to take from you, and ask for forgiveness.
And then, read this:
“Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.  That proves God’s love for us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, You are forgiven!”

19.  Hum Amazing Grace

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Or sing it, if you’re where you can.  Think of how many millions of believers had sung these same words and felt the same Grace.
You are not alone.

20.  Listen to the World.

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The world can be a noisy place, and we tend to block out a lot of ambient noise.
Take a minute, though, and really listen:  The car driving by, the hum of the refrigerator, distant footsteps.
You are called to be part of life’s symphony.

21.  Picture God’s arms around you

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I frequently share this idea in situations where people are feeling pain or loss,
but really, when wouldn’t God be holding you?  It’s not just an idea…it’s really true.

22.  Recite the Lord’s prayer

10. lord's prayer

This prayer is designed to align us with God’s Kingdom.
Pray it with the confidence and hope of a believer.

23.  put on the armor of God

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You are a member of the Body of Christ, and an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.  That means you are connected with the powerful Love of God and even able to use it in your life.  When conflict, abuse, or trials come, don’t forget that.

24.  Put a problem in your God box.

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My wife does this, and swears it helps.  It’s based on some writings from Anne Lamott.  If there are problems you just can’t face, put them in your God box, and remind yourself you don’t have to be in control of everything.

25.  Recite the story of the Good Samaritan

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This is one of those parables many Christians know by heart.
Take 60 seconds and tell yourself the story again.
By the time you’re done you may remember Jesus’ 2nd commandment as well
— to love our neighbors as our self.

There you have it!

It’s as if Jesus himself had walked up behind you, tapped on your shoulder, and asked:

“Got a minute?”

Have a great week,

Mitch

CHOCOLATE FILLED

Chocolate

God made the apricot.

And in the center of the apricot, God placed a Hershey’s Kiss.

The same with the apple.  And the cherry, and the peach.  Delicious, sweet fruit, and in the middle, a nice lump of chocolate.  Or warm caramel.  Maybe nougat?

No, this is not a game of Candy Land.  (Or Candy Crush.)

It’s just the way I think things ought to be.   Doesn’t it make sense that if God created everything, and called it good, and created us to enjoy the bounty of this earth, there might have been a few more gumdrops and a few less pits?

I think so. However…

Do you know what’s really in the center of those fruits, listed above?

CYANIDE.

That’s right.  Right in the middle of your favorite fruits, a deadly toxin.  It boggles the mind.

Now don’t worry.  The cyanide comes from the seeds and kernels and pits, and you’d have to ingest A LOT of those innards to get sick.

Still…

It seems like a strange arrangement for creation.  Something tasty and sweet and lifegiving on the outside, but poisonous at the core.

It sounds like the kind of a gift a wicked witch might give in a fairy tale, but not the sort of thing a Loving God would create.

Apparently, God is more complicated than I thought.

Apparently, God is not Willy Wonka.  God did not create a world where we can eat every bit of the scenery, and lick the wallpaper too.

Apparently, God did not set the world to be our buffet, where everything is just laid before us, easily accessible.

I’m not just talking about food, now.  I’m talking about Life on Earth.

It did not come gift wrapped for us.  In fact, we come crying and innocent to it.

Our lives have pits in them.  Tough places.  Toxic places.  Challenges and cautions that we must face.

Life, the way God designed it, is not chocolate filled.

Life has pits.

But somehow, in the confronting of those daily perils, have you noticed?

Life is sweeter.

Have a great week,

Mitch

Apricot_and_cross_section

Origin Stories

Someone asked me to write a devotion about dinosaurs and creation.

And I thought, “they must have it in for me!” No matter what I’d say, I’d be destined to get somebody upset.

So I decided not to do it.

But then, I realized something. When I think about dinosaurs, I think about God. And when I think about the creation story, I think about God. What is a devotion if not an opportunity to think about God?

So let me think:

I was 8 years old when I saw my first dinosaur skeleton, at the Museum of Natural History in Chicago. It was awe inspiring to me, this ancient creature that walked the earth millions and millions of years ago. I believed God created them. Still do.

