There but for the Grace of God By Pat Cirrincione

I grew up a child of the sixties. Things were different then, narrow yet beginning to widen in ways we never would expect. I had always been a writer, but never took it seriously enough. It wasn’t something I aspired to—I wanted to go to medical school. But only one of the girls in my high school graduating class was accepted to medical school, and the rest of us had to adjust our dreams accordingly. Now what?

I went to college for a year and was completely bored out of my mind. No one told me it would be like a repeat of what I learned in high school, same type of classes with different teachers, and those were not the days you could boldly disagree with a professor. It was not your ideas they wanted to hear; they only wanted to hear what they were saying, and I was looking for so much more.

I wrote for the college newspaper plus auditioned and snagged a part in the spring musical. A degree in theater and psychology might be something I could get. My fellow stage mates made ideal subjects for me to study. I walked away from the program and school still not sure what I wanted to do, still mourning that my dreams of medical school didn’t happen.

Not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

My parents made it quite clear that I was not going to be allowed to vegetate in my room, so now I had to look for a job. Doing what? I had no clue. A friend had just been hired at Sears in Oakbrook and said they were looking for people to work in the customer service department, and off I went for an interview. In two years, I had climbed the ranks as far as I could without a college degree and decided that I needed to get back to school. I enrolled in night classes at the nearby the junior college.

This is when the path became long and winding, long and winding, did I mention long? And not once did I think of turning to God in prayer.

I left Sears for another job and continued to attend school in the evenings and meander down more pathways and byways. I took every writing class offered, and every acting class, besides the required classes to graduate. The acting classes led to a possible internship at Second City in Chicago, but the Lord had other plans, and in the sixties that was a good thing. I loved being on the stage, but my full-time job eliminated most of that dream—although it did afford me the opportunity to write and appear in some funny Crusade of Mercy productions. (See pictures below.)

I had a chance to travel with the Goodman Theater children’s theater, but again the Lord had other plans. I think my parents must have been praying up a storm to God because the thought of their daughter going off to be on stage frightened the heck out of them. As I write this, I am glad that someone was praying.

I also majored in speech and public speaking, which came in handy in several jobs down through the years. But something was lacking. Might it have been prayer and asking the Lord what it was he wanted?

Life is a series of paths that either get narrower or wider, depending on the route we take. The paths either head toward our own desires or God’s. And this is where I took another path.

I took a vacation to California and decided to interview for jobs while I was there. Nothing happened. (Again, praying parents.) Then I decided that working as a United Nations tour guide would be interesting, so I applied and had the interview set up and was ready to fly out to New York when something kept that from moving forward. So, I thought, why not apply to be a flight attendant? Not tall enough. Sigh. (My parents were praying a lot!)

Their prayers were answered—I found a job I fell in love with. God sent a wonderful man into my life, we were married, and raised two wonderful sons. All the while I was still taking classes at the junior college. My husband made a career change a few years into our marriage, and I just kept plugging along – working, raising a family, and still wondering what I was going to do when I grew up—and still not praying about any of it!

As I look back there was an element missing in all the highways and byways life had taken me so far, and that was God. I knew who he was, but did I rely on him? No. I kept relying on myself, and it just kept leading me to dead end paths. What did I learn? That God sent me on some interesting life journeys until he finally got tired of seeing his daughter wandering and getting nowhere, and that’s when he said: “That’s enough!”

In the book, The Language of Sycamores, by Lisa Wingate, there is this line that stood out to me: “No one can imagine the flight path or the destination for their trip, yet God knows how to land the plane safely, even when we panic in the passenger seat.”

As Pastor Moody said in a recent sermon: “Every talent (I prefer the word gift), is from God. He gives them to us for a reason. So, think hard about what he would want you to do with the gift(s) he gives you. It will determine the life race you are on. Persevere, carry on, keep your eye on the prize, for we must rely on the Spirit’s work within us to help us run in a way to put away the sins that beset us. Let us live here to reflect the mighty gifts that God has given us.”

