New Every Morning

daylily collage

A few pictures of the author’s daylilies from the yard.

Gardening has been a part of my family’s life for as long as I can remember. Some of my best memories took place in a garden, picking carrots, blueberries, blackberries, pears, and many other fruits and vegetables. We also spent many hours fertilizing, spraying, and caring for flowers like roses, calla lilies, and many other varieties.

Gardening not only connects me to my family, but also to my faith. The creation story in Genesis takes place in a garden (Genesis 2-3). The night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed in an olive garden, the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Following his crucifixion, Jesus is placed in a tomb in a garden (John 19:38-42). After his resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener (John 20:11-18). In Jerusalem, I visited the Garden Tomb, which could be the place where Jesus was placed, and where people from all over the world gather to worship. In death, many caskets and funerals, are graced with stands, sprays, and wreaths of flowers or live plants as a symbol of life even in the midst of death.

I have several plants in my garden. Roses, bearded irises, Louisiana irises, lantana, gladiolus, and annuals such as zinnias and salvinia to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. But my favorite is the daylily. I like dayliles for several reasons. First, they are tough. My daylilies have survived several moves, transplants, and other challenges that would kill many flowers. Often, they have bloomed in the boxes or bags in which I moved them! They grow almost anywhere, in almost any soil, though they do best with lots of sun. Second, there are many varieties and variations. If you don’t believe God likes variety, look at the daylily! Daylilies can be found in almost all shades of the rainbow (except blue). Some are small (as small as 2 inches), others are large (as big as 10 inches), while most fall somewhere in between. Daylilies have many forms.  Some have eyes or colored edges, others have rounded forms or long, spindly arms (usually called spiders). Daylilies have many varieties and variations.

My favorite thing about daylilies is that they are new each day. The scientific name (hemorocallis) literally means “beauty for a day.” And that is what they do. Bloom for one day. Only. Then they die. When I walk through my garden, one cultivar that was a beautiful flower yesterday is now a dull, lifeless husk. Conversely, one bud that yesterday was only the promise of a bloom has blossomed into a beautiful flower. Here today, gone tomorrow. Just like life. Just like us. The daylily reminds me of what lasts, and what does not. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” Isaiah 40:8. I am reminded, that like the lilies are new every morning, so is God’s mercy. “22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

The next time you see a beautiful daylily, beautiful for only a day, think about what lasts and what passes away. Maybe, like me, you will find a blessing that is new every morning.

Essential Equipment

modem-and-router
Disaster struck our office Monday morning. The internet network went down. I know, I know, on the scale of disasters, the internet going out does not even rate a blip on the radar. But suddenly, those things that we take for granted like email, online ordering, social networking and so many other things critical and necessary to run our office were suddenly impossible or much more difficult.

Later that day, a coworker dropped her phone and the screen turned a sickly shade of yellow, then went black. Dead. Gone. Broken in a minute. The phone may be gone, but the information stored on it is not. Contacts lost. Passwords to reset. A new phone is on the way, but the loss is in time spent as much as dollars.

My intent is not so much to consider how technology has become essential equipment to the way we conduct our lives, businesses, and relationships, as to think about what is most important in our businesses, lives and faith.  What is truly essential?

There is essential equipment in everything that we do. If I am going fishing, I need, at the minimum, a rod, reel, line, hooks and bait. At the baseball field, a bat, ball, gloves, and bases are essential equipment. On the football field, a ball, helmets, pads, and cleats are essential equipment. This is only the beginning. We need a vehicle to get us to work, closets full of clothes to wear for work and play, and the list could go on. The truth is that most of us have more than enough stuff.

What if that “stuff” suddenly went away, like our internet network, or the phone, or the essential equipment for our lives and businesses? What would remain? For many people in my hometown of Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas during the great flood of August 2016, that is exactly what happened. For many of those people, all that remained was family, friends and faith.

