My Painted Tree

We have a tree in our yard that is one of my favorite things.  Sure, a tree might be no big deal to some, but it means a lot to me.  I have always loved the changing of seasons, especially seeing the leaves change color each autumn.  I think it started with the story my mom and dad would tell me growing up.  They would tell us that the angels came out to paint the leaves at night when the weather got cooler.  That was always such a cool picture to me.  It didn’t help me ace my science exams, but still a memorable story from my childhood.

I love seeing the changing colors of the leaves, but I haven’t always been able to do that.

In 1996, I moved to where God called me – a Native American reservation in Arizona.  God said “Go”, and I went.  I lived there until September 2010.  These were absolutely amazing years with some of the most incredible people you’d ever meet.  But, if you know much about, well, the desert, you know tall trees with leaves are kinda tough to come by.img_5669

For almost 15 years, autumn came and went without seeing much color.  Sure, there were times I’d be driving out of state and see some of the leaves, but didn’t get to see the unfolding handiwork of the “angels painting”.

When God said “Go” again in 2010, my wife and I started looking for a house in a new place.  Having lived in other peoples’ spaces for many years, we definitely had a list of things we were looking for.  We had ideas about a yard (mowing lawns wasn’t a big business in AZ), a basement (moving to tornado country), and other things.  However, nowhere on the list was a tree.  Of course, we wanted trees, but we didn’t have specifics in mind.

A few weeks after we moved, the angels started painting.  The area around us lit up with color, and it was amazing.  But no tree was amazing as my tree…and that is true to this day.  See, even though we didn’t know it, God led us to a house that has a tree right next to it that turns an amazing red every fall.  Without fail, it’s one of the first to get ‘painted’, and one of the last to lose all its color.

As I drove out of my driveway the other day, I put the car in park and just looked.  It was stunning!  The way the sun was hitting the leaves, the bright red of the leaves.  Stunning.  And I was overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness.  I have seen His handiwork time and time again – in hospital rooms, in financial provision when funds were so tight, in bringing Sara and me together.  But I see it in what many would call the ‘small things’, too.

And I see it in my painted tree.  God knew how much that tree would mean to me.  We looked at some good houses when we were searching, but it was clear this was the one for our family.  God is so good.  He picked that house for us, and He grew that tree, and He sends His angels to paint those leaves year-after-year, bringing a smile to my face.

He’s faithful to me, He’s faithful to our family, and God – who created you, too – will be faithful to you. The Bible says it best: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5). It might not always look like what you think it should look like, but God’s got a painted tree waiting for you, too.


When the Delivery Goes Wrong

17876728206_265c2e4acc_kComedians know about needing a good delivery.  UPS and FedEx have a business that rises or falls with how they nail the delivery.  And if it wasn’t clear before, the Army now knows firsthand how tricky it can be to land the delivery.

Just a couple of days ago, the Army was delivering Humvees – not on the road or by boat, but from the sky.  This Airborne Division was doing what they had done before, making the delivery of these heavy vehicles from above, dropping them with parachutes attached out of the plane, where they would float gently to the ground.  Or not.  This time, the delivery went way wrong.  Three of the Humvees broke away from their parachutes, plummeting to the ground and smashing into thousands of pieces.

For sure, the vehicles were needed, but the delivery was wrong.  The impact was fast and furious, and the result was clear.  An unintended mess.

I couldn’t help but think of those times in my life when I’ve had news to deliver – important news, life-changing news – but the delivery was wrong.  Whether it was because I hadn’t thought through what I wanted to say, or my heart was in the wrong place, it all ended with an unintended mess.

That happens a lot, especially in today’s world.  People who love Jesus, and have the most important delivery of all – the Gospel – wind up with a mess on their hands.  This can happen for lots of reasons.  It can happen because of fear, worrying about the anger that might come when we share God’s Truth.  It can happen because we don’t think through what we’re going to say, or haven’t had help in how to share the Good News about Jesus.

But, there are also a lot of times the delivery is wrong because the person carrying the message just doesn’t care enough to get it right.  “I’ve got something to say, and people need to listen!”  Sound familiar?

Let’s be clear that when we carry the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is the most important message.  It’s a life and death message.  And when we are trying to correct a brother- or sister-in-Christ who is living outside of God’s boundaries, that is a hugely important message, too.

We need to speak the truth.  In a world where “truth” is being redefined on an almost daily basis, God’s children must stick to His Word.  But, we need to make sure the delivery is right.   Ephesians 4:15 says, “…we will speak the truth in love.”

Step one:  Speak the truth.  Step two:  In love.

When the delivery is wrong, our words crash down like those Humvees, leaving holes – not in the earth, but in people.  And a big, unintended mess is left.

So, look to Jesus.  See how He talked to people.  Learn from Godly leaders you trust.  When we get the delivery right, it changes lives, and it changes us.  Don’t shrink back from fear, or because of previous messes.  Speak the truth, and speak it boldly!  Just make sure the love is there, too.

The Roller Coaster Church

I’ve been at this for a lot of years. People have all sorts of opinions on the matter. Some love it, some rail against it. Some view it as a regulation, some a privilege. For me, it’s always been a part of my life – church.

