Happy Feet/Tuesday with Tom for 12.5.17

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart….No one who believes in him will be put to shame. …. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved…..So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.” –Romans 108b-18

A few days ago many in the church around the world celebrated Andrew, the one who introduced his brother Simon Peter to Christ. We all know of the principal relationship Christ had with Peter in building the church. Andrew is most often remembered for his wanting to place his own fingers in the wounds of the risen Lord. Many think it was his personal doubt that caused the quest for proof. I wonder. Did Andrew do that for himself….or did he do that for you and me?

Last week I shared with you how much I enjoy Thanksgiving. It’s simpler and less complex. Advent runs a close 2nd in my book. We get to look for the One Great Hope. We get to imagine the possibilities with Christ among us. This is also the time of year when we read lessons from the Gospels about “end times.” Have you ever thought about how we can make the “end times” happen ourselves? I don’t think predicting global thermonuclear war due to the rants and actions of dictators is the answer. Rather I feel it is in our speaking in real time, in first person with others about, to and of the Christ we know. That’s the answer. Sometimes it is as bold as literally praying with a hurting soul. At other times it is in sharing the milk of human kindness.

I remember the absolute despair a friend and colleague had over the horrific auto accident his mother fell victim to, the half dozen surgeries over several days and the end result of her being bound to a wheelchair with one eye looking one direction while the other looked the opposite counting on her breath in a straw to move her wheelchair. The air in our office was so thick with grief you could taste it. One morning I walked into his office and asked could I pray with him. The reply was immediate: “Please. This is just killing me.” I don’t know what I said or how long it took. What I do know is it was probably with good sentence structure (being the child of an English major), and that when we were done both our eyes were leaking. He said he would never forget that moment and thanked me again for the peace it gave him.

About two weeks ago I ran into this friend at the hardware store. I miss this guy. We hadn’t seen one another in about two years. Neither of us smelled so good as we’d both been working outside, but oh how sweet the moment was. Yes, perhaps it’s true “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news” even in the midst of grief. I think we have multiple chances to declare the “end times” when we “get our Andrew out” and point the way among our own doubts and despair.

As Paul writes in this epistle, we can preach the good news where ever we are by living the Gospel in the here and now. Those kind of “end times” lead to “happy feet” indeed.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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HALT It’s Sharp Stuff/TWT for 11.21.17

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” –Pvbs 27:17(NIV)

One hot, humid summer camp session I was visiting with a camper at the picnic table outside our cabin (Cabin Awesome). I’d gotten my lanyard all messed up and this 12 year old was helping me get it back on track. He told me I was “a good learner.” I told him it was because he was a good teacher. During the course of our conversation he said: “Mr. Tom, how old are you, really?” I don’t know if he thought I was older or younger than I was….and I was too afraid to ask. He followed my reply with: “My daddy would be about that old.” I asked him was his father dead. He said that he had died four years ago that next month. I said that mine had died two years ago that next month, and sometimes I still have bursts of missing him. “What about you; does that ever happen to you?” I asked. For the next several minutes I sat quietly as I heard about the chaos his father’s mental illness had brought upon the family, the divorce it led to, long periods of not seeing his father, his realizing he would never have a “normal” relationship with him and his father’s eventual suicide. He said when he misses his dad the most his heart tells him that at least his daddy is at peace and well for all eternity. He then encouraged me, this 12 year old, to think of my dad at peace and happy and maybe it would make things better.

What struck me about this conversation was how easy it is for us to reach out to others by simply being authentic. My young friend was sharpening more skills for me than he knew. He too was sharpening more of his own as well; skills of empathy and encouragement; doing so at a very young age. I think we show the kingdom most effectively for one another in real time by how we live outside the church walls. As conversation progressed, we wound up laughing about the funny things we did remember about our dads. We connected.

