Posts Tagged ‘community’

The night is black.  The night is cold.  The night is windy.  One enclosed tent houses two of the men.  A rain fly and ground tarp shelter two others.  The fifth member of the group is weakened by the cold and chooses a hiking shelter with strangers rather than his brave friends. The two men under the rain fly swap stories quietly while they wait or sleep to come.  It is late and we are tired from hiking to their destination at… Slaughter Gap.  We need rest before the next days ascent to… Blood Mountain.  A voice is heard from the enclosed tent.

“Hey Guys?  You going to do something about that?” Mike asked with concern.

“About what?” I respond.

“You didn’t hear that?” Mike and Kenny ask with incredulity.

“Hear what?”

“That noise! could you check it out?”

I sarcastically respond, “Wait.  You want me to get out of my warm pack, find my flashlight, boots, and jacket to check out a noise that makes your voice all girlish”

Mike, “Well, yea”.

Because Owen and I are not zipped into a tent, we are able to see around the camping area fairly well for a pitch black night.  We bravely scan the dark with our head lamps and notice Kenny’s pack has been dragged about 12 feet.

Owen, “Kenny, it looks like it got into your pack”.  We debate  for a little while if it was a bear or a raccoon.  I think it is a raccoon.  Later,after the mauling, I am proved wrong.

Kenny, after unzipping 400 zippers to get out of his sleeping bag, tent, and rain fly, decides that moving his pack would be a good idea.  After he is back in his tent and the snores begin, I start to fall asleep.  I am then startled awake by Owen’s voice.

“There’s the bear” he whispers.

“Where?” Me, still doubtful.

“About 25 feet away from us between those trees”

“I don’t see…”

Owen, “See his eyes?”

Cory, “No…holy crap that’s a big bear”  This is perhaps the biggest black bear I have seen in my life.  I know black bears.  I have been to Disney.  I have seen the Country Bear Jambaree.  This bear is NOT carrying musical jugs.  He is not wearing a hillbilly hat. He is not singing bluegrass. He is beginning to walk toward our tent.

Cory, “Hey Kenny, if you have your pots, now would be a good time to bang them”  No response. “Ken, bang your pots… Kenny, there’s a bear”  I’m thinking “whose voice sounds a little girly now”.  Finally, Ken bangs the pot.  The Bear just looks at us.  Walks a little further away then gives us that over the shoulder stare that essentially says, “This ain’t over”.  And it wasn’t.

Mike, the big baby that he is, stays in his tent and asks Owen I, while we are moving our packs to a higher tree as well as a tree that is further away than it was before, if we can move his.  We do, because we are more like Jesus than Mike is… humble too.  I even put Mike’s pack higher than my own, because that’s the kind of guy I am.

The bear came back two more times that night.  He was determined and obviously in charge.  Kenny, Mike and I had place our pack high in a tree.  Owen, without permission from his tent buddy, brought his pack into our shelter.  I cannot tell you how many times that night I jumped awake as the rain fly drifted passed my legs making me think a bear was grabbing for Sir Owen’s stupid pack.

Although my appendages remained undamaged, the same cannot be said for Mike.  Mike suffered damages to his pack.  It was the third time the Bear came around.  He had already pulled Kenny’s pack down, again.  But after chewing on his wiffle ball bat, and seeing that Kenny was out of candy cigarettes (don’t ask and he is over 40) He attempted to pull the top of my pack off and apparently could not figure out how to use the Iphone, for he left that about 30 yards away from my pack.  Mike’s pack, however, was pulled out of the tree and dragged about 100 yards to where it was mauled.  Paw prints, slashes, plastic carnage everywhere.  I heard the snap of the branch and the dragging sounds of a pack rendered mute in its screams as it was dragged into the deep.

“Mike?” I say.


“He got your pack.”

‘What do you mean “he got my pack”

“Mike.  Your pack is gone”

There are simply those days when you just have to ask God, “why! Why do bad things happen to good people”

Perhaps, Mike, if you had taken the easy cheese, chocolate, tortilla shells, and other general snacks out of your pack and hung them 25 feet in the air like the rest of the campers, perhaps, and I may be going out on a limb here, but just maybe your pack may have been left alone.

