Monday, September 1, 2014

Filling the void
Flickr photo by nevil zaveri.

Jesus tells this story …

An unclean spirit leaves a person and then walks through dry places, seeking rest.
Finding none, it says, “I’ll return to the place where I was before.”
So it goes back and sees that its previous home has been swept clean, making room for seven other wicked spirits to live there as well.
And the last state of that person is worse than the first.

I’ll admit—growing up—this was a hard story for me to grasp.  Wasn’t a clean-swept life (heart) a good thing?  I believe I understand the concept a little better now—we work on pushing out the bad stuff and replacing it with good.

So a few years ago, I was discussing this principle with a wise man I know.  We got to the part of the conversation where I could tell he was about to share his perspective on filling-the-void.  I got quiet.  I was all ears.

He said, “You might want to listen to a little Christian music.”

Really?  Christian music?  That’s the best you’ve got?

Now I’m no aficionado, but I do like me some music.  I tune in pretty much whenever I can: at work, in the car, at home, on walks, in the bathroom.  TMI?

But I have always had some issues with what we used to call Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).  For one, some of it seems to be—I hate to say it—a little bit corny.

But, thankfully, there have been a good number of singers and/or songs where both Cheryl and I have felt something more deeply:  Chris Tomlin (of course—who doesn’t like Chris Tomlin?), some Hillsong United, and let’s throw in a little old-school Amy Grant.  We also especially like music that incorporates some of the hymns we used to sing, like “Blessed Be the Tie” (Sara Groves) and “Jesus Paid It All” (Fernando Ortega).

So in the past few years, I’ve found that the wise man was right.  Some of these Christian tunes do serve as bits and pieces of good that can help keep the bad spirits away.

With this in mind, there’s one more guy I’d like to mention … if you’re looking for a little something to fill the void.  He comes to our church—all the way from Nashville, mind you—to lead worship from time to time.  His name is Christopher Williams, and when Cheryl and I see him walk out on stage, we immediately fist-bump.  He’s that good.

Christopher has a new album that’s just come out called The City Makes the Man.  It’s filled with light.  I’d heartily recommend it.  Just slip on some headphones, close your eyes and listen to “Nothing Can Separate” … and feel the good stuff seep into your heart.
Available at and iTunes

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mortgage burning

Many years ago, Dad got invited to speak at a Sunday morning church service, which was to be followed by a potluck lunch, and then a mortgage burning.

I was familiar with the first two items, but had never heard of the third.  Mortgage burning?  It sounded like some sort of Old Testament ceremony overseen by men in priestly garments.

It was to be, evidently, a very big day for the church. 

Dad explained it to me this way … 

This particular congregation had taken out a loan—probably tens of thousands of dollars—in order to buy their land and put up a building.  They’d made regular payments to the bank, and the loan had finally been paid off.  Now they didn’t owe a single nickel, which meant that more of their money could be devoted to the “Lord’s work” (such as missions and other evangelistic efforts).  

It took me a little while, but I think I got it.  Getting out from under a bunch of debt ... that was a good thing.

So when the mortgage-burning day finally arrived, Dad did what he often did:  he preached a fiery and amazing sermon and then joined the rest of us in the fellowship hall for fried chicken and other assorted meats and side dishes.

We all ate pretty quickly—as I recall—and then we trekked out to the church’s backyard and gathered around an old barbeque grill.  

Everything appeared to be set.

Then one man—I’m guessing an elder—spoke up and said a few words.  There were nods and smiles all around the circle.  I’m pretty sure there was even a prayer stuck in in there somewhere.

And then another fellow came forward and dumped a batch of official looking papers into the grill.  He followed this by striking a match, and—well—you can guess the rest.

As one, we all started cheering and clapping (which I’m guessing was okay, because we were standing outside and it wasn’t an actual church service).  We just couldn’t hold in our joy.

Our debt has been paid!  We’ve been set free!

Our debt has been paid.
We’ve been set free.

Yes ... that certainly is worth celebrating.

Flickr photo by MTSO fan.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Skating on The Mall

The other day, I went for a walk on The Mall.  The National Mall.  It’s about a half block from my office.  I’m not bragging.  Okay, I am bragging … a little bit.

I headed down the northern edge, toward the Lincoln Memorial.  I could see the White House out of the corner of my eye, way off to the right.  A crowd of people in t-shirts and tank tops loitered outside the wrought iron fence, taking photos across the South Lawn.

I continued down the sidewalk until I arrived at my day’s destination, the Albert Einstein Memorial.  I’ve seen it a few times from afar, but never close up.  This was going to be my up-close day.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of other families who had the same idea.  Their kids were climbing all over Albert.  They were snapping pictures of each other.  The children were full of giggles and running around like crazy.  I couldn’t really get the personal viewing I’d hoped for.

One of the kids—a little boy—called out, “Albert Einstein is my idol!”

This seemed a little strange.  I thought about suggesting Tony Romo instead, but kept my mouth shut.
Finally, the families cleared out, and I got my own photos and Albert-time.


As I headed back to the office, I noticed something I’d never noticed before.  At least I don’t remember noticing it before.  A sign near the Constitution Gardens Pond that said “56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence” and an arrow pointing straight ahead.  “What is this?” I thought, and I followed another sign to a wooden bridge that led to a small island.

Upon arrival, I noted seven other fellow-travelers who’d also made their way to the island … two couples, a single, a kid, and a park ranger.  I’m not sure who went with whom, but the park ranger was giving a “tour.”

There are 56 stones to commemorate the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.  This happened in 1776.

Those were the highlights.  The tour didn’t take very long.

Afterward, the park ranger and one of the couples stood awkwardly in some shade at a corner of the memorial.  The woman looked over at the ranger and asked, “So, do you give tours here year round?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.  “In fact, I was out here last winter, and there was a man out there ice skating on this very pond.”

He continued, “I stopped him, of course.  I told him, ‘You might know what you’re doing, but a lot of these people around here don’t.  Someone might get hurt if they come out on the pond.’”

He concluded, “A fellow coming out here and skating on this pond.  Can you imagine someone doing a thing like that?”

I thought about it for a second.  Maybe less than a second.

A frozen pond.  Snow covered willows and magnolias.  A perfect view of the Washington Monument.

Could I imagine that?

Well, yes I could.

Now where can I get my hands on a good pair of ice skates?

Flicr photo by NCinDC


Monday, July 7, 2014

Rainy Days
From the 1973 Petit Jean

At Harding Elementary,

my 2nd grade classroom

and my 6th grade classroom


the same classroom.

Coatracks in the hallway outside the door.

Classroom library tucked away in the back corner.

A large bank of windows along the western wall.

My strongest memories, of that room, are of rainy days.

I mean stormy,

dark clouds, and lightning days.

Raindrops pelting the windows like bullets.

The sound of it so loud

you could hardly hear the teacher.

Dark and scary on the outside,

but warm and cozy on the inside.


Like resting in the hand of God.

Feeling happy, calm and protected

when the whole world was coming apart

on the other side of the glass.

I loved those rainy days

with Mrs. Alston or Mrs. Alexander


just a few steps away.


that life can be good

even in the midst of a storm.