Friday, September 26, 2008

A generous spirit makes life meaninful

She came up to receive her award and said thank you to me. I almost fell over as I looked into her eyes. This little girl had given her life savings to go to the food pantry at our church. She had been saving her pennies over the last two years so she could get something special. When the walk-a-thon came up for our pantry, she decided this was going to be her special thing. So she handed over $50 in coins to feed the hungry.

(The kids from Wild wood Christian Academy raised over $1400 for our pantry.)

We can all learn something from her. Jesus once said, "Where your treasure is, that is where your heart is." At a very young age she learned that sharing with others can bring the greatest joy. This is a young woman who will be very happy in life.

Too often we get caught up in the consumer mentality that has taken hold of our country. We want this or that and we keep buying new toys. Unfortunately, we soon find we are never satisfied. The more we have, the more we want. I think this is what Jesus was talking about when he mentioned moths and rust. We stockpile our toys but never find total satisfaction.

Yet, when I look at the happiest people I know, they are the ones who live the simplest lives. They give away more than they keep. They invest themselves in the people that they love. They find their joy in serving others. Maybe Jesus was right. Maybe we should look to the children, especially this young lady, to find our way.

God bless her. May we all be as happy as her.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A song for each generation

I am working on Sunday's service and I came across this video on God tube. It made me think about what I was preaching on Sunday. My message is entitled, "You Are Not An Accident!" and the point I will be making is that God created each of us with a purpose.

When I came across this piece it made me stop and think about some of the music that the kids are listening to and asking for in church. I went to the Hillsong Church when I was in Australia and some of the music is pretty loud and rowdy. The kids there loved it. They were jumping around and singing and praising God. It was a far cry from what we see when we sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus!"

I have some friends who are really down on Christian rock and even have problems with some of the upbeat contemporary choruses. Maybe we all need to rethink our positions on this music and the people who embrace it. I don't think it is an accident that God put a song in these artist's heart. God is timeless and he has his ways to speak to each generation.

Tonight some members of our congregation went to see Bill Gaither and his band in concert at the XL Center. I remember 25 years ago there were some in my congregation in Rhode Island who thought the Gaithers were too radical. Can you imagine that?

So listen to this song and you tell me. Is she called or not? I think she is and she has a message for the young people in her music.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Give them an example to follow

This marks my 400th post on Dancing with God so I thought I would go a little lighter. Each week in church we pause for a few minutes to talk with the children about God in worship. We invite them to come down front and I ask them a few questions and then share a little story that reflects God's love.

Sometimes you wonder if they are listening or if they really get anything out of it. Well this cute video suggests that some of them do.

The truth is that children watch us and learn from us. It isn't so much what we say, but rather what we do. That makes it all the more important to be loving, caring people who reach out and share the Gospel in tangible ways. That will make a much greater impact on our children than just telling them to be good and to love God and their neighbors.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wait til next year

Tonight I have to face the fact that my Detroit Tigers have suffered through a terrible season. They are tied for last place in the American League Central Division. The Baseball writers will debate all winter long what went wrong with the team with the third highest payroll in baseball, the team that was declared by many of them as the best team to ever put on a Detroit Tiger uniform last April.

They started the season with an 0 -7 record and got a little better by the end of April. But they never seriously moved beyond the .500 mark all summer long. They showed flashes of brilliance at times. Then they settled back into a pathetic display of either poor pitching or a lack of timely hitting. Mercifully the 2008 season is coming to an end and the team is limping up to the finish line.

I am so glad that this season will soon be over. Do you know why? Because once we close out the final game it will be forever behind us. It will be done... finished.... kaput... over! nothing else can be done to improve or take away from it. And almost immediately we can begin to talk about next year.

When we talk about next year we can begin to dream and hope again. The losses that piled up in the past do not count against us any more. They have been expunged and forgiven in light of the dawning of a brand new season.

It's a lot like the sense of forgiveness we get when we accept Christ and are born again. It no longer matters what we did in the past. It can't drag us down any more. It is a brand new day. It is an opportunity to start all over and to do better. Hope springs eternal. Anything is possible.

Don't think so? Just ask any Boston Red Sox fan. With two World Series Championships in the last four years and another one within reach, they know better than anyone else that the ghosts of the past have no claim over you when you put your hopes in the future.

so dream on and walk with Christ and enjoy the hope of a brand new season.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Behind the scenes

I watched the movie "For One More Day" tonight and was forced to think about reality as we know and experience it. The main character in the movie lived his whole life with certain suppositions and understandings of the way things happened to him and his family. Yet as things converge in an unexpected tragedy, he begins to gain new insights into what was really going on. There were things he never knew and never suspected that were happening and he was protected from the truth by those who loved him.

I was reminded of my own beliefs as a twenty year old. My parents were divorced when I was ten years old. For ten years I tended to blame my father for the break up. I wasn't hostile. I just let him know in subtle ways how I disapproved of divorce and felt he could have done something to prevent it.

