Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dirty Yet Holy

(PART 1)

Today is Wednesday. For many, it is just like any other Wednesday, "Hump Day," the work week is half over, Friday is a'coming! But, for some, this Wednesday is not like any other Wednesday of the year. It is Ash Wednesday - a day marked (literally) with ashes.

Most of those who recognize today as Ash Wednesday will be people who are associated with certain faith communities like Catholics, Anglican, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Methodists. For these followers of Christ, Ash Wednesday begins a season, known as Lent, that isn't so celebratory. Quite the contrary, it is a period that seeks to expose the dirt and grime that has accumulated in our lives. It is a holy time.

As you venture out into the world today, you may see a smudge on the foreheads of some of these folks. No, they are probably not people of poor hygiene manners, rather they have engaged in a ancient ritual.  They bear the mark of a cross imposed with ashes as a sign of repentance. This practice has been a part of the Christian heritage since the beginning, and even further than that. Even before the time of Jesus, the people of God often used ashes as a sign of repentance. As the people of Nineveh heeded the call to penitence by the prophet Job, the king called for all the people to wear sackcloth and sit in ashes. The prophet Jeremiah calls on the people to roll in ashes as a sign of their penitence. While some today may have to explain why they sport the ashened cross on the forehead, it is definitely easier to resolve with one's employer than sitting in an ash heap while on the job!

Yet, what's the deal with Ash Wednesday and Lent? Why does any of this matter? It comes down to preparing ourselves to the miracle of Easter.

Today, as stated earlier, is As Wednesday. It is the first day of the season of Lent, which marks forty days (not including Sundays) until Easter. The ashes that are imposed on foreheads today are traditionally from the palm fronds of the previous year's Palm Sunday, which are burnt and mixed with oil to make the dust.

Ashes remind us of several things. First, they remind us of our sin. What better sign can illustrate the state of a sinful soul than to be stained with dirt. Even Adam probably was taken aback when God told him after his his willful disobedience, "From dust you were brought, and to dust you will return." There is no denying that we have messed up when the evidence is so apparent.

Thus, the imposition of ashes call us to confess our sins, repent, and return to God. We do not like to confess that we have messed up. We think we can hide our mistakes. We often try and succeed in masking our sins from others. We can put on a holy mask, but God sees beyond the mask, even beyond the flesh. God sees the state of the soul. When we "impose" ashes on our foreheads, we are reminded of how our mortality "imposes" itself on us. We can try to ignore it, but at some point in time, mortality will catch up to us. So, ashes mark us as recognizing that we are not as pure as we would like for others, even God, to think. It reminds us of who we really are - sinners in need of a Saviour.

Yet, for all what may seem to be negative connotations about ashes, they also have a therapeutic effect as well. Ashes can also be a cleansing agent. In the absence of soap, ashes were often used to cleanse with in the ancient world. Thus, as a head is marked with an ashened cross, it may also serve to remind of our baptism. Even the simple act of the imposition of ashes starkly reminds us of the unmerited love of God.


(PART 2)

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. This period of forty days (not including Sundays) is a time of prayer, confession, and introspection of life. During this season, many people engage in the ancient practice of fasting (giving something up) as an exercise in spiritual discipline. For centuries, Christians abstained from eating meat and dairy during this period. The Christian author of the Second Century C.E., Tertullian, embraced this practice of an essentially vegan diet as he related it to Daniel's diet as he was in the king's court. Daniel abstained form the rich foods and meat that was available, yet he grew stronger than those who indulged. The vestiges of this practice is still seen today through the celebration of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). Traditionally, this day marks the last day before Lent begins and those who engage in this type of fasting would basically party as they used up all of the dairy and fat in their kitchens. Some would do this by making pancakes as they used up all of the lard.

In our modern culture, many people today look for some other method of fasting or abstaining from some habit. Some will abstain from drinking alcohol, smoking, eating candy. Some also would further the fast to forever abstain from what they saw as an indulgence that hampered their spiritual growth. In recent years, some Christians have relegated the act of "giving something up" and instead "take something on," that being some holy practice.

So, for forty days, Christians introspectively seeking to grow closer to God would fast. The exception to the fast is Sundays. There is a reason that Sundays are not counted in the forty days of Lent. Sundays are viewed as "mini Easters," days of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, seen as celebrations, fasts would be broken for that day.

For some, Lenten practices such as fasting seem to be antiquated and have little use in modern day culture. Yet, such opinions seem to not be fully grounded in a proper understanding of the season. Lenten disciplines serve to train and equip us as they strengthen our spirits. If Lenten disciplines were compared to the rigors of physical exercise, one may understand that like physical exercise, these practices not only develops routines that are beneficial, but also makes one stronger when faced with a myriad of circumstances.

