“What a Dream I Had”

I dream.  I dream a lot.  I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean I dream every night while I am asleep.

And I remember my dreams. That may be because I accept as true the Scripture:  ”For God does speak—now one way, now another—though man may not perceive it.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.”  Job 33:14-18

Now that doesn’t mean I’ve had “visions” as the prophets of old.  I don’t even think that’s what this passage is talking about.  I think it means that we should pay attention to the content of our dreams because it is one way that God speaks to us. In fact, I think He sometimes waits for us to stop all the whirring and spinning of our conscious minds so that He can be heard through the quiet of our subconscious minds.

Well, enough theology. Let me tell you about last night’s dream. It was powerful to me, very moving, very meaningful.

It was a Sunday morning. Worship was about to start, and I had finished my “pre-sermon” ritual (a topic for another post, perhaps). Though I was the pastor of the church, it was not FBC Barnwell where I now serve. The building was different, more modern. The worship center was semicircular like an ampitheater, or perhaps an orchestra pit, with front rows lower than the pulpit and successive rows gradually rising until the back pews were at eye level with the speaker.

As I walked into the sanctuary, sermon in head, I was startled by several young people, who had been active in the collegiate ministry in Clarion, PA. They had been waiting for me to walk in so that they could surprise me. I began to hug them. As I did, I looked around and saw that the room was full of those former students. Maybe three hundred of them.  I recognized their faces.  Somehow, they had organized a trip down for a surprise visit. My heart overflowed with joy!

The congregation was a bit confused about what was going on. People were standing around because the seating had been taken up by this unexpected influx. Then, as the service began, I discovered that the worship leader was in on this surprise.  He had arranged for some of the young people to speak briefly, sharing the story of their pilgrimage through Clarion. Some even had videos or slides to show.  Some wanted to sing.  I became uncomfortable because this was going to drag on and the service would run long. Really long!  First I realized I had to cut back the sermon. Then I realized I had to eliminate the sermon. Then I realized that the service was going to run extremely long even without the sermon.

Finally, after a parade of young people, I had a chance to speak. I felt pressure because the congregation was clearly ready to leave. I had to be brief. So I just asked, “How many of you came to know Christ while in Clarion, or got back on the path in your walk with God after you had strayed?” Hands went up all over the room. Choked up a bit, I just looked with silent awe that God would allow my family and me to have been part of that.

Then I woke up.

I told Debi about the dream. She asked what I thought it meant. I’m not really sure. I think it may have to do with several factors, a few streams that all came together to form one river of thought.

One factor may have been a very sweet Facebook post recently by Megan Hampton. She talked about our home being full of college students all the time.  She wanted her family’s heart and home to be open like that. I replied, truthfully, that we felt as if we were the ones who had been blessed by their presence.

A second factor may have been Thanksgiving, when all nine of my children, plus two spouses, two grandchildren, and an unofficial son, all gathered at my brother’s home.  His family was there, too, and we met baby Olivia for the first time. At one point, an old joke came up about my “retirement plan” – 6 weeks apiece at each of my children’s homes. Ben laughingly said, “I guess that’s one long-term benefit of having so many kids.”  I responded, “Do you want to know the real benefit of so many kids?” “What?”, he asked. “This!” I said, motioning to look around this house full of family, full of joy  “This is the real benefit.” And in some sense, that’s also how I think of those “college kids.”  They’re my family, too.

A third factor may have been the passage of Scripture we read as a family last night. Paul asked the Corinthians, at least twice, “Do I need a letter of recommendation for you? Aren’t YOU my letter of recommendation?” He talked about the profound mystery of God storing the treasure of the gospel in jars of clay, and that he would “partner” with us in the work of redemption. Imagine that – the infinite and perfect God partnering with finite and flawed humans to restore a fallen cosmos! That’s breathtaking to me.  Like the gospel itself, it’s almost too incredible to be believed. So I found myself in wonderment about this just before bedtime.  Maybe that played a part in my dream.

