Happy Birthday!

Perhaps you heard that the draft of Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” sold this week for $2,045,000. Four sheets of paper, one song, two million bucks. In other words, somebody paid more than $500,000 for a single piece of paper, and then, for good measure, bought three more at the same price.

But did you know that Like a Rolling Stone has something in common with the Gateway Arch in my hometown of St. Louis? And they both share something with Tom & Jerry (the cartoon cat and mouse) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (simply the best 25 minutes of holiday TV).

Sizing up the Arch -- which was "born" in 1965
Sizing up the Arch — which was “born” in 1965

What could these four odd collections of pop culture have in common? Simply this: all of them first appeared in 1965. Like a Rolling Stone began spinning on American turntables on August 30. Tom started chasing Jerry on September 25. The Gateway Arch was completed on October 28. And Charlie Brown and his sweetly pathetic tree first appeared on TV on December 9. All in 1965.

And to these, add one more: Fern Creek Christian Church.

On June 27, 1965, Fern Creek Christian Church gathered for its initial worship service (under its first name, Second Christian Church). The church first met downtown, but soon relocated to the Fern Creek area, where we have been ever since.

Forty-nine years of being, and becoming, God’s people. Forty-nine years of living and loving like Jesus. Nearly five decades of seeking to live out God’s mission in us and through us.

I am grateful for what God has done through our church in the past 49 years. I am privileged to be a part of what God is doing at Fern Creek right now. And I look forward to what God has in store as we move toward 50 years — and beyond.

My favorite part of Charlie Brown’s Christmas special is when CB yells out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”

“Sure Charlie Brown,” Linus says. “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Linus then takes center stage and proceeds to tell his friends about the true meaning of Christmas — straight out of Luke 2. And it includes these words from the angels: “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (NRSV).

For 49 years, Linus’s message has been proclaimed on TV airwaves every Christmas. And for 49 years, in season and out of season, that same story of Jesus has been shared in and through Fern Creek Christian Church.

Here’s to 49 more years of living and loving like Jesus. Puny Christmas tree optional.

Front Row Seats

How cool is it to get the best seats in the house? Whether it’s a ball game, the theater, or your daughter’s band concert, we always want the best seats available. (Well, almost always. Somehow church is different, it seems. The front row seats are usually open — at no extra charge!)

The coolest and closest experience I have had at a big event was when I was in college. The year was 1987, and Christian rocker Steve Taylor came to my college to put on a concert. And in my 1980s world, it didn’t get much cooler than getting to watch Steve Taylor. Until they asked me to help carry him off stage for his song “Lifeboat.”

That’s right. I got to serve as half of a relocation crew for the man who has sang such classics as “Meltdown at Madame Tussauds” and “Cash Cow.”. At the appointed time, I went onstage in front of the adoring masses (there had to be at least 300 of them!), grabbed Steve by one arm while some guy grabbed the other. We carted him off and put him down behind the curtain. He said something like, “Thanks guys,” and back to work he went. And that was good enough for me.

I know you are jealous, but hey, we can’t all rub shoulders with greatness. Except, we can. In fact, I wouldn’t trade what I do now for a thousand moments with Steve Taylor. For each week, I get to experience moments even more exciting than grabbing a mid-level rock musician’s elbow; I get front row seats to what God is doing in the lives of people.

Some examples:

  • Just today, I got to talk with a couple who has gone through a ton of craziness that would have caused lesser folks to split up. They have both stayed faithful to God and each other, and have grown through it all. And today I got to pray with them as their journey takes a new turn.
  • Two days ago, I visited a young family just hours after they give birth to their new baby girl. The labor only took 32 hours. The dad was really tired.
  • Three days ago I spent time with a young woman has been through all kinds of struggles, including living out of her car for a time. The journey of her life has led her to the place where she is now ready to surrender her life to Jesus.
  • Last week, I visited with a young man whose only religious experience, to this point, has been spending about six months in an alternative faith tradition. He is now exploring faith at Fern Creek.

I love the front row seats God has given me — as I get to experience what He is doing in the lives of others.

So, where are you sitting? In the back row, watching from a distance? In the middle, starting to get a taste of what God is up to? Or maybe you feel like you are on the outside looking in.

Wherever you are, my challenge is the same: grab a seat on the front row — at the place where God is working to change lives — and where He is inviting you to let Him do His best work in you, and through you.

