Cowboy Church – yup, it’s a thing

When you have a chance to share fellowship with your colleagues, work relationships take on a whole new meaning.  When you can get to know someone on a spiritual level and find out that your connections are so much deeper than just work and common social interests.

Last week, my wife and I attended her company’s annual conference in Nashville, TN.  She works with a leading Wellness and Anti-aging company as her “side gig” (she is an Interior Designer by trade). We have attended all of their conferences to learn about the new products and programs, bask in the personal development opportunities, but most of all because of the amazing energy that comes from so many entrepreneurs looking not just to make money, but to truly help people (as their motto states) to “Feel Better, Look Better, and Live Better”

But is goes deeper than that.  A few years ago, at our very first conference, we met with our team in a hotel room in Dallas for hors d’oeuvres before a group dinner, and after some great conversation we gathered in a circle and prayed.  For each other, for our friends and families, and that He would guide our work to truly show His glory in everything we do.  Mary and I knew that many of the people in the room were faithful, but to have it manifest this way helped assure us that we had chosen the right Company to join and certainly the right group of colleagues to work with…  Wow!

Fast forward to 2019, and here we are with many of those same people enjoying the activities of a Convention (we were at the Gaylord Opryland, an amazing place!) and having a meal together on Friday night.  I was thinking ahead to Sunday (after the conference ended on Saturday, many of us would be staying in town an extra day or two) and remembered that my Brother and Sis-in-law, who were competitive Cowboy Action Shooters, had mentioned something called the Cowboy Church, so with a quick Google check, I found that Nashville had a Cowboy Church and it happened to be walking distance from our hotel!

My suggestion at the dinner table was met with surprise, but everyone seemed to think this would be a great way to close out our weekend.  So Cowboy Church it was.

Sunday morning came, and we met in the hotel lobby to leave on foot for the church.  It was colder than we expected and (unusual for me) I got us a little lost on the way, so we ended up arriving a bit late.

CowboyChurch_logo

The Church was in a theater in the corner of a strip mall, and when we walked in as a group of eight or so, we heard a spiritual medley (“Daddy Sang Bass” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”) being performed by a Johnny Cash tribute singer (Harold Ford) as the opening.  We took our seats and the service continued with several Country Western singer/songwriters sharing their music and testimony with the band on stage.  The pastor, Dr. Harry Yates, interspersed the introductions of the singers with prayer and gave a great message near the end of the service.  One of the features of the morning was hearing his wife Dr. Joanne Cash Yates (yes, the late Johnny Cash’s sister) sing with beauty, grace, and spirit.  All in all, it was a truly joyous morning for all of us.

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I bought a CD of the service to bring home and share with my brother and a few of our colleagues who were not able to stay in town with us.

And to top the morning off, one of the singers, a wonderful singer/songwriter named Sheri Pedigo, joined us at (where else but) the Cracker Barrel for brunch. She shared her story with our group, and we left with new friends, new connections, and a strengthened faith in our collective journey…

Truly one of my best moments of Fellowship on the Road!

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Breaking (Baking) Bread – A Christmas Legacy

This past Saturday, we held a family gathering that has become a tradition after seven years; Carb Day!

Carb Day is the last Saturday before the Christmas weekend, and simply put is a celebration of bread. French Bread, Pizza, Pretzels, Pastas (including a special Timpano make each year by my niece). And of course cookies, cakes, crackers and dip, and a few meats added to the mix. But mostly bread…

My brother started the tradition by simply baking bread in large quantities one year, so that he could distribute to our family as the kids began expanding their Christmas holiday visits to include significant others and now spouses. And like the loaves themselves once the yeast was added, the tradition grew. More people participated in the making and baking, more equipment was added, including a commercial mixer and outdoor wood-fired baking oven.

