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God, Thank you for the way you fellowship as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for your desire to pull us into your fellowship. Help us be open to your invitation. Give us the desire to become more connected to you that we may grow to know the fullness of your joy… Amen

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The World Cup final is this weekend. For the record, I stand by my initial prediction that France will win. However, I want to talk about Croatia.

A country of less than four and a half million citizens, but more importantly, they have 23 pretty good soccer players.

Croatia has won three matches in a row coming from behind. Each of them in extra time. Two of them in penalty kicks. It is as if they have played an entire match in overtime.

But the thing I hope every young player saw is how Ivan Perisic, with his back to the goal, did exactly what your coach wants you to do – head the ball into space where opportunity can be created. And then, Mario Mandzukic followed (again, your coach wants you to do this) and hit it with his left foot past the keeper.

Croatia should be pleased. Most of us love underdogs. But whether you will be cheering for Croatia or France- we have all spent the past several weeks cheering for the Wild Boars. All 12 players and coach are now safe, thanks to assists from the Thai Navy Seals and cave diving specialists from around the world. We can all affirm Paul Pogba’s statement to the young boys. The day France won the semi-final he wrote “This victory goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong.”

So while watching the final – put on your Wild Boars jersey while you cheer for your side to win!

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Summer Stuff

This morning, I was standing in the middle of Sherman’s Creek under a clear blue sky. There are so many reasons to love summer. One of them is fishing on days like this. Another one is berries. And I have tasted the first wineberries of the season. It has been a great year for berries, I have been eating black raspberries. But it will be hard to beat this year’s mulberries. I remember spreading a sheet under a mulberry tree and climbing it to shake the ripe berries out. (For the record, that is effective). This year I did not use a sheet, but I did think about standing underneath a tree with my mouth open until a ripe one fell into my mouth. (For the record, not so effective). This past week, we ate blueberry and mulberry pies. They tasted like summer.

We also grilled asparagus and corn on the cob and spiedies. I was introduced to spiedies while living in upstate New York as a teenager. They are tasty marinated meats and quite frankly I can’t believe they are not a nationwide delicacy by now. Anyway, spiedies cause me to reminisce.

It has been hot, a perfect time to roll the windows down and belt out what happens to be playing on the radio. Recently, I have been enjoying Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song.” Yes, they remind me of Led Zeppelin. It was a Led Zeppelin song that became the theme for our senior prom. I did not attend prom and did not listen much to Led Zeppelin. Not because I disliked them, at the time I pretty much listened only to Waylon Jennings. And of course to Willie Nelson, whenever he sang with Waylon Jennings. Anyway, over the years I have become a Led Zeppelin fan and that is probably the reason I like Greta Van Fleet.

I really like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.” What can I say except Chris Stapleton rocks. He reminds me of one of my favorite singers, Mac Powell. But I suspect the real reason I like him is because he does a great job singing covers of Waylon Jennings.

The more I think about it, summer seems like a time for reminiscing. And I recently heard a song I would hear once in a while when in high school (when I wasn’t listening to Waylon Jennings). Gerry Rafferty sang a song called “Baker Street.” It was never my favorite, but I could listen to the Foo Fighters sing that song all summer long. I especially like the live versions. What is not to like about the Foo Fighters?

The more I think about it, I am a reminiscing fool. All this thinking about school and music makes me think I should put on my Angus Young schoolboy shorts and scoot across a stage while singing “Thunderstruck.” But, Lebron borrowed that outfit and hasn’t returned it yet. Anyway, I will be leaving next week to go back to school. Hope the berries are ripe in Kentucky. Hope I get to wade in a creek. Maybe being back in school is the reason I am so reminiscent. Whatever the reason, I know what I’ll be listening to on the ride. Hope Lebron gives my clothes back before I have to leave.

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World Cup 2018

Every four years the world throws a party. We call it the World Cup. It is good for the world. Good for unity. Good for my soul. Nearly every day brings a new must see highlight. We are witnessing great sportsmanship and great talent on the world’s biggest stage. And I suspect the best is yet to come.