And by the way: Steve Taylor’s star continues to rise. He’s in concert this weekend in London — London, Kentucky, that is. It’s not far from where I live. I wonder if he will need some help off stage….

Thoughts about Graduation

20140609_160552My oldest daughter graduated from high school this week. With graduation comes a flurry of activity: family coming into town, graduation parties for friends who are also graduating, and, since my daughter works at Graeter’s, we just had to take her grandparents there. And, of course, there was the graduation ceremony itself.

And the moment that hit me the most at Sophie’s graduation wasn’t: when they walked in to “Pomp and Circumstance,” or when the ceremony concluded with the tossing of the mortar boards into the air. (Is it now required that every graduation ceremony must end with the graduates throwing those strange, pointy hats into the sky?) What hit home most for me was when they said my daughter’s full name. The name we gave her at birth. It was a reminder that the baby I first held in my arms early on that November morning in 1995 has grown up into a beautiful young woman. Where did time go? And am I really 18 years older than the guy who stood starry-eyed in that hospital room in Cincinnati?

Time does march on. Perhaps that is why they call graduation ceremonies a commencement. It is a commencing, a beginning. Graduation is the end of something, certainly; but, even more, it is the start of the next phase of life, of the next chapter of a journey that will hopefully take my daughter through many wonderful experiences and learning opportunities.

High school is over, but college awaits. And even when college is over, I hope Sophie continues to learn and grow — that her life will be full of many commencements, many new beginnings of learning and growth.

At Sophie’s graduation party, her preschool teacher brought her a unique gift. It was her assessment of Sophie when she was in Ms. Linda’s preschool class. She wrote some kind words about Sophie, including these: Sophie is kind, considerate, and loving to everyone. 

I mention this not to brag — okay, maybe just a little. But I bring up Sophie’s preschool evaluation because no matter how much we learn, or how much education we get — and no matter how old we get — the basics don’t change. There is a lot to learn in life, but no matter where my daughter goes in life — no matter where any of us goes — what we need most is to remember what we learned when we were 4 or 5.

Because, really, what is life but the continual opportunity to learn how to grow in love — love for God, and love for others. In fact, learning how to love is something we never graduate from, and is something we should commence doing every day.

So, Sophie: keep growing and learning. Don’t stop. But in the midst of all that you learn and all that you become, remember these simple words — striving to put them into practice everyday: Love God. Love others.

Because if you do, you can’t fail in the school that matters the most — the School of Life.

THIS is why we do Vacation Bible School

It is VBS time again. VBS — Vacation Bible School — is a week of fun, Bible stories, hands-on learning, and kids. Lots of kids. In fact, the more kids, the better.

My favorite VBS story from my time here at Fern Creek happened five years ago. On one of the nights at VBS that year, I got to tell the kids the story of the ten lepers who had been healed by Jesus. The lepers head to see the priest — who would have to confirm that they had been cleansed — and on their way, they are healed. But only one — a Samaritan, an outsider — returns to Jesus to give thanks.

So, in my telling of the story, I decided to focus on gratitude. I had 20 minutes with each group of kids – and I had five groups right in a row. One of the teams of children had a boy I’ll call Josh, a guy who hit the skids almost as soon as the lesson got started. We played “the thank you game,” where kids picked other kids, and basically were to practice saying thank you for different things.

But Josh wasn’t in the first group picked to play the game. And then he wasn’t in the next group. Or the next. As soon as he wasn’t picked, Josh basically answered everything I said by saying “boo” over and over. He also began to hide under the seats.

Finally, Josh was selected to play the game, and things got better. In fact, by the time I reached the end of the lesson, I asked if anyone wanted to pray. And who was the one kid to raise his hand? Josh.

But then he said, “I’ve never prayed before.”

Well, I said, why don’t I say the words, and you just repeat after me. I then invited everyone to join Josh in repeating my words, as we prayed together.

Josh is why we do Vacation Bible School at Fern Creek: to help a kid who doesn’t know Jesus, and who openly admits that he has never prayed before, to take his first steps in that direction. This is what VBS is about. In fact, isn’t this what church should be about?

Is there a Josh in your life you need to invite to VBS? How about helping at VBS this year? Vacation Bible School at Fern Creek will be held June 16-20, 6:30pm each night. Sign up here, or contact Jonathon Barnes for more information.