That is what God did for me. I went on a journey, which he allowed, and then he finally reeled me to him, set me on my feet, and said to get serious about his gift, because every talent you have, those are your gifts from him. He gave them to you for a reason, and God is still writing your story.

Quit trying to steal the pen and trust the Author.

Where Has Our Margin Gone? By Stephen Rigby

Rigbys.jpg

Stephen and Karis and their two children Abigail and Eoin are College Church missionaries, serving in Nairobi, Kenya, with Serge. Stephen is the national director for Ambassadors Football Kenya.

It's six a.m. and the alarm goes off. The rains and clouds have moved in on Nairobi. After a long, dry hot season we are enjoying the cool highs of 70 of the cold season. My early morning runs with our dog, Pili Pili, have been a damp and refreshing start to my day. We run a couple miles and, once home, I enjoy a hot cup of coffee in a quiet house—a refreshing moment of peace in my life right now.

I wish.

The reality is, days filled with later than usual nights which means my early morning wake up puts me in a bad state later in the day. And the middle-of-the-night wake-ups from our five-month-old son or two-and-half-year-old daughter have been more frequent than not over the past weeks.

My quiet spaces in the morning are now replaced with me trying to sneak down the stairs without my little girl yelling, "Baba Abigail?" (literally translated “Abigail's dad,” her current favorite name for me). If I successfully get out the door, I come back home to the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet racing to the top of the stairs, and my daughter requesting I pick her up and carry her downstairs. There goes my quiet morning.

Sigh.

Karis and I love the author Paul Miller. His books A Praying Life and A Loving Life have been favorites of ours over the years. A quote of his that comes up regularly in our conversations recently is “It's okay to have a busy life. It's crazy to have a busy soul.”

This is a season in our lives where we feel on the verge of this busy soul because of busy lives. Our teammates left a little over a month ago, so Karis has come off maternity leave to run the apprenticeship program on her own. New interns arrived a few days ago and we just finished an intensive orientation of cross-cultural training and initial discipleship material. I traveled to Rwanda for a couple days of meetings with the Ambassadors director there. We had a five day visit with potential recruits for our team. Annual reviews, meetings, team retreats, regular life in community and ministry and more and more.

Where do we get peace?

Through all of this, Karis and I wrestle with this idea of being busy in our lives but not having a busy soul. A busy soul struggles to listen, struggles to enter the lives of friends and community, becomes angry instead of laughing at the countless things Abigail says, and wants to scream at the dog when it barks at some rats in the sewers.

That’s how I feel sometimes. Yet I know that a peaceful soul in a busy life continues to see the bigger picture. God is at work. He is transforming us in this season of ups and down. He is using us to raise our precious children to be who he created them to be. He has called us to ministry with people he wants to heal, redeem and restore, and he uses our voice or touch to be part of that story. This is the reality.

His words are a source of peace in this season. The busyness is because of wonderful things happening (growing family, growing ministry, deepening relationships), but a busy soul that loses sight of what matters—that's just crazy.

As we struggle in this space, God sees where we are and I hear his voice, even right now as I write this, reminding me that I'm not alone. The simplicity of these words doesn't capture the weight they have on my heart. The deep peace that comes when I actually believe it—the One who sustains the world is with me and promises never to leave me.

Those Hazy Crazy Days of Summer by Pat Cirrincione

Songs from the past have been haunting me lately. Words from a George Gershwin tune about “Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.” Songs describing those “hazy, crazy days of summer.”

It got me thinking about growing up on the west side of Chicago in the late fifties and early sixties. Summer time—hot and humid lazy days, sleeping in, riding my bike around the neighborhood, visiting friends, my grandmother’s lemonade, and a feeling of contentment. Summer time—no school, no homework, no worries about exams, spelling lists or memorizing the times tables. Just lazy days, filled with joy, the cold refreshment of the sprinkler in the back yard and hot dogs. I loved those days!

For several years, family summers were spent out in Wheaton at the Off the Street Club day camp, which is still there, off Orchard Road, behind Arrowhead Golf Course. My mom was the camp cook, which meant that my siblings and I spent the summer in the wide-open countryside, and away from the city life with its myriad of people, noises and neighborhood friends.