We are at a week when many are going through Thanksgiving without a friend, loved one, good health, in isolation or without a job. I had the chance to HALT that summer afternoon: Hi. Ask a question. Listen. Talk. I truly believe this world is awash with people of all ages who are hungry for meaningful relationships; meaningful conversation. I have committed myself to have a visit with one such friend on Thanksgiving morning before I get caught up with the rest of the day. I think as I “HALT” with him we will both be better for it. I dare you to do the same.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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Truth Stands, TWT for 11.14.17

“THEREFORE TAKE UP THE WHOLE ARMOR OF God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm…..in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” –Ephesians 6:13-14

These days, as in many generations before, we continue to be assaulted from every angle. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he is encouraging them….and us… to stand up for what we believe. The truth of Christ in this world is often distorted and chipped away from our core – integrity, to impact our character – what we do. That’s the difference between integrity and character. One is what we know to be right and true and the other is what we actually do.

Daddy always taught is sons to “do the next right thing” no matter how many times we got knocked sideways by the world. I think all of us struggle with our great adversary every day. It takes consistent discipline and steadfastness of faith and righteousness to slay those dragons that would tear us down.

But you know what else? There’s a whole segment of society out there who is looking to us as an example because they have none. They have had a distorted view of “reality” that really has no depth. It’s a reality that brings no joy; no purpose; no meaningful relationship with others. So, what are we to do? “Be authentic.” That’s what a wise mentor told me to do. They’ll see the truth in you or they’ll see right through the rouse.

Paul is telling us, when all else is done; stand true.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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Outsourced to Soar/TUESDAY WITH TOM for 10.31.17

“I have learned to be content in all circumstances……I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4: 11&14(NIV)

In recent months I have found myself increasingly in front of a room full of people, once again involved with public speaking in person. These reflections, Tuesdays with Tom, are done from the safety of my imagination what the audience may look like. I’d forgotten what it was like to see the audience eye to eye. You know, in this book Paul is writing to a colony of retired Roman soldiers in Philippi. I wonder sometimes what may have been recorded had he been speaking in front of them, eye-to-eye.

When we look into the eyes of those with whom we speak there is an authenticity that can’t be hidden. Either they see truth or they see a façade. There is no in between. This past weekend I prayed for the strength to share a very personal story of my time with a young man recovering from heroin addiction, what it does to one’s life and those they love and the consequences of such decisions. In fact, I prayed in front of the gathered audience before I began to share the story this past weekend. I have to admit, I did better this time than the times before when I’d shared other stories; all of which were from my own personal encounters.

As I began to stumble in my story I looked out into the eyes of some of the men in the room. They were nearly in tears. They felt the depth of the message. Perhaps they identified with it in some way. As I rested in contentment with the intense personal level of engagement, subconsciously praying for strength, the message soared.

How many times in our lives do we think “I can’t do this?” I think when we can be content in even those circumstances there comes a strength beyond our own. Own those moments. Claim them for Christ and fasten your seatbelt as you do. You may just find as you outsourced the task before you the results soar right through you.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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Outsourced to Soar/TUESDAY WITH TOM for 10.31.17

“I have learned to be content in all circumstances……I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4: 11&14(NIV)

In recent months I have found myself increasingly in front of a room full of people, once again involved with public speaking in person. These reflections, Tuesdays with Tom, are done from the safety of my imagination what the audience may look like. I’d forgotten what it was like to see the audience eye to eye. You know, in this book Paul is writing to a colony of retired Roman soldiers in Philippi. I wonder sometimes what may have been recorded had he been speaking in front of them, eye-to-eye.

When we look into the eyes of those with whom we speak there is an authenticity that can’t be hidden. Either they see truth or they see a façade. There is no in between. This past weekend I prayed for the strength to share a very personal story of my time with a young man recovering from heroin addiction, what it does to one’s life and those they love and the consequences of such decisions. In fact, I prayed in front of the gathered audience before I began to share the story this past weekend. I have to admit, I did better this time than the times before when I’d shared other stories; all of which were from my own personal encounters.