At twenty years old my father figured I was probably old enough to hear the truth. He began by telling me how much he wanted to stay married and the great lengths that he went to try and keep the marriage alive. Then he shared stories of my mother's alcoholism and the self destructive patterns that she engaged in and even threatened my brother and I with. A whole new picture of my young life began to emerge as I realized that he was sharing truth that I had been shielded from.

This also applies to the circumstances of life and God's role in things. Too often we view calamities as God's doing. Whenever something goes wrong from the devastation of a hurricane to the tragedy of a terrorist act we ask why God allowed it to happen. Or sometimes we even ask why God did this to us. Yet, these questions only come up because we don't know everything. The truth is that God is involved in these terrible events, but not the way we think. He is the one who picks up the pieces. He is the one who mobilizes an army of volunteers to reach out in love. He is the one who shields those who do make it through. Only when we look at it through the eyes of a mature faith do we begin to see things more clearly.

Praise God. For he is there when we need him. He is the faithful one.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Showing you care

This morning at church we celebrated the special ministry that Doris and Ricardo Mayol have with the Mayans in southern Mexico. As Doris talked at the World Mission Conference yesterday, she told us that the first thing the missionaries try to do as they go into a community is to learn all they can about the people.

Doris said that before the people will begin to trust you and listen to what you have to say, they need to know that they can trust you and that you care about them. So by learning about the people and their culture, what they believe is important and how they relate to the world, you begin to build bridges of trust that allow you to talk about the important things in life, our faith in Christ.

The Mayols shared some moving stories about the way Christ has changed lives in the hills in southern Mexico during our worship service. Ricardo shared a Mayan greeting with us during Sunday School. After church some of us bought some of the crafts that the people make to support themselves in the ministry.

This whole thing made me think about our ministry to the people around us. It isn't about passing out tracts or pushing our views down people's throats. Our ministry should be the same as the Mayols. We have to get to know the people around us. We have to let them know we care. As we walk with them, then all we need to do is let Christ shine through us.

I like the story of Andrew in the gospels. He wasn't as outspoken as Peter. Yet every time we turn around he was introducing someone to Jesus. That's our job. As people get to know us they will see Jesus and want to know more. But it begins with us showing we care.

So get out there and love people for Christ's sake and let him work in their hearts. Miracles will soon be flowing around you in abundance.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Restored and made like new

I am the recipient of a miracle today. Not the kind of miracle where some3one is cured of cancer or something truly noteworthy. It only involves the restoration of some lost photos on my digital camera.

While I was in Australia I inadvertently erased about twenty five pictures I had taken at the Tarango Zoo. It is funny because half way through the day I asked myself if I was taking too many pictures. I shrugged it off with the realization that this was a one shot deal for me. I would never be there again. So even if I got some shots that were not particularly memorable, it didn't hurt to have them. That is also the beauty of digital photography. You don't pay for what you don't print.

Well, later that night I came home exhausted and was going through my pictures. I noticed one shot that was quite blurry and decided to delete it. The next morning I went to look at the photos and they were all gone. I deduced that in erasing that one, I must have erased all of them by accident. I was heart sick.

The pictures were gone forever... but then I had a thought. I quickly emailed my friend Matthew and asked if he knew of any program that could resurrect my images. The next day my answer came. He sent along a little freeware program that was sure to do the trick if I hadn't taken too many photos afterwards and corrupted my disk.

Last night, shortly after I got homer from my trip, I finally had a chance to check it out. This little program recaptured most of the photos in miraculous fashion.

As I looked at the pictures of kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, elephants and lizards, I suddenly thought about Jesus and the way he saves those who are lost. I know. I am a preacher and everything comes back to Jesus. But it is true. I have lived long enough to see some people who the world had given up on come back and find new life. I have known people who felt that their life was over only to see it begin again.

The truth of the gospel is that God can take that which is lost and forgotten and turn it around and restore it like new. Looking at these pictures is an affirmation of what God can do. He does it even better than this program for he brings us back into a perfect relationship with him as if we never strayed or sinned. He makes us like new again.

Praise God. Cal

Looking back on the adventure of a lifetime

I've been back home almost a day and the whole experience of going to Australia is starting to sink in. I've been looking at photos tonight and reliving the experience. Funny thing is that I can't explain exactly what this trip meant to me because it touched so many levels of my being.

I got to see both Becky and Sarah in their own worlds. For the first time in my life, I have to confess, I saw them as young women and not my little girls. It sounds silly, but the dad in me put blinders in my way and I came away from this trip with a greater appreciation for them as individuals.

It brought me closer to Rev. John Brooks, a man who was my mentor and the inspiration for many of the things I do in my ministry. It was if I entered his world. Visiting with his nephew Neil and his family touched my heart.