After going through the crime scene, we notice Kenny’s face drain of all color.  He reaches down and picks up a piece of paper with Mike’s home address and phone number.

“Mike.” Kenny says with concern. ” He has your information.  He knows where you live.  You need to call Allison and warn her”.  Sometimes your worst fears are realized.  We just new that when we finally found a signal, that the Bear was going to answer when Allison was called.”

The fifth member of our crew, we’ll call him Scott, claims that the Bear came by his shelter and stuck his nose in.  But those claims are unsubstantiated and could possibly be the ramblings of an old mad man.  We will never really know the truth.  But I can say this for Scott, he is a tall man.

Over the weekend, as each of us laughed and shared about the nights events, we would have other hikers come to us with empathetic voices as they attempted to console us for the bear assault on our equipment.  We would just laugh and say, “are you kidding?!  A Bear just attacked our campsite.  This is the greatest day ever!”  You see we are a group of men who have a tradition of making an ordinary day legendary.  Each moment has the potential to be monumental.  Who are these men?

Kenny F. is a man who I first came to know when he was in college and I an 8 year old boy who loved kick ball.  Kenny is not a man who has ever been identified by his job, but by his relationship to his friends and family.  As a matter of fact, no one really knows what Kenny does, not even Kenny.  At the law firm he works for, he is known as “The Guy”.  It is possible he is like Matlock’s investigator.  I don’t know.  I do know that he is the eternal athlete, quick with a joke, and is all in for a laugh.  He is a man who, in the days of minimalist hiking, carries a novelty sleeping bag, a wiffle ball bat, and a pitching wedge. You ask why and he responds why not.  As funny as he is, he is kind of quiet.  He was one of my youth group counselors, but I couldn’t quote him.  The lessons he has taught are the lessons he lived.  He was the only non minister in the group, but his life is a sermon of following Christ.  His life says, love God by loving your family, loving your friends, looking out for the little guy, the stranger, and giving it all you’ve got.

Owen F. (no relationship to the F. in Kenny’s name)  is one of the reasons I am a pastor.  So blame him or thank him.  Owen was my first youth minister. Before that he would lead the children in goofy singing for our Wednesday night programming.  He taught me how to imitate Kermit the Frog.  He introduced me to Paul Simon and Amy Grant.  He had a crush on one of them, though I don’t remember which ; ).  It was under his term as youth pastor that I won the award, “Everybody’s Kid Brother”.  That award was thrown in my face several times when I asked girls out over the next few years.  But it was in eighth grade that I came to Christ because of an invitation Owen extended.  I don’t remember what was said, I just know that because he had a relationship with me and he had one with Christ, I could trust his invitation and discovered the joy Owen had for myself.  For that I will be eternally grateful.  As for the award… we’ll see.  Later when I was 15, Owen and his Friend Billy D. (not williams) had a band and came back from seminary to put on a concert for his former youth group.  He and Billy extended a different invitation, this one to ministry.  I accepted, although I thought it would be a little more rock-n-roll than it turned out.

Scott A.  My second and last youth minister.  He followed Owen and introduced me into a weird world of strange eateries, sayings, games, and spirituality.  He is the story teller, the perfect poker face in the shadow of difficulty.  It was through his tutelage that I learned the lesson, “if you can make them laugh, you can get out of trouble”  He opened his home up to youth and college counselors regardless as to whether or not they were clueless to the bedtime of his family.  I learned when and when not to be competitive.  I learned that fun and sport can be made out of anything, and I learned the great lesson that it is always better to look the fool than to make a fool.  It was through my relationship with Scott that  I discovered the humor of Jesus.  More precisely, the joy of Jesus.  Scott wasn’t/isn’t about religion, but about relationship.  What’s the point of knowing Jesus if you can’t live life with him and others.  I learned not to see tasks, but opportunities.  Scott is the king of underdog development.  He sees people like he see life.  Potential for joy.