Or maybe I just needed comfort. Maybe I needed reassurance that all the hardships of ministry, all the sacrifice I’ve asked of my family, has not been in vain. That the precious souls of precious people have been touched.  And even if the impact was minimal, still it was good.

And that’s how I felt when I awoke. That God is great. That God is good.

What a dream.

Salinas to Guayaquil to Cuenca

Yesterday, I ate breakfast on the terrace at the hotel in Manta, where we were treated to the sight of a whale. I understand they migrate in July and August, but you can still catch the occasional drifter in September. I’m glad I did.

Today we ate at the hotel in Salinas, then began the trek over to Guayaquil. Before we left Salinas, we stopped at a place called Chocolater. It is not called that because they produce chocolate, but rather because the sea is very rough there, and pounds against dark brown rocks. The frothing waves against the dark brown shore creates the appearance of hot chocolate, especially from a distance. Close up, the water is a beautiful turquoise blue. As are the legs and feet of one of the most interesting birds I’ve ever seen, the Blue-Footed Booby. These cluster together on the rocks there. And for the geographical nerd in me, it so happens that this point is the westernmost point in Ecuador (someone there said continental South America, but I’m not sure that’s right).

Greg drove. I repeat – better him than me. As we approached Guayaquil, he had a few choice comments about the relative strength of his colon and the pending explosion. Next time, we’ll know to do buses. $3.80 from Manta to Guayaquil, and we could have saved all the wear and tear on Greg’s anatomy.

They stayed at the airport hotel to prep for an early departure. I decided to hop a late bus back to Cuenca. I’m just drawn to this place for reasons I can’t quite explain. I walked back to my hotel, arriving around 11 p.m. The young man behind the desk this time did not speak any English. I asked for a solo room, and he said yes. I asked for two nights and he said yes. Then, in his gallant attempt to communicate, he said “Twenty dollars.” I wondered if that could be right, so I pulled out a $20 bill and asked, “This much?” He shook his head, punched the number 30 on his desk calculator, then showed it to me and said, “Twenty!” Realizing that he simply confused the word “twenty” with the word “thirty,” I pulled out the right amount for 2 nights. As he turned to put it into the drawer, he muttered under his breath, “Ay, gringos, gringos, gringos!” I’m not sure if he meant for me to hear it, but I let it pass because I think he believed I was trying to talk him down on the price of the room. He must have been thinking, “What does this look like, an open market!” :-)

Then it was off to bed in my new (even if temporary) home.

In Salinas

Today we left Manta and traveled south to Salinas, going through not only a variety of smaller towns, but apparently a variety of ecosystems as well. Leaving Manta, we passed from beach to Badlands to rain forest, all in the space of about 50 km. It’s one of the things I have loved about Ecuador so far. One can be on the coast or in the mountains, in a bustling city or a quiet village, even in the new world or the old world, all for the price of a bus ticket, all in a country the size of Colorado. What an incredible variety.

Manta was nice, but not exactly my cup of tea. It was heavily industrial and a major commercial port. That means lots of people, and frankly lots of dirt. I enjoy peace and quiet, and Manta was hopping.

So I was happy to stop for a while in Puerto Cayo, a smaller town along the coast which is absolutely picturesque. The pace of life there was clearly more laid back, more of what I expected from Latin America. We walked the beach and drove here and there throughout the village. I have seen three different House Hunters International programs featuring Puerto Cayo, and I made contact some time ago with a good man who bought a house there. He has helped me immensely to prep for this trip, and even while I’ve been on site. Many thanks, Steve.

Then we finished the trip arriving in Salinas. It’s not exactly my kind of place, either. There is definitely a party atmosphere here. There is also a large number of expats here, too. In fact, as we were searching for a hotel,m we walked by an open restaurant, where the bartender took one look at us and said, “How y’all doin’?” Is it that obvious?