It tapped into my love of travel and renewed my sense of adventure. It also forced me to think about life as a journey and that has been good.

Finally, my experiences at Hillsong Church in Sydney renewed the sense I have of our calling to be a worshipping community here in Norwich. We don't do things like they do, but we can learn from them. They do some things very well and I am a thief. I steal ideas that work.

Well here is my slideshow from the trip. You will want to look at it a couple of times oer the next few days as I put captions on the photos and a few more I was able to capture from a ruined disk.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Count your blessings

After spending nine days in Sydney, Australia I returned home today with a greater appreciation for the little things in my life. Don't get me wrong. I had a great time and I would go back in a minute. Being away has helped me step back and put all the things I have and do back home here in perspective.

We don't have kookaburras, koala bears and Tasmanian devils, but we do have family pets that love us. I returned home and Misty, my cat, almost seemed to let me know she missed me. She meowed loudly and ran to her pet dish. I also saw a robin outside my window this morning. You can't find them in Australia!

I got on my computer and had a strong signal. I know we pay a lot of Internet but it is nice to know that it is going through when you hit send. I lost so many blog entries and photo uploads that if I was a swearing man, you would have thought there was a lumberjack in my daughter's apartment. As it was they probably thought someone was getting killed with all the crying.

I actually enjoyed driving down to the church today. In Australia they drive on the opposite side of the road. It is a cool thought when you are not sitting in the driver's side with someone else actually taking the wheel. It's really like having a back seat driver not only telling you where to go but then doing the driving and leaving you feel responsible for what happens. I don't think I will ever get used to seeing a car pull into your lane and then after a mild heart palpitation suddenly realize it isn't your lane.

I also will never complain about my bed again. After spending close to seventy two hours in the last nine days in an upright position or in a slightly reclining seat, anything that lies in a horizontal position and has a bit of padding is heavenly.

I could go on and on but I can't help but think that too many of us take the little things in life for granted. We look at what we have or what we do or even the people in our lives and we think that if only things were different we would be happier. The problem is that if we can't be happy with what we have, what makes us think we can enjoy whatever we might get in the future.

I think real appreciation begins right where we are. The happiest people I know are not necessarily the richest or those with the greatest amount of possessions. The happiest people I know are content with what they already have in their lives and learn to appreciate whatever else comes their way.

Here is my challenge for you today. Look around you and find ten things to thank God for. The next day look around you and find nine different things to give thanks for. On the third day try to find eight different things and continue this pattern until the tenth day. Write them down each day and then count your blessing and name them. I believe you will find you have more than you thought you did.

It is nice to be home and I thank God for the printer I have at home that only needs an ink cartridge to get it up and running again.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Its a small world after all

Every morning here in Australia I have been awakened by the sound of several different type of birds singing. Sarah and her roommates laugh about it. The kookaburra is one of them and there must be at least six or seven different birds in the choir.

I grew up with the image of the rooster crowing at dawn. Then again I grew up on a farm in New England. I guess I thought that roosters were the only early birds. Here in Sydney I learned how wrong I was. Funny thing is that these birds all settle down as morning gives way to the day.

I actually like their songs. They remind me that we are part of something bigger than just me. We are part of an ecosystem that God created. Amazing. That's all I can say. This is a big world and even though it is getting smaller every day with technology, you really have to marvel at the scope of God's creative hand across the face of the earth. Never mind the heavens and galaxies and universes, we have enough to marvel at right here in our every day life.

Imagine that! A kookaburra woke me up today. God is so good.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Amazing display of light and power

On Saturday night Sarah and I went to Darling Harbour and enjoyed a great meal at a place called "The Docks."  We were pretty tired from our day at the Zoo but they announced they were having fireworks so we decided to check them out. 

The Harbor didn't look big enough to have much of a show. It is actually just a bit bigger than he harbor in Norwich but this one is completely enclosed and surrounded by shops and Restaurants. The firework platforms were in the middle but it appeared that they wouldn't have enough room to put on much of a display. When the show began we were both amazed at the brilliance of the color and the extent of the show. It was one of the best that we had ever seen.

We had been fooled by what we saw and didn't give the Aussies much credit for what could be done.  We were, as they say in theological terms, walking by sight rather than faith. We looked at the situation and because we couldn't imagine it being done, we wrote off the possibility someone else could do it.

It reminded me that too many times we do the same thing with God. We look around at our circumstances and because it doesn't appear that there is much that we can do, we tend to assume that God can't do very much either. Yet God is the one who created us and has far more ability and ingenuity than we do. We need to give him ore credit and learn to trust him.

After all the apostle Paul told us that we can do all things in Christ Jesus. We may not be able to do them on our own accord, but with God, we can accomplish so much more.

