It happens like this . . .

Hi friends.

Some of you are very familiar with Young Life’s ministry. Windy and i have been involved for thirty-something years, and love the work. Tonight is the fund-raising banquet for YL in the Sandhills–Allen Levi will be with us. That’s always a treat for me; we go way back . . .

i pecked out the following last night for the banquet “program.”

It’s a simple strategy really—if you can call it a strategy. It happens like this…

You’re just a kid, hangin’ around school with your friends. One day you begin to hear some buzz around the halls about something called Young Life. You hear it might be something religious so you avoid it like the plague.

Then some friends start to nag you about going to “club” one night, and you figure they’ve lost their minds. So, you make some lame excuse.

After a few weeks of that nagging, you find out that SHE is involved in this Young Life Club thing. SHE is so cool, and beautiful, this thing must be OK. So, you hang a ride with your friends on a Monday night, and off you go. Your mom thinks it’s good ‘cause you kind of pumped up the religious part.

When you get there, you’re amazed at the crowd. Not only are there lots of people there, but all kinds of people are there. You bump around and talk to some folks over the noise, but when the whole thing starts you find a place to sit near the back. They break out guitars and sing some songs you heard on the radio before, and then they play some game where the girls beat the boys with foam baseball bats. You don’t really understand it but everybody is laughing and it IS kind of funny.

Then they sing some more songs and somebody mentions a weekend camp. You don’t really know what that’s about, either, but some people you know kinda get fired up about it. Including HER. Yep.

The last couple of songs are about Jesus or somethin’, and you’re a little uneasy—even though the singing sounds really good. The leader is a guy about nine feet tall. He’s kinda relaxed and cool, so you find it easy to like him. He tells some stories about his family and about when he was growing up, and that’s all kind of funny. He picks up this little book and starts to read from it. You are surprised that all your friends and these other people are listening to a guy read from the Bible! This tall leader makes it seem familiar, and you could almost listen to him read for hours. He talks about what he’s read for a few more minutes, and then he prays. Everybody is quiet for the whole thing! And then, it’s over…

A few days later some guys invite you to come with them to the ball field to play Frisbee with the tall fellow. Everybody runs their legs off, and then heads to Bojangle’s for some tea. From there you get invited to have breakfast with all of them on Thursday before school. The tall guy can give you a ride. It’s just a time when the bros get together and yack about life and God and what it all might mean. Sounds fine to you, so you tell them you’re in.

Two weeks later you’ve gotten to know Greg, the tall guy, fairly well. On the way to your third breakfast with the bros, Greg asks you if you want to go to camp. He says he’s got a spot in his cabin with your name on it. You ask your mom, again pumping up the religious part, and she writes the check.

Camp. That’s one word for it. The place is awesome is what it is. 300 high school folks are there, including HER. You actually get to sit near her on the bus, and you try to be cool.

They have all kinds of stuff to do at this camp, and it’s all crazy fun. Greg is right in the middle of it with you. The food is great, and they have Young Life Clubs, only on steroids! 300 kids singin’ awesome songs and there’s a full band and everything. A cool guy, not as cool as Greg but probably one of his friends, is the speaker at the clubs. He says it all in a way you’ve never heard it before. “It all,” you know, the stuff about Jesus.

Saturday night they give you some time to be by yourself and think about stuff the speaker has said. You find yourself saying thank you to Jesus, and wanting Him to be your friend forever.

On Sunday morning, the Young Life Club seems different somehow. It’s like you have stepped into another world you didn’t know about or understand before. Now you feel at home in it. And you realize what’s happened. You’ve watched Greg and his friends love something, or Someone, and they’ve shown you the way. It’s simple, really.
You were made for this.

Praying for you all, always…

mike

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Keep a rope in the back of your truck . . .

My first stop on today’s journey was to be Mandolin Valley, so i chose the scenic route up Highway 22, through the country.

