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"God's Spirit is on me…"

Sunrise was pretty awesome this morning. The wisps of clouds reflected incredibly bright orange streaks against the budding blue sky. Maybe it’s simply because it’s Christmas, but everything seemed brighter and full of joyful praise for creation. God seemed to call everything to celebrate His presence, His son…

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I want to wish each of you a fantastic, joyful Christmas Day. On this day that many in the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, please remember that the Christ-child was to be called “Emmanuel”, God with us”.

I found this prayer today. I thought I’d share it with you in a year of uncertainty and division.

A prayer for peace on this Christmas Day

Let us pray for the world in which the
Prince of Peace took flesh
and form, saying,
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks, Holy One,
for the light that has come into the
darkness of our world,
for the truth illuminated,
for the pathway that has opened,
for the rejoicing of your people.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the feet of those
who bring good news, friendship, comfort,
food, shelter, and medicine for healing.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the church of Christ Jesus
and for all people of faith
whose attention to the way of peace
tears down walls that keep us apart.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for this country
and for every nation where wisdom reigns,
where leaders work for the well-being of the poor,
so that no one is hungry or homeless,
and every child is valued and nourished.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for the knowledge and courage
to be good stewards of all that you have given us:
ourselves, our neighbors, the strangers among us,
the oceans and rivers, the air and soil,
creatures large and small,
that we may continue to be blessed with health and life.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for those whose flesh is harmed
by poverty, sickness, and cruelty of any kind,
that the Word-made-flesh may so fill your world
with the power to heal that all people
would be made strong and whole.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We commend all these things to you
and offer our thanksgiving,
trusting that what we have left unsaid,
your holy wisdom can unearth;
in the name of the One who came among us
in the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

– Adapted from: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor & Kimberly Bracken Long. Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship (p. 125). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Emmanuel has come. Let us celebrate…

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of Good News to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, this God’s year to act.”

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It Really is a Wonderful Life

Thoughts from the Porch

Dropping in at our local big box retailer this weekend reminded me the Christmas season has begun in earnest. Despite the media prophecies of retail’s slow, painful death it was readily apparent that not everyone has switched to online shopping.

I try to avoid such visits any time of year but especially at Christmas time. They’re a reminder of all things negative about the Holidays: crowded stores, pushy and frustrated shoppers, rampant consumerism – the list goes on. In a season of giving, faith, and family I have a difficult time with all the hurried rudeness, impatience, and meltdown tantrums by parents and children alike.

That being said…

I got cover crops in at Opal’s Farm before the cold front and accompanying rain passed through yesterday. The rain meant I would have all day to catch-up on emails, callbacks, and write. All was going according to plan when I made a grave mistake. I walked through the living room to go out to my truck for a moment my wife was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was at the point in the movie where Jimmy Stewart’s character, a suicidal George Bailey, jumps off the bridge only to be rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence.

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I won’t bore you with a retelling of the story. Who in the world hasn’t seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” anyway? It’s one of my all-time favorites. One can never see it too often. Suffice to say that all my plans immediately fell to the wayside. I sat down in the chair and didn’t get up until the end of the movie. I mentioned this mistake to my friend Charlie. He reminded me that it wasn’t a mistake, but time well spent…

In the movie, as in every good story, calamity strikes, and George Bailey is backed into a corner. He cries out, “I wish I’d never have been born”. I can relate. I’ve been there: that dark place where the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is a bullet train locomotive closing fast. Everything and everyone would be better off if I weren’t here. In George Bailey’s case (and mine) divine intervention says otherwise…

My favorite part of the film is when Clarence ends his “never been born” vision and an ecstatic George runs through town shouting Merry Christmas to people and buildings alike. He’s part of life once again and never has he been so grateful for his wonderful life. He knows that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. He doesn’t care. Sounds like surrender to me. All I want is to live. My life is incredible no matter what happens

His surrender is met by a myriad of friends and family who come together to save him from disaster and the arrest warrant. By the time the bell rings (and Clarence gets his wings) and everyone breaks out in a joyful rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” I’m bawling like a baby (at least on the inside – I still don’t like to cry in front of people. It’s that old “guy” thing…). As one whose been rescued from a life of desperation and degradation I am flooded with gratitude no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie.