Church in the Hills

On Sunday I went to he famous Hillsong Church two times. In the morning I went to their extension service out here by Macquarie University where Sarah is taking classes this semester. The church meets in a movie theater in the local mall. The service lasted an hour and a half and featured lots of contemporary music and a very good speaker. The Pastor as away and Sarah was little disappointed because she went last week and really liked him. The guest preacher was good though. He preached about sharing your faith in the real world. He gave us answers to five questions that our "mates" might raise at work, in school or out in our given place in life.

He began by quoting a scripture but he never really elaborated on it but that was due to the fact that he was dealing with a psecial topic as part of a three week series. I liked what he had to say.

The five charges he tried to answer were as follows:

1) How can your faith stand up to the fact that science has proven so much about the world that it looks like fairy tales in comparison to the scientific evidence that has been produced?

2) How can you base your faith on a book that was written in ancient times that has no understanding of the complexities of the world we live in time?

3) How can religion be good if it has caused so much suffering and persecution ie, the Crusades and he slaughter of innocents?

4) Who do you think you are to say Christianity is the only way to salvation? That is incredibly arrogant in this pluralistic society.

5) How can you believe in a good God that lets tsunamis and terrible disasters happen while he sits in heaven?

He offered some great answers to these qwuestions and I may just preach on them later this fall. After the service we hooked up with Sarah's lab supervisor who had originally invited her to come. There were a lot of younger people there and the service was above board and very much from the heart.

I have read a lot about emergent worship and what every book will tell you is that young people are looking for authenticity. hey get it at this church.

Later that evening I traveled down town and took a shuttle to the Hillsong City service. It was an interesting experience. The church is really set up in a warehouse like building with dark walls and moveable chairs. They have the latest technology set up and a five panel screen going across the front of the worship area. he video presentations were very professional. So was he Praise team.

Hillsong is known fo their music and the songs were great. The lyrics brought the Bible to life and made you think. One woman I met warned me that the evening service was geared to young people and I told her that was fine by me. I met some very nice people. I was also impressed with their "cry room" a glass paneled area that looked in on the "sanctuary" IT had comfortable seating and lots of play area.

The preacher was doing a series on Heores of the Faith which was running concurrently with the Hills Campus. He spoke about Joepsh and the character that made him great. It was a very good sermon.

I enjoyed both worship services but I came away with a few thoughts.

1) First, I never got to meet either of the preachers. In the mega churches the preachers are really secluded and kept away from the people. No greeting at the door. I found the same thing at Willow Creek. I miss that and don't think I could live with that kind of set up, although I undersand it.

2) I liked the fact that a lot of people were volunteering for all kinds of things and it gave them a purpose for being there. There was a guy cleaning the bathroom as well as bus drivers and lots of greeters. They had child care workers and folks to greet people afterwards with Bibles and coffee.

Well I'll write more later but I would be happy to hear your thoughts if you have ever been to a church of two thousand or more.


The Tarango Zoo

The Tarango Zoo was pretty amazing, but then again people who know me have heard me say that time and again about zoos. This time I had someone with me who appreciated it as much as I did. Sarah is studying to become a veterinarian and she really loves the exotic animals. At the Zoo here in Sydney we saw some wildlife that we haven't seen before.

Everyone has seen a koala bear, especially if you have been to a major zoo like the one in San Diego. But have you seen a Tasmanian Devil before? Cartoons don't count. What about a real live gecko? I always wondered why he spoke with an accent in the Geico commercials. Now I know. here as also a giant lizard that looked like something out of a Jurassic park movie.

Most of the animals here were pretty active too. The elephants were rummaging around and banging the trees for food. The giraffes were playing in the yard. Event the giant Galapagos turtle did a little bit of a show. I stand amazed at the creative genius of God. I don't know how anyone can go to a zoo and continue to hold onto a belief that everything evolved out of some primordial ooze without some kind of intelligent design behind it. The question I would
ask of those who hold onto these belief is "Why is there such beauty and so much variety in life forms" It doesn't make sense. Anyway, the zoo reinforces my belief in a creator God who spared no energy to come up with the world we inhabit today. (Enough theology for now.)

Sarah and I took the ferry boat across he Harbor to get to the zoo and that in itself was a lot of fun. The zoo is built on a hill and it involves a lot of walking but the views are breath taking. My friend Neil says that Sydney is all about the views and it was worth the price of admission just to see the few wild animals and the glimpses of the harbor from the cliffs above.

Heading down the mountain we got to ride a gondola and that completed our marvelous day at the zoo. I'm going to try and upload a few photos so you can get a bit of a sense of our adventure.


PS The internet connections here are quite poor and I have lost transmission several times this week while uploading photos. So I assure you that I will create a slide show of the whole experience and post it once I get home. Sorry.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lost is not forgotten

On Saturday Sarah and I went to the Torango Zoo in Sydney. We took a ferry over and had a great time. Unfortunately all of my photos disappeared. I started to get upset about it but then I remembered that it was the actual experience that mattered, not the photos. 
I think sometimes we get sidetracked as we alk through life. One little difficulty or one small disappointment has the ability to ruin an otherwise wonderful experience. We get so upset and we begin to focus on what went wrong instead of what has gone right. 