The tournament is down to the final eight teams and there have been multiple stories of interest. Perhaps the greatest group stage story included Iceland. Seriously, who doesn’t like a side that brings a dentist to coach the team and introduces us to the thunderclap? They didn’t make it through the group stage, but surprise, neither did Germany the reigning champs. Mexico advanced, I suspect many of you, like myself were cheering for the neighbors. And so did Russia, it is always good to see the home team do well. Perhaps Japan advanced in the strangest fashion. They made the cut over Senegal because of fewer cards (I agree if you think that is a strange rule).

The round of 16 gave us added excitement as three matches were decided by penalty kicks. Russia defeated Spain and Croatia defeated Denmark. Perhaps most noteworthy, for the very first time in World Cup history, England won in penalty kicks gaining the victory over Columbia.

Russia’s victory surprised us all, Spain is arguably the best possession team in the world. To let you know how good they are, they held possession 79 percent of the match against Russia. But the match isn’t decided by possession, it is decided by goals. Talking goals, there have already been ten own goals this tournament (a new record).

If you are one who likes to root for the underdogs, go for Belgium, Croatia, Sweden, or Russia. Uruguay, France, Brazil, and England have all won before. But the odds are slim. Some World Cup trivia – only 8 teams have won this tournament, ever. Belgium is actually a contender, but would have to defeat Brazil and then likely France to even get to the final. (A difficult road to be sure). Croatia has been playing very well (they have yet to lose during the tournament and will be heavy favorites against Russia in the next match). Sweden has done everything they need to do to be this far and then there is Russia. I hope that spectators can look past whatever opinion they have of President Vladimir Putin and appreciate what this underdog soccer team has been able to do.

If you like to cheer for the favorites stay tuned until the semi-finals. If France and Brazil both advance as expected, many will consider that semi-final match to be the championship. Brazil has the biggest star and have won more World Cups than anyone else. However, they have only won once on this side of the pond.

For the record, I have England falling to France in the final. I suspect England’s Harry Kane will receive the Golden Boot (award for most goals) but the star of the tournament is certainly Kylian Mbappe from France. A 19 year old phenom, I believe he could outrun Usain Bolt if they raced today.

The quarterfinals start Friday. I hope you will be watching (the rest of the world will be). I have no doubts the best is yet to come.

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Readers of the Bible know the story isn’t over. The principalities and powers appear to have the upper hand. There are still dragons out there. A roaring lion still prowls about seeking whom he may devour. And a battle continues to be waged. A resistance group continues to infiltrate society. Maybe you belong to it. Maybe you know someone who does. Maybe you are thinking about joining. It might not look like it on the surface. But readers of the Bible know the resistance is winning.

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At the present time I serve with others of a similar mind who are trying to be intentional about what Jesus taught. For centuries followers and disciples have taken these teachings seriously. We are following the same steps and praying the same prayers as these early followers. These are the people walking with me as I learn to be a grandparent and learn how to deal with the loss of my father. We break bread together and remember who called us. We walk through the church year with the understanding we are on a journey.

Early in my relationship with this body, I was called to a meeting held in the downstairs of the building. Some referred to this as the dungeon. I was ok with this description since some of the church’s best stuff has come from out of dungeons. We discussed details during the meeting.  But what I remember most was the way the meeting concluded. We joined hands and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like part of something big. I felt like we belonged to a long history of people who have prayed these words in dungeons and church basements.

Of all the things that have contributed to my own spiritual formation, among the greatest is a sense of belonging. Being loved and belonging to something that is bigger than any individual effort may be the most sustaining force in my own discipleship. Such belonging is most evident when we gather together. We open the word and pray together. We practice silence and song together. We pass the peace and join one another at the Lord’s Table. It is our intention that this activity will spill over into our weekday lives where we are trying to love others. It is our intention that our Sunday liturgies will influence our weekday liturgies also. Once one begins to view themself as an active participant in the plan of God, our worldview is guaranteed to change. Once one begins to recognize the significant role we play in the community of Christ and in larger segments of creation, there is impetus to grow, to be faithful, and to complete the mission.