Mike H.  is the Dick Clark of ministry.  His look has not ever changed.  It is his normality that makes him unique.  Mike is several years older than me and was one of a group of guys in our youth group that embraced the role of big brother to my “everybody’s kid brother” when I first came to the youth group.  Not the Wally to Beaver kind of big brother.  It was more of the Bart to Lisa… not that I am a girl.  The nature of our friendship over the years has been good natured teasing, faith challenging, and an honest lesson in friendship.  Mike, as much as I hate to admit it, was the “popular guy” in school and at church.  But he wasn’t one to let that go to his head.  (Mike, this is killing me to say these things).  You see, Mike, for the most part, has never tried to be anything than who he is.  This should not be confused with complacency.  He is one that recognizes his flaws even before I point them out! He embraces them, but not to settle but to be transformed.  As much as Mike’s style has never changed and his weird seemingly agelessness, he surprises me constantly in the depth of his faith and his willingness to wrestle with God and submit.  That character has been in him since I have known him and it was that character that I noticed first about him when he was beating me silly with brotherly love throughout our youth group days.

What does any of this have to do with Bears?  Everything and nothing.  All of these men are normal… alright, normal might be pushing it.  None of these men are extraordinary.  They do not lead fortune 500 (although Kenny’s work is still mysterious).  They do not lead mega churches or book speaking engagements that pay big bucks.  They do not have a best seller, their “friends number” on facebook is not more than a 1000, and the paparazzi could care less who any of them are.  What they do have is a very real faith in God that applies to every aspect of their life.  Their faith is lived out not just when teaching in a class or preaching from a pulpit, but in the way they bring life to whatever group they find themselves in.  God language does not dress every sentence they say, I’m not even sure proper sentence structure is used in every sentence they say, but the love of God overflows it all.

We carried the heaviest food, for some reason Kenny brought a 2 pound block of what looked like government cheese.  We had the heaviest packs.  I’m still not sure what Owen carried that was so heavy.  We hiked into the designated campsite along the Appalachian trail and were surrounded by experienced and very serious hikers.  No one had built a fire.  It was so cold we were wondering if maybe a fire wasn’t aloud where we were.  We decided to make one.  We lit a fire.  Chipped around a plastic golf ball.  Played a game of trail approved rock toss.  We then gathered around our fire while we ate dinner.  A hiker timidly came toward us.  We were very jovial, the rest of the hikers very docile.  Kenny and I thought they were coming to tell us to put the fire out, that we were breaking some environmental code.  The hiker spoke.  “Do you all mind if we put some of our paper trash in your fire… and maybe warm up to it as well?” We, surprised, said of course.  Later 3 or 4 of the hikers joined our fire and were grateful for the company and warmth.  Turns out that one of them was from Fleming Island!  I thought to myself, “I am glad I was behaving”.  We all shared a few stories of who we were.  We shared the community of Christ.

I reflected often over the weekend at how much our many conversations of the ridiculous and nothing had over the years formed each one of us into something.  God took nothing in the beginning and made something wonderful.  Jesus took bread and wine and summed up the Gospel.  Each one of these men took a little bit of the bread that Christ offered him and shared it with others and we all live lives that are abundant with its fruit.  I am grateful for these men and the many others friends in my life that have contributed to the Kingdom of God in such a way as these have.  I hope your lives have been impacted by Christ in similar ways.  We don’t have to be clever to share the love of God, we simply must be willing to live it.


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I spent my Monday “day off” under the burden of what I call “hot wing hang over”.  No alcohol was in involved but the same amount of lack of thinking was.  The result; headache, dehydration, regret (only a little).  It all began Sunday evening or perhaps last summer.  Philip, a senior in high school and one of our guitar players, participated in the Hurricane Grill and Wings category 5 hot wing challenge.  If you can eat 10 of their hot wings without any dipping sauce and only water, you get a free t-shirt.