Sarah and I saw all kinds of exotic creatures, including a Tasmanian Devil, a real life gecko, several native birds, a gigantic lizard, and several other things that are native to Australia. The good news is that Sarah took a bunch of pictures too. So I will upload those at some point. 

I think it is important to remember the blessings when we start getting upset about things that don't go exactly right in life. There is an old Gospel song that says, "Count your many blessings name them one by one, see the many things that God has done."  Hey, it works. I'm down here in Australia with Sarah. That alone is one big blessing. 

I will upload some of Sarah's photo's later on today or tomorrow and you will get a sense of what it was like. That's all for now.


PS  By the way I am writing this on Sunday morning here in Sydney. It is 7:11 a.m. but Sarah has her clock on the computer set so it tells me what time it is back home. You guys are just getting ready for dinner now. Her clock tells me it is 5:12 p.m. back in Connecticut.  Let me just tell you that yesterday was a beautiful day and today is starting out great too!  Now enjoy it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bridges and Harbors

The Harbour Bridge is the main thoroughfare into the heart of the city from where Sarah is staying at MacQuarie University. You can see it in the background.  It reminded me that bridges are essential to accomplishing anything in life and we are called to be bridge builders in all that we do.

We finished the day with a walk around Darling Harbour and found a great place to eat on the waterfront. Today we plan on going back there after we take a ferry ride over to the Zoo and some of the small Islands in the Harbor.


This is a city church

This is St. Paul's Anglican Church. If you could read the sign it says, Commuter Church is back. It leasts four services on Thursdays. That is an interesting idea! 

Our travel downtown

Yesterday morning Sarah went off to class and I was feeling a little homesick so I headed over to the mall. The MacQuarie Center Mall has a lot of places to grab a bite to eat. My plan was to eat breakfast and walk around for a while. As I wandered around I decided to try a place that I couldn't find in the United States so I settled on a place called "Happy Jacks."  I ordered an sausage, egg and cheese on a croissant, a potato patty a cappachino.  Actually the Happy Jack Restaurant does bear a surprising resemblance to a Burger King. So I am not as adventurous as I would have you believe.

After Sarah finished her classes we had a quick lunch at her apartment and then took a bus down to the center of Sydney. It took about an hour to get there but it was a great way to see the outskirts of the city. I will tell you this: Public transportation is the way to go down here. Sydney is one of the largest cities in Australia and I wouldn't even think about driving.  Never mind the fact that they drive on the left side of the road, they also seem to drive very fast. I am amazed I haven't seen any accidents the few times I was out on the road. I also noticed that the busses seemed to be pretty full and the riders came from all social classes. Back home it seems that only those who can't afford a car are the ones who ride the bus or take a train. Down here there are many more suits on the bus than there are bag ladies.  

Sarah has the busses figured out because she has taken a few trips downtown with her friends. The bus picks them up just down the street or across campus at the mall.  They also have a train that run from a little bit closer in. right now they are constructing a stop at the edge of campus but they had a little snafu. The design engineer miscalculated the height needed to accommodate the trains and they have to reconstruct the whole thing at a cost well over several million dollars. (I wonder if it as the same guy who designed the big dig in Boston?)

We did a lot of walking once we got downtown. We went from the famous Sydney Opera House over to Darling Harbor. We marveled at the architecture of the buildings in the city. It was amazing how they blended the modern with the more dated historical. I also noted the churches along the way. My friend Neil said the Anglican Church was he most prominent but I saw a Presbyterian, a Baptist and a Catholic Church on our travels. It was a vivid reminder that God is everywhere and that he can be found in every church the world over. So next time you think that God is hiding. Just look around. 

I was reminded of that line in Psalm 139, "Where can you go from his presence...  If I rise up or if I lie down, he is there..."


Thursday, September 11, 2008

A day in ordinary time

This morning I pretended to be a local down here in Sydney. While Sarah went off to class I took a stroll down to the MacQuarie Center Mall. It is huge and it has all kinds of stores. It has some of the usual suspects like Target and The Big W (which I suspect is shart for Walmart because it features low prices.) There are also all kinds of shoe stores, a Mac store that goes by the name "The Byte Place," camera stores, c
lothing shops and lots of food court type restaurants. They even have a Happy Jack food stand that looks suspiciously like a Burger King! 

What I noticed right off was the prices. Everything seems to run about 175% of the prices back home. A paperback book, for example, runs about $18.00. A bottle of soda which goes for $1.49 - 1.69 at home goes for $2.69 - 2.80 here.  Needless to say, I have been careful
 with my money. You can get some bargains, but you have to look for them and there is no rhyme or reason, t least not at first glance. 