When we did check into our hotel, it is a bit pricey, but it is also a 2 BR suite that I could share with Greg and Debby. So instead of my usual spartan accommodations, for a little extra I will spend the night in an apartment overlooking the Pacific, and the windows of the dining area open up completely to create an indoor terrace. It’s been fun to see how the other half lives. :-)

Tomorrow we tour Salinas, then in the evening, we return to Guayaquil. Greg and Debby return home Tuesday a.m., I don’t fly back until Thursday, I’m thinking of returning to Cuenca for my final two days. That seems to fit me well. Besides, I was able to buy an alpaca blanket and sweater there that we haven’t found anywhere along the coast. Debby Chambers really would really like to get one, so maybe I can pick these up for her as a way of thanking them for their constant generosity.

A Perfectly Wonderful Lackluster Day

It’s pretty cool when you can say, “Nothing much happened today,” and the day was still great, right?

The day began with breakfast on an open terrace at the hotel. If I ever lived in a place like this, such a terrace is now a must. Simply splendid.

Then we explored more of Manta. It turns out to be a bit of a disappointment to me. It doesn’t have the old-world charm of Cuenca, nor the sleepy fidhing village feel of Puerto Cayo. It’s just a bustling third-world city which happens to be located on a wonderful stretch of the Pacific Ocean.

So, things were more mundane and less adventuresome. But that really worked out fine. I took a walk along the beach. Here, the ocean churns up a few shells, but mostly rocks. Yes, rocks. And they’re fascinating. Basalt. Quartz. Conglomerates. I’m taking some home, and I’m almost as happy with them as the alpaca blanket.

I sat on the balcony watching all kinds of birds. There are flocks of pelicans, who don’t dive into the ocean so much as they smack into it, with great force and noise, creating giant splashes. I’ll have to do more research. Are they trying to stun their pray with shock and awe? Are they just clumsy? And there was another bird, much smoother in its approach, but I don’t know what kind of bird it was. Instead of diving straight down like the pelicans, these went into the ocean diagonally and seemed to scoop up their lunch on the fly. Then there are these kites. Watching them use their split tails as rudders is simply fascinating.

Since not much else was going on, I took a good long nap. I didn’t realize how badly I needed one.

And then it was out to dinner at a local sports bar. Well, it should really be called a “sport” bar here, since soccer is the only option. But I had a little taste of home, a good bacon cheeseburger.

So, my gringo moment of the day? I told Greg that I hoped the water in the shower was better than the water from the foot sprayer, which had a strong smell of sulphur. Greg laughed and explained that wasn’t a foot sprayer, it was the South American version of a bidet. Are you kidding? I told him the water smelled so bad that it may be the only bidet leaving you worse off than when you began! :-)

Tomorrow, we begin moving down the coast. Puerto Cayo is next, and Salinas is Monday.

In Manta

I met my friends Greg and Debby Chambers at the Guayaquil airport this morning. They are great friends, and just great people in general, among the best of people in the world as far as I am concerned. They are intelligent, generous, good-hearted, kind folks, and just plain fun to be with. I’m glad I get to share a leg of this trip with them.

The plan was that they would rent a car, and together we would travel the coast, hitting Bahia, then Manta, then Puerto Cayo, then Salinas. As it turns out, we may not do all of that. The rental car is very expensive and comes with only 400 km. free mileage. Above that, we have to pay 38 cents per kilometer (61 cents per mile). So we scratched Bahia off the list and settled for Manta.

Here in Manta, Ecuador, I experienced another first. Believe it or not, for all my travels, I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean before today.

After lunch at the beach, we went exploring. We caught a local bus and toured downtown near Central Park. Frankly, I just didn’t find it too impressive. We ate supper, however, at a very nice pizza place that we stumbled upon. Great pizza, great ambiance. Then we hopped a bus back to the hotel. Or so we thought. We need to go about three miles to our hotel, but a block after picking us up, the bus turned left and headed back into downtown. We disembarked almost exactly where we had boarded and waited for a second bus. This time, we made sure it was headed in our direction. A comedy of errors, but we’re in Ecuador, so who cares.