The Never Ending Story

Maybe that’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a Christmas tradition for so many people. Like Christmas itself, it shines a ray of light, a ray of hope, into an oft dark world. It reminds us that, while the war may not be over, hang in there because good will ultimately triumph. That’s the general theme in any good story. God has been telling and retelling that story throughout human history. Every writer, every good storyteller, simply puts a different spin on the story He’s been writing for eternity. It makes since to me since we were created in His image.

Sometimes frustration with the consumer culture that surrounds Christmas gets in the way. Sometimes I simply to hear another retelling of the eternal story. I get back on track. I remember the “greatest story ever told”. Suddenly, Christmas becomes alive again. God came down to live with us. He loves us and sent a reminder that a new heaven and a new earth is not only possible, but certain. Love will win out, and, as the Apostle John reminds us, what is God but love?

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As I sit here at my trusty old roll top desk this morning I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. The creator of the universe came down as one of us! He lived among us and showed us what it is to truly love one another. He showed us that a new way was possible. He reminded us that Abba hears our cries even when we think He doesn’t. Above all, He reminds us that the story has already been written so we can enjoy life and enjoy abundantly. It really is a wonderful life I have today.

I’m going back to the big box store later. I don’t know if the craziness has changed but my perspective has. Christmas has a way of doing that, especially when I remember what Christmas truly means.

“Emmanuel – God with us…”

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I Cast No Stones…

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s finally Fall in Texas. I was greeted by temperatures in the forties, a crystal-clear morning, and the song of birds that haven’t been around our area since last year. I haven’t put pen to paper or keyboard to screen in a bit. I had a tinge of disappointment when I realized this is the first October entry and there were only a couple for September.

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Margaret went to the hospital on Labor Day, came home two weeks later, and is back in the hospital again. The only good news is that this time it’s for a broken leg. We were heading to the porch when Maggie decided to bolt out the door, knocking her over, and breaking the tibial plateau. Apparently, this a rare break and she’ll have to keep pressure off the leg for the next twelve weeks. Leave it to us to try and be unique…

Anyway, my trips are once again between home, hospital, and Opal’s Farm. It’s an all-to-familiar cycle I hope to break (no pun intended Baby!) soon. We’d certainly appreciate your prayers…

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I found this gem in my morning meditation. Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She spent her life ministering to “the least of these” – addicts, the homeless, the marginalized, and broken people. She often wrote in her diary of the temptation to give up. She also wrote of the reason that kept her going.

“Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in his love.”

Her honest look at herself – “the unwed pregnancy, her quick temper and often biting tongue – that allowed her to show grace to others.” (Phillip Yancey, What Good is God?). When I practice brutal honesty with myself I too, find grace much easier to extend to others.

I’ve often heard others quote Jesus, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” but all-too-often I fail to put those words into practice. When I do, however, I find a peace I never dreamed possible.

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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…

Thoughts From the Porch: I’m told the best way to blog is to post something regularly and preferably, on a scheduled basis. Unfortunately, I’ve failed to live up to that standard this month. I was looking back over my July posts and realized this is only my third one so far.

Opal’s Farm is booming. Fall planting is underway and we’ve been blessed by all the volunteers helping us harvest and get our irrigation going. Our Saturday sales at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market seem to increase each week we’re there. We’re in the process of looking at a new partnership with a couple of local restaurants and non-profits that will serve a broader community. Things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the flurry of activity at Opal’s Farm has limited my writing time. I still have my moments on the porch; my quiet time with God and my beautiful wife. Porch time sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s as necessary to well-being as food and water are to physical life. Quiet time in the morning refreshes my body, my mind, and most of all, my spirit. I’m better able to greet the day’s business with gratitude and grace.