Sarah said going to the movies cost $18.00 for adults and students, with a discount, pay only $12.00.  We ate out last night at a decent restaurant. Most meals were over $20.00. We had a burger and a wrap, both with fries and it cost us $31.00.  The interesting thing about restaurants here is that there is no tipping. The tip is built into the price. There isn't any tax either. So the price is pretty much the price everywhere you go. One of the guide books I read said that tipping is optional but that most people don't expect it. It is often given for exceptional service.

Another thing that is hard to get used to is the fact that everything is reversed whe
n it comes to driving and walking down here. The driver sits on the right side of the car. We had a good laugh over this when my friend, Neil, picked us up at the airport.  I went around to get in the car and was about to hop in the passenger seat when I almost fell over to see the steering wheel and foot pedals. Neil politely suggested I go around to the other side. It took a little getting used to but since I am not planning on driving, I think it will be alright. 

This business of going to the opposite side applies to walking as well. Only instead o
f bearing to the right, you move to the left on stairways and sidewalks. Sarah says you can tell the Americans because they are always bumping into people b y being on the wrong side. 

This whole adventure got me thinking about our faith  and its customs and traditions. Some of the things we say, do and believe are foreign to the culture outside the church or synagogue. When someone new comes to our church or synagogue they are bound to have a little difficulty adjusting to the way we do things. We need to remember to practice hospitality to make them feel welcome. I have Sarah here and she is serving as my guide. Without her I could probably manage but it would definitely take a little longer. I'd like to think that we can be t
he guides, the helpers, the friends who walk with those who come our way.  It will be a blessing to them and to our whole community.


P.S.  I am working on uploading a few pictures of MacQuarie University in Sydney. Sarah will be here until the second week of December. The first few will show or friend Neil. 
He is a journalist here in Sydney and the nephew of Dr. John Brooks. Dr. Brooks was the pastor of the church Lori and I grew up in and a mentor to both of us. We used to hear all about Neil and he came to visit us back in 1979 and again in 1983. 

Adventures on a trip around the world

As I looked down on Sydney Harbor and took in the breathtaking view of the Opera house and the city behind it, I wanted to pinch myself to make sure that I was really in Australia and not just dreaming the whole thing up. I stood there on the opposite shore at the end of a journey that had begun 36 hours before.
When I began my adventure I had one simple goal: Get to Sydney to visit my daughter, Sarah. After thirty six hours "on the road" I was reminded of an important lesson about travel and life itself. The journey is every bit as important as the final destination.

I started my trip in New London, CT at the Muddy Waters Cafe on Bank Street. As walked in the door I felt like I had been transported back in time more than fifty years. It was the perfect jumping off point for my jaunt half way around the world. I had a cup of "joe " and bagel and enjoyed the atmosphere. I imagined what it was like to take the train at the turn of the 19th century and travel across country. My adventure had begun.

I boarded the Amtrak train and was off. I chuckled to myself as I thought of Steve Martin's hilarious adventure in the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and I wondered if I would encounter anyone as memorable as John Candy was in that film. The truth is that I keep to myself when I travel. I think that is why I identify with Martin's character. He had no intention of becoming friends with Candy and yet fate intervened.

I made a quick stop in the Bronx to see my daughter, Becky. I had to get off the train in Harlem and catch a subway up to 167th street. Along the way I stopped to look for a cheap pair of sunglasses or a watch from a couple of street vendors. Boy are they good at hustling their wares! I caught the 4 subway train and headed uptown. As I got off the subway on an elevated platform it started to rain very heavily. I trudged up the hill trying to stay dry under my five dollar umbrella. When I entered the school my sneakers squeaked on the floor with every step I took. So much for not making a scene. The Principal was nice and the teachers welcomed me as I made my way to Becky's class. For the next hour I pretended to be one of her students and I enjoyed the experience.

Then I was off to the subway again and I caught the E train at 51st street and rode the Airtran into JFK International Airport. I went from New York to San Francisco and San Francisco to Sydney on the friendly skies of United Airlines.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about my little scare at the gate. I had to scramble to get a visa and rebook my flight at the gate after it had been cancelled. The gate attendant told me that there was a mix up and I had to rebook my flight because of some airline cancellations. "Didn't I get the notice?" she asked. Talk about having a heart attack. My blood pressure must have gone off the chart. She was great though and in a matter of moments I was back in business and with $25.00 my visa problem was solved.

With the cancellation I had lost my aisle seat and was given a seat in the middle. As I walked down the row I noticed two rather large men and was praying that mine was not the seat in the middle. If you guessed that I was out of luck, you would be right. Things turned out alright though. One of the men was the head of a computer consulting company who was returning to Silicon Valley from a two week business trip Europe. He also happened to be an observant Jew and he told me about his passion for Israel. He and his wife had lived there for a time and he had recently purchased land there and was looking forward to setting up a business in Israel to support the local economy. He believed in giving back. Talking with him really helped pass the time. 