Then the day started earlier, 3:00 AM to be specific. And to do that, the young adult baking team needed to spend Friday night in order to begin working to achieve the goal, which was always “more than last year”. So this year the team consisted of my Brother (always in his red chef’s jacket), the Bakers (black jacket) and Junior Bakers (1st time apprentices wearing white jackets), who proceed to put one hundred and thirty-five pounds of flour to use in the process of baking over two hundred loaves of bread, sixteen pizzas and several dozen pretzels. During the course of the day close to one hundred guests passed through my brother’s house, and all had their fill of lasagna, sausage and peppers, cheese and crackers, desserts, and oh yes, bread.

We spent most of the afternoon and evening enjoying the revelry, watching our children and their friends engage in simple pleasures of being together in the kitchen, and the amazing teamwork of mixing, kneading, rolling, cooking, and serving all of the guests. These are memories that will always be with us, and these kids have something they can carry forward in their lives.

But what really stands out to me was where this all came from. What was the source of my brother’s inspiration? What made sharing bread become such a memorable act and annual event of this magnitude.

Our first family encounter with Bread was when my dad purchased several French bread pans and began baking his own French bread at my parents’ homes Watchung and in the Poconos (Northeast Pennsylvania). Dad always loved to cook, creatively baking pies on our camping trips, cooking our Thanksgiving turkeys on a charcoal grill, and was a master at the Christmas beef tenderloin. And then there was the bread. It came to every family event for years. Dad always came with the foil wrapped torpedoes of deliciousness, or had them when we went to visit. There was nothing to compare with warm, buttered French bread to dip in the au jus of a Christmas beef dinner, or with café au lait on a cold morning, toasted with butter and Mom’s homemade peach preserves.

As much as Dad loved the process of baking, I think he ultimately enjoyed most the breaking of the bread at our meals. Seeing others enjoying the fruit of his labor. And this I think is the most important part of the ritual as it passed from father to son. Seeing the joy on my brother’s face as he watches the kids mixing, kneading, baking and eating on Carb Day is always a joy. It makes me happy to know that our children and their friends are participating in an activity that they will be able to share with their families, and that my Dad’s legacy will spread like pond ripples to future generations.

When we enjoy the season of Christmas, let us all remember the One who started the spiritual tradition of the breaking of the bread, the One who we await during this Advent season.

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all people.” (Acts 2:46-47 NKJV)

Let us do likewise and, with gladness and simplicity of heart, praise God for His Son and enjoy our gathering time this Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all.

 

 

 

 

When a hero is more than a hero

We all have heroes in our lives, and I have many.  Sports heroes, musical heroes, political heroes.  And we often have mentors as well, sometimes in those same areas (sports, music, politics, or maybe education).

I am sharing this story about a childhood sports hero that I met face to face a couple of weeks ago, and to share with you how blessed I am as a result.

I’ll digress briefly to tell you my childhood story…

When I was about nine years old, the NFL expanded to include a new team, the New Orleans Saints.  And since much of my family on my mom’s side is from Louisiana, it came naturally to me to become a fan of this addition to the league.  My childhood home had a big backyard and because of the large open field on the property, my yard was the neighborhood “football field”, and my older brothers, neighbors, and schoolmates all engaged in our favorite activity, football on a makeshift gridiron.  Sometimes it was a full-blown game of tackle football, with as many as 7 or 8 to a side. Sometimes it was just my best friend an me pretending that we were various “stars” of the NFL making game-winning catches and throws, pretending to be our favorite players.  At the time, my favorite was a league-leading wide receiver, who was an all-Pro with the Saints, named Danny Abramowicz.  I used to envision myself running routes, warding off defenders, and making the long touchdown catches.

I followed his career and always watched whenever the Saints (or later, the 49ers) were on TV, I made sure to catch the game.  As my interest in football waned in high school, college and later, I never followed other players, but Danny Abramowicz was always my football hero.

Fast forward about 40+ years to September 2016 when I heard from one of my Cornerstone brothers (I have written several times about Cornerstone – see my other posts), about a Mens’ Conference taking place near my home, and I have to admit I almost didn’t attend, but happened to visit the web page and the agenda for this conference.  Several speakers were on the roster, but one caught my eye, Danny Abramowicz.  I immediately signed up, and after reading his bio, went online and bought one of his books, Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint.  Reading the book did two things for me. One, it caught me up on Danny’s life after football, which included his private business ventures, and eventual renewal of faith in the Church. But second, and more importantly, it showed me a different side of my childhood hero, that of speaker and evangelist.