As I began to stumble in my story I looked out into the eyes of some of the men in the room. They were nearly in tears. They felt the depth of the message. Perhaps they identified with it in some way. As I rested in contentment with the intense personal level of engagement, subconsciously praying for strength, the message soared.

How many times in our lives do we think “I can’t do this?” I think when we can be content in even those circumstances there comes a strength beyond our own. Own those moments. Claim them for Christ and fasten your seat-belt as you do. You may just find as you outsourced the task before you the results soar right through you.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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From a Distance/TWT for 10.24.17

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” -Hebrews 11:13(NIV)

I’ve thought much about faith these past few months as I watch things around the world happen. So many times throughout history faith is tested through calamity; unimaginable loss from hurricanes, social unrest, human trafficking, famine, the lack of clean water. You name it. The list could go on for days. Yet at a distance, things may appear normal.

This entire chapter from Hebrews speaks of faith, those things hoped for… often from a distance. “From a distance” is mentioned dozens of times throughout scripture. Jesus needed time from a distance of his disciples. From a distance the women saw Jesus crucified. In Deuteronomy 32 we read of seeing the promised land only from a distance because of disobedience.

It doesn’t matter what happens in our days. God is watching even when we think he is very, very far away. I believe it is when we think He might be farthest from us that He is actually closest to us. So, dear reader, from a distance is a matter of perspective. I’m reminded of a song that speaks of it.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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Lawrence Jones & St. Francis/TWT for 10/10/17

Let’s look at this prayer attributed to St. Francis another way this week. Have you ever noticed what the very first plea of Francis was in that prayer? “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Above injury, discord, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness. Hatred was the first plea to help address. I don’t think that was by chance. Do you?

When you look at it at the core, hatred unaddressed can prevent all else from being addressed at all. There’s a true story about a black preacher, who just over 100 years ago, who was about to be lynched by a group of whites primarily because he was teaching blacks to read in my home state of Mississippi. He was even foolish enough to think that a better educated population could provide a better work force. He was trying to raise money to buy books so that he could teach our brothers and sisters of color to read in the Piney Woods area of the state.

Such hatred….and fear for what being able to read could do for a group of disenfranchised…..brought a mob to slide a noose around his neck and place him on a stool. He begged them to grant his final wish to simply listen to what he had to say. He would rest his fate with God and in their hands if they would but let him speak. So, they did. When he was done the mob took the rope from around his neck, unbound his hands from behind his back and set him free. In his hands…..bound only moments earlier…..was a hand full of cash collected among the mob and given to him so that he might buy some books for the “colored people” and even build a school for them. So it was for Dr. Lawrence C. Jones that Piney Woods School was eventually founded in 1909.

How many times in your life has the grace of love slipped into your heart to wind up changing your mind? How many times has fear turned to hatred and bored a hole into the very core of your being? There are some things in life that are so big, so complex we simply can’t handle them. We just can’t seam to “fix it” ourselves. Lawrence had to give his goal up to God amidst a mob determined to stop him from his goal; to drop him dead, literally. What kind of faith must that have taken?

I don’t know that Lawrence Jones ever knew the words of the St. Francis Prayer. We do know Francis never knew Lawrence. After all, 700+ years separated them in time. But, I wonder. How many times in the 20th & 21st Century, indeed throughout history, has unabridged love changed the course of human events? It’s not the course of history where love has the greatest impact en mass. I believe it’s in the course of history that love has made the biggest impact in those singular events in our lives that, collectively and uniquely, changed the heart of men and women. As it did the world changed.

Sometimes the world changes in the remote places like Piney Woods. In this case, a man speaking in truth and love prevailed. Let’s give this prayer another try when we are faced with the most impossible, most unfortunate set of circumstances. I’m going to have faith you’ll google the prayer for yourselves. Read, mark and inwardly digest. As you do, your days will begin to change in subtle ways.

Tending the vineyard,
Tom Welch

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