Finally, the season of Lent prepares us for Easter. Without Lent, Easter becomes a day of new Spring clothes, chocolate, and colored eggs. Lent reminds us of death - our death -our death that has resulted from our flagrant disregard of God and our bent to sin. Lent reminds us that we came from dust and to dust we will return. Lent reminds us of the trial, the persecution, the execution of our LORD Jesus as he died our death. Lent reminds us that there can be no high without a low, no lofty mountaintop without a deep valley. Lent reminds us there can be no resurrection without death. Without Lent, Easter Sunday fails to properly proclaim the extent of God's undying grace at the mouth of an empty grave.


Godspeed,
Tim






Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake and End Times

Yesterday, we had an earthquake here in the eastern U.S. It was not a large one, measured by California standards. Actually Californians are snickering at us for all the coverage we are giving it. But, to be fair, we aren't use to the earth shaking beneath our feet anymore than they are to being hit by any category hurricane or tropical storm (Yo, California bros., when have you experienced that?)

Shortly after I took a kiddie ride on my office chair, thanks to Mother Nature, I noticed a friend posting the question when the doomsday criers will begin their shouts of the Apocalypse. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter - instantaneously. Now most people are rationalized and recognize that the U.S. has over 5000 earthquakes each year (Thanks Mark for those stats), but most are so small we never feel them (and yes, they happen here in the east too - just go to the USGS website). But that doesn't stop the alarmist, does it.

But surely, I hear, this must be the fulfilling of prophecy - the end times are at hand - a 5.8 earthquake along the eastern seaboard. Well, we had one similar in 1944, the Great Charleston, SC earthquake of the 19th century, and the monster earthquake in Madrid, MO in the 19th century.

And we are still here.

Now let me say, I am not being heretical, not by any means. Let's look at what scripture says though, specifically what Jesus says about the end times. Mark 13 is specifically what is known as the apocalyptic (end time) chapter of the gospels. Note what Jesus says in Mark 13.7-8

7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Some point to this (and have abundantly on the Internet since yesterday) as proof of the end times being here. But allow me to ask this question - since when has these things not occurred? Has there not been wars and rumors of wars since the beginning (go back and read the Bible starting at say Genesis forward and also read some history books). Hasn't the world always experienced earthquakes (again refer to the Bible and those history books). Famines? Guess where you can look for your answers.

The point Jesus was making was that when He returns, it will be during the status quo. That's why He made the allusions to the thief in the night, one worker or sleeper taken while another is left. He could have easily said that the end will come when the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. These things always happen - that's the point. You are to live each day as if it is the last - not just until a great neon sign appears in the sky and says, "Hey Ya, get ready because I'm on my way!" No, we are to live each day following Jesus, loving God and each other, helping out our neighbors, forgiving our enemies, and do the best we can.

There are gonna be aftershocks. Some will be felt, others won't. Guns will be fired at human beings. People will starve. But followers of Jesus are to look to how they can be Jesus ambassadors - loving God and loving others.

Godspeed,
Tim

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday - The Point

So they took Jesus and led him away. Carrying the cross by himself, Jesus went to the place called Skull Hill (in Hebrew Golgotha). There they crucified him. - John 19: 16b-17

Good Friday.

It was cold and overcast this morning. A good day to stay in bed, nice and warm. But no, it is Good Friday. So I arose to do what I have done for many years on this holy day - I participated in the Cross Walk.

For those who have not heard of this or have never been a part of, a Cross Walk is an intimate sharing in the walk that Jesus made from the time he was sentenced to death to the place of his crucifixion. Of the Cross Walks that I have organized and/or participated in, several people share in carrying a large and uncomfortably heavy cross down the streets of the local town, with a mass of other faithful followers falling in behind.

As we started down the street, I became intentional about concentrating on the the meaning of the day. I was already feeling a slight twinge of guilt because I complained to my wife earlier that it was cold and looked like it could rain at any moment. The days before today have been beautiful and warm as will the weekend. I didn't like doing this in this type of weather though. She stung me with, "I'm sure Jesus didn't like it either."

So, now here I am, convicted as to my own pettiness and becoming evermore penitent. But, I wasn't able to fully embrace the moment. There were too many other distractions.

I couldn't help but to notice the irritation on the faces of some of the motorists who were having to stop for the procession. Since we had a police escort, they really had no choice in the matter. There agitation was evident. We were interrupting their routine. "Sorry!" I thought. "Don't worry, in a few moments, we will have passed you and you can get back to your normal lives." Of course, my thoughts were sarcastic. It would not have taken much for me to be happy for this interruption in their lives. They need to be reminded - reminded of the point of this day.