The man on the aisle seat worked for Discovery Channel and had traveled the world. He got excited telling me about Sydney an some of the other places he had been. He was returning from New york after a business seminar there. I wish I could tell you that my four and a half layover in San Francisco was fun. The truth is that I was exhausted and after a late dinner at "Lori's Diner" (which made me feel at home) I sat down at the gate and just waited for us to board. 

There wasn't a lot of people on the flight so we all got to spread out. That is great when you have to sit in a seat for 14 1/2 hours. After the lights went out I actually got to spread out over three seats to sleep. Before that I did chat with a young woman who coached lacrosse at a west coast university. She was traveling to Sydney on vacation. I got the sense that she was an accomplished traveler. After we lifted off she moved two rows back so she could have her own space. I have to admit that I felt a bit like John Candy at that moment but she assured me that she just wanted room to spread out.

I arrived in Sydney at 6:40 a.m. on Thursday, September 11th. (Yes I thought about the date!) I came through customs and was greeted by Sara and an old friend I hadn't seen in 25 years. Neil was Rev. John Brook's nephew and over the last few years we had hooked up again. When I told him I was coming he offered to meet us at the airport. After we got to his car, Neil took us for a quick tour of Sydney. He showed us some of the beautiful views of the Harbor and told us a bit of its history. Neil is a newspaper reporter and a celebrated author here. He gave us a copy of his book and told us some of the nefarious deeds that he had uncovered. It was great. As he dropped us off at the University of MacQuarrie, we made plans to get together over the weekend.

As we walked into Sarah's apartment and sat down for a bit, I began to reflect upon the journey I had been through and the people I had met. Each person had a story to tell and I suddenly realized again that the journey was every bit as enjoyable as reaching my final destination. It was then that it struck me that this is equally true of our faith as we walk though life.

Sometimes we are so focused on getting to heaven or doing the right things that we forget to savor the moments we have along the way. No wonder we miss Jesus when he comes to us in the form of a stranger. Our eyes are hidden by blinders and we march forward focused on our final destination. I don't think God meant it to be that way. He told us to live each day and enjoy the blessings.

I have eight days here in Sydney and I am going to enjoy each one. I am going to try and remember this when I get home. It is so easy to lose focus on the important things. King David said "This is the day that the Lord has made. Be glad and rejoice in it!" In other words, enjoy the journey.

I am going to post some of the photos up here tomorrow when I figure out how to upload them on Sarah's computer. So check back again and I fill you in on my latest adventures.


Monday, September 8, 2008

A View from the Other Side

I love that scene in the movie Pleasantville where Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon suddenly realize that they are in the television program they were watching just a few minutes before. It is an interesting concept that boggles their minds. Well guess what? I am going to be living that scene in the next forty eight hours.

Lori and I have been talking to our daughter Sarah on our computer through a free program called Skype. Every few days we get on the computer and have a video conference. For the last six weeks we have only been able to see her through the video screen. It is almost as if she is on another planet or in a strange way, on television. Well the next time I talk to Lori, on Wednesday night, I am going to be talking to her from the television screen because I will be with Sarah. I will have entered Sarah's world.

It is fun to do the mental gymnastics with this but what strikes me as even more amazing is what God actually did 2,000 years ago. He came from heaven above and entered our world, walked with us and looked to God in the same way we do. It is mind boggling but I thank God that he came entered our world and is here to stay forever.

God bless! I'll talk to you next from the other side of the world.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Some of you know that I write this weekly newspaper column about "stuff." I find some way to relate it to God and our spiritual life. Over time it has made me a bit of a local celebrity. I often get people coming up to me asking, "Are you the Cal Lord who writes the Spirit page column?"

People seem to like it. I think the success of it is the fact that I write about every day things that people can relate to. Several years ago I told someone that everything in my office has some spiritual significance. That includes my Detroit Tiger memorabilia, my Miss America badges and program books, the props from the community theater shows I've been in and even my Star Trek memorabilia. I've used every one of these things in my "Children's talks" at church to make some point about God and his love. Now I look at them and feel God's presence. I can turn anything into a "God moment"

You think I'm kidding? Well here we go. How can a penny with the image of Spock make you think about God? Easy.

One of my favorite television shows as I was growing up was Star Trek. I fell in love with the characters and the good verses evil theme of the show. As a child of the sixties, I was caught up in the enthusiasm of the space race and science fiction was exciting. Everything seemed to come together. When I saw this penny with the image of Mr. Spock, one of the major characters in the show, I had to have it. I think it is neat when you can take something you value and combine it with your interests.

We use money every day. It is the drives our economy. It makes things happen. You couldn't exist without it in the modern world. When we engrave an image of something we value on a coin, and then keep it, it adds meaning to the value. Now of course the world says this penny with Spock's image on it isn't worth anything. But to me, it is the source of a joy that runs deep.

