Mother's Day was just around the corner when three dozen of us GCCers walked through this moment as a young Italian woman stood in the street, unmoving and staring into the store window. I have no idea what she was thinking, but I was thinking, "Oh my. This is one of those, 'I was an unknown photojournalist until that fateful day when I was in Rome, walking to The Spanish Steps, when I happened across this young woman staring at the display in the store window.'" A thousand thoughts may have been streaming through her mind, but none could say which held her in its grasp though she was certainly held by something because she didn't move for several minutes.
She was transfixed.
So was I.
The drama gripped me. It was all there: the in-store picture of the scantily-clad super model, the contrast of the woman looking in the window, the "Happy Mother's Day" sign, the lingerie being sold (apparently to make Mother's Day more happy... for somebody) and the opportunity for a shot. The street had been packed with people but GOD parted the crowds like the waters of the Red Sea and I got the picture as I hoped: one image, one young woman lost in thought and a thousand ways to interpret her story.
Inside GOD'S grand meta-narrative was the story of this young woman, made interesting because so many of her questions are our questions too.
I had a good laugh with Chris & Christine Lemert when I took this picture. It may have appeared that I spent way too much time preparing my shot... And that would have been true if it was merely a picture of a lingerie store... but it was more than that, and I was determined to record the image before the young woman moved or the crowd closed in again.
When I captured the Mother's Day "Picture of Year," (an award I made-up and gave myself... ), I planned to send a little post to my Blog, but I didn't realize my Italy trip was about to change. My plans for Assisi, Pompeii, Siena and Florence were switched to various hallways of Aurelia Hospital's Emergency Unit and a few ER rooms in the "Stroke Unit" of Gemelli Hospital at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
Doctors Jim Blechl and Tom Morton shifted gears (from tourist to physician), and helped me get quick attention when my symptoms appeared. They are great friends and comrades.
Ginny Lawley faced down the difficult decision, whether to stay with her dear friend Sheila, or accept my request that she lead the rest of the tour as my trusted representative (Dr. Bob teaching the scriptures all along the way). She did the hard work of rallying our tour and she ended up accommodating Sheila, me and our entire group. She got everyone home and Russ is pouring lots of fresh coffee for her so she can do all she needs to do to get us home too.
Sheila was staying in a nearby hotel (so she was able to see me two hours during lunch and two hours during dinner), until a few hours ago, when the Doc saw my echocardiogram results and said I am clear to fly in a couple of days!
My brother and sister-in-law are flying to Rome to help Sheila get me home. (My family is the most amazing family on earth.) Their plane landed a few minutes ago and they are "in a taxi of some sort" and on their way to our hotel.
Now, of course, Mother's Day has come and gone... but the important questions of life demand answers from us all - no matter what day it is.
I've given satisfactory answers to a few of life's questions and, as you can imagine, I've completely failed to make sense of several others.
I've learned this to be true... The best answers to life's most important questions are always relationally enriching. Bad answers to life's questions break relationships; good answers don't. In fact, good answers make relationships stronger. And who is surprised? At the root of sin you find the brokenness of violated relationships. Sin wrecks relationships; it's always a bad answer to the important questions we face. But righteousness differs; it always answers life's questions with love and acceptance.
So, let's hear it for righteous living. Let's hear it for family that'l fly across an ocean to bring a brother home, for faithful friends and righteous teammates who serve GOD no matter what. Let's hear it for righteous answers to the important questions of life. And let's hear it for the bonds of love that hold us together as the family of GOD.
Colossians 3:12-17 - Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
My friend Steve Camilleri grew up on Long Island but his move to Michiana made this a better place... for all of us.
Steve is accomplished, studied, faithful, and as you can see, he is now flinging himself into his work as the Executive Director of the South Bend Center for the Homeless. He studied at Notre Dame, where he earned a Bachelor's in Marketing & Advertising and a Master's of Nonprofit Administration, both of which he leverages against the needs of the homeless poor.