I attended the conference, looking forward to hearing Danny speak, and maybe having the opportunity to talk with him and get his newest book, Crossing the Goal.  Before the conference started I had a chance to meet and talk with him briefly and he graciously signed a copy of his book for me.  Still the sports hero, but then he spoke…

Sharing his life story and the story of his own Christian renewal, an important change came.  Now I was listening to a mentor, a “spiritual” hero, who was following the Lord’s calling to reach out to men and help bring them back to their faith.  And to help men to understand their place in God’s Church, their place as Spiritual Heads of their families , and their role in the workplace as evangelists for the faith.

This hit home, and if you have read some of my other posts, you will quickly see how I saw parallels in our two faith journeys.  Now I saw this football hero as a Brother in Christ, and a mentor in my own faith journey, validating my endeavors and encounters in the mission field as I work as a traveling professional.

So now my childhood sports hero has become so much more, and I am blessed at having the opportunity to learn his story of renewal, mission, and new vocation…

To learn a little more about Danny and his mission, visit the Crossing the Goal website.  And look for this NFL legend at a Mens Conference near you. And the book is a great read, complete with a Gameplan to help you develop your own spiritual “workout” –

https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/crossing-the-goal

And always let yourself be surprised at how the Lord will guide you and place people in your path.

 

Twitter – @CrossingTheGoal

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Sunday Fellowship on the Road

Sitting here at the Crossroads Church experiencing a rare moment of Fellowship on the Road (Sunday Edition).  My company is having their annual customer event at the Aspen Meadows Resort, so I flew in last night and have a morning to reflect, walk and most importantly find fellowship.

I am enjoying a coffee in the library while the Worship team is rehearsing and having a nice conversation with Carl, a local (a native, no less probably a rarity in Aspen).  

I am missing home as I have been apart from my wife since last Monday when she went to visit our daughter in Atlanta.  She is home today, and I am not…

But I am feeling very much wrapped in the arms of His Love.  I am praying that this helps me to share His light with those around me this week, and can be a blessing on my colleagues and my customers.  I pray that I can be a beacon.  

“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:15-16‬ ‭KJV‬‬

http://bible.com/1/mat.5.15-16.kjv

We are all musical. Whether or not we are musicians…

I grew up singing and leading song in my church from the early days of the “Contemporary Christian Music” movement (dating myself – this was the 1970’s), mostly in the Catholic Church folk mass.  We were young high schoolers, relegated to the newly available 5:00 PM Saturday Mass.  But our group was enthusiastic and we helped to build a similar group across town at the Protestant Church, with the two groups often combining to lead music at both churches.  And when our music struck a chord with the teens of our community, there was loud and joyous praise going on, even in our traditional Catholic setting.

We had a lot of people interested in joining us, and we never turned anyone down because of any lack of musicality. There were a few who joined us to sing, who truly were “off the key” most of the time, but they sang with enthusiasm, and sang with spirit.  My wife was one of those who joined the group. Maybe it was to sing, maybe it was to be together more often during our dating days in high school.  She has a beautiful voice, but tends toward self-criticism, which to this day inhibits her singing when in groups.   Now, several decades later, I get so much joy in those moments when I will hear her singing upstairs, unaware that I am listening, and I try my best to let her know how much I enjoy hearing her.

