Monday, November 30, 2015

When She Asked the Question

She's growing up and I found myself slowing down enough to see her this week. I'm glad that I took the time. There is a wisdom and a soft kindness in her eyes. I'm not one of those types that regret the passage of time, watching my children grow is by far the most enjoyable part of my life. I love seeing them become.

"Dad, if you could be anywhere in the entire world right now, doing anything you wanted to do, where would you be?"

We were floating together in a small salt-water pool on the southern Pacific coast of Guatemala, on a strip of land that becomes an island when the tide crashes in. A river ran behind the small open air beach house and the moon was rising full with its glow reflecting on her face from the water. 

We began the day with sunlight sparkling on the black sand, bacon and eggs, surrounded by my mom and dad and a couple of close friends. After breakfast I spent four hours writing on the topic of the forgiven woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 

We'd spent the day isolated from the chaos of the world, no a/c, no phones, no televisions, limited power and a jug of water for drinking. Christmas music played softly on a blue-tooth speaker and card games replaced technology. 

Dinner was shared family style around a crowded table with seconds for all and more than we needed. Even Remus the family dog seemed to drink deep the warmth of the day. 

I pondered her question and considered the places I'd like to see: the history and wonder of Israel, Big Ben in England, the barrier reef in Australia, the Grand Canyon, diving on the ocean floor into untouched ruins, or maybe orbiting the moon that highlighted her smiling, wide-eyed face. 

I let the moonlight shape a smile on my face as I yielded to the obvious. "Here. Right now. I think today has been a perfect kind of day." I was afraid that she might challenge my answer because she knows my wandering heart. She didn't though. She considered it and nodded.

I saw her this week. I saw the perspective of my life from this new place. I give thanks this Thanksgiving holiday from the depths of my soul. It streams from some deep place in my core. I am thankful. 

I knew this... when she asked the question.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rodney the Pistol Packing Preacher

The phone rang and I listened to my father tell me that his buddy, Rodney had a Police Positive .38 revolver that he wanted to sell. Rodney had a great reputation as a gun dealer because he was also a preacher. Sight unseen, I agreed to buy the gun and forwarded the money.

When my Papaw Harry Shepherd returned home from World War II, family lore holds that he went and purchased a snub-nose, Colt .22 revolver that he easily concealed in a pocket and often wore in a leather holster on his hip.

My dad added to the legacy of the gun when he sneaked it out of the house as a boy and lost it in the creek behind the house. Papaw went down to the creek and found it some time later, drying, cleaning, and oiling it back to operation.

Today both guns rest in my gun-safe, locked in my parent's home in the United States. When we lived in Ohio, I held a concealed carry permit, and on any given day you might have found me carrying one of those classic revolvers. 

Guns were part of growing up Shepherd. Papaw Harry gave me my first bb-gun before I was strong enough to hold it. He used to laugh about that day as he would add my story to family legacy. He'd tell that he held up the weight of the gun as I stood in front of him while he wrapped me with his great arms. 

I took my first aim at his mailbox, pulled the trigger, and put a hole through it.  He laughed... shocked that I'd hit it. Thinking it was a lucky first shot, he encouraged me to try again... and I put a second hole through it.

I later repeated this scene with my Dad when he took me squirrel hunting a few years later. I had graduated up to a .22 rifle. Dad pointed out a squirrel... and after following that squirrel until he looked just right... I pulled the trigger and passed the lead through its skull. 

I can remember going squirrel hunting with Dad and his older brother, my Uncle Lee. I watched them hunt together, work together, and walk through life together. My Uncle Lee passed from this world this past Thursday.

I remember fishing with Uncle Lee and my Dad somewhere in Indiana as a child. We were there with our cousin Pete. I was standing on the edge of the lake shore, near a large, square-shaped spillway (that looked like a vortex to the underworld. Suddenly I heard Uncle Lee's voice coming from the depths of that hole. My Dad tried to tell me that Uncle Lee was shouting at us through a drainage pipe on the side of the lake... but I was convinced he'd fallen into that hole. 

If you knew much about Shepherd lore, you'd know that we have quite the colorful history. There's been a lot of shenanigans. Through the years... we've had the friendship of Rodney. He's sold our family a lot of guns. He's also walked beside us all in friendship. 