I love this guy... and, whoa, can he dance!
Steve is a husband, father and friend... and he is one of the most inspiring men I know. His efforts, "to offer the best resources in our community to the people who need them most," helped the generous people of Michiana donate $518,000 to The Center for the Homeless during the Dancing With Our Stars 2015 Miracle Auction.
Thanks for leading us Steve.
James 1:26-27 - Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
Tim Stevens and I worked together for more than 20 years. He's in Houston now and since Tim has a gift for locating the very best "taco" places (no matter where he is), Sheila and I were able to turn a late-night, post-sermon Quesadilla into a great evening with good friends. Kem Meyer and Jason Miller were speaking at the LCI Conference too... so the five of us munched Chips-n-Salsa, laughing and telling stories until closing time.
Philippians 1:26 - You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.
Sheila and I volunteered to serve at the annual "Dancing With Our Stars" auction last night. So did many others from GCC.
I grabbed some pictures of the Dance Sport professionals and the talented "Stars" who danced with them. These folks helped our community raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for The Center for the Homeless.
I must tell you about one GCCer who had a huge impact on the event. Marybeth Roncz is an incredible leader and much of the evening's success is the direct result of her indefatigable effort. She asked Sheila and I sit at her table, which was great because I got to share the evening with her husband Rick... and because Sheila and I were close to the dance floor.
After the auction Sheila and I spent the remainder of the evening trying to do the dance move picture above, but I eventually abandoned all hope of kicking myself in the small of my back with my own left foot and went to bed.
Isaiah 58:7 - Share your food with the hungry.
Sheila and I went to The Potawatomi Zoo with Angela, Lydia and Norah today. After worshipping with GCC this weekend, we headed out to make a few memories together.
My brother Matt, and sister-in-law Linda, shared the adventure, which shall ever be remembered, from this day forward, as "Our Zoo Trip."
Lydia was spellbound by Aunt Linda's interest in every topic Lydia found interesting.
Uncle Matt has always been the best brother in the world... and today he was Norah's best friend too.
Flamingos. What is there to say about Flamingos?
Aunt Linda coaxed questions and answers from the kids at every exhibit. She is amazing.
- Photo by Angela Keim -
When it was my turn to carry a grandkid... it was my privilege to do so.
There's nothing like family... and if you haven't gotten your family to the zoo... take them soon. It's a great way to build memories you'll cherish for years to come.
Romans 12:10 - Love [Be devoted to] each other ·like brothers and sisters [with family/brotherly affection]. ·Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves [or Outdo one another in showing honor; or Be eager to show honor to one another].
The Christian Atheist is for you, especially if you're tired of shallow living and empty rhetoric, and you wish folks would "do the right thing," and you'd like to "do the right thing" too, and you wonder why people think "the right thing to do " is whatever they feel like doing... and then you realize, "Oh,oh. That's usually how I decide what I'll do too."
Fling yourself into a ten week experience with GOD's 10 Commandments and give yourself a reliable framework for living an abundant life.
John 10:10 - (Jesus) I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).
Many years ago, somebody invested a lot of hard work into putting this signpost at the edge of the marsh.
You can bet they had good reason, because nobody labors through tangles and mud to sink their signpost in a marsh... unless they have something important to say. That's way too much work if the signpost is being prepared for a message that doesn't matter.
Signposts are important, because sign's are attached to signposts (the way our words are attached to our lives). They either support our message, or they don't. So when we mean what we say, we have good reason to do the hard work that puts our lives in-line with our words.
2 Peter 1:2-3 - Learn to know GOD better and better. For as you know GOD better, he will give you, through his great power, everything you need for living a truly good life: he even shares his own glory and his own goodness with us!
I went to a movie. It was about sharks. I have no good shark pictures so I used my picture of this pod of Orcas. They're not sharks, but hey, they live in the ocean and they are scary like sharks, only a lot smarter than sharks... so let's move on.
