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Friday, March 24th 2017

11:47 PM

Replacing the Brakes on my Honda

If you spend some time around my family, you will notice that none of us drive a car that is brand new.  While I was growing up, our yard was described as a used car lot because we had several cars that were on blocks and a few that were actually drivable.  The cars that were drivable would break down often because they had better days before arriving at our house.

The main reason why we drove used cars was because we were a family that had 4 children which meant that all 4 of us wanted our own car to drive and a brand new car was not going to happen for any of us.

Another reason why we drove used cars was because we could repair the cars when they broke down.

When my dad returned from the Vietnam War, he began working for the phone company, but he also took some automotive classes in order to be able to work on his cars.  Of course, I don’t have all of the facts since I was not born yet, but I do remember seeing the Chilton Manuals in the basement and the plethora of tools in the carport.

Just like any other dad eager to pass on his knowledge, our dad taught us how to work on cars so we can save money and make the cars last longer.  That knowledge is still with me today and it helps me with the cars we drive now.  Of course, that knowledge has also been known to get me in trouble at times.

I remember waiting too long to replace the brakes on my Honda, and it cost me time, energy, and money that I did not plan on spending.

When I lived in Florida, I drove a 1991 Honda Accord for a while.  It was a great car with 35 miles per gallon but just like any other car I have driven, it had way too many miles on it, and it was already showing its age.  I was able to keep the Honda running through preventive maintenance, but I remember the day when my confidence caused me to wait too long.

Anybody who has worked on disc brakes can recognize the sound of metal on metal that is a sign that we better change the pads quickly.  Well, I heard the sound for a couple of weeks so I was already living on borrowed time.  However, I did not feel like working on the brakes yet so I decided to wait for the weekend.

As I was driving home, I began slowing down at the intersection for the road that would take me to my home which was a little over a mile away.  I hit the brakes and I heard the noise that none of us wants to hear.  It sounded like the brake assembly broke on the right front wheel so I nursed the car into the parking lot of the Walgreen’s on the corner.

I walked home and went to sleep because there was nothing else I could do at 11:00pm.  After I got Eli on the school bus, I called up my friend Jimmy who was serving as the Associate Minister at the church across the street from Walgreens, and he helped me get to the store for parts and then to my car.

The brake assembly was actually in good shape so the noise was more the pads falling to pieces than anything else.  That was good news for me so I kept working.  I removed what was left of the pads and began to push the caliper back, but the caliper did not move.  I fought it for a while until I decided to remove the caliper and go back to the parts store.

At the parts store, I found out that the caliper went beyond the point of no return, so I had to buy a new one.

The caliper is designed with a thin line of metal that prevents it from retracting just in case something went wrong.  This was a safety measure that prevents further damage to the brake assembly and/or the wheel hub should something break while the car is in motion.  That was the point of no return, and thanks to my overconfidence, my caliper was no longer any good.

Sometimes, our confidence can cause us to wait too long before reacting to spiritual warning signs.

The more we study the Bible, the more confident we get.  The more confident we get, the better our spiritual lives become because we know that we are growing in Christ.  However, with that confidence comes the temptation to become spiritually lazy.  And when we become spiritually lazy, we no longer fear the sins we should avoid.  And if we don’t fear those sins we should avoid, we could end up being blindsided when we least expect it.

We all have certain warning signs that alert our consciences when we get too close to activity we should not engage in.  If we don’t pay attention to those warning signs, we could end up paying a price we did not plan on paying, and sometimes it can be an extremely high price.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)

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Thursday, February 23rd 2017

3:08 AM

Remembering the Good Ole Days

It seems like forever since I have written, but this has been a crazy month for us.  Along with the normal chaos that comes with having the last name Winfrey, we had a couple of surprise road trips to Atlanta so we could pay our respects.  The first Thursday of the month was the viewing of Cousin Julia who was part of Michael’s family.  Although we were not that close to her, we did spend some time with her over the past few years.  She and her husband “Uncle Donald” would drive up to Mountain City GA and go to our church so they could support us.  We also met with them near their house for lunch and went to their house for Uncle Donald’s surprise birthday party.  Those few memories are good ones for us, and I am sure that Michael has many more memories since she grew up knowing them.

The next Thursday was a hard one for me.  We had to drive back to Atlanta for the viewing of Jerry Harbin.  For those who live outside the Atlanta area, they may not know who he is, but for Christian Church people in Atlanta, we knew him as that guy you called when you wanted somebody to lead the song service.

