Devotional: What’s Better Than a Fruit Tree?

One Tree Many Trees

When I am working on a sermon the concepts of the text roll around in my head as I go throughout my day. When I ride my bike, walk to meet someone, shovel snow, whatever. Most of what comes to mind goes nowhere, some ends up in the sermon and some ideas keep floating around in my head until I write them down. This is one of those ideas. It’s from preparing to preach on Covenant Community originally and again with Philippians 1:27-30.

In Galatians 5:22–23 we learn what the Fruit of the Spirit is. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

That verse always makes me think of a fruit tree. An orange tree standing by a road with full of fruit covering every branch. Just by looking at it we can see that the tree is healthy and everyone who passes by benefits from this healthy tree. The fruit is a blessing.

How true is that for all those aspects of fruit in Galatians 5? Don’t you enjoy the presence of people who are loving? Who are full of joy? Who bring peace into your life? Those who bring kindness in expressions and in words. A good friend, a faithful friend who is gentle with your feelings. Don’t you prefer those with self-control compared to those who are out of control with you?

Those are aspects of something being true in our lives. Those are the result of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

For most of my life that image of a single tree standing by a road side has encouraged me to want to grow myself, to learn to love God more myself, to be planted in the Word of God by myself. I thought if I could grow up to be a healthy tree then I might stand tall as a blessing to all who pass me on the road of life.

As I learned in God’s Word about unity, about our dwelling like one body in covenant community this image of the tree seemed suddenly like too little, like I had focused so much on how I might personally bless others I had failed to see something greater. I forget who originally said it, but sometimes good is the enemy of great. This is one of those cases.

What is better than a healthy fruit tree along the road side?
Two healthy fruit trees.
Even better than that would be an orchard full of fruit trees. That’s the Church. The people of God working together.

The image of you ministering alone is one fruit tree in a field that is a benefit to some. This would be “striving side by self for the faith of the gospel” in the words of Philippians 1:27.

But that’s not what Philippians 1:27 says. It says, “Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” In the image of the trees that is an orchard and that’s a blessing to many. How can you better partner with those around you for the furthering of the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of self? 

The First 100: 24 Crazy Hours Camping at Chick-fil-a

It’s 5 am in the morning as I arrive at what is the newest sign that our little apple is growing larger and larger. Chick-fil-a is finally opening a store in Manhattan, Kansas. I’ve heard for years about the first 100 contest and I figure this is the best chance I have at ever taking part. Whenever CFA opens a new store, the first 100 customers get “Chick-Fil-a for a year.” I add quotes because it’s 52 free number 1 or 2 combo meals, which means I won’t be enjoying the spicy sandwich for which I actually come to their establishment for.

Anyway, I have other reasons for taking this challenge as well. I want to get to know people in the community of Manhattan and I figure if lock-ins help awkward junior highers get to know each other, it might help my still awkward self do the same. And then of course there is the fact that we love the food and our “out to eat” budget is large enough for our family to eat out about once a month, so this would certainly stretch that a bit further.

So when I arrive at 5 am I find there are 30 to 40 people waiting. As I join them I begin to realize while they’ve come from Wichita, Kansas City, Tulsa even Chicago, these people mostly already know each other. There is a subculture of people who travel taking vacation days and bringing their whole family for the event. They share about epic openings in faraway towns and favorite DJs who manage to get everyone dancing. I’m a little anxious that guy might be our DJ since I don’t dance without a posse and I’ve come to this party all alone.

By 6 am only 85 people have arrived which means we won’t face the dreaded lottery that can ruin the hopes of so many who travel this strange circuit of grand openings. I brought with me a bag of books and my wife’s pink lawn chair. As tent city is being erected it occurs to me just how under prepared I am for these 24 hours. One group had a couch and ping pong table, yes an actually ping pong table. I do find Jonathan Haney is here  as well, he’s a friend and fellow pastor in town and he’s come for the same reasons I have. Yet, we both realize quickly that very few of these people are actually from our community which means one major motivation is moot.

I find these people intriguing. I do basic math in my head and realize being local this makes sense for me financially, but many who traveled here will spend more than they make meaning they’re really bad at math or they have other reasons for being here. The way they talk about other openings begins to open my eyes to the reality that most aren’t here for the free food.