The camp day began at six a.m. when the overnight campers were roused from bed to help set up the tables for breakfast and get ready for the day campers who arrive around nine a.m. Once the day campers arrived, it was nonstop activity until bedtime.

We biked to Herrick Lake where we learned to row a boat until we were comfortable with the oars (which meant when we stopped turning the boat in circles). We hiked through the woods and were taught about the plants and animals we never saw in the city. Once a month some of us would take a bike hike to the Batavia Quarry to go swimming, while other less adventuresome campers came by bus.

If you were an overnight camper on Tuesday evening, around nine p.m., the camp director Auguste Mathieu would take us out on the golf course and teach us about the constellations in the inky black sky. I learned to swim at the camp pool and learned what plants we could and couldn’t eat in the forest that surrounded us. We even learned to bury the garbage so the raccoons wouldn’t get into the trash and leave a mess. Days were filled with crafting, staging plays, playing baseball, and at night, sitting around the campfire while our counselors told ghost stories. Compared to the city, the air was cool, the outdoors a plethora of delight and beautiful silence at night.

I just loved summer. Except for the bugs, but that’s another story.

But those summers end, and before you know it you are longing to be older, ready to move on to other adventures. Little do you realize that with that dream comes responsibilities you may or may not ever be ready for.  I remember going to my first job interview and asking if I could have the summers off to work at the camp in Wheaton as a counselor. My new employer looked at me like I had two heads and said that wasn’t going to be possible. I was crestfallen, but what could one do? I had gotten my wish to become older, and there I was, stuck in a grown-up world, with grown up things to accomplish. Summer jobs to pay for college. Then a job to pay for a car. Then a job to pay for anything and everything. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, I have had some terrific and interesting jobs, but I never had camp again. Those carefree days turned into different days, filled with other wishes and dreams that kept me busy, and enjoying most every moment.

And those camp-filled summers? Well, I can still point out some of the constellations in the night sky, but don’t ask me what you can and can’t eat in the forest. Even though I quickly forgot how to row a boat without going around in circles, I haven’t forgotten some of the ghost stories I heard around a campfire in the evenings. And the camp? Well, its still there, waiting for me to drive down the lane, park my car by the pole barn that stored the camp bus and lawn mowers, and other camp paraphernalia and remember the fun I had in the summer time when the living was lazy.

And the Answer Is . . . by Diane Jordan

t may be because I am far removed from those days, but I find I miss those years when my children peppered me with their incessant questions.

Yes, there were days my eyes glazed over and I half listened to the non-stop chatter of my son, or I dreaded the hard questions my daughters invariably would ask.

Yet it was also those times that afforded me a window into their souls, and provided many an opportunity for some deep conversations.

This past week I relived some of those days as I sat in on our SICM Boys Day Out, and the Girls Day Out that followed the next day.

On their day out, the boys heard Pastor Dan speak about what it means to be a man of God as he relayed the story of David—a man after God’s own heart.

On Girls Day Out, the girls were reminded of what a faithful woman of God looks like as Michelle Kelley spoke about Queen Esther.

After each talk, the SICM team handed out pieces of paper. The team told the children to write down any questions they had about the Bible lesson, about Jesus, church, the Bible, faith—you get the idea.

After lunch SICM chose some of the questions and talked about what the Bible had to say.

Here is just a sampling of the questions the children wrote down.

•What if Jesus didn’t come to earth and didn’t die on the cross?

•What do I do to become a Christian?

•What should you do after you become a Christian?

•How do you be baptized?

•What are more ways to be a man?

•Why did Esther do it [go to the king] if it was so dangerous?

•How old is God?

•How old is the Bible?

•Who wrote the Bible?

•How did the Bible get to us?

•Is there anything God cannot do?

•What will God do to Satan when Jesus comes back?

•What if all of the Bible stories don’t really exist?

•Can sin ever go away?

•Is there a doggie heaven?

•How do we know that people we lost are in heaven?

•Is it a sin not to celebrate Christmas?

There's a popular story, which has probably reached legendry status by now, about a pastor who was giving a children’s sermon.