We decided to share a hotel room. I’m notoriously cheap when choosing hotels. Greg and Debby … not so much. But as I say, they’re generous people and so rather than finding a $50 per night room for me, they opted to let me stay with them in an oceanside room at an upscale hotel. It has one queen bed and one single bed. Greg was quick to point out that I got the single bed. But before bedtime, we sat out on the balcony for a couple of hours and simply enjoyed the wind in our faces and the sound of crashing waves in our ears.

Ahhh … Pacific means “peaceful,” doesn’t it?

Cuenca by Day, Guayaquil by Night

This morning began with breakfast at the hotel.  If you ever go to Cuenca, I highly recommend the Hotel Posada del Rey.  My room was clean, the staff was friendly and spoke English, it’s right in the middle of everything, and the breakfast which would have cost $10 in the U.S. came with the $30 room. :-)

Then it was off for a little more shopping, but mostly just walking around.  I meandered everywhere.  I just love the extraordinary mix of hustle and bustle with laid-back Latin American.  And I did my usual people-watching.  One thing I noticed was the relaxed attitude parents have toward the children, who seemed to be fellow adventurers with me.  They wandered the markets, played with stick horses and then put them back for sale, and found all kinds of mischief that no one else  seemed to care a whit about.  There is something to be said for this approach, judging from their apparently universal happiness.

As noon drew near, I headed back to the hotel for checkout.  I’ve accumulated so much stuff that I may have to buy another suitcase to get home.  So, I loaded up like a pack mule and walked the 20 blocks to the bus terminal.  I took my time, even stopping to sit in a street market about halfway there.  As I sat, a nearby vendor pulled out a hammer and started breaking what appeared to be large black walnuts.  She brought one over to me, opened it up and let me sample it.  It was shaped like a walnut, and the meat looked like walnut, but it tasted much sweeter.  Maybe heating it changed the taste.  Or maybe it wasn’t a walnut at all.

I got to the bus terminal just in time to board immediately for the bus to Guayaquil.  More spectacular scenery.  I was on the opposite side this time, and saw things I did not see en route to Cuenca.  Like a few small towns or villages that seemed to have located where they were for no apparent reason.  And I noticed that the clouds and mist made the mountains cooler than Cuenca, and that people who had built houses had cleverly put them directly in the sunny spots.

We arrived in Guayaquil at 6 p.m.  I had been told to pay $5 for the cab to my hotel when I arrived, but I was charged $7.  Then, when I was transported from the hotel yesterday, I was charged $6.  So, determined, I pulled out the hotel address and a $5 bill, and walked into the taxi zone.  As a man approached, I boldly handed him the address and said, “This place, for $5.”  If he had said $7 or $6, I was going to keep shopping.  He nodded, and I felt victorious.  Then he told a young man to take me, and handed him the address.  I realized that this wasn’t the taxi driver at all, he was something like a supervisor, directing all the drivers. If he had refused the $5, I would have been shut down.  Ay, what a gringo!

My hotel here is in an area of town that seems run down.  I’m assured that I am safe, but it reminds me of places in Atlanta where I would not feel so safe.  But I was hungry, and so ventured out two blocks for food.  I found a Ecuadorian Chinese Restaurant. Boy, was that confusing.  Across the street was a small fast food stand.  I paid $2 for a sub sandwich and a Coke, and decided to eat it in my room.

I rendezvous with Greg and Debby tomorrow, and head for Bahia.  While I was out getting my supper, a bus passed me with “Bahia” in the window.  I genuinely think you can get from anywhere in this country to anywhere else in this country on a bus with very little inconvenience.  But Greg’s braver than I, and he’s rented a car.  I’m just glad it will be him driving, not me.  These drivers zigzag around the road like screen savers, and they have a series of hand signals and beeps that they seem to understand.  But, with the exception of one hand signal that I recognized very clearly, I don’t know that language any better than Spanish.

Cuenca – What a Magical Place!