This inhibition can be a hinderance to the spiritual dynamic in a church and keep a congregation from raising its song to the highest level in praise of our Savior.  As I travel around (mostly between Pennsylvania and West Virginia), I have noticed that there is a certain expectation in the more high-tech communities, and maybe the reason that the music is loudly amplified is so that the congregation can listen to the performance, rather than be expected to contribute to the musical praise.  The stage setting, headset microphones, amplified electronic instruments, and speakers blasting the sound, can have a tendency to intimidate rather than invite one to join in the worship.  Not that his is always the case.  I have been in churches where the level of praise grows with the sound, and the entire congregation will be on its feet, singing, shouting, lifting hands and voices in chorus with (and often contrasting) the music on the stage.  But in many cases, people will enjoy the experience passively and read along with the big-screen projected lyrics to the songs, close their eyes, raise their hands, and soak it all in.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Then I go to a Bible study or worship service at a small congregation in a town like Gassaway, WV, or Gaithersburg, MD and a group of fifteen or twenty people can raise the roof with just the accompaniment of an old, out of tune piano.  Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s the setting.  But in many cases, I think it is the attitude.

Do too many of us worry about how we sound? Or whether we can sing “in-tune”? Or are our voices too raspy, thin, weak, or soft? Do we worry about what others will think of our voice?

This morning, I came across a passage in a biography of Charles Ives (an important American composer) from his “Memos”.  It was a quote attributed by Ives to his father, George.

Once a nice young man (his musical sense having been limited by three years’ intensive study at the Boston Conservatory) said to Father, “How can you stand it to hear old John Bell (the best stone-mason in town) sing?” (as he used to at Camp Meetings).  Father said, “He is a supreme musician.”  The young man (nice and educated) was horrified – “Why, he sings off the key, the wrong notes and everything – and that horrible, raucous voice – and he bellows out the hits notes no one else does – it’s awful!”  Father said, “Watch him closely and reverently, look into his face and hear the music of the ages, Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds – for if you do, you may miss the music.”

Like any aspect of our faith, we are often affected by what we think others will think, and we look and judge others by standards set by man, not by God.  So if we hear the person next to us, and think “Wow, are they out of key!”, then it will be natural for us to think “If I sing that out of key, maybe I better keep it inside and just lip-synch.”  A vicious cycle.

But when we stand next to our brothers and sisters, and only think about praising God together, we are all singing “on the key, right notes and everything”.  And He is pleased. So sing; often, loud, prayerfully, with hands in the air, on your feet, on you knees, in the sanctuary, or in the shower, just sing – for Him.  He loves to listen…

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

May my meditation be sweet to Him;

I will be glad in the Lord.  (Psalm 104:33-34 NKJV)

Wake Up Call – Can I be an Ironman?

I am not a morning person.  Most days I need two alarms on my phone to get me going in the morning, and only drag myself out of bed early for two reasons:  a barking dog (thank you, Miss Riley) or a work obligation (7:30 AM meetings with clients, can’t live with ’em, can’t afford unemployment…)

But last week I was glad I got up earlier than usual.  I had to work Wednesday evening, when I usually try to go to Bible Study where ever I happen to be staying.  This week I was Timonium, MD.  I had too many followup e-mails and even a couple of evening phone calls to make in order to complete my day.  I was disappointed, as it also left me too late to workout (well, not really, but a good excuse).

But I did find that there is a church in Timonium with a mens’ group that meets on Thursday mornings at 6:15 (did I actually type that?), and I told myself that I could do this.

Much to my surprise, when I arrived at Grace Fellowship Church at 6:10, I walked into a meeting room where over seventy-five men were already gathered and sharing a cup of coffee and donuts.  Ready to start their day, immersed in God’s word and Christian fellowship.  The group was called Ironmen, and I had no problem understanding why.  Any group that can consistently meet at 6:15 AM and look as awake and enthusiastic as these guys has to be called “Ironmen”.  Talk about dedication!

Let by Pat Goodman, Mens’ Ministries Pastor, the 90-minute spiritual workout not only made me realize that I could get up this early, but left me truly refreshed at the end and of the season and disappointed that I had only found this group on the last day they were meeting before summer hiatus.

Thanks to Pat, and to my table brothers, Al, Harry, Jimmy, Bill, Steve, and Robert for making me feel welcomed, included, and launched.  I am looking forward to picking up regularly (when I am in town) in September.  God bless you all.