Most days there’s no time for writing on in the morning unless it’s business. I come back from the farm with every intention to sit down and write, but evenings have their own struggles – fix dinner, do dishes, respond to messages and emails. On top of that there’s the long day in the Texas heat. Some evenings I forget dinner, drop the work clothes, and lay down in front of the air conditioner until the next morning. If you work outdoors in Texas, then you know what I mean.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much to say this morning. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says that her prayers fall into two simple categories – “Help me, help me, help me” or “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. I get it. Lately my prayers have been of the “thank you, thank you, thank you” variety. I have little to say other than thank you. If I were to make a list of all I’m grateful for it would fill a legal pad and then some. I shan’t bore you, gentle reader, with my list…

Most days, as of late, are filled with quiet gratitude for the grace I’ve been given. I can’t believe I get to live the life I live today. I get to do the very things which were the desire of my heart all along. I work with amazing people working toward a godly, incredible mission. I spend my days “playing in the dirt”: a constant reminder of stewardship and Jesus’ parables. When I come home at night, I enjoy time with my wife and drift off into a solid sleep, ready to “rinse and repeat” another day.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I simply needed to touch base with you all before heading to the farm for another day. Have a super Friday and a wonderful weekend! See you soon…

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Good Friday

Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot of coffee.

Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.

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Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting God’s grace is the only thing that will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is. They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion, to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…

“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)

Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the resurrected life I’ve been given…

“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)

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Thoughts on Grace

Thoughts From the Porch: Wednesday is my busy day, especially at the end of the month. I have a group meeting every Wednesday morning and try to schedule as many meetings as possible on that day, so I have more time available at Opal’s Farm the rest of the week. The last Wednesday of the month is the Grow Southeast meeting and a chance to work with other urban farms and growers.

 Our Wednesday morning meeting, Fort Worth Development Group, is a group seeking to “bridge the gap between ministry and business through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace: allowing our character and integrity tom minister God’s love to others through our daily business practices.”

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I attended the first time thinking it was another ‘networking’ group. Networking does take place. That tends to happen whenever business people are gathered together. However, it’s far more than that. That’s why it’s a development group. Each quarter we have a theme that guides our speaking and discussions. This quarter that theme has been gratitude. The coming quarter will be on grace. It seems you can’t really have one without the other. Grace and gratitude have this whole “chicken and egg” thing going on. I’m not always positive which came first…

Next week, I’ll be delivering the ‘Hot Topic’ on grace. I’ve submitted a title and catchy tagline for my talk (after all, business appreciates good content). It’s called “Simply Grace – 100% natural with no additives”. I have about 15 to 20 minutes to speak on grace. One of the most difficult things I’ve done is try to squeeze grace into 20 minutes. I have a newfound respect for the preachers I’ve heard speak on the subject. God forbid they go past 20 to 30 minutes and make their worshippers late for lunch…

I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for next week. I’ve finally managed to get my ideas within the time limit but believe me, it hasn’t been easy because everything in my life; every action, every deed, and every experience is about grace.

The older I get and the deeper my relationship with God becomes the more I realize just how much grace I’ve received. My successes and my failures have taught me that grace is enough, and everything is grace – “an unmerited gift”.

Some of you know exactly where I’m coming from. Experience has taught me that a simple prayer, “God, help me”, opens the door to receive the grace that was waiting there all along. Ironically, it was grace that my prayer possible. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to do that on my own.

Life has since become a process of learning to accept the grace I’ve been so freely given. Gratitude, the natural consequence of accepting and living a “grace-full” life. Gratitude makes it easier to set aside old mental tapes and put to death the tired, old lie of self-sufficiency. I see clearly the importance of my fellows and the value of each and every individual I meet. Through gratitude I’m able to share the grace that was so freely given to me.

That’s not to say that I still don’t have my moments: moments when all thought of God’s marvelous gift of grace takes a backseat to my worries and problems. I have moments of self-absorption and self-centered expectations, of myself and others. I still have times when I feel woefully inadequate and undeserving of grace. I always seem to come around though. You see, I am undeserving of God’s grace (Heck, I’m undeserving of grace from most people if I’m honest about it). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn it. If it could be earned, it wouldn’t be grace. Funny how that works…

I’m fortunate to have daily reminders of God’s grace. I have an amazing family. I get to work with some truly awesome people in my business and with Opal’s Farm. I’m not confused by these reminders. I surely didn’t deserve them. Quite frankly, I’m in awe that I’m even still around. Self-care was not something I was big on until late in life. Some of you know what I mean. I’ve heard it said that God has a big heart for kids and fools. I often fall into the latter category, in case you’re wondering.