I meet a guy from Chicago named Rich, this is his 40th opening, it’s August and it’s already his 12th this year. That’s 2,080 free meals. He’s about 60 and as I listen to him I think he belongs on NPR’s “This American Life.” He speaks with an Italian accent and immediately feels like an old friend.

He says he’s always loved fried chicken and had heard about Chick-Fil-a for years but couldn’t find it near his home. Then on a vacation with his family they happened upon a restaurant right a dinner time. He still remembers his first order: a number 1 and a vanilla milkshake. The way he tells the story sounds like a religious conversion. He took a bite of the sandwich and let out sounds of ecstasy, of immense enjoyment so much so that his family sat embarrassed by the sounds. Not everyone experienced it the same, they liked it, but not like Rich did.

He then went on to tell me about driving and taking buses to openings around the country. He has friends who were traveling to Atlantic City to gamble, he joined them on the trip, but went to a first 100 event while they hit the casinos. Those same men who flew across the country to gamble told him, “Rich, there’s a thin line between being a fan and being a crazy lunatic.” We got a t-shirt at the end, and since he’s been to 40 of these, he owns 40 CFA t-shirts. It’s literally the only t-shirts he owns. He uses some of the free meals, and gives a lot away (to friends, or even the lady checking his groceries at the store).

He was the most accomplished, but by no means the only person traveling with this unexpected carnival of grand openings. There were a couple of families who used vacation time to camp in a parking lot for 24 hours. At first it seems ridiculous to me, but as the day went on it made sense. It’s camping, but you don’t have to cook any food since they provided us with every meal. Plus you get use of clean restrooms, electricity, no one smells like fire, your friends are provided for you and there is no chance of the campers next to you getting drunk and shouting obscene things you hoped your children wouldn’t be learning about on a camping trip.

I found that everyone had their own reasons for being here and apart from first timers it was never about the free chicken. One man traveled two hours to be here. He’s in his 50s, lost his job in June, has grown children and a wife who is still working. He said it gave him something to do, some way to contribute even while he searches for new employment.

It was a bit like being in detention or camp or maybe a really great prison. We weren’t allowed to leave the premises so when I wanted to walk to burn calories it was in circles. I tracked my progress using RunKeeper on my phone and laughed at myself when I saw how ridiculous 2.4 miles in a tiny circle looks like.

I loved the adventure of meeting all these new people, but one of the best parts was visits from friends and family. Laura came by twice and brought me a pillow and blanket as an up grade to my chair. Then Jon and Tricia Dunning upgraded my pillow to a whole tent which gave me an honest to goodness residence in this tent city. The Arnett’s stopped by after Audrey’s first day of school and brought a much needed Cherry Limeade. Damian and Heidi mostly pointed out how insane it was that I was doing this and then sought to afflict me with news that they would all be going to Taco Lucha while I sat in prison. 🙂 That night I almost talked Josiah into staying the night while he visited, but with only a small chance of getting the prize it just wasn’t worth a night sleeping on asphalt.

As the day progressed CFA provided games and prizes on a regular basis, in the evening a DJ came and ran a talent show and a dance contest which prove to be very entertaining. The college students were great, they danced their hearts out song after song and when the DJ packed his stuff up and left they broke out a guitar and started an impromptu time of worship. Late at night they brought us Chocolate Chunk Cookies and a glass of milk. Some people headed to bed after though I don’t know how they slept with the heat and light and noise.

The owner David is great, he loves Manhattan and is a graduate of K-State. He’s very personable and I was impressed how he remembered both Laura and my names from when we previously met him. I don’t think I’d do it again, but I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I was there for the Manhattan opening and to see into this world I never knew existed. If you have a chance to do it (Wichita in the Spring) I would highly recommend it. And if you do tell Rich hello for me.

You can check out the whole album of pictures if you’re interested

Here are a few videos

LoveManhattan: Trains, Wildcats and Adventure

(Found this straggler in the “drafts” folder…it’s a little retro now…)

This Saturday we slept in, then we headed to Wamego to ride the train. After this weekend it closes until the spring so we had to find out what it was like. Wamego is a small town about 20 minutes eastish. Below is the train station.

The is free, which is really hard to beat.

Even us adults get to ride.

It goes around a cute park.

I totally fit, though not real well.