I cannot deny having growth spurts in what seem like unlikely places. I have discovered that I grow when I spend time in the nursing home, the rehabilitation center, the hospital, or at a funeral. I have grown on account of time spent in the home of one struggling with borderline personality disorder or reactive attachment disorder. Situations like these help me to recognize the privilege to spend time with people who struggle. Friendship may not seem a spiritual practice to some but I cannot deny the way friends have influenced and shaped me. The list of those who have helped to shape me is long and I cannot help but recognize that to have a friend is privilege as well. Friendships continue to pour grace into my life. These situations and relationships remind me I am not only to love God and others, I am dependent on them as well. Discipleship is not a solo venture.

The path of spiritual formation is not easily put into words and not easily diagrammed. It is not easy to state with certainty how we became who we are. It is easier to write about where one is, what he is up to, and who he is with when it occurs. Things that are good for the soul are usually things that take time to develop. There is no instantaneous event or practice that shapes us into a mature disciple. The list of things that continue to nurture my own soul cannot be overestimated. Such things help me to pause and allow space for God to perform His work.

Yet, soul work is always done best in the midst of the community of God’s people. The list of people who have influenced my own discipleship is significant. Some of these are further along than I am. Some are contemporary allies. Others have challenged me. Some have ministered alongside me. Some have reminded me of wonder. Others have reminded me that I am unfinished. Some continue to love me while I continue the journey. I need them all. This is a group project, a corporate adventure.

There is a strong connection between our identity as individuals and our role in the church. We become who we are not only by our spiritual practices but by those we travel with as well. When we talk about relationship, we know that basic relationship is imitative. To learn to relate lovingly, we live in loving community and we copy the most loving members. To learn to become forgiving people, we live among forgiving people and we copy the most forgiving members. We could go on. As James K. A. Smith says “Such dispositions are not natural… virtues are learned and acquired, through imitation and practice.” I have been fortunate to have belonged to a people where these skills are demonstrated.

I am beginning to understand the church for what it is – an adventure. I have not experienced an Egyptian slave camp, a Babylonian furnace, a Jerusalem stoning, or a Roman imprisonment. But I belong to a people who have. I have been shaped by these people. I have learned from the words of this people. I am a disciple.

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Reading had become more than a data collecting exercise. It began to open me up for new possibility. Interestingly, movies began to do similar things and I became a lover of plot. It was becoming easier to recognize the plot of everyday life and my role in it. Part of my daily work began to include serving as a mental health professional. I am who I am in part because of time spent working in this field. The ways I engage others, the things I listen for, even the way I work with others has been influenced by time spent in mental health. My spiritual practices evolved as I learned to be patient with others. I had opportunity to work with people who suffered from serious challenges and with others who attempted to exploit the system. I had opportunity to learn from these people and am better on account of it.

It was during this time that writing became a more consistent spiritual practice for me. This helped me to articulate some things and to allow for regular feedback from others. Another significant source of spiritual support came to me from a golden aged group that I joined for a Sunday morning class. Though they called me the teacher, it was I who learned much about church in that room with those people. There is great benefit to spend time with those who are further along the journey than we are.

I had always found music to be entertaining. Yet, my enjoyment expanded significantly and became more than pleasure. I became a fan of classical music, especially Johann Sebastian Bach. Whenever we have precipitation, I still listen to classical music, it always seems like an accompanying soundtrack to raindrops or falling snow. Rock bands became my fairer weather friends. But music had become more than entertainment. Music spoke to my soul. I wish I played. Maybe I will take up the mandolin.

My family was growing. Nothing puts one into the mode of twenty four hour discipleship like children in the home. If raising children is a discipleship course, raising adolescents is the advanced course. Just when a parent starts to think they have figured everything out along comes a teenager to remind us we are not finished in our own spiritual growth. That Jesus encouraged us to receive the kingdom as a child has led me to ask, “Why aren’t we following our children around more closely in an effort to learn the kingdom secrets… We should be serving as apprentices to our children in the hopes that we discover more wonder and enter the kingdom.” I have many memories of my daughters and me sharing story, song, and outdoor adventure. We wandered over the mountain and through the woods and I learned the secrets of the kingdom.

I continue to make efforts to improve my attentiveness in the world around me. The practice of paying attention is a lifelong pursuit. Sometimes I am more successful than others. Attention to the beauties of creation, the diversities of people, and the mysteries of God help to shape the soul. There is so much going on that feeds our souls. If only we could pay attention.

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