Almost everyone has a reaction to that word. Church. Joy, frustration, love, hurt, peace, defensiveness. So many emotions are tied to that one word. I’m not writing a lot of words here to defend church or everything various people in various churches have done over the years. And this isn’t me writing to tell you why you should go to church.

I’m just writing because it’s part of my story. It was part of the first half of my story, and it certainly is part of the second half. And honestly, it brings a smile to my face to write about this. Not because of a building, but because of the part it has played in me experiencing more of the incredible plan Jesus has for me.

I grew up in an area with plenty of churches around. The great things was, I felt the one my family went to was one of the best. They say hindsight is 20/20, and even looking back, I still feel that way. The biggest challenge? It set a high standard for other churches I’d attend in my life to live up to.

I went to a good church in college, where the pastor not only taught the Word of God but lived it. I’ve been to small churches while on the mission field that were filled with amazing people who loved like Jesus (and could host a mean potluck!). And I’ve found many friends at a bigger church, filled with people passionate about reaching those the world has forgotten.

Many great experiences, and I could write many blogs about what I learned along the way from each of those churches. And yes, I’ve also been to some churches that I didn’t connect with for various reasons. I’ve learned from those, too.

Now, we go to a churchroller coaster that used to have a roller coaster next to it. Yup, a real, wooden roller coaster. That’s kinda fun. It’s a church that feels so much like home to us. The worship, the teaching, the laughter, the overwhelming encouragement of marriages and families – it’s simply beautiful. I’ve heard some say that the closer they get to a church, the more they are turned off because of the “ugly side” they see behind the scenes. As we have experienced more of this part of the body of Christ, it’s been just the opposite. The closer we get, the more we love it, and the more we want to be a part of serving.

All of that said, this isn’t about one specific church. In fact, it’s about many churches, filled with people and experiences who have helped me live a life that gets more exciting with each passing year.

A good church should remind you of the early Church that the Bible talks about in Acts 2 –
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals…and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.”

Maybe you’ve gone to a roller coaster church before…but not the fun kind. You’ve seen ups-and-downs that have caused you to leave church in the rear view mirror. I’d encourage you to pull over, turn the car around, and maybe give this all another look. There is no perfect church here on earth, and if you’re looking for problems, you will most likely find them.

But, if you’re looking for a place to belong, a place with people who will love you, and a place that can help you find pieces that seem to be missing, you can find that, too. It might not be the first church you check out, or the second, or the third, but when you find the right fit, well, you’ll want to tell others that part of your story. Don’t give up. It’s worth the effort.

When all is said and done, people could argue with me about an “institution” that has been flawed, but I know it isn’t about an institution. It’s about a Savior. It’s about Jesus Christ, and when a church has that right, you can’t wait for Sunday!

My Christmas Train

There are toys, and then there are trains. Toys are fun, but trains bring out something else. Maybe it’s the feeling of nostalgia, or maybe it’s the delusional thinking that I could just step on a locomotive and successfully operate it.  Either way, one of my favorite moments each Christmas is when we pull out the Lionel O-Gauge and set it up under the tree.

This isn’t anything new. Every Christmas back in New Jersey, my dad would set up his Lionel train, and it was always amazing. I remember early on just watching as he would operate it, making stops at the station or loading the plastic cows into the cattle car.

Then the big day came – he let me drive it! As I started lifting the orange lever that made it go faster, I noticed the black line that had been drawn about two-thirds of the way up the lever.  Dad had one rule: “Don’t push the speed past that line.”  “Okay, Dad.  No problem,” my prepubescent voice replied.

Of course, that didn’t last long.  As the days went by, I got mIMG_1772ore and more curious.  And the train started inching faster and faster. Then, as it was cruising at speeds I’d never attempted, the Lionel hit “Dead Man’s Curve”.  I call it that because I knew I was a dead man as the locomotive went careening off the track.

Dad and I talked after that. I believe I even got called to “his study” (let’s just say my brother was familiar with this place from bad grades he had received).

Did dad let me play with the train again?  Fortunately, yes. He believes in second chances (and third, and fourth, and…). But I knew not to push past the line the way I had.

I learned something important about Dad and his Lionel. He didn’t put the line on the controls to keep me from having fun. He put it there because he knew that pushing too far past the line would do damage to something valuable.

As I grew older, I pushed past the line too many times – in what I would watch, in relationships, in how I handled anger. And I wound up damaging something valuable – me.

My Heavenly Father has drawn out lines for me…for everyone. Some people just grumble and call these “rules”, and claim God doesn’t want them to have fun. But I have lived the reason for these lines. God didn’t put these in place to keep me from having fun. He put them there so that I can live a life without regret.  And “enjoy life to the full” (John 10:10). If I’ll live His way instead of mine.

I was pretty grateful that my dad helped me get the train going again, and gave me another shot to do it right. I’m eternally grateful that my Heavenly Father does the same.  Those mistakes I made growing up?  And the new ones I make? He has forgiven me and made me new. He’s right there to help me get back on track, to forgive me, and to help me get it right the next time.