We are not the only ones that have experienced loss. In the Old Testament book of Job, Job loses his wealth, much of his family, even his health in a short time period (Job 1:13-19). What did he cling to? What was essential equipment for Job? Faith, friends and family. That’s not to say it was easy. Job questioned God (Job chapter 3). His well-intentioned friends said the wrong things(Job chapters 4-5, 8, 11). Job’s wife even advised him to curse God and die (Job 2:9-10). Yet Job still held on to the essential things. When the world, or technology, doesn’t go your way, hold on to the essential equipment of family, friends, and faith.

Questions to ponder: What is essential equipment to you? What would make your business, life, or passions impossible or more difficult if it went away? What would you do if those things we see as essential were suddenly gone? How do we find and hold on to the most important things in a world full of stuff?

The Process of Change

The Process of Change

img_1129(Author’s note:  This post was originally written for the January 2017 issue of the Cross and Tower, the monthly newsletter of First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA. The entire newsletter can be read here: Cross and Tower January 2017 )

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about a tree in my neighborhood.  I’m not sure what kind of tree it is (though I have a suspicion), and the truth is botany was never one of my strong points.  What got me thinking about this tree is the way it looks.  As I write this in mid-December, several top branches of the tree are bare of leaves, as a result of some of the freezes and cold weather that we have experienced.  The middle part of the tree is a kaleidoscope of yellow, red, and brown leaves still attached to the tree.  The lower branches of the tree still have green leaves on them.  It is as if the three seasons of summer, fall, and winter are reflected in this one tree at the same time.

But, I know that this will not last long.  Soon it will grow colder.  The nights longer.  The winter winds will blow.  The tree will lose all of its leaves, and it will seem to sleep through the winter, only to be reborn and resurrected in the spring.  No matter how difficult and painful it is, no matter how hard we want to hang on to summer or fall or winter, change is inevitable.

Watching this process of change in this tree that I drive by everyday reminded me that in this month of January, millions of people will make resolutions to change something about themselves.  Maybe it is their weight, or the way they spend their time or money, or even their future.  But, like the tree, this process of change is a slow and difficult one.  Statistics tell us that these almost all of these resolutions that we make will last only a matter of weeks, if that long.

Likewise, change is a slow and difficult process as we seek to follow Jesus.  But it is possible.  Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(NRSV)  Through Christ, there is hope for a positive change in our lives and in the world around us.  The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called this process of changing to become more like Jesus Sanctifying Grace, that grace that helps us grow and mature in our faith.

Pay attention to the changes in the world going around you.  Make a resolution to change something in your life.  Decide to start today to claim the new creation that God has created us to be in Jesus Christ and allow God’s sanctifying grace to abound in your life.  Take a lesson from a tree that change is a process and does not happen easily, nor overnight.  You could be the one that is reborn and resurrected, not just the tree!

Seeking change for the better,

Kevin

Seeking? The King?

Seeking? The King?

Seeking the King Hawesville Baptist Churchseeking-the-king

One of the joys of serving First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA is being a part of their outstanding music program.  It has been many years since I sang with a choir and I am enjoying singing with our choir each Sunday.  Like many choirs, we put on a special Christmas program.  Our program was on December 18, 2016 and featured many of our children as “actors” in the familiar Christmas story from Matthew and Luke.  I was blessed to be asked to sing the solo part for the song “Seeking the King” by Pepper Choplin.  I don’t have the technological knowledge to share the video from our program, so you will find a link at the top of this post to the same song performed by the choir at Hawesville Baptist Church in Hawesville, Kentucky.