Jerry Harbin was the music director at Mt. Gilead which was where we had camp meetings for the area churches.  He served from 1977 to 1988, and those camp meetings were well attended by churches from a variety of denominations.  We were attending the Methodist Church when we went to the camp meetings.

Along with leading the music at the camp meetings, Jerry was the main song leader for revivals at the Christian Churches in the area.  A revival needed a good preacher for the sermons, but it also needed a good song leader to get the people ready for the good sermons.  Jerry was that guy!  I could go on and on about him, but I need to get to the point I am trying to make.

The death of Jerry Harbin is another indication that the “Good Ole Days” are behind us.

Although I am only 42 years old, I have several great memories of the glory days of churches working together for the common goal of glorifying God.  I remember going to Atlanta Christian College on Sunday afternoons to sing with other church choirs as we practiced for the “Singspiration on Steroids” that was held in their gym.  I don’t remember the official name, but that was a great time for the church choirs to gather and use their talents for the Lord.  I’m sure that there are still combined choirs going on, but I doubt that they are anything like what we had especially since we no longer have the common meeting place, but we won’t talk about Atlanta Christian College moving.

Along with the combined choirs, there were several youth groups meeting together for rallies, lock-ins, service projects, concerts, and anything else we felt was going to help our teenagers grow closer to the Lord.  I still think it is rather interesting that Michael and I attended many of these events but never met each other until almost 20 years later.

Combined choirs, youth groups working together, Paul Carrier preaching at Kenwood Christian Church, Tom Morgart preaching at Jonesboro, Keith Bunn preaching at Tucker, Keith Davenport preaching at Fairburn, Jerry Harbin leading the singing for the revivals, hanging out at the college with friends, going to Jesus’ Place in downtown Atlanta to hand out clothes after the church service, conducting church services at Christian City on Sunday afternoon, these are all part of the “Good Ole Days” that the Wee Ones will never get a chance to experience.

The Wee Ones can only experience the “Good Ole Days” from a distance as I share stories of the past.

This is the sad reality of life because we all grow old and with old age come the complications of trying to keep the world from spinning so we can enjoy those special moments one last time before the Lord takes us home.  Like I said already, I am only 42 years old, but there have been so many changes in my lifetime, I feel like I am 3 times my age.

With all of the changes going on, what will the “Good Ole Days” look like for the Wee Ones?

Part of me wants to lament the changes because the Wee Ones are not going to have the same experiences I had, but there is another part of me rejoicing because they will have brand new experiences that they will call their own!  Of course, the problem is that we have the responsibility of making sure those new experiences are happening.  As the “Adult” generation, have we really accomplished anything that would create a lasting impression on the future generations?

Will anybody look back at our years and call them the “Good Old Days” when they share stories with their children?

I don’t really have a solution or even a suggestion at this point, but I can say this much.  If we continue to waste our time fighting over the right way to do church, we will lose the opportunity to be church for our kids.  And there won’t be anything “Good” about that!

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Monday, January 30th 2017

10:48 PM

Speaking the Right Language

I love singing.  Many people already know this, but I am part of a community choir called the Greenwood Festival Chorale, and we sing 3 times per year.  Our concerts are formal with monkey suits and an orchestra playing with us.  I have to admit that I’m not really a tuxedo guy but I LOVE the classical music feel that we have with the orchestra.  I also love the 6-part choir with the challenging music that keeps me on my toes.

Being part of the choir is something I grew up with as the churches we attended had choirs and extremely talented choir directors.  My love for choir began with watching my parents in the choir and now our kids get to watch us in the Chorale.  Even though we are not able to have a choir at our church, we can still sing with a choir, and that is just as good for me.

This concert coming up in March is especially challenging for me.  We are singing Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living,” and the entire piece is in Latin.  The music itself is not really difficult compared to other songs we have sung although the constant changes from 4/4 to 3/2 to 2/2 back to 4/4 is driving me crazy.  The biggest challenge for me is trying to learn these Latin words.  Not only do I have to pronounce the words correctly while singing, I have to overcome this disconnect I feel from not knowing what the words mean.  I have the English translation alongside the Latin words, but it will take a few tries before I can immerse myself into the music.

Singing music in a different language creates an additional barrier that slows down the process of internalizing the song.

Without internalizing the song, it is hard to sing with my whole heart.  And if I am not singing with my whole heart, the sound will not be as good as it could be.  And if I am not singing to the best of my ability, how can I glorify God with my singing?  The good news is that I have time to fix the issue and I will be ready to go when the concert happens in March.  It will be hard work, but I will be glad that I did not quit.