The more I live, the more thankful I am for those lines.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

My DeLorean and me

There’s a part of me that still hopes to see a DeLorean in the sky someday. Sure, it didn’t happen on October 21, 2015, but maybe there’s still hope for a flux capacitor.

Like thousands of others in movie theaters and living rooms across the country, I sat and watched “Back to the Future II”. It was too surreal to not watch a movie from 1989 about the future on the actual day they traveled to in the future (sure, that makes sense) – October 21, 2015.

I expected to laugh, and have some “whoa, they got that right” moments, but I didn’t know what else was coming.

I found myself thinking back to the 16-year-old who first saw that movie in 1989. I don’t know how I felt when I saw “2015” on the screen, but I’m guessing it was something like, “Wow, that’s, like, forever from now.”

But forever came fast.

It seems like the blink of an eye since those days, yet so much has unfolded in my life. I went to college aimage1nd met the love of my life. I lived among incredible Native Americans for nearly 15 years. I’m the dad to three beautiful children.  I’ve seen my nephew need open-heart surgery at two days old, and my own son need abdominal surgery at three-days old. And, through it all, I’ve seen God do some absolutely amazing things.

Twenty-six years passed by. Just like that. It was filled with memories, challenges, and joys that I probably would have been freaked out by if Doc Brown had shown up and told the 16-year-old me all of it.

Finally, my thoughts turned to 2041 – another 26 years down the road. I don’t know what is on the road between now and then, but I can’t wait for the adventure.

And I’m so grateful that no matter what comes, I have a God who loves me, who has a  plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11), and who I get to spend forever with because of Jesus.

Who knows? Maybe there will be a DeLorean waiting for me in Heaven…

Words I was taught never to say (blog by Sara Hutchcraft)

I give up

Words I was taught never to say

Words I teach my children never to say

Have now become my mantra.

It started when the moose slammed headfirst into our RV, crushing in that window in front of my driving husband, sending glasses and bowls and boxes of graham crackers flying across the vehicle that was my home for a month.Moose windshield

We were spared. Miraculously spared from what could have been something so much worse. Satan must have sent that moose to stop us from our mission to spend the summer travelling and bringing the Gospel to those trapped in darkness. But on we marched. “Now we see through a glass dimly…” Then came the rest of the story. Under that RV was a mess of metal and bolts that were coming apart. Unbeknownst to us, we had been driving all summer with a rental RV that was being held together by only a nylon washer. Tragedy may have faced us hours down the road, had we kept driving. God sent us a moose. He whispered in his ear to meet us on that dark road in the middle of Idaho, and He saved us. He hadn’t saved us from the moose – He had used the moose to save us. “Then we shall see face to face”.

We travelled on, confident in our mission. Confident in how God had spared us. And sitting at a stop light across from Denny’s, waiting to turn left, it happened. A car lost control, hurtled towards us, and slammed into the front of this same, battle weary RV. And this battle weary family shook.

AndAccident 2 we limped on. God showed up in ways we could never have envisioned. Our personal chaos didn’t have to distract from the larger story – but it changed me forever. This time there was no second story. No reason why it happened. Just a moment that ripped my sense of control away from me. And God whispered “Are you ready yet? Are you ready to finally let go?” Now we see through a glass dimly…

I spent the majority of my life looking for answers to the “why”? Wanting to understand – to control my circumstances, to prevent pain and loss. Or maybe trying to form myself into the person I thought God wanted me to be. Twenty years ago, when He asked me if I would go anywhere – to speak His words to whoever He asked me to? Brokenhearted, my insecurity spoke and I stammered “I can’t” … for 20 years He has been walking beside me – gently reminding me that though I can’t, HE CAN. And that’s all He’s ever asked of me.

So that day the crazy driver slammed into our RV? I gave up. He didn’t just shatter our RV– he shattered the illusion of control that had threatened to ensnare me. It’s in our shattered places we find the most healing. I gave up. Not in the traditional sense – I gave up myself. I didn’t need to know why anymore – Then we shall see face to face. The answers will come one day – I don’t need them now. On that day I will be all He created me to be – until then I will just do what He tells me to do and trust Him to be sufficient in my weakness. Just Jesus – that’s all I need to know. And here I rest.

I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering…Phil 3:10

Breathing deep 

I woke up this morning in one of my favorite places. It’s one of those spots where the air seems to have super-charged oxygen and where you feel healthier the deeper you breathe.

I walked out and saw the pine trees and the mountain, felt the chilly air, and just breathed deep…

I love spots like this. I am drawn closer to the Creator’s heart on mornings like this. The creation is beautiful, but only because the Creator’s radiant glory is where it began.

“For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth…all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Colossians‬ ‭1‬:‭16

I find great joy seeing God’s majesty revealed in these mountains, and I find even greater peace knowing that the One who formed these mountains can handle anything that might come my way.

“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.” Psalm‬ ‭121‬:‭1-2‬

Just had to get some of these thoughts out today. Take time to look at His creation today, stop, and breathe deep.

“Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” Psalm‬ ‭9:8