Most days i drive either two or four hours, and prefer to stay off the Interstates, though i get little to no cell service when i do so. Most days, that’s ok with me, especially the drive home when it’s after business hours anyway. Nobody much expects to reach me or to hear from me after around 6 p.m.

Some days i go straight from home to Bass Lake, in Salisbury, and take 24/27 out of Carthage over through Biscoe and Troy. i love the drive across Tillery and through the Uwharrie Mountains and the National Forest. i stopped at the lake, just before the bridge to take in the scenery one morning this week, and updated my Facebook status. Julia responded that she was at Tillery, but i missed her.

So, today i came up through the woods. Just before the High Falls town limits, the highway crosses Deep River. i always think of it as the Tall Bridge over the Deep River at High Falls. The bridge is certainly much higher than the river is deep there, but from the bridge you can see the spillway up-river where there’s a little dam. The river really is shallow right there, and the water mostly rambles downstream through all the rocks and boulders. Windy would say it’s a nice setting for a picnic.

Several miles up the road from the Tall Bridge over Deep River at High Falls, is Coleridge. This is a small, quiet community with a beautiful, fairly new, elementary school and a little gas station/convenience store. North of Coleridge, along Hwy. 22, there are several farms, and somebody’s cows had gotten out just south of Parks Crossing. Some fellas were out there discussing what to do, and it provided some awesome entertainment for me.

That reminded me that a woman came into the office at Bass Lake on Monday to say that there was a cow loose just down the road at the river crossing, and asked if it was ours. “Not ours,” i said, wishing it were, though. We have some pasture already fenced that could support maybe as many as four.

Note to self: get a good length of rope for the next time you encounter cows on the loose, and always keep that rope in the back of the truck!

Further up the highway i was a bit offended by the Brahman bull in one of the pastures over there. i mumbled something like “you ain’t from around here, are ya boy?” i’m just accustomed to seeing those big, Black Angus bulls around here. The Brahman did make me remember, for some reason, that Grace is in India, and i smiled about that and forgave the bull for being there.

Jesse brought 60 watermelons and his wife Virginia to Banjo yesterday. 4th of July, you know. We have fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, onions, cantaloupes, and some other stuff in the store up there now. Garden fresh, you know. Marion says the Banjo Garden will yield some good stuff soon, and we can’t wait.

Monday night i got home around eight. i dumped my two computers and assorted other junk i carry around all the time, and went straight to the garden. There were a couple of squash ready to pull, and i took them inside to wash them. Sliced, salted and peppered, i put them in a pan with some butter, and was eating them along with my steak within half an hour after they were pulled. That was sort of my vision for the garden; eating fresh food from it often. i did tell Windy i’d love to have a squash casserole on Christmas Day with squash we’d put up from our own garden. It’s in the freezer now.

My friend Murf was always fond of talking to the boys about “green-housing” their souls. i like that idea. It speaks to me of taking in the right food (for the soul) and sinking deep roots, and paying more attention to the private life than to the public life. Gordon MacDonald says many of us are so “out there” that much of what we are is mostly public, to the neglect of our “private worlds.”

Eating fresh from the garden made me think some about staying close to the Source, and keeping the cows inside the fence, so-to-speak. i pray for all of us that this season in our lives will find us in the greenhouse, close to the Source, and keeping the cows eating the home-grown hay instead of that ever-enticing green grass by the road side. Jesus is the lover of our souls.

Peace, friends. Prayers for you always,

mike

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So, you want a garden? Plant it!

If the garden is tilled, fed, watered, and fenced, but nothing is planted there, is it still a garden?

Or is it just a garden plot.

We started the seeds in the house, in little seedling cups. All except for the tomatos, which Laura and Larry gave us as plants. When the time seemed right (no more really cold weather), we transplanted everything outside. Everything is arranged in rows pretty much. We drew a diagram so we could keep up with what’s what.

And we poured the water to it. For over a week we thought the tomatos weren’t going to make it. Imperceptible growth. Ditto squash, peppers, peas & beans, lettuce, cucumbers, and onions.