Internalizing the song is harder when it is in a different language, but it can be done.  In the same way, a church that speaks a different language than the community can be difficult to accept.

A couple of decades ago, there was a word created to describe the insider language of the church, and it was called “Christianese.”  This type of language involves the words we use that are hard for others to understand because they are not familiar with the church.  Phrases like carrying my cross or being washed in the blood of the Lamb are examples of language that can be strange to those who are not part of the church.  For this reason, there have been movements with a goal of eliminating any and all insider language so visitors can feel welcome at church.  Although this may sound like a good idea, there is a danger of losing the identity of the church if we simply remove phrases that sound weird.

The answer lies in the education of the people rather than the elimination of the phrases.

When visitors are in the building, we should be ready to explain parts of the church that appear normal to us.  Even if the visitors are familiar with the church, it would be better to make the effort to explain rather than assume that they already know what is going on.  After all, they are still visitors, right?  If they understood what was going on, perhaps they would have already been members.  My point is that we should not be afraid to explain what we do and the phrases we use because that will work much better that trying to erase the uniqueness of the Christian Faith.

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Friday, January 13th 2017

3:54 PM

The Warner Brothers' Ranch

Movies have been a big part of our family’s life for years.  I remember growing up watching the movie of the week with my family on Saturday and Sunday nights before we got cable TV.  We thought we had arrived when the cable man showed up to install that black box that sat on top the TV that was sitting on top of the larger TV that didn’t work!  And when we bought our first VCR, we recorded movies around the clock so our viewing library was always full.

Movies are fun because we get a chance to live in an alternate reality for a couple of hours.

Whether we are growing up during the Great Depression on Walton’s Mountain, driving down the dirt roads with Bo and Luke Duke, or flying through the air with the man who has an “S” on his chest, the time we spent in front of the TV kept our family together during times when the rest of the week had us moving in different directions.  There were some weeks when sitting down for a movie was all the time we spent together because we always had something going on.

Now that our Wee Ones are old enough to watch some of the movies with us, we are introducing the next generation to the classics.

Wil and Michaela have enjoyed our trips down memory lane because they got a chance to see what it was like when we were their age.  We watched many classic movies and TV shows from the 1980s-1990s.  As we watched them, we also noticed similarities to the backgrounds for some of the scenes.  And many of those backgrounds were filmed in a central location, the Warner Brothers’ Ranch.

We discovered the Warner Brothers’ Ranch last July when we were in California, but it was not available for the general public to see.

We drove around the outside of the ranch and saw the entrances that were nothing more than gates cut out of the massive wall that keeps everybody out.  4 roads surrounded the ranch but none of them gave us any access to what was inside.

I’m not going into the history of the Warner Brothers’ Ranch here, but it is interesting to know that most TV scenes were filmed there so they could cut through some of the red tape that would slow down the production of their projects.  Inside the Ranch, there is the Lethal Weapon house, the “Friends” fountain, the Christmas home for the Griswolds, and on the back lot, the Walton house.  Instead of paying a homeowner every time a movie was needing a house, the ranch was the next best thing because it was always available.

Using the Warner Brothers’ Ranch is a great cost effective way to make movies but a terrible way to grow a church.  In many ways, we have created a sub-culture that has prevented others from joining us.  Like our trip around the ranch looking for a way in, there are many people in the community circling our churches trying to find a way in so they can meet Jesus.  The challenge for us is simple.

As God’s church, we need to find a way to be accessible enough for the community to join us while keeping our distance from the sin that so easily entangles us.

This challenge is simple to understand but hard to put into action.  It is hard to reach the community because we are scared of falling back into our old lives of sin.  It is hard to reach the community because we have been raised to think that the community is evil while the church is good.  It is hard to reach the community because we have been taught to be in the world but not of the world.  While it is true that we need to maintain a higher standard of living as Christians, we should not build an ivory tower to shelter us from life.

The Christian sub-culture is both good and bad because it can give us a safe place to grow while at the same time cutting us off from the people we need to reach.  If we spend too much time in our sub-culture, we will lose touch with the reality of our neighborhoods, and that is counter-productive.  I believe that this was part of the motivation behind the Great Commission.  We are told to make an effort to go to the people instead of just sitting around waiting for them to show up.

Of course, we do need to have a healthy church for them to attend after we reach them for Christ, so we should never neglect the Discipleship part of our responsibilities.  However, we cannot make disciples without first making converts.  And we cannot convert those who are not convicted.  And we cannot convict those who are not listening.  And how can they listen when we are not speaking their language?