"Look Laura, I fit!" Sure Brian, sure!

Here is a video of the train in motion, it’s worth checking out.

After the train we stopped by this Wizard of Oz House, the wicked witch of west’s legs are sticking out. It was then that we realized our children had never watched The Wizard of Oz. Which is sad cause that’s literally all we knew of Kansas when we moved here 7 years ago. So then we watched Wizard of Oz the next day. The kids didn’t like it when it started out black and white.

Berkley the next day said “Dorothy wanted to go back to Kansas. But why? Kansas was dirty.”  Laura: “You mean black and white?” Berkley: “Yes, it was dirty”

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!!

After that we headed the Hilton’s tailgate where we munched on some walking tacos and a John Daly, we were told it’s called that because it’s like an Arnold Palmer with alcohol. They drink Purple Lemonade instead of Pink Lemonade at these tailgates. Very cool. That’s Laura and Heidi here.

The stadium was upgraded this past year and looks fantastic.


Damian is showing Beckham how to make a pretzel.


They met a Cheerleader. I was in line at the port-a-potty. I asked the guy behind me if he minded if I held their place while they went to get a picture with the cheerleader. He said sure as long as you’ll hold my place when I go get a picture with the cheerleader. Seemed like a good deal to me.

We bleed purple excited to find a K-State cheerleader at tailgate!

After the tailgate Laura and the kids went to a birthday party, Beckham and I went on a bike ride.

He wandered down some railroad tracks.

Collected some railroad nails and wanted to bring them home for his treasure box, seemed like a bad idea.

He caught some frogs and minnows.

Climbed a “mountain”

Caught  more frogs

Became very afraid when he thought water was about to rush out of this gate. No idea how we got the idea that would happen.

Finally  proved he was a little taller than 8 feet tall.

Played in what I believe are soybeans.

Then found this grave stone grave yard. It’s a bunch of typos and such. I guess the delete button on marble slab doesn’t work so well.

Beckham wanted to try and ride down the tracks. It’s hard and bumpy and not fun.

Then he wrecked and scrapped his knees. I’m not a bad a dad. At least not for the reason you’re thinking. I checked on him first and then had him turn back over to take the photo placing him back how I found him. Public Service Announcement: When you drive off sidewalk don’t drive back on if there is a lip/curb. It ends like this.

Then put Beckham in a tube the looked to be steady.

Did some trampoline jumping in the backyard.

Then watched the New York Cosmos online.

Summer Time Konza

Earlier this summer we decided to take another trip out to the Konza. Brian has been more than I have, my only other trip was in January with 30 mile per hour wind! It was a beautiful day this time!

When we drive, we do a lot of turning around. Sometimes cause we are lost (if I’m driving) but most often cause one of us saw something that we need to get on.

This day it was this amazing merry-go-round from forever ago! We knocked on the owner’s door and asked if we could take it for a spin. It was originally from the little school house down the street.


This is as fast as I like to spin these days:

IMG_6713It’s a brilliant design (it kind of swung while it twirled) and was still solid as could be (“they just don’t make things like they used to”).




I adore old thingsIMG_6737

We also saw this awesome chicken coop!


We finally made it to the Konza Prairie, swords and all!


They started out like this:


But it wasn’t long until that turned to this:


Brian caught this. Then we were reminded how amazing it is that we have this computer in our pocket that we can, in a few seconds, look it up and find out what it is (and most importantly if it’s poisonous!)


For being such a weenie about anything involving loud sounds and fire (fireworks are her bane), Berkley is by far the most adventurous when it comes to animals.


Wouldn’t be a Hough Family Trip without Wiffle Ball…IMG_6774


Sadie had her eyes dilated that morning before we left, so she sported her Hello Kitty shades!


Contrary to what many think, Kansas isn’t flat. (Who am I kidding. I didn’t even think about Kansas before we got here…my loss though!)



Popped a squat for a picnic lunch!


Lunch time entertainment


I think that was when Becks was the catcher?




She said she found a throne. I think one of the other kids told her it was more of a toilet…


One of these two thought this “hand through the tree” trick was funner than the other one did!


Running low on water, energy and joy at this point…



On the way home we wanted to try to get to the big “KS” letters on the side of the mountain. We made it and had a pretty great view of the city!