Then, another disturbance caught my gaze. This time it was a lady on one of the standing along a side street. She did not indicate any displeasure at what we were doing; no, quite the opposite. She couldn't control her passion for Jesus as she cheered us on, "Yes! Praise Jesus!" she could be heard to exclaim as she pumped her fist in the air. "No, no, no!" I thought. "This isn't suppose to be a joyful event; she's missing the point!"

The distractions quieted down for a bit and I found myself becoming captivated by the steady cadence of our march. Finally, people are getting the point.

I was shaken out of my tranquil meditative state almost abruptly when I noticed that our slow and steady pace had quickened. Now it seemed that we were powerwalking, which for those who walk for their daily exercise, this could be seen as an added bonus: commemorate and stay fit, all at the same time.

Why was this happening? Then I felt it on my face. One lone drop of cold rain, which was quickly joined by many others. The other participants were quickening their steps so that they could end this event soon. "No, no, no!" I almost could not contain myself. "We of all people should know not to rush this, even for the inconvenience of rain. Do we really want to be so quick to get Jesus on the cross? They're missing the point!"

As we ended the walk on the side of the street in Mocksville, the rain was coming down too hard to hear what the pastor who organized the walk this year. It might have been for the best though. As I stood there, thinking how so many others were missing the point, I caught a glimpse of the cross we had just carried. At that moment, I became cognizant of what I had been doing. I was so intent of condemning others for not getting the point, I failed to get the point. It wasn't them that were the distractions; it was me.

Good Friday is not a day to blame others for what happened. That's not the point. It's the day to remember, Jesus walked this walk, and died on the Cross, willingly, out of extravagant love; grace upon grace.

Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King should die for me?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Nose Knows

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. - Galatians 6:7-8

Cindy would probably be laughing right now if she were to read this. She was a girl that I used to pal around with in high school. We were good enough friends that we we could pick on each other. Well, I did the most picking (I could have earned a Master's degree because I was so proficient). But oh, she made it so easy. Once she told me that when she was little, she put a button in her nose and it stayed there for years until one day in school, she sneezed and the button became a projectile, hitting the boy sitting in front of her on the back of the neck. For this, she became known as "Buttons," at least by me.

The passage from scripture posted above popped into my head just a moment ago. Reaping what you sow. I wasn't mocking God, but it reminded me that things that you did early in life comes back to haunt you later. Before your mind starts racing to figure out if I go a button stuck in my nose, well...no. I would have been better if I had.


It's getting close to Easter, so as we were in the store this evening, we bought a small box of traditional Easter candy - Peeps; you know, the yellow marshmallow chicks (or ducks, I don't know; they're made out of marshmallow so the best I can tell is it's some fowl thing). Anyway, I was trying to give my daughter a suggestion about doing something stupid in school. I told her to try to convince her friends that she is eccentric like Ozzy Osbourne, but instead of biting the head off a dove, bite the head off a Peep (she's in high school - it has to be tame but stupid). So, I demonstrated.


Okay, let me caution you here - don't laugh with a Peep in your mouth, especially if it is towards the back of your mouth. Needless to say, I didn't choke on it, but it did find its way into my nasal cavity. Don't underestimate the potency of a Peep my friends; they are volatile confections. Just one small bit of that sugary yellow head burns like Tobasco sauce ( and yes, I know what that's like too - but that is another story). I knew I would be getting a sinus infection from this. Imagine going to the doctor and trying to explain how a 45-year man has a candy chicken head stuck in his nose.

But it wasn't over. Well, without going into graphic detail, if you want to know the next sensation, the next time you have a marshmallow, stick it in a microwave to see what happens. It's not a pleasant feeling, let me attest to that.


Still, I am amazed how a inane and silly antic that I engage in can remind me of some biblical truth. It also scares me. I cringe at the thought of reaping what I sowed toward Bryant (many other stories about that). Have Mercy.


Godspeed,
Tim

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Worrywart No More

Maybe it's just the time of year with Tax day is less than a week away. Or maybe it's the uncertainty of what the economy will do, what the price of fuel will be, what jobs will remain secure, what will happen in the year 2012 (well, that may be a stretch). The point is the level of apprehension is steadily rising. Laugh lines are giving way to worry lines on the faces of so many faces. Is the world really that much more worse off than it has been over the last few centuries? Or, is it that we, people who are highly educated and evolved have been duped into believing that rants and raves of mongers of doom and gloom?

I find it interesting that we humans seem to have an illicit love affair with fretting over the future. It isn't something we want to admit to and would deny if we were ever accused of it. Just like that 10th grade high school photo, the ugly we try to disguise (not that I have ever done that), eventually is seen. Try as we might, the truth always comes out. We love to worry. Okay, maybe we don't love it, but we sure do like to court it.