If we want people to listen to what we have to say, we need to learn their language so they can understand us.  Think about the events that took place over the past year.  How many of those events were designed with the community in mind?  Which ones actually had members of the community showing up?

Are we trying to make a movie for people to escape reality for a couple of hours every week, or are we trying to reach our communities for Christ?

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Tuesday, January 3rd 2017

12:08 AM

The Greenwood Mall

I used to love going to the Mall.  I was never a “Mall rat” but I did enjoy walking through the people who were shopping on Friday nights when there was nothing else to do.  I also loved going through the malls during the Christmas season because I got a chance to see all the decorations and sales that were happening.  My first experience with the Mall had to be in the early 1980’s when we would visit the only “Non-Dwarf House” place to eat a Chik-Fil-A sandwich, and that was at the Greenbriar Mall.  Of course, it is hard to imagine what life was like before Truett Cathy took over the food court in malls across America, but I digress.

I remember Shannon Mall opening, and my mom taking us to the health fairs so we could see the kids clogging and get lots of goodies from the booths.  My Grandma used to work at the call center for Sears at Shannon Mall, and my sister ended up working at a couple of the stores in the mall before it started going downhill.  When the Mall in Douglasville opened, the people stopped going to Shannon Mall so the stores began their mass exodus.  Along with the mall in Douglasville, there were strip malls in Newnan that began another trend that contributed to the decline of many malls across the country.

The trend used to be a shared space with other stores and a theme that tied the facilities together, we call it a mall.  When the malls became overcrowded and the demand for more restaurants and stores overwhelmed the management, the trend switched to strip malls with a theme, or “Outdoor” malls that popped up across the street from the malls.  These were different from “Outlet” malls because they were not overflow stores.  Once the major (Anchor) stores left the mall, the smaller stores were not enough to sustain the overhead for the facilities to remain profitable.  Simply put, the malls went broke and most of them had to close.

The closing of Shannon Mall was not pretty.  As the stores left, the management did nothing with the huge holes so they became eye sores that caused the people to get depressed, and when people get depressed, they don’t want to stay.  And if they don’t stay, they don’t shop.  And if they don’t shop, the stores will leave.  It was a slow and painful process, but the mall ended up being demolished.

When Shannon Mall was torn down, I knew that part of my life would never be the same again.  No matter what malls look like in the future, it is highly unlikely that we will experience what we had in the late 1980s - 1990s.  If I want my kids to experience what I did at the malls, I have to play a movie that had mall scenes, but that can only go so far.

After moving to Greenwood, we visited the mall on a regular basis.  It is not a big mall, but they have a couple of “Anchors” (Belk and JC Penny), and some healthy secondary stores that are busy.  They also had a Chik-Fil-A which was our main motivation for going inside.  That Chik-Fil-A is now in the parking lot but we still like to walk around inside the mall.

Just like the other malls, the Greenwood Mall has gone through transitions as a result of stores moving to gain more exposure.  The exodus of stores created holes that needed to be filled and that can be depressing.  The management decided to cover the holes with a wall so we don’t have to look at empty spaces.  I don’t know much about the history of the mall, but I have a feeling that even with many stores, they probably had more spaces available so it was a good idea to cover them up with walls instead.

Walking through the Greenwood Mall is interesting because there are long walls between stores so there is still an empty feeling because we know that it is not as full as it could be.  However, the management added something else to give us a great experience.  Instead of letting us look at long, boring walls, they painted huge pictures of various parts of Greenwood so we can read about the city where we live.  This also gives us a good history lesson as we walk!  I can’t help but wonder if other malls would have survived if they tried something like this.

How you handle the dry spells can make a huge difference.

In the church, we go through dry spells when we don’t have as many people as we had before, and for a small church, this can be a depressing period of time.  Whether we are missing teenagers, babies, or young adults, there are times when holes can form in our ministries, so we need to be careful about how we handle those holes.

If we allow ourselves to focus too much on the holes in our ministries, we can become depressed and end up creating issues in the areas where we are strong.  This is why we need to work on a strategy for removing the “Eye sores” that come with missing parts of the church.  Perhaps we need to use the empty Sunday School rooms for something else like a prayer room, a library, or a place to display items that describe our story.  I remember visiting a church that had a “History” room that displayed pictures of the different buildings they were in as they grew.  The walls told the story so I could get a sense of the journey they took.

Whatever we decide to do with the holes in our ministries, we need to make sure we don’t allow our present ministries to suffer because the people we do have still need a church to be part of.  And this is why it is so important to stay positive and focus on what we can do rather than complain about what we used to do or refuse to try anything because of what we “Can’t” do.

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