So it is with our faith. When the image of God is living in our hearts, that organ which carries our life flowing blood, it may not mean much to the world, but it adds so much joy to our life. I can't imagine life without God. He adds value and meaning to life.

From now on whenever I think of that penny, I will think of God's face being engraved on my heart. (I know this isn't a perfect example but that's how my brain works these things. I see God everywhere. If you begin to look around, you will be able to do it too.)


Life comes full circle with God

I grew up in a little church in Lebanon, Connecticut. Someday I will tell you how I came to be there because that is a wonderful testimony to the power of God in itself, but today I want to tell you about a man who touched my life. I'm thinking about him a lot these days.

His name was John Brooks. I met him when I was 11 years old. He came to our church as a part time interim pastor. No one expected him to stay very long. Then again, no one fully understands God's plan. Rev. Dr. John Brooks spent the next fifteen years in Lebanon and he influenced a generation of us.

Dr. Brooks was gifted and a charismatic leader. People instantly fell in love with him. All of us kids felt special when we were around him. He always made time for us. He didn't have any children of his own, but he adopted the whole lot of us and we felt it.

Then there was his accent. He was from Australia. Over the years we met his family and heard all kinds of tales from his homeland. I fantasized more than once about going to Australia to see the many things he talked about. It was a strange but exotic place and he made it sound wonderful.

Dr. Brooks died in 1985. Yet, the fascination with Australia had been planted in my heart and the hearts of many of us who knew and loved him. Yet it is on the other side of the world. You don't just drop in to say hello. It takes a bit of planning to go and a great deal of that green stuff.

In 2000 I thought about making the trip. It would have been a pilgrimage of sorts. The Baptist Worlds Alliance was meeting there. If I could find the money, I was going to go. Soon the deadline for registering came and went. You know how it is. Other stuff comes along. with that opportunity gone, I felt I'd never get the chance to go again.

Fast forward seven years and suddenly my second daughter starts talking about studying abroad. She narrows down her choices and finally announces that she wants to go to Australia. Suddenly a door opens again. In July she left for the great adventure.

This summer, my wife bought me a ticket to go see her as my 50th birthday present. I leave next Tuesday. Meanwhile I have been in contact with Dr. Brook's nephew and made plans to visit him and his wife while I am there. What more could I ask for?

What more? Last week I was flipping through one of my worship magazines and I came across an article by Darlene Zschech. She is one of the founders of the modern praise music movement. Her Hillsong Church set the tone for the music we have enjoyed the last twenty years. As I was reading it I suddenly realized that she lived in Sydney and Hillsong Church was there.

When I took my sabbatical three years ago I traveled to conferences and studied various worship styles. Every time I turned around I came back to hearing about Hillsong. I didn't give it much thought because I knew I would never be able to go there... Funny how things work out though. Not only will I be able to visit my daughter and share this special part of her life's walk, but I will reconnect with my past when I visit Dr. Brook's family and be reinvigorated in my ministry by going to the "mecca" of contemporary worship.

God is amazing. All things do tend to come together in His time. Enjoy this worship video by Darlen and the group at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

A ride that turned into a blessing

I called my friend Cliff to say hello and he asked me to take a ride with him. We left church and within a few minutes he asked me to give him a hand with his boat. Can you believe it? Me, helping with a boat? What do I know about the nautical life? He told me all I needed to do was hold the boat while he filled it up with gas. I figured I could do that.

After we skipped out to the gas dock, Cliff asked if I wanted to go out on the Thames River for a little ride. Hey, it's been years since I was on a boat and who was I to turn down a golden opportunity like that. I have to tell you it was fun.

When we got back from our little ride down the River, it struck me that every day with God was just like this one. We never know what to expect. He invites us to go along with him. Sometimes he challenges us to do things we never did before. Sometimes he asks us to help in simple ways. And sometimes he takes us for the ride of our lives.

So next time God invites you to step out with him, just go. You will be blessed.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Wow! What you see at the Fair.

I went up to the Woodstock Fair this morning with Lori, the girls and our friend, George. It was a beautiful day and the Fair was great. The smells, the sounds, the crowds brought me right back to when I was a teenager. I used to love going to all the local fairs. My father would drag us along to look at the tractors and to watch the oxen and horses. Back then I didn't appreciate all of that stuff. I was more interested in the games and the rides.

A funny thing happened today. When I saw the tractors I got all excited. And when one of the guys started one of them up and that gassy smell filled the air, I thought of my father. I was transported back in time and I suddenly got what my father saw in all this stuff.

It made me think about church. Sometimes we take the tradition and ritual for granted. We want the contemporary music, the good preaching and a hot cup of coffee afterwards. That is how we measure church. But the truth is that it is so much more than that. Worship is about sitting in the presence of God. It is participating in timeless worship and sharing that moment with people you know and love.