Jesse told me not to panick. “It’s the roots that are growing now. They’re finding the food and getting set up for the growin’.”

So, i went out there and spoke to the garden. This was over a week after planting. “Is this gonna work? i mean, are you gonna hold it against us that we don’t really know what we’re doing? Are you gonna let any of this live and produce?”

The garden said, “Go away. I know what I’m doin’. And, hey, back off the water a little, will ya?”

You know, i don’t like to be talked to like that. Especially by dirt that’s 3 parts cow poo. Made me mad, boy. i went in the house, bypassing the water spigget.

That was a few weeks ago. It’s rained some, and been hot some. We’ve only watered a couple of times since then.

Look at this:

Snagged these today, 6/14
Snagged these today, 6/14

i guess there might be something to that part about the roots needing time.

Caleb and i were yackin’ about “dry times” and it reminded me of the garden and of my grass, too. Somebody told me that when you deprive plants of water, the roots go deeper looking for it, and the plant gets stronger. Maybe in dry times or tough times in our lives, our soul goes looking for the grace and mercy to make it through.

Come on Grace and Mercy!

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Back to the garden . . .

We really worked hard to prepare the ground for that garden. i mean, we worked hard at it. Roots, rocks, weeds, ivy…you name it, we yanked it out of there.

And, we tilled-in 300 pounds of composted cow poo. Organic, you know.

Then, for a couple of weeks i would drive up at the end of the day, grab all my stuff from the truck, and run to the fence to look at the garden.

Nothing was growing. Dang.

And it dawned on me one day that there was probably a reason for that. We hadn’t planted anything yet!

One of my friends used to say we need to give God something to bless. We need to show up. i guess he’s right.

There are lots of things i’m not good at that i have to do anyway. i resist doing those things, preferring instead to get someone else to do them while i go about the things for which i think i’m better suited. Sometimes, though, i’m the one who is  . . . well, it’s like they asked for volunteers and everyone else took a step backwards!

When i’m doing things i’m not good at, i feel like my shoes are on the wrong feet or something. Maybe i have to be more intentional about asking God to come alongside me when i’m doing those things.

Or, maybe i should realize (as i might be right now) that it is i coming alongside God whatever i’m doing.

Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV -italics added)

Go figger . . .

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i shaved my head

Yep, i shaved it a few weeks ago. It was a medical thing. Nothing serious, they just needed access to that which lies below what was left of my hair.

Here’s some advice: if you ever have to shave your head, don’t look in the mirror. It’s a scary thing.

When i looked in the mirror i was reminded of a physics lesson i had early in my childhood. See, i had taken a running leap off that brick porch a thousand times. At take-off i could sail through the air, arms stretched out in front of me Superman style, for what seemed like hundreds of feet – maybe 20 seconds of hang-time. Well, either that or something else.

So, i figured, if one can run and jump OFF the porch, shouldn’t one be able to run and jump back ONTO the porch? Strapping on my flying cape, i got another running start, and jumped with all my might.

The concrete corner of the porch was about head-high on me, and that’s where i got my first stitches. Who knew gravity had such an attitude?

When i shaved my head, i saw that scar. And several others. i’m a slow learner i guess.

Trials, i think, are like a spiritual head-shaving. When we see the scars, we might recall the corresponding failures or mistakes or accidents that created them. And we can learn.

My wife and my mom tell me my shaved head is beautiful, scars and all. That’s what they’re supposed to say. Amy Carmichael said this:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

She was a missionary in India for more than 50 years. She followed far.

Some of us have scars from self-inflicted wounds. i guess those are the toughest to think about. That’s my challenge.

Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus three times one “crucial” evening, knew he was in trouble the minute that rooster crowed. Talk about self-inflicted… Jesus restored Peter, and used him in a huge way to build the Kingdom.

When we pray for all our friends every day, we ask that Jesus will reveal Himself to you, and that you’ll see Him clearly and know Him better.