I also remember, about that age, learning the creation story in the Bible. A whole universe created in 6 days, with a day left over to rest. Again, awe inspiring.

When I was 23, I saw the movie Jurassic Park and told my wife, “It’s just like being there!”

When I was 24, I went to seminary and delved deeper into the story of creation. I told my wife, “It’s just like being there!”

Some folks have trouble reconciling the ancient presence of dinosaurs and the creation stories in the Bible. Not me.

For many people, the whole issue of our origin is a big area of contention. To be honest, I’ve never had trouble reconciling our scriptures and science. The concepts of evolution and creation seem, to me, to go hand in hand.

I suppose the problem comes when people take either the creation stories of the Bible or the Origin of Species as fully complete “origin” stories. I don’t believe either were intended to be so.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is just that, a theory. There’s lots of evidence and conjecture to back up the idea of natural selection, but there is no scientific theory in existence that can fully explain where we come from, and why. There’s more to the story.

Similarly, the Creation story in the Bible tells us who created the world, and quite a bit about why. The “how” part, it seems to me, is an outline designed to engage our creative imaginations so that we can comprehend God’s amazing work. Again, there’s more to the story.

If you’re still reading, (thank you) then chances are you may exist where I do, in the area where our religious teaching and our scientific learning overlaps. Why should we have to choose? I can believe in a Big Bang and Intelligent Design. I can believe in dinosaurs and Neanderthals and a God who made us in God’s image.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, drew upon Reason (science) as one of the four main sources of his faith.  I can do no less. So as I think about our origins, I hold Scripture in one hand, and Reason (science)in the other.

Actually, I hold Tradition in my third hand, and Experience in my fourth.

I’m just evolved that way.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

P.S. What do you think? Take part in this poll! And feel free to add your (constructive) comments below!

Hey Dustball!

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. –Genesis 2:7

Hey Dustball!

Yeah, I’m talking to you.  According to Genesis, you and I are living, breathing balls of dust.  How does that make you feel?

Maybe you would have preferred God add a little sugar and spice?   Some moonbeams and stars?  Nope.   God just reached down, piled together some dust, and here we are.   That’s what we’re made of.

Funny thing, though.  Have you noticed how hard we work to stay clean?  We wash our hands so we don’t spread germs.  We wash our hair so it won’t get greasy.   We wash our clothes so they don’t smell.  We sweep and mop and Swiffer so there’s not a speck of dust on our floors.

Some of us even own dust busters.

Heck, there’s a robotic vacuum cleaner called the “Dust Ball”!   Isn’t that a little bit ironic?  Supposedly we’re made from dust, and yet we seem to be down right terrified of it.   It makes me wonder — do we live our lives running from our very nature?   Is it possible  God created us to be a little grungy to begin with?

I’m reminded of Pigpen from the Peanut’s comic strips.   Remember him? Now there’s a guy who is comfortable in his own dust.   Even on the rare occasions when he’d clean himself up, it’s like the dust would find him.   It was his natural state.

And it’s ours, too, after all.   Even if you don’t read the creation story literally, our modern-day fascination with cleanliness is only a few hundred years old.   Certainly, we’ve learned about germs and sanitation, and that’s propelled our need to bleach out any stains, but maybe it’s more than that.

Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that the very earth we come from is somehow separate from ourselves.   With every lather, rinse, and repeat we may be trying to distance ourselves from the very dust we’ve sprung up from.  And if indeed that’s what we’re doing, might that create distance between ourselves and the God who created us?

Gardeners know it.  Farmers know it.  There’s something Holy about being connected with the Earth.  A little dust might do you and I some good.

So let’s go barefoot — just like Adam and Eve!  Skip an occasional shower, even.  Let’s plant some flowers.  Get some soil under our fingernails and be happy about it.

After all, Dustball, being connected to the Earth God created…

Is nothing to sneeze at.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch