About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


2013-06-23 Hands
Habitat Blitz Sunday
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Scripture                                                                                     Ephesians 2:13-22
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[a] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[b] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[c] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[d] into a dwelling place for God.


One hand holds the hammer, 
another hand, the nail. 
One hand delivers bottles of water, 
another picks them up from the ground beneath the roof's edge, where they have rolled and fallen and bounced with hollow pops.

One hand lifts a board. 
One hand pulls the rope. 
One hand stirs the paint while another raises the brush, 
pulls it down, 
then up again 
until the wall is covered in the color that a little girl will claim as her very own, 
the tint and tone of her room, 
her place, 
her princess' castle, 
her dance studio, 
her library, 
her place to snuggle in safety, 
and sleep, and dream.

One hand tightens the drain trap. 
The kitchen's hidden elbow that never bends, 
but keeps collections of leftovers too small to contain, 
and bobby pins, 
and the tweezers used to retrieve a lost earring.

One hand tightens the screw of the wallplate that covers the lightswitch that will flip on when the guests yell, "Surprise!" 
One hand holds the siding strip on the sawhorse while another holds the tape measure. 
"Measure twice, cut once," is spoken yet again, as another hand marks the place 
that another will saw in the first time he has ever operated such a sharp-toothed beast.

One hand pulls up that of another. 
One hand signals a thumbs up, a wave, a high-five. 
One hand extends palm up, a question, the asking of what it might do next, because it can serve and it can work and it can be useful even more. 
One hand presses itself into its reflection in prayer.

One hand with another, and another, and another, building together what not one could do on its own. 
No longer instruments for personal progress, they are hands holding hope and sharing what no fingers can enfold, but all, together, can give away.

Not one hand, but two. 
Not two hands, but four. 
Not four, but eight, sixteen. 
Hands multiplying beyond the edge of weak numbers, pointing away to heavenly aims, saying, 
"No, not me, but you, and past you to the Christ 
whose hands lived and died with nails, with hammers, with boards 
and people whose hands he held and holds even now." 
Hands beyond count, but hands that do count. 
And the counting begins with one.


"You are … citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."

In the hands of Jesus Christ, we who are many, we who are different, we who are separate, are built together into one. 

The counting always begins with one.


It takes a lot of hands to build a house. But when they're all working together, as they say, many hands make light work. 

In just a few minutes - as soon as the preacher stops talking - we're going to have a slide presentation that celebrates the many hands that worked yesterday on the house we're sponsoring with Habitat for Humanity. 

But before we do that, I want to tell you about another set of hands. I want to tell you about the hands of somebody you probably never met. It's someone whose picture won't be in the slideshow, but whose hand is very present in this project. I want to tell you about Mildred Cardwell, and let you know a little about the work of her hands.

Mildred sat about three-quarters of the way back in the center section of pews. It's hard for me to tell precisely who her pew belongs to now, because it's a very popular section. Mildred always sat beside her friend, Mildred Campbell, so we were blessed with a marvelous pair of Mildreds in close proximity.

Mildred Cardwell was a widow. She lived with her cat, whose name was Anthony. They shared a very modest home, tucked way back off Alcoa Highway across from the National Guard Armory. You've driven past it countless times, and likely never given it a second thought. Next time you go that way, when you get to the Armory, look to your right, and you'll see Mildred's home.

After worship on Sundays, Mildred would step outside the sanctuary and shake my hand. Her hand was a like a tiny, delicate bird that held yours as gently as an egg. And she herself was slight; you worried that a large gust of wind might carry her off. Mildred was quiet, even shy, but always, always generous with her smile and an unimposing thrift of kind words.

Mildred didn't have much family left. She kept a few close friends, preferring quality over quantity. She kept to herself; mainly, I think, because she didn't want to trouble anybody. It was a manner she continued after she developed cancer, and peacefully died at the age of 83.

A few months after we had her funeral, I got a phone call, telling me that Mildred had remembered Lake Hills in her will. That was so like her: sweet and kind. I said, "Oh, that's so nice." And then I heard how much she had remembered the church. It was the largest single bequest we've ever received. It was a few seconds before I remembered to breathe. It was a gift, pure and simple, with no strings attached, no wishes, no direction. Just, a gift.

So, we did what all good Presbyterians do: we formed a committee. And we gave them the task of figuring out how to be good stewards of Mildred's gift. After listening to the congregation and praying and talking, they decided to divide the gift into three areas - Ministry for our youth program, Making the church more accessible to people with limited mobility, and what you're going to see in a minute, a Habitat for Humanity house.

Now, we've worked on Habitat houses before. But never until now have we had the resources to be the main sponsors. We're not just volunteering, we're leading the way.

And we're doing this because of the gift that came from the kind and gentle, generous, quiet hands of Mildred Cardwell. Our hands are at work because of hers. 

Things that count always begin with one.


When you hold your hands out beside someone else's, you see how unique they are. Your hands may be rough and calloused. Yours may be gentle and soft. Your hands may be frail. Your fingers may be painfully bent by age. Your hands may have the smoothness of youth, the strength to grasp and bend the world to your uses.