The scars? When we look up to Him, our eyes are off the mirror.

Hope you are all doing well. You are in our prayers always.

Peace!!!

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The Bunny

We have a bunny. Well, actually, we don’t have him so much as he has us. i saw him in the yard last week, the day after Easter. Interesting timing . . .

We’ve known this bunny, sort of, for more than a dozen years. He took up with us so many years ago and we’d see him sitting out in the yard frequently back then. He’s grown, of course, into quite a healthy fella. i call this bunny “him” because “his” behavior is decidedly male.

See, the circumstances surrounding the bunny taking up with us are such that, i think you’ll agree he has to be a masculine bunny.

A friend was looking at our front yard one day and told us she had just the thing we needed. She left and returned in a while with a little concrete bunny about the size of a football. We nestled the little bunny under a holly bush near the front steps. “It” looked comfortable there.

It wasn’t long until we noticed that nearly every evening a live bunny would appear sitting right beside the concrete bunny under that bush! We thought it was hilarious and imagined “conversations” between the two. We figured these chats probably followed a similar pattern to those of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby of Uncle Remus fame. The real bunny probably spoke in frustrated tones about how the concrete bunny NEVER spoke. Not giving up, Real Bunny kept coming back every dusk, sitting right beside “his” friend. i admired his determination. It seemed as though he had set his cap for “her” (Concrete Bunny), and would not be deterred.

So, it was good to see him back last week. i’ve noticed him hopping around near the Leland Cypress trees in the side yard. Windy has seen him too.

i have to say, though, the sight of Real Bunny has saddened me in a way. His relationship with Concrete Bunny must leave several things to be desired. For one thing, it’s the need to be known that he must be missing. Concrete Bunny may show some interest, but that interest can only exist in Real Bunny’s mind. It can’t be real. Isn’t that sad? It means that this gentleman bunny, romanticized in our memories, is leading a sadly delusional existence.

Oops. i’m afraid my real sadness is that Real Bunny has shown me something about my own life. About how i set my affections, all too often, on things that aren’t real. i hate it when that happens. Today i’ll seek what’s real out there, and get in touch.

Real Bunny, thanks, i think. i wish you a deep life full of real relationships. If possible, i’d love for you to know your Creator.

i’ll leave some food for you by the redbud tree this evening. Take care; we’ll have heavy rain today. Peace!

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A friend of mine

Several years ago, before marriage, i lived in South Carolina, as i’ve mentioned before. Through some friends i stumbled onto a small, non-denominational church that i found to be really cool. One of the best parts was that the pastor and his young family lived in the same apartment complex in which i lived.

i got to know Mike Baer and his crowd pretty well. Frequently we’d go for walks together, he and i, and yack about life and ministry and about following the daily call of Jesus of Nazareth. We always tried to jsue names like that for Jesus…Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Carpenter, the Healer, the Prophet, the Priest, the King, or whatever best illustrated the current way in which we were relating to Him. i learned so much from Mike. He taught me the value of knowing the scriptures–that it is these that bear witness to the person Jesus. Mike’s confidence in the consistent presence of Jesus Christ was contagious. But one thing i’ll never forget is this . . .

One day we were out walking, and his little girls were toddling around us. Somehow, i got around to asking one of my favorite questions: “Mike, what are you doin’?” He asked me to explain the question, so i said something like “What are the big things you are called to, and are you doin’ those things?”

He didn’t blink. He looked me right in the eye (he could see through a person) and said, “Three things: First, I’m getting to know the Lord; second, I’m getting to know my family; and third, I’m teaching our congregation to pray.” Then he added a fourth: “and, I’m preparing for future ministry.”

He went on to say that these were the things he sensed God saying would make him most valuable to the Kingdom. A man who knows Jesus as a person, who knows and loves his family, and who can teach others to pray, is probably someone God will use for a lifetime.

i noted that he didn’t say that one of his goals was to reach our Island home for Christ. He wasn’t trying to stamp out abortion in our time. He wasn’t even trying to get republicans elected! (we laughed about that one).