Philip was wearing his t-shirt at youth last night and from what I have gathered, it sparked a conversation that I am sure involved Jeremy, our youth minister, and Clayton, our drummer and one of the counselors, and their respected manhood being challenged.  I would not be surprised if my wife Amanda, also one of the youth counselors, helped in this challenge.  Where am I in all of this?  Unsuspecting and feeding my daughter her supper.  The phone rings.  Philip is delivering a message to me from Amanda.  Philip, ‘Pastor Cory, do you want to see 2 grown men cry?”  Me, “who wouldn’t”  Philip, “Amanda says to pack up Sydney and bring her to Hurricanes to watch Clayton and Jeremy see if they can eat these ridiculously hot wings”. Me, “alright”.  Philip, “Amanda says you can participate too.” Doubtfully I respond, “maybe”.  So, I do as I am told (I have a happy marriage after all) and as I pull into the parking lot I see Philip with a camera.  He proceeds to tell me that Amanda has already purchased my wings.  So, like many good marriages, my decisions are made for me.  As I walk the “green mile” into the restaurant I notice it is full with mostly youth and a few parents.  I am suddenly feeling like a Christian in a Roman Colosseum or Russel Crowe in Gladiator, “were you not entertained?”  So I found my seat ready to be filled to create the 3 musketeers? 3 stooges?  3 blind mice!

Perhaps my favorite moment of the night happened when the manager brought the wings over to us and said, “please, if you feel like you are going to vomit, try to make it to the bathroom or outside”.  Vomiting? I asked “seriously, people vomit?”  His reply, “oh yes”.  What has my wife gotten me into? (ok, my pride may have had something to do with this as well).  So the ship of fools set sail and we each took our first bite… There is hot, there is spicy, and then there is “why would anyone hate themselves enough to eat this foul fowl” inferno.  Now, a wise man may have put his wing down at this point, but, wise men have no pride.  By the way, dear reader, hiccups happen for several reasons, one is to dislodge food that does not belong.  Clayton and I both go the hiccups.  We kept going.

There were 2 types of winners (and 3 types of fools) that night.  One kind of winner was to simply finish.  The other kind of winner finished first.  I wanted to be done more than I wanted to win, but competing helped me accomplish my goal.  People were cheering on the guy ahead.  I thought it was Clayton, so I picked up the pace.  Turns out I was the guy that was ahead, I was trying to outpace myself (issues).

We all finished.  Our faces and mouths continued to burn for about 20 minutes after we were done. Our lips looked like punch bowls.  We consumed copious amounts of water.  We congratulated one another and sat very still.  None of us slept well.  None of us felt good today, but, by golly, we all got a free t-shirt.

What does this have to do with the rivers edge?  One might think I would talk about the foolishness of pride.  But lets face it, if you don’t know that lesson by now, reading this is not going to teach you anything.  One might say that we should lead our youth and not be egged on by them. Perhaps. What I really saw was a picture of God’s grace and community.

I don’t mean that God was gracious because none of us went to the ER.  Let’s face it, that was mercy.  Grace was the community within that room.  True, most went to see if we could do it, or to see grown men cry, but while there no one mocked us (out loud).  We were cheered on, even by strangers.  We were encouraged.  And even though we did a stupid thing (I’m not gonna lie), they embraced us with kind hospitality.  Stephanie McCrae made sure our water was filled, and even though she accidentally missed my glass and poured it on my leg, she was a picture of Jesus in that moment and believe me when I say, at that moment she could have dumped it over my head and I would not have cared.

What happens to many of us in this life is that we make poor choices for things we think will bring us good feelings.  We miss the mark many times and end up with a “hot wing hangover”.  Many times what we find is not a community that embraces us back without conditions, but communities that say “see I told you so, you got what you deserved”.  But Jesus is so different.  To the woman caught in adultery, he did not say “here’s a rock for your eye”.  He asked her where her accusers were.  He takes in the wayward and nourishes them back to life.  This is one image of the church.  A community called by Christ to cheer one another on, to encourage, and welcome back to community without judgment but with gentle healing guidance.

Last night was a picture of stupidity and testosterone for sure.  But it was also a great picture of the fellowship of Christ.

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