More important than the beautiful music, we should consider the words to the song.
Seeking the King by Pepper Choplin
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking, the newborn King.
The road is dark, the dust is dry. We find our path by starlight. We are seeking the King, we are seeking the King, seeking. Though we are tired, the journey’s long, we walk in faith to carry on. We are seeking, seeking the King, we are seeking the King, we are seeking the King.
We bring gold to crown Him with royalty, frankincense to show His divinity. We bring myrrh, the fragrance used when someone dies, though we’re not sure the reason why.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
Now, we are so tired, we’ve come so far, but now, once again, we see the star. We see the star, now we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy. We’re rejoicing, for now we see the star of wonder, start of night, star of royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
And when we find the newborn King, our greatest gift we then shall bring when we worship the King. We will worship the King. When we worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the newborn King.
wise-men-still-seek-him-1-728

As I learned the solo and begin to think about the appearance of the Wise Men for Epiphany on January 6, I was struck once again by the faith and commitment on the part of the Wise Men to seek this unknown, newborn king.  I was reminded that the things we most often seem to seek, prosperity, possessions, peace, and many others, seem to pale in comparison to what the Wise Men sought.

My wife has a sweatshirt that she often wears this time of year, that has a star, wise men on camels, and, emblazoned in big letters, the words “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”  So I ask myself, and you, what are we seeking in this new year?  Is it the King of Kings?
FUMC Winnfield Leads Flood Relief Team

FUMC Winnfield Leads Flood Relief Team

winnfield-floodteam

Left to right: Elise Shell, Kevin D. Smith, Kevin Koeppen, Glenn Ford and Tommy Harrel

On Sunday, September 4, Elise Shell, Kevin D. Smith, Kevin Koeppen, Glenn Ford and Tommy Harrel left First United Methodist Church Winnfield for a 4 day mission trip to help residents in flood ravaged Baton Rouge.  They stayed at First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge (Downtown) and worked at Katie Young’s home on Clayton Drive in North Baton Rouge.  Katie is an 80 year old single lady whose home had never flooded before and had no flood insurance.  Even though Katie’s home was on piers and about two feet off the ground, she still received about 30 to 36 inches of water throughout most of her home.  Other homes in that neighborhood that were on a slab received over 5 feet of water in their home!

The team started their work on Monday, September 5.  After completing the necessary paperwork, meeting the family, and prayer, we started by removing the furniture, carpet, carpet pad, and lower kitchen cabinets.  All of these items had to be removed either by dolly or wheel barrow to the roadway where they will be picked up and thrown away by debris removal contractors.  It was emotional and heartbreaking to gather together, remove, and throw away clothes, pictures, pots, pans and so many other personal possessions.  Mucking out after a flood is literally taking all (or the vast majority) of your possessions that got wet, placing them near the street to be thrown away, and starting over from scratch.  It is difficult to imagine how hard this is unless you have been there.  You are throwing away treasured possessions and memories.  This took most of our first day.  It was a hot, emotional, difficult day, made only a little easier by Frostop floats and a good night’s rest at the end of the day.

The second day, we planned to gut the house, meaning removing wet materials

winnfield-flood-katie-young

Katie Young’s home in Baton Rouge received as much as 36 inches of water in a home that had never flooded befor

like sheetrock and insulation so that the studs, the framework of the house, can be exposed to the air and dry.  This is an essential step.  The studs must dry before being closed in so that mold and mildew do not form inside the walls.  We removed the paneling and the upper kitchen cabinets that were already moldy just three weeks after the flood.  As we began to remove the sheetrock below 4 feet from the floor, we discovered the sheetrock was nailed to a solid wall of tongue and groove boards throughout the house. The boards in Katie’s home were already molding and they were preventing us from exposing the studs so they could dry.  We consulted with several people and decided to remove two of the horizontal boards below the four foot line to allow air to the studs and begin the drying process.

Day three started with the process of removing the wooden tongue and groove boards.  This was difficult, tedious work, as the boards did not want to easily leave their home for so many years.  Many of them had to be cut out instead of pulled out with a crowbar or a wrecking bar.  This job took all day, especially since each board had to be wheeled out and piled near the street to be picked up and thrown away.  Our team was also down a man, since Pastor Kevin returned to Winnfield to lead Wednesday evening services.