I scratched all kinds of things today. Like the itch for adventure. And my cheapskate bone. All at the same time.

After a pleasant breakfast (2 fried eggs, 2 pieces of fried bologna, and two large slices of bread, all of which I turned into a breakfast sandwich) at the hotel, I took a cab to the bus terminal. There I paid $8 for a ticket to Cuenca. It’s only 125 miles away, but it takes roughly 4 hours because it is straight up. Guayaquil is at sea level, Cuenca is 8,200 feet above.

The scenery on the way was incredible. We climbed so high that we were in the clouds. Then we climbed above them. And the Andes mountains are simply spectacular. They are like the Rockies in one regard – as you move toward the Rockies, they look as if they are rising straight out of the plains, as if you could be standing on the plains, then step onto the mountains. The Andes do the same thing. But they are unlike the Rockies in other respects. Very green and lush, and very asymmetrical. Also, the mountains we crossed had tremendous cliffs, some of them curbside. I’m talking 500 foot drops, and if the bus flipped over the guardrail, the trip up to heaven starts with a long trip down. Every now and then, if there was just enough land, someone would squeeze a house into one of these spaces. The front door would be just a few feet back from the road. There was no need for a back door, lest someone step into the verdant abyss. I saw waterfalls. I saw llamas. I saw a cow with a hump like a camel. I saw another cow, like the cows I’m accustomed to, standing literally 6 inches from a precipice so deep I couldn’t see the bottom. I made eye contact with a mountain goat standing on a cutout in the mountain perhaps three feet from the bus passing by him.

Then I saw Cuenca. As George Takei would say, “Oh, my!!”

Cuenca is this incredible mix of old world Spanish colonialism and modern city. Picture a grid of streets. Each block is filled with four to six story buildings. The bottom of the building is a commercial shop of some kind. The upper floors are residences. There are few cars, and little need for them. You can get anywhere on a bus which runs every 20 minutes and costs a quarter, or you can take a taxi, which typically costs $1.50.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re wondering what the U.S. did with all those gold Presidential and Sacagawea dollar coins that we absolutely refuse to use … they’re all here.

So, I checked into my hotel, right in the heart of the historic downtown, and paid the $30 for my room. Then I walked three blocks to an incredible open-air market. And though I always wait until I’m about to leave country to shop for gifts to take home, I had to strike while the iron was hot. The prices were just so ridiculously low, I feared I wouldn’t see them again once I got to the coastline. I played the bargaining game that’s expected, but not too hard. I ate a heaping plate of chorizo sausage and potatoes for $1.50. I wanted to buy a custard-filled pastry for dessert (think mini-eclairs), but I was having a hard time communicating with the vendor as to the cost. Finally I just handed her $1, willing to accept however many mouthfuls of fresh-baked heaven that buck would buy me. She put ten in a bag. I’ll have to wipe the powdered sugar off the keyboard after I finish this blog.

I love this place. Absolutely love this place. And Cuenca was a side trip. I really came here to see the coast. Can it possibly be any better than this? I plan to find out. And that gives me this strange jumble of emotions. I could not be more content than I am at this moment, in this place. And I’m so juiced to see what comes next!

So I Woke Up This Morning … In Ecuador. WHAT?!?!?

One of the things on my “bucket list” is to visit all seven continents. Yes, that includes Antarctica. Yesterday, I touched down in South America. Five down, two to go.

I traveled well. Debi and Kaye Pattillo drove me to the airport in Atlanta. On the way, we introduced Kaye to John Michael Talbot. I sat in the back seat, sang like no one could see me, wept and worshiped. I feel as though his music carries me into the presence of God.

I passed through the airport fairly quickly, then took a puddle jumper to Miami. I was a bit surprised in the Miami airport to encounter a TSA agent who may have spoken some English, but not enough to really communicate well. He asked me a question as I stepped out of the scanner, that I did not exactly understand. Was he speaking Spanish, or was that his attempt to speak English? Either way, I wasn’t picking up what he was laying down, so he motioned to me to extend my arms and proceeded to pat me down. That may have been what he was saying in the first place.