He started, ”I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is. I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts …”

No hands went up. “It can be gray or brown and it has a long bushy tail.” The children looked around the room at each other, but still no one raised a hand.

“It chatters and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited.”

Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The pastor breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”

“Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

I am grateful that our children have a safe place to ask questions.

I am grateful that they know people who take their questions seriously.

I am grateful for parents and all the other adults I know who are helping to lay spiritual foundations in the lives of children.

And I’m grateful that the answer is always Jesus.

Monumental Cross by Wil Trigg

The Supreme Court ruled on the “Peace Cross” just before we left for our vacation to the Washington, DC area. It was a case that pitted the American Humanist Association against the American Legion.

We went to the area to celebrate the wedding of one of Lorraine’s nieces—nothing at all to do with courts or monuments. We stayed with Lorraine’s sister and brother-in-law (the bride's parents). As our brother-in-law drove us to his home from the airport, even under the darkness of night, we could see that he was driving right by the shape of a cross.

A travel-weary Lorraine perked up. Is that the Peace Cross? She asked out loud. As news junkies, we knew about the case and the ruling. With family there, we saw some social media activity trying to garner support for the cross. One of their kids—our nephew—who lives in another state, posted on the ruling on his Facebook page. Though his views are left of center politically, his fond memories of the monument meant--we think--that he was pulling for its preservation.

So I've been reading up on this decision to allow this cross to stand on public land. I haven't found some of the comments of the Supreme Court justices to be all that encouraging.

Here we are at the Peace Cross

Here we are at the Peace Cross

Back when World War I ended, the cross was less of a Christian symbol and more of a public expression of support for the war.

Looking at it up close in real life, I think I got what the judges meant. No Scripture was on the cross. It wasn’t religious exactly, but historical. This really isn’t a Christian monument. Thinking historically, what other symbol would connect with the culture at the end of the first war. If it was built today, one of the judges suggested that the court and the public at large would likely have a different view.

But it's about the first World War, and the cross was synonymous with the war, not an expression of Christianity. Standing next to it, I get that.

But even as I write it, I’m saying to myself, “Wait. It’s the cross.”

It seems like everything is so partisan these days. Lydia and Chas, our family there, live in a community that’s overwhelmingly home to democrats. This is not an upper middle-class socially conservative mostly republican place like DuPage County. But it is a place where Jesus lives, where the church they are a part of is reaching out to the people around them.

I asked our brother-in-law what the community thought. He explained (and Lydia later affirmed) that except for the people bringing the suit, everyone wanted to keep it. Across the street from the Peace Cross stands a World War II monument as well as one commemorating a Revolutionary War battle that the colonialists (that’s us) lost. It’s a collection of patriotic monuments. Who wouldn’t want that?

If you look at the photo, you'll see a covering on the top of the cross, because it was being renovated and work stopped until the outcome of the court’s ruling. Lydia said that there had been local discussions about what to do with the cross if the court ruled against it…one idea was to take off both sides and just make it a tall column. And who would pay for such work? Fortunately, the renovation can resume.

With time, things change. The veterans of World War I died. This memorial remembers them. And given the SCOTUS ruling, it’s going to stay around. I am moved by the war memorials in D.C. They make me think about the sacrifice, the human toll in a war.

But does that give us peace?

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)

We live in a world where people sue about a memorial cross, where some berate people with different political perspectives or religious beliefs, or we minimize the humanity of people from other countries or social classes or races or those who have not yet been born, the disabled and the elderly. Christians imprisoned, kidnapped, and churches blown up or closed down. We can be sure that we are not living in a world of peace.

I don’t mean any disrespect to the people who gave their lives in World War I or in any of the other wars. But none of their spilled blood gives me what I really need. It can’t atone for my sin. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for their human sacrifice.

Yes, I love the freedoms we have in this country, the liberty we live in the words we speak publicly, the freedom we know in the church in which we openly and freely worship, the fun we have as we watch the parade and cheer our STARS or march with Caring Network.

Make no mistake, however. The cross of Jesus is not a civic memorial. It doesn’t become a symbol or tradition of our country or local community. With July 4 festivities looming, I hope that’s not what the cross is for us.