So, lots of mornings, when we pray for you, i remember Mike Baer–whom God is still using, and am thankful that he was humble enough to see that the greatest cause in the life of at least one of Jesus’ boys, was to teach some folks to pray. i was fortunate enough to be one of them.

Blessings to you, friends. We’re mentioning your names into heaven each morning, asking God to put you in the way of His great Mercy and Grace. Peace! — mike

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Something to which i aspire

In the late 80’s we were involved in the oldest, continuously run Young Life Club east of the Mississippi. No pressure there–we only thought “Don’t mess this up” every time we walked into that high school. Until . . .

…one day we heard about a lady in that town who had been praying for Young Life 8 hours a day for 30 years. She prayed for leaders, staff, high school folks, etc., no kidding, for 8 hours a day.

One of my mentors taught us that we had to develop a capacity for prayer–meaning, we have to pray a lot to prepare ourselves to pray a lot. The school i was attending prepared missionaries for the field, and prayer was the primary tool.

How did that lady pray 8 hours a day? Well, i think she knew the Person to whom she was praying very well. She loved Him and enjoyed being with Him. And, she told me once, He loves me loving Young Life. So, this is my fellowship with Him, talking with Him about Young Life.

i’m convinced she is the reason we couldn’t mess it up at that high school–heck maybe she’s the reason folks laughed at dumb skits and came to club and camp.

Anyhoo, some of you have headed off to colleges & universities, and some are still in high school. We’re prayin’ for you. In some cases we know what to pray, in others we just pray your name. Not 8 hours every day, but every day, several times a day. We’re probably not the disciples that woman in Knoxville was, but we do enjoy the time with Him on your behalf. i hope that might encourage you…like the friend at midnight, we’re knocking on the door for you . . .

Have fun, and be careful out there. Blessings!–Mike

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What this is about

It must be something like 29 years ago that i, as a fairly new believer, got involved in leadership of a youth group at Hilton Head Island. No single church or official group, this was an Island-wide thing. Before we knew it there were 80-ish high school folks at a real live Bible study every Sunday night, meeting in the home of the couple that led the thing. That level of excitement and commitment lasted for more than two years… dozens of folks met the Lord. It was cool . . .
Years later we looked back at that and asked the question, “What made that work?” Was it good teaching? I mean, we’d all had better . . . Was it relationships? Well, sure that helped, but we’d all been in ministries that depended upon relationships. Then we found out that one woman, wife of the teacher, prayed for every one of those 80 folks, and all of us leaders, by name every morning.
We determined that her prayers created “an umbrella of Grace” that we lived under. We all agreed, that was the difference.
So, Windy and i don’t do much right, but we want to do this. In ten years we want to look back and say, “We’ve been prayin’ for __________________ (fill in your name) every morning for 10 years.” An umbrella of Grace.
And that’s what this is about! –mike

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Garden Talk

i was talking with my garden the other day . . .

Gardeners are thinkers, i think. You know how some folks say they do their best thinking in the shower? These people are not gardeners. Gardeners also take showers, but they have another space for thinking. In the garden space, the thinking is conversational.

So, i was talking with my garden the other day. A gardener talks with his garden, not just to his garden. The garden, it turns out, has plenty to say. “I’m like your life,” my garden was saying to me. “In so, so many ways.”

“i’ve read stuff like this before,” i said. “It’s overdone, in fact. i’m not gonna have a cliche relationship with my garden, okay?”

“No problem,” the garden replied. “But, you gotta admit that all this soil preparation has you thinkin’ about yourself, right?”

“Why?” i said. “i mean, just because this tiller and i have pulled like four miles of pine roots out of you today doesn’t mean that i have any inkling that there are embedded rootlike attitudes and secret sins that have a similar hold on me!” Under my breath, “cliche.”

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