On the four hour flight to Guayaquil, I realized I had not eaten anything yet. Soon thereafter, American Airlines obliged me with a chicken dinner. Have they improved their meals, or was I that famished?

I sat next to a young lady named Danielle working on her Master’s degree in landscape architecture. She had studied Spanish since she was in high school and Spanish culture as a major in college, and had spent a year in Ecuador. She was a treasure trove of information for me.

That really proved to be helpful, because this is unlike tourist destinations where many people speak English. A few people here do, but I had troubled communicating even with the immigration official at the airport. Thankfully, I had printed out my hotel reservation, so simply handed that to the cab driver. He took me to the Guayaquil Tropical Inn, where I had to use the same printed reservation because neither of the clerks spoke a word of English. But it all worked out, and now here I sit on my hotel bed, typing a blog post … from Ecuador.

Today I hope to catch a bus to Cuenca, about 4 hours away. Getting to the bus terminal will be an adventure. Getting on the right bus will be an adventure, too. But, adventure is exactly why I’m here. Let’s do this!

A Pastoral Heaviness

You know how passionate I am about discipleship, and how concerned I am that we have had multiple generations now that have been on a steady diet of milk without ever really moving to meat.  Sometimes that becomes apparent to me in the oddest of ways.  Like today.

Yesterday we celebrated Christian communion.  I spoke from Leviticus 16 about the Day of Atonement.  I made essentially three points:

1.  Atonement had to be made for all the people of Israel, including Aaron the High Priest.  He was not perfect.  He sinned and his personal sin had to be addressed before He could offer sacrifices for others.  Moreover, the Levitical priests who offered sin offerings on behalf of others, they had to be cleansed, too.  So did the  Tent of Meeting itself, and the altar on which sacrifice was made, even the Holy of Holies.  All had to be cleansed, because it was “among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”

I showed how this pictured the coming Messiah, who could offer Himself as a sacrifice of atonement, on His own merit, because He was the only one who was truly clean.  I noted that the other sacrifices had to be offered continually because the blood of bulls and goats could never truly take away sin, but Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all because his sacrifice was actual, not symbolic.

2.  The goat that was chosen to be sacrificed demonstrates God’s justice.  We hear the word “priest” and we think of a nice man in a black suit with a clerical collar.  He’s refined and benign and civilized.  But in the OT, a priest butchered animals all day every day.  It was bloody and gory and violent.  When we consider all that gruesome bloodshed, we come to a better view of how God views sin with bitter hatred and wrath.  And we come to some understanding that it is actually merciful for God to pour out that wrath and visit that justice upon an animal instead of on the humans who are really and truly guilty.

Again, I showed how this related to Christ.  God poured out His wrath upon one who was truly innocent instead of pouring it out on the entire human race.  I think this is the point of Rom. 3:23-26: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

God could not just wink at the monstrosity of sin still be just.  He did not just ignore sin, He dealt with it.  And He did so in a way that expresses the true vehemence which He feels toward sin.  He turned His face away from His own Son.  Jesus did more than die.  He bore the righteous wrath of God against sin.

How beautifully Thomas Kelly captured that thought in these words from his hymn, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”:

Many hands were raised to wound him

None would interpose to save; 

But the deepest stroke that pierced him

Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,

Nor suppose the evil great

Here may view its nature rightly,

Here its guilt may estimate.

3.  Finally, I talked about the scapegoat.  If the goat of sacrifice pictures God’s wrath against sin, this goat represents God’s compassion for sinners.  The picture is so clear any child can see it.  This goat symbolically carries the sins of the people of Israel out into the wilderness, and neither the goat nor the sins he bore would ever be seen or heard from again.  Those sins were gone.

And so it is with Jesus.  Having borne the justice of God in His death, we are forgiven for our sins.  Not symbolically forgiven, but really and truly forgiven.