After a good meal on Wednesday night (and another Root Beer Float), we were ready to finish on Thursday.  We removed the rest of the boards, exposing the studs, so that the drying process could finally begin.  The rebuilding process is still several weeks away as the interior studs must dry before rebuilding.  Before leaving, we gathered together to pray for God’s blessing on the house and its occupants.  We finished our work on Thursday afternoon and returned to Winnfield about 5 PM.

Special thanks to our friends at First United Methodist Baton Rouge for housing and feeding us.  They turned a portion of their Youth and Children’s building into a bunkhouse and provided us three meals a day.  Special thanks to these people who gave of their time, sweat, money, and themselves to help other people that they don’t even know.  Thanks to Rusty Russell for the use of his trailer and we are especially grateful to Ryan Etherige who loaned us a generator to run a few fans in a house without electricity.  Thank you to the people of First United Methodist Church Winnfield for providing us with tools and supplies to do the work.  Thank you to the community and our local businesses.  When we purchased tools and supplies, we shared with the businesses how we would be using them to help those who had been flooded.  Walmart and Tractor Supply gave us discounts.  We appreciate your support!

But don’t stop!  Don’t quit!  There remains much to be done!  The list of homes yet to be gutted is in the thousands!  While we working, some folks in the neighborhood asked if we could come help them next!  All we could do was refer them to our friends who were coordinating the effort.  Maybe you will be the ones who will help them!  The recovery of Baton Rouge will take years, perhaps decades.  Please continue to give, help, and pray for the people of Baton Rouge and surrounding areas.

What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

On Saturday, August 30, 2014 a storm rolled through our village with heavy rain and strong winds.  The airport in McComb, Mississippi recorded a gust of 34 mph and sustained winds of 17 mph (http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KMCB/2014/8/30/DailyHistory.html).  There are probably places where winds like this would be normal, but that is not the case here in my corner of Louisiana.  I had put the dogs out before the storm and was looking out of the kitchen window, where our hummingbird feeder was located, watching the storm roll in.  While looking out of our window, I was surprised to see that the storm had not slowed down our hummingbirds one bit!  All of the other birds, the chickadees, the titmice, the cardinals, the sparrows, were taking shelter and waiting out the storm to feed, but the smallest of all of the birds was still out in the tempest, fighting to get something to eat.  I was reminded of this picture I took several years ago while we were being assaulted by one of the tropical systems to make its way through South Louisiana (I think I took it during Tropical Storm Lee in September of 2011).  As I watched the hummingbirds in the storm, I couldn’t help but wonder what you and I cling to in the storm.

I wish I could tell you that storms would never come, but that is not true.  Growing up in South Louisiana, watching the tropics was a part of my everyday life.  In the 8 years we lived in Tangipahoa, we have gone through Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Lee, and Tropical Storm Karen.  That is not to mention the 3 snowfalls and numerous thunderstorms.  Personally, we are suffering through a storm as my parents and thousands of others in the Baton Rouge area and all across South Louisiana have flooded due to historic rainfall.  Life has changed for many, maybe even permanently.

Of course, there are other kinds of storms in our lives.  Ones that do not involve water or wind or earthquakes.  The death of a loved one, a prolonged or sudden illness, age, loss of a job, or any multitude of other things can shake us to our core as quickly as a California earthquake.  What do we hold on to during these times?  What do we cling to in the storm?

I imagine that we, like this hummingbird, cling to that which is most important to us in the storm.  Family, friends, and faith may be some of the things that we cling to when the wind blows and the rain pours.  As important as friends and family are, they have their limits.  Like all humans, they are limited in time, strength and resources.  But there is one who is not limited by time, strength or resources- God.  So when the storm comes, as it does for all of us, I believe that we should not only turn to friends, family, and the church, but to God.