I paid extra money so I could experience an extra dimension of the Shark Movie.
I put on my awesome, cool, "somebody take a picture of us right now," 3-D Glasses.
I watched the movie.
I was transported to another world where I experienced amazing things.
I took off my 3-D Glasses.
After that experience, I left the theater and went on with my life... as usual, except that I now have flashbacks to my scary Shark Movie experience.
I remember many of my experiences... and each memory triggers an emotional response. My experiences will mark me; experiences always mark me... but it's my day-to-day practices and life-long patterns that change me over time... for better or worse.
It's foolish to say, "This experience won't effect me." Addiction Counselors label that Exceptional Thinking: "I'd never tell someone else to do this, but I can do it and I'll be fine. I'd never recommend somebody else try this, but I'm sure I can do it because I am not like other people. I am exceptional. I am the exception to the rule."
Those driven by experiences leap from one quick fix to the next, from one experience to another. Life becomes a non-stop search for significance, thrills, satisfaction and meaning. The problem is, experiences don't last. They have consequences but they don't satisfy our thirst for significance.
Experiences alone won't give us what we need so GCC is spending the next ten weeks learning to live the life that Jesus called "abundant." We're focusing on each of The 10 Commandments with two questions: "What is this commandment?" and "How does Jesus help us do it?"
Living the abundant life is different than knowing about it.
It's time to begin practicing the life we were made for.
John 10:9-10 - I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).
Early in the history of the Church, a two-fold tradition developed. New believers were instructed in the basics of the Christian faith and baptized, then they learned what it meant to be a member of Our Lord's Church... which goes way beyond simply giving correct answers to doctrinal questions.
One may become a Christian ("saved by faith") then take steps to be a Christian and live The Good Life ("to your faith, add goodness").
After Easter we'll take steps to "add to our faith, goodness."
I'm teaching a new "New Member's Class" and we're grouping-up, serving together and reflecting on GOD's instructions for living The Good Life in the months ahead. What it means to be a Christian will become clearer as we engage a 10-week study of The Ten Commandments.
After Easter, our next step is The Good Life.
Let's live it... together.
2 Peter 1:5-7 - Do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness; and to your goodness, add knowledge; and to your knowledge, add self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience, add service for God; and to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.
I was paying close attention when Prashan asked, "What has God broken your heart for?"
Prashan has given himself to the work of inspiring, connecting and equipping a new generation of peace-builders. (You can watch the TEDx talk he delivered on the topic at Notre Dame here.)
What gets your heart... gets you.
2 Timothy 1:7 - God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Young people thirsting for Jesus inspire me.
Luke 6:47-48 - Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.
Today’s newsfeeds are filled with talk of a Mystery that’s as old as humankind. When GOD sets before us life and death, why are we so inclined to choose death? Given the opportunity to take the way that leads to life, why don’t we choose it?
When it’s obvious that we’re heading toward destruction, and we’re plummeting toward certain death as HELP knocks on the door and begs to save us, why in the world do we lock SALVATION out?
I have no idea why the 28 year old co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, intentionally crashed his Airbus A320 into a mountainside in the French Alps. What explains the acts of a man who locks his RESCUER out and chooses a path that ends in death and destruction? Can you find the words to explain that kind of behavior?
The person responsible for flying the plane, can intentionally flip the toggle-switch that puts the reinforced cockpit door in override mode. Then, no matter what is done with the code pad outside the door, the door can’t be opened from the outside.
We are perfectly capable of closing the door to our SAVIOR.
That's incredible. It boggles my mind!
When SALVATION is pounding to get in, we must be willing to unlock the door. Our SAVIOR wants to save, but we must open the door and let HIM in.
Revelation 3:20 - Here I am! Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in.
- Two StratOps Friends: Mark Waltz and Doug Slaybaugh -
I worked with our staff on GCC's mission for the last 2 days... because mission matters.