But however they look, however they feel, however they might compare, your hands bear a gift. You may not see it; others might not grasp it, but the gift is there. And the gift is in your hands.

Your gift might be a surprise, opened long after you're gone from this world, a last will and enduring testament. Your gift might be the ability to play a musical instrument. It might be painting a work of art. Your gift might be the hammering of nails, the tightening of a wrench, the typing of a spreadsheet, the kneading of dough, the pushing of a wheelchair, the carrying of someone else's burden. You might not have discovered what it is yet. 

But whatever it is, the gift is in your hands. 

"But," you think, "I'm just one person." Things that count always begin with one, one who shares her gift, who joins her gift with someone else's, who then join their gifts with those of more, building and building up beyond what they can hold and giving away the gifts which can't be held, but only given.


Think back on how many hands have shaped you. 
Hands that built you, formed you, lifted you when you felt like you were ready to be condemned.

How many hands?
Hands beyond count, but hands that do count. 
Hands invisibly connected to one another, but all beginning with, and all held by the hand of Christ. 
The One, in whose hand we do count. 
One hand, building you, building me, building all of us together, into a dwelling place for God.

Use the gifts God has placed in your hands to build someone up today.  
Do it.
Just because you can see they need a hand.
And I promise you - the Bible promises you - that one day you will look back and discover that all along you've been being rebuilt by the hand of The One, in whom everything that counts begins.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Get The Break

You Get the Break

"We are what we repeatedly do." - Aristotle

I once had a summer basketball camp coach who was fond of misquoting Vince Lombardi. He told us boys, "Practice does not make perfect. Practicing right makes you perfect. Practicing the wrong things makes you perfect at the wrong things."

Isn't it odd that we jump to practicing without asking if we're practicing the right things?

We practice the things that keep the peace, that make the money, that pay the mortgage, that make us popular, that we see in the media, that other people do. The results reinforce our habits, which reinforce our minds, that reassure our opinions that we must be practicing the right things.

Habits are so hard to change because, good or bad, once we're practiced at them, they're ours. They're us. People know us by our habits. They know what to expect of us, where to find us, how we'll behave. But more, habits are what we know of ourselves. If we practice habits that produce good results, we self-assess as, "good." If we practice habits with less-than-desired results, we call ourselves, "bad," or weak, or lazy, or any number of names that do absolutely nothing to encourage us. That's not a good habit. But it's ours. So, [insert person, boss, church, spouse, parent, child] stop bugging me about my [insert habit here]. That's just who I am.

If only we could get a break from what we repeatedly (have to) do. But then, who would we be?

My tradition of faith has long wrestled with this question. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1576 answered this way:

"I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.... Because I belong to him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."

In other words: You are not what you repeatedly do. You are not just the sum of your habits. You are something more than the results your practices produce.

Your habits are just... habits. They may be good; they may be bad; but they're not you. You're free to jump out of the hamster wheel of habits and try something else without sacrificing your worth.

You get the break.

What will you do with it?


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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Celebrate What You're Not

Celebrate What You're Not

No band.

No projectors.

No yelling.

Just worship.

That's the sign in the hallway where most of our guests enter the church building. It's a way of telling people about Sunday worship by telling them what we're not.

What are you... not?

It used to be that all you needed to start a church was a Bible and a bowl of water. Now, you need a warehouse, projectors, screens, a band, strategic ferns, and a preacher with a three-legged stool.

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church has none of these. And that's OK.

(Full disclosure: we do have a projector and a portable screen that find occasional use in worship.)

The fastest route to irrelevance is bending over backwards to be relevant. The fastest way to be old-fashioned is racing to the latest fashion. A 50 year-old man can dress like his teenage son, but that doesn't make him young, or cool. It makes him a 50 year-old man in the clothes of his teenage son. Not cool.

Making people happy, making people like you, is exhausting. No one can keep up. This doesn't mean you throw out your adaptive skills. It means you sharpen your adaptation. It means you aim carefully at who you choose to be, and, by consequence, who you will not. Does this mean you don't care what other people think? Of course not. But caring what others think of you is different from living under the fear of missing out.

If a church's goal is attracting more members, it's missing the point. My view is that the purpose of the church is to live as a faithful community, serving God by making the world a more loving place. Can a church do that with a band, projectors, and angry voices? Of course it can. Many do. But it doesn't need to. Unless it chooses to. And then, it chooses not to do other things. And that's OK.

If the goal of your life is convincing people to like you, you're also missing the point. Because no matter how many "Likes" you get, there are always people who won't click with you. You can worry yourself to death about this, or you can focus your energy and send your gifts to their best use. But this means you'll also choose how you will not spend your energy. And that's OK.

Joshua 24:15 says, "Choose today whom you will serve." That's the part that often gets quoted. But it also says to choose whom you will not serve, what you won't do, whom you won't be. The choice of what you don't do makes you just as unique as what you choose to do. Celebrate what you're not.