So why do I speak of pastoral heaviness?  Because of the number of Christians, some who have been followers of Christ for many years and even many decades, came up to speak to me after the service.  I know they meant well and intended to be encouraging about the sermon.  But what they said was hard for me to hear:   “I’ve never heard anything like that in my life.”

How can it be that Christians have not really considered Jesus’ vicarious atonement?  That they’ve never been taught that His passion was foreshadowed in those Old Testament sacrifices, that He was our atoning sacrifice, that He was truly innocent, that He bore the awful hatred of God for sin, and that He forgives so fully and freely that our sins are carried into oblivion, never to be remembered?

I came away convicted.  We have to do a better job.  I have to do a better job.  Pastors, God’s people need to grow up.  And it begins with us.

My Week in Brief

Mar. 16 – OK, so I have to confess to a little jealousy. As Katie McCormick shared her powerful stories today, I looked out to see how you were receiving it. I saw smiles. I saw tears. I saw you caught up in every word. I want it to be what I see every Sunday. So I’m committing to sharing more stories like Jesus, even if I share less info like Paul! :-) And I’m committing to having others tell their stories, too. So … if you would like to share with others what God has done and is doing in your life, please let me know. Your voice should be heard.

Mar. 16 – I had a blast sitting down with Rhett Walker and the band. I like to spend time with artists who come in because I want to get behind the façade, cut through all the fog of celebrity, and hear the human story. And I appreciate when they let me see their heart. Rhett was a misguided youth. But, as his song says: “And in one moment everything changed. Who I was got washed away when mercy found me.” I’m glad God’s mercy found Rhett. I hope it’s found you, too.

Mar. 17 – Pastor Mike and I attended the Ordination Council for Kris Kuriger, the student pastor at Hagood Ave. Kris was examined and knocked it out of the park. My favorite moment: Asked what he thought was the greatest need of youth today, he said: “I think our kids want God in quips. They post these really inspirational messages on Twitter, and then they go out and live any way they want. It’s like they want God in 100 characters or less. They need to slow down and experience God more deeply.” Well said, young man, well said.

Mar. 18 – Pastor Mike and I attended a BBQ luncheon for government officials. I did meet a few, but it turns out God’s reason for me to be there was different. I connected with Sonny Holmes (President of SCBC in 2011) and D. J. Horton (current President), and was blessed by both. I also ran into Pastor Naveen Balakrishnan, who has spoken here before. All of these were rich blessings!

Mar. 18 – Tonight Debi and I attended a Fernando Ortega concert in Augusta. What gifts this man has! What a gift he is! We ran into our friends the Haglers. You may have prayed for them 2 years ago when their daughter died in a drowning accident. It was so very good to see them. I left refreshed though my day had been long.

Mar. 19 – Pastor Phillip Thomas brought a wonderful message at today’s Lenten Service: “Compassion is love in action.” I appreciate this good brother, and this community we serve together.

Mar. 19 – I got my electronic version of LiveIT magazine today and was shocked to see I was quoted in it. Scott Vaughn with the SCBC had called me about Band of Brothers, but I thought it was for in-house assessment purposes, not for publication. Glad I didn’t say anything really dumb!

Mar. 19 – I visited Bobby Mixon in Barnwell Hospital this evening. His blood sugar is too high and he may have an ulcer. Please join me in praying for him.

Mar. 20 – Today as I was in the Mentor Room with my two young men, they looked at the bulletin board with pictures of former mentors and their protégés. Don’t ask me why, but they pointed to a picture of Lee Clamp and asked, “Is that you?” “Why, yes,” I said, “yes it is.” :-)

Mar. 20 – I spoke to Superintendent Jay Grissom and to BPS Principal Donna Selvey about starting a new award for the most improved student for the quarter and also for the school year. I want to call it the “Rising Star” award. We’ll present the student with a certificate and also a gift card to eat out. Maybe you would like to do the same for one of the other schools. If so, let me know and I’ll help you get set up.