Psalm 46:1-3 reads “1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” This scripture describe dark and difficult times, much like we are going through, much like all of us go through at one time or another.  But the Psalmist is clear that we will not fear and even ends with these words “10Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”.  When tough times come, when the storm comes, cling to faith in God, family and friends to get us through.

Why are we fighting?

Why are we fighting?

Female Ruby Throat Hummingbird readies for take-off to defend "her" feeder from rivals.

Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird readies for take-off to defend “her” feeder from rivals.

In my area of South Louisiana, we have been fortunate to receive a little rain on August 11 and 12.  The rain has cooled the temperatures to the point where it no longer feels like we are living on the surface of the sun!  With the rain cooled temperatures, I have been able to sit on my porch for a few minutes and enjoy God’s beautiful creation, including watching the birds.  I have been a bird watcher for almost as long as I can remember.  In one house, we had a large picture window in the dining room.  We would sit, eat our meals, and watch the birds at the feeder outside.  One Christmas, I received a Peterson’s Guide to Wild Birds and we would identify the species, then check off the cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, and other birds as we saw them at our feeder.

Female Ruby Throat Hummingbird takes a break from feeding to look for rivals.

Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird takes a break from feeding to look for rivals.

This passion of watching birds has continued as an adult.  Now, one of my favorite things is to watch the hummingbirds when they are here in South Louisiana from March to October.  I love that they are such talented fliers, able to hover in place or zoom by at high speeds.  But I don’t understand why they have trouble sharing.  My hummingbirds would rather fight over a feeder (and the sugar water mix that is in it) than share a drop.  Rubythroat.org says that this is natural and that the hummingbird is simply trying to protect its territory and food source http://www.rubythroat.org/RTHUTerritorialityMain.html.  I guess these fights are not very serious as I have never seen, nor heard of, a hummingbird killed or injured by a rival’s attack.  But I wish they would share instead of fight!  It costs very little for me to feed them- the water is almost free, the sugar is inexpensive, and one 5 pound bag of sugar will last all season and beyond.  Not to mention that I can make enough sugar water for weeks in only a few minutes.  The hummingbirds fight over a resource that is almost limitless and comes at no cost to them.

While I thought about the hummingbirds fighting over inexpensive sugar water, it occurred to me that humans are capable of doing the same thing.  Oh, maybe we don’t fight over territory or food sources (though sometimes we might), but we are still good at fighting.  As football is starting again, there have been several physical fights between teams, and even within teams, as players “fight” for playing time and a spot on the team.  Political candidates are “fighting” for their party’s nomination and your vote.  While political candidates may not be struggling with one another physically, they use “fighting words” that can sometimes be as harmful as physical confrontations.  Several candidates are already in hot water over controversial, even derogatory, things that they have carelessly spoken.

Some fights, though, are much more serious.  As I write, peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri have again turned violent and a Shreveport police officer was tragically killed on a routine call.  Then there are the fights that go on in our homes, hopefully mostly over homework or bedtime, but we know all too well that many times harmful words are used and sometimes, regretfully, physical force is sometimes used against those that we are supposed to love the most.  Like my hummingbirds, humans are pretty good at fighting.

Surely, you say, this would not be the case in the church.  But, regretfully, our penchant for fighting can also spill over into the church.  We are tempted to say that one ministry is better than or more important than another.  We think that one church is greater than another or to talk uncharitably about our neighbor.  We do all of this fighting with one another in the name of Jesus, who only hours before he was to be arrested, tried and crucified, prayed that his disciples would be one.  “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21-22 NRSV.  Maybe one reason we have been unsuccessful in winning the world for Christ is that we have spent so much time, money, and energy fighting among ourselves.

Like the hummingbirds, we have been given an inexhaustible resource, the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.  While it cost Jesus everything, God’s grace comes at no cost to us, except that we are called to give up our own self for God.  The next time you and I are tempted to start or participate in a fight, maybe we should remember the hummingbirds and the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God.