The cross of Jesus doesn’t lose its power over time. To the contrary, it grows, it deepens. It affects every corner of our souls. It makes us family with people we’ve never met who live in countries where we’ve never been. If it's about a country, it's one that isn't on this earth.

Yet there are so many ways our eyes can be diverted from the cross, I mean, the real cross. That cross is harder to see on some days, maybe most days. But let's look at that one.

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Mysteriously, the work of Jesus multiplies where the cross of Jesus is under most fire. More Christians than ever before. More martyrs than at any other time of history. The blood of Jesus spilled for us does what no fallen soldier’s blood can do. No law, no court ruling, no military force, no earthly father, no friend or family member can do what Jesus does. Even if they give their lives for us.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Let's Get Going by Virginia Hughes

Virginia’s dad at his oak desk.

Virginia’s dad at his oak desk.

The sun is shining, the breeze slight, birds are singing and flowers swaying. Today is a rare day that beckons, come outside! Come, walk and chase. Come, see and sit and breathe. A perfect day full of promise. A day like this on a Saturday back in my childhood home would have us hoping Dad would notice it and call out to us in the middle of our weekly chores, “Let’s get going!” Weeding tools would be put away. Irons and vacuum cleaners turned off. Laundry could wait. Grabbing tennis shoes in hand, we’d race in bare feet to the station wagon passing giggles of glee between us like rays of light.

With Father’s Day having recently passed, I have been thinking of things that remind me of my dad. I remember his sturdy suitcase covered with labels from around the world. He wore dress suits and starched white shirts and neckties. His piercing eyes peered out from wire rimmed glasses under a shock of dark red hair slicked back with Brylcreem that revealed a receding hairline. On his feet he’d wear wingtip shoes in black or brown leather, and the scent of warm and welcoming Old Spice wafted around him after he shaved.

An imposing oak desk anchored his home office, along with a floor to ceiling library of dark barrister bookcases full of Grandpa’s book collection and commentaries to study for preaching sermons. Dad did a lot of writing and preaching. He preached in Tagalog and Ilokano overseas. He also had a habit of praying loudly in his office very early in the morning at home. Lessons in loving the Lord and reading the Bible were the steady cadence of my father.

His shoe shine kit is also memorable. When I think of his well-worn wingtip shoes in black or brown leather, they gleamed with a shine thanks to the labors of us kids well trained in the contents of the heirloom shoe shine kit. It once belonged to his father and was constructed of sturdy enough wood to travel back and forth overseas many times. It had metal cans of brown and black shoe polish, whose sharp turpentine aroma and quick staining power challenged our young powers of focus and diligence. Soft rags and sets of stiff brushes used for cleaning and shining on up to the softest brushes and cloths designed to produce the best shine rounded out the kit. We were all taught to shine his shoes. If he had to ask one of us, a nickel per shoe was earned. If we remembered to ask him, a whole quarter was paid for the two shoes. Shined shoes had to pass inspection before nickels or quarters were paid.

My father was a man of inspections. Smooth bedspreads, crisp table settings and our personal appearance were frequently noted. Growing up in boarding school and military training taught him to set high standards and equip himself for every task. And he was set on equipping us in similar ways.

Then there were Dad’s surprises which filled us with delight. On Saturdays in the middle of doing chores, if the day and attitudes were just right as they are today, we might anticipate the declaration, “Let’s get going!” These adventuring words took us on unfamiliar roads to a picnic by the ocean or to a place we’d never seen, on a hike in a state park or a long walk by a rolling river. “Outdoors Dad” wore his oldest pair of dress shoes ever gleaming with shine. Oh, what earnings could be counted on later with the gauntlet of getting the mud off and the shine back on those shoes. Then he’d roll up his shirt sleeves and loosen his tie. This soldier in the Lord’s army was always in some form of recognizable uniform.