Rodney the Pistol Packing Preacher visited my Uncle Lee just a short time before his passing... and Rodney introduced Uncle Lee to Jesus. 

Life has a funny way of coming full circle. I think of my tiny little self with that first bb-gun, in the arms of my Papaw. I think of how guns were an identifying characteristic of what it meant to grow up Shepherd. I think of the figure of Rodney that walked beside us all for years. It seems so perfectly fitting that somehow we'll all end up in heaven together someday... recounting the master-crafted weave of family, guns, and preachers that bound us all together.

I'm quite hopeful that heaven is not a gun-free zone... well, I'm quite certain it isn't... at least not now. I have no doubt that my Papaw Harry and my Uncle Lee are taking shots at God's mailbox. And I know that God has them wrapped in His steady, great arms. God is smiling and laughing as He sees that we're all on target.  

I think Papaw Harry would still be amused by his grandson. I'm a preacher these days, his faithful Colt is shined, oiled, and locked away, and I'm sure that I can still shoot the eyes out of whatever gets on the receiving end of my gun sight.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Easter 2016 Mission Possible: "HIACE!"

Or, "HIACE" is not a martial arts attack.


  • Here is our goal: a gently used Toyota Hiace or similar van.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Offensive Enough to Follow Him

Larry Renner Photography
His message was obscene. Condemned by the church as a blasphemer and sentenced to death by the state for treason. Others thought him a madman as he invited them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. 

He assaulted men with a bullwhip, was caught in a scandalous public display as a woman rubbed his feet with her hair. He shocked the pious elite when he referred to them as beautiful monuments on the outside with putrid, rotting corpses for souls. 

I want to be like him. 

Ordination Service, October 22, 2015
Meadow Park Church of God, Columbus, Ohio
And so, why would you expect me to be safe, voiceless, and lukewarm? This life is not for the timid. I am a follower of God, born man, that came to put the world on notice that he is taking back what was His from creation.

I am not him. I only follow after him. This association brings with it scrutiny. I cannot follow him and be understood by you. I do offensive things: I am not always tolerant. I won't abide evil or foolishness. 
The congregation surprised me
with a hand-made podium!
I don't believe that God loves you unconditionally. I think His love has conditions: He gave up His son, His son gave up his life, you have to be known by his son, you must be obedient to his son. Then, and only then does His love cover you.

Ordination oil used at
the service.
God is Holy, He cannot abide sin. The death of Jesus is the atonement for sin. He bled on the cross. If you aren't covered by His blood, then He can't be near you. If He doesn't know you... how can He save you?

I believe that Hell is real and that most people we know are racing towards its precipice. I believe that God doesn't send anyone there, but that He has provided us a way to avoid what we deserve. Yes, I believe that you and me deserve to burn. 
Our family after the Ordination Service:
Chad, Kellie, Caleb, Aleksandra, Sterling.
My children know that I love God more than I love them, and if I ever had to choose, then I will be faithful to God. Following him comes first, at any cost. Oh yes, my love has conditions. My condition is that they aren't allowed to separate me from the God I follow.

A visit at the Church of God General offices in Anderson, Indiana
where I observed the cane and telescope of founder, D.S. Warner,
also one who lived a bold, sometimes offensive life.
I walked away from a career, a retirement, the full life I knew... I left behind family and friends... just to get closer to the voice that was calling me. 

It's a voice you may not believe exists. Now I seek to take steps that are worthy of this calling. I seek to know Him, to love Him, to be obedient to Him. There is no better path. 

Our family with my co-pastors, Tom Planck & Joe Mayerik.

How else am I offensive? Well, I follow the one that made friends with the riffraff of society. I'm not too smooth with appearances. I'll pierce my ears and ink my skin in order to find relationship with those who would never walk down a carpeted aisle and sit in a padded pew. 

Photo credit: Larry Renner
Guatemala Caribbean Coast
I'll walk through the bad side of town and associate with people that are dangerous. I might even listen to loud music and strike a yoga pose while I meditate on God. You might condemn me for that. I'm ok with that. I'm seeing people connect to the one I follow. 

I'm not a liberal or a threat to your world view. I might even make you slightly uncomfortable. You may even find me obscene. But, then again... do you know the one I follow?

Raven tattoo: 1 Kings 17:2-6
Tattoo completed by Katie Hutchins
Funded by Kayci Roh
Inked the day before my ordination.