Jesus was "on mission," even when he was a young boy. He asked his mother, after her long search for him in Jerusalem, "Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my father's business?" He was 12 years old and already doing the work his Heavenly Father commanded him to do.
Jesus lived "on mission" every day, devoting his entire life to GOD's mission:
The way we experience rich, full and abundant lives is by living on GOD's mission.
Few do, but everyone should.
John 17:18 - (Jesus prayed for his disciples): "In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world."
Whoever said life gets easier must have been very young when they said it. Those who’ve lived a while know the opposite is true.
When you can lift more there’s more to lift. Learn to talk and you’re soon expected to make sense. Spend two or three decades living in your parents’ house and eating their food, and suddenly (because it's a new day) you’re face-to-face with a big new challenge.
Here's what's true. If you handle today’s challenges correctly, your right responses will produce tremendous benefits in the days ahead. So face today’s adversity.
Climb the mountain ahead, not so you can be done with mountain climbing, but so today’s adversity can strengthen you for all the opportunities you’ll have in the days ahead.
James 1:2-4 - Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Every little part makes a big difference.
I know, because I spent time during our weekend rehearsal trying to figure out the function of a zillion, easy-to-overlook plugs, knobs, buttons and switches. I noticed little things I hadn't previously noticed.
Every connection had been checked and double-checked, guaranteeing the components were all plugged-in, hooked-up, coupled, locked and properly linked together.
As I pondered all those little doodads, I sensed each was of great importance. I kept telling myself, "I should avoid touching anything."
No doubt about it, when everything is rightly connected, the results are amazing.
When connections are lost... well..., umm..., not so much.
Ephesians 4:16 - Christ has put each part of the church in its right place. Each part helps other parts. This is what is needed to keep the whole body together. In this way, the whole body grows strong in love.
The snow stopped.
It's cold. In fact, it's below zero. But the blowing, drifting whiteouts have moved out of our area so I have great news!
The ELC Open House is on!
It'll happen today from 3:00 to 5:00. You can tour the space, learn about GCC's preschool, meet some of our leaders and teachers and talk with other parents-of-preschoolers. This is your opportunity.
Parents! Drive your kids to GSM and we'll partner with you to help your teens navigate their unique challenges... with faith in JESUS, encouraging friends and high-integrity leaders they can trust (and you can too).
This beautiful day is GOD's gift to you.
What you and your kids do with it is your gift to GOD.
Ephesians 5:16a - Make the most of every opportunity.
Sheila was with me in The Great Bear Rain Forest when I saw this white Kermode bear walking downstream toward us. It was preoccupied with fishing as it came our direction so I slid down the steep bank to the waters edge.
Sheila stayed up above and watched.
I aimed the camera at the bear and waited.
It kept coming.
I took this photo when it paused a few feet away in a patch of light.
2 Kings 2:23-24 - Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go away, baldy!” they chanted. “Go away, baldy!” Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them.
(Apparently, neither prophets nor bears are to be trifled with.)
I watched Josh King make videos yesterday. He talked about the value of living "on purpose." With stories from his life, illustrations from the Bible and clear evidence that good decisions increase the likelihood of good outcomes, Josh asked everyone to group-up and help each other.
He asked us to be committed to each other so we can follow Jesus... together.
Of course, that means we'll be following Jesus with real people, not ideal people. It means loving imperfect people... just as GOD does. It means accepting GOD's invitation to be part of GOD's family - which continues throughout eternity. It means devotion. It means commitment. It means following Jesus with other followers of Jesus.
It means giving yourself to the LORD then giving yourself to other Christians.
By GOD's grace, hundreds at GCC recently said, "YES" to Jesus and turned from death to life. More than 450 actually got out of their seats and walked across a bridge to indicate they were choosing life and giving themselves to Jesus. This weekend we'll watch a video recap of their walk across that bridge. And we'll see what the Bible says about taking our next steps toward Christ... together.
Commit to your family. Commit to your friends.
Let's do this.
2 Corinthians 8:5 - First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God's will they gave themselves to us as well.