“Shouldn’t we pack a lunch?” Mom would ask. In earlier times with a younger, smaller family, Dad would answer, “No need, we’ll buy mangoes in the market!” Dad used to answer this way in the islands. Once we moved back stateside, Mom had us filling thermoses and making a picnic basket full of fruit, sandwiches and cookies before we went anywhere. We grabbed old blankets for our picnic and headed for the station wagon. There was also a separate bag of sandwiches just for Dad who’d be doing all the driving at breakneck speed and asking for a sandwich five minutes into the trip and every hour and a half thereafter by our calculations. Dad wasn’t the only one keeping track of things.

Dad’s speeding on highways and back roads greatly amused us back then. The officer who walked up to our pulled over, waiting station wagon stuffed with wide-eyed children would ask, “Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” Dad would smile and hand over his driver’s license. “Reverend?” The officer’s eyebrows would arc in surprise. I saw Dad talk to many police officers but he never received a ticket. Praise God we were never in an accident. Once the warning to “Never speed again,” was issued, Dad would ask if he may pray for the officer or answer any questions about faith.

Sometimes a quick prayer was prayed right then. Sometimes he’d go back to the officer’s car and pray and talk in the car alongside the policeman. We could see through the patrol car’s windshield that Dad was pointing to verses in his Bible. We would try to guess if he was reciting a verse from Ephesians or Romans or was he to John 3:16 yet? Dad liked to ask an officer if the local jail had any occupants who needed visiting. If it did, we’d all follow the policeman’s car to the jail and go visit a very surprised occupant. Dad enjoyed telling the family joke, “Have you met my family? They’ve all spent a lot of time in jail.

So when it came time for driver’s ed, I was told that even though Daddy drove like a demon, I had better drive right and observe all the rules of the road. Especially the speed limit; as he was not paying for my tickets. However, he promised to visit me in jail if I disobeyed because he always visited prisoners in jail. “C’mon Dad, tell me why you get away with speeding? No one gets away with that,” He told us maybe if we were World War Two veterans who became missionaries, and then pastored a local church; some understanding and grace may yet fall upon us. Or maybe we should work on our missing charms and stop asking pesky questions.

One day, returning home from a beautiful adventure at Turkey Run Park, most of us were dozing as we neared our city’s limits. On the edge of our Indiana town, as shadows lengthened, a group of four young African American musicians stood by their broken-down van with their thumbs in the air hoping for a ride into town. It was the mid-seventies, during years of heightened racial unrest in our town. Locally, anger on both sides had been stirred up in an “eye for an eye” unwinnable contest. Cars heading into town were steering clear of this group. Not Dad. He pulled over and backed up to get closer to them.

Our father who hitchhiked from a ranch where he worked in Colorado to his parents’ home in Indianapolis during summers as a teen, always stopped for hitchhikers anytime of the day or night. We were used to it and nodded obediently whenever he picked up a hitchhiker warning us again to never hitchhike and not to ever pick up hitchhikers ourselves as “the times they are a changing’.” Dad jumped out and shortly returned with the order to make room for our passengers. Those of us in the middle seat jumped into the back and the band took over the middle seat holding onto their guitars and horn cases, while mic cords and all sorts of sound equipment was squeezed into every available space in the car.

We drove to a part of town we’d not be wanted in and caused quite a spectacle with our family parading cords, microphones and small amps into the venue helping them set up for the concert. Then before we left, Dad, the band and all of us, held hands in a circle while Dad prayed for their concert, their families, safety on the roads and most of all, their souls. He gave them Bibles from the ever-present Gideon Bible box in our car, also his business card so they could contact him anytime.

He blessed them by reading Psalm 121.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Dad finished reading and we were invited to the band’s concert that night, but we didn’t get to stay. Dad invited the band to church the next morning, but they would be driving to St. Louis by morning. Then one of the band members started singing the old familiar hymn,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Together we sang all the verses we could remember and said goodbye. The drive home was filled with surprise that our now-favorite hitchhiking band knew the words to the serious church hymn, “Rock of Ages.”

As we go out into the highways and hedges this summer, I wouldn’t recommend speeding like my Dad because no one except Dad gets stopped and gets away like he did. The hitchhiker part of the story, God bless and protect anyone brave enough to help that person in need. I still obey Dad and don’t hitch or pick up hitchhikers. Maybe if I know you, I’ll pick you up if you don’t look too scary! What we can all learn from Dad is to be generous in helping and be willing to pray and invite everyone to saving grace. Our job is to love, and this is the perfect day. Let’s get going!

And the lord said to the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Luke 14:23 (KJV)

Heavenly Father's Day by Wil Triggs

By Wil Triggs

Just in time for Father’s Day, the summer book group starts and kind of gets in the way.

We’re reading The Prayers of Jesus by Mark Jones. In chapter two “Jesus Prayed ‘Abba Father,’” he writes, “Referring to God in prayer as ‘my Father’ was virtually unheard of during Christ’s time. Jews typically referred to God in prayer as ‘Yahweh,’ ‘my Lord,’ ‘my God,’ or ‘God of my father.’ The words of Christ simply have no precedence: ‘At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…’"

Calling God “Father,” doesn’t seem like a big deal these days, but it was a big deal for Jesus. No one did that. It wasn’t just the Roman-influenced pagans who lived with all kinds of gods who didn’t talk to their gods like that. The religious people wouldn’t dare. 

It’s part of Jesus’s distinctive identity that he did.

Being able to pray “Father” in our prayers to God is just as big of a deal for us. Stop and think about it. 

Jones adds “…The Son of God to whom we are united by faith makes this special title for addressing God possible. Christ’s eternal and natural sonship provides the foundation for the adoption of believers, who call upon God as Father as part of his family (Eph. 1:5; 2:19).”

Whatever your relationship to your father, or (if you’re a dad) how you relate as a father to your children, these connections are a core part of who you are. And those people have a place in your heart unlike any others. And yet, there’s something better going on than any of that. So it kind of messes up the steaks-on-the-grill Father’s Day. Don’t get me wrong. I like steak.

But thinking about this Father, this Son, and the family that they’ve made possible along with the Holy Spirt, I’ve been imagining an alternate universe, my own private twilight zone.

It’s a alternate universe where Jesus is at church. When I say at church, I'm talking about College Church. Literally. 

He is physically with us. When Pastor Moody preaches, (or this week, Pastor Fallon), Jesus is there, listening, whispering thoughts to different ones of us about how God’s Word matters in relation to what just happened at the job, that critical thought you had about the choice of a hymn or what you said to your spouse, or that person you’re mad at, that crime you committed, the thing you looked at, the thought you had that no one knows, how you responded to your child, your neighbor, the refugee, that homeless guy, or the neighbor who has more money than you. And the thing is, when Jesus says this stuff, we start to actually listen to him. I mean, it’s Jesus. We kind of have to, and we don’t just listen, but we start to change, to be more like Jesus and less like, well, us.

Word gets around. Hey, did you hear, Jesus is at College Church. Let’s go! There’s a line of people going down the street toward the public library, everybody just waiting to get in, to see if it’s really true, to get a glimpse of who he really is. There are people who want him to heal them or a loved one. Some want to say that they're sorry for everything. Some are baffled by life and seek him out to talk about what's really troubling in their life, their pain. Others just want to be near him, to know him, to see him for real. He is true and here for everybody. At College Church, our little corner of suburban Chicago. He’s for real and he’s here. 

Well, maybe it’s not a whole universe. And maybe not so much of an alternate one as a possible one. A church like College Church, a Sunday like tomorrow. Jesus and us. Ears to hear. Eyes to see. I can’t wait for the Father’s Day.

Summer Starts by Wil Triggs

Last weekend was the Taste of Wheaton. Today is Run for the STARS—both signs that summer is finally here, and I guess it’s safe to put away the snow shovels and sidewalk salt. Why do I hesitate to write that last sentence? Yes, I have put them away, but within easy reach, if needed.

Last week, a man named David helped us pick up Bibles that Tyndale House Publishers donated for us to give away at our Taste of Wheaton display. David's homeland is Burkina Faso. On Monday I wrote a quick email to thank him. I told him of our persecuted church prayer group and invited him to send us any prayer requests.

He replied:

Thank you for praying for my homeland. What is going on in Burkina Faso is something we had not experienced before. The country is currently at a level three travel advisory and is only one step away from the “do not travel” advisory level. Please pray for the safety of the country: terrorism, crime and kidnapping . . . have become very common. I grew up in the East Region, which is one the most affected regions as we share borders with Niger and Mali—two countries with terrorism strongholds. We covet your prayers.

Both Lorraine and I have written often of many fun and inspiring parts of teaching Kindergarten Bible school. We will undoubtedly write more of the things we learn from the children or our teachers. Stories from the Bible come alive so often over the course of the year. I especially enjoyed teaching the lessons of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son with the Kindergarteners (who act out the scene of the father and son’s reunion with gusto and joy).

But there’s one Sunday of the year that I’ve never written about because, honestly, I don’t exactly love it. It’s the Sunday that’s the last one of the school year, and we say goodbye to boys and girls we’ve been with for nine months. That’s the Sunday we just had. Another sign that summer is here.

I feel silly admitting it. I’m not good with goodbyes. The team of teachers that we’ve worked with week after week—not getting to see them and teach with them and learn alongside them until the fall—I’ll miss. And the kids who have grown and learned from and with us, well, our time with them is suddenly over. They are so ready to move on to first grade, and we are not so ready to let them go.

For the most part, the kids just leave. I don’t really expect or even want it to be different from any other Sunday morning. It’s good and right. The kids are headed on to the next adventure, whatever that might be—a special lunch, church, going to a birthday party or a lunch with grandparents. Sometimes the parents remind them to say thanks and goodbye. And Lorraine checks the children out with a special word of love and care to both the parents and their children.

It’s a bittersweet, mostly happy time. I just don’t like to say goodbye.

As Lorraine was giving one of these farewells to young Enoch this last Sunday, his mom and her words suddenly pushed goodbye to a whole new level.

We have a procedure we follow when the kids are picked up after Bible school. The parents stand in line. Lorraine collects each name tag, turns to me and tells me which room for each child. We do it every week. So, it’s routine, but this time it’s different because it’s the last one. We’ll never do it again, not with these kids.

“Enoch,” she says, “Room One.”

I go to Room One and say, “Enoch” to the children and teacher in the room.

Enoch gathers his flower and sunshine craft and comes out of the room toward his waiting mom.

Lorraine starts to explain how we won’t be in the classroom next time Bible school meets, that we’re done, and new teachers for the summer will be in place for Enoch .

“We won’t be back,” Enoch’s mom responds. “Our time of study at Wheaton is finished, so we will be moving back to China.”

We tell her that we pray for China. Every week we pray for China in the persecuted prayer group on Fridays, how the number of requests about China is on the upswing. We are concerned.

Enoch’s mom explains how they have heard similar stories, but they feel okay about where they’re going. We assure her of our prayers.

“Enoch,” says Lorraine, “We're going to pray that you will grow up to stand for Jesus and walk with him. Just like your namesake.”

Suddenly Enoch’s mom is in tears, saying thank you and goodbye and they’ll miss us.  And both of us are choking back tears of our own.

Meanwhile, a mom who is moving to Wisconsin collects a Kindergartener about to be a first-grader. And then, there go the twins. And Annie. Goodbye, Dylan.

Lorraine hugs Enoch’s mom. “We will be praying.” She nods her head affirmatively through tears. Then, they’re gone.

I just saw a Facebook post of a proud parent posting a photo of a son graduating from eighth grade. I don’t know for sure that I would recognize him, remembering him as the Kindergartener. And most mornings we drive by a boy headed to the bus for high school that we knew in our class all those years ago. So we pray when we see him. Enoch, too, will grow into a man we wouldn’t recognize.

Though we may never see Enoch’s family again, there will come a day when we will know and be known, when we will be together with them, and the believers from Burkina Faso and Kenya and Nigeria and our Russian friends from summers past in Maloyaroslavets and Ruza and Yaroslavl and all the Kindergarteners who stop being Kindergarteners and grow into men and women who love and follow Jesus.

That other summer tarries. Let’s live in anticipation of the season still to come and do all we can to point people toward, not away, from Jesus.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9)