Why is that? Why do we want to devote so much of our time and energy that does us no good? I believe it is because the human psyche has to be in relationship with something beyond itself. It seems that something outside of the self has to be the expert, telling us how to act and react. But shouldn't people of faith be different?

Ah, there's the rub. So many say we believe in and trust is God, but our actions tell a different story. Instead of believing the stories of how God's providence has seen people through tumultuous times, we would rather follow the dire predictions of people look to the worst rather than the best.

Now, let me confess, I have helped the owners of stock in Tums and Rolaids go on nice vacations from their dividends. But, I am trying to change my outlook on life. A verse from scripture has become a new principle for me - from the prophet Jeremiah (who spoke to a people who really knew misery). It proclaims this: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I think the world may have become a little brighter.

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, April 11, 2011

Never Grow Up

She still amazes me. My youngest daughter is about to turn seventeen and she still amazes me because she almost adamantly refuses to grow up. Last week, she was walking into one of the outlet malls at the beach with my wife and me and she begins to wave towards the parking lot. Thinking she had seen someone we know, we asked who she was waving to. She replied, "The flag," as she pointed up to Old Glory flapping in the stiff breeze. She continued to say, "It was waving, so I decided to wave back." My wife and I burst out in laughter because that's what we do, we marvel at her simplistic outlook of everything. Most of the time, she possesses this type of happy-go-lucky attitude and does not let the world bring her down. Why can't we all be more like that? Why can't I?

I wonder what kind of life I would live if I just took the time to enjoy life and see the world through a different set of lens rather that the practical ones that I usually sport. I venture to say that I probably would not have to take the same amount of medications that I do now to keep my blood pressure in check.

All to often, as we grow up, we begin to think we have to think like an adult, put away all the fanciful notions and the awe and mystery that is present in life itself. We have to be rational and serious minded. But, if memory serves me, I believe Jesus said that only those who approach with a child-like faith will ever be able to accept the wonders of God's Kingdom (paraphrased). Maybe Jesus knows that the sensation of the Kingdom of God is far too perplexing for any type of rational thinking. Think about that, can anyone really explain grace - why God loves us unconditionally? It doesn't make sense. Maybe we just need to accept it and stop analyzing it. Children rarely question love - they just accept it.

I think I need to go wave back at a flag. I will probably get stared at, but, what the heck - I may start rediscovering that child-like faith.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holy Hypocrisy

20 And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21

I hate being called a hypocrite. But more often than I like, I hear that accusation being directed toward me. If only my accusers would just put themselves in my shoes, understood the full dynamics, had a better sense of the situation, I would almost wager a bet that they wouldn't be so critical of me saying one thing but doing another. After all, there is always more to the story than we know, right?

I was faced with a predicament the other day that was consuming my thoughts as I was driving home. It was enough that I wasn't even listening to one of my favorite talk-radio shows. As I agonized over the predicament, my eyes focused a scene that broke me from the mire of my quandary. In a yard along the highway, my gaze fell upon a man running behind a bicycle being pedaled by a youngster. As the little lass pedaled feverishly, she wobbled from side-to-side a bit, but never fell over because the man running behind had a firm grip on the seat of the bike. I believe it was safe to assume that what I was witnessing was a young father teaching his daughter how to ride a bike, without the training wheels. My assumption arose out of my own experience of both being the biker-in-training and the expectant father running behind. The scene vividly conjured up memories of learning to ride a bike and teaching both my daughters to do the same. In each scenario, I remember the words being uttered, "Don't let go Daddy!"

Of course, you know, daddy's do let go. It's part of growing up. The child learns to harness the power of centrifugal force and rides on to wheels, unaided by an exhaustive parent. It is often overlooked as a milestone of life, but maybe it needs to be elevated to one, because for many, this event marks the beginning of independence. Yet, it may also be the first testament of hypocrisy.

Okay, so what does learning to ride a bike have to do with being called a hypocrite, you may ask. Think of it this way, when we were on that bike seat for the first time and filled with fear and trepidation beckoned, "Don't let go!" did we really mean it? Are there children who really expect someone to always be running behind, with a firm grip? I could stop here, but this reality went far deeper.

Maybe my frustration over this ill-received admonishment came to a head immediately after I passed this milestone event. The words of a stanza of an old hymn began to nag me, haunt, me, convict me. "I Need Thee Every Hour..." Really? Do I really need God every hour? I wanted to scream, "Of course I do!" but does my life reflect my need for God? Do the things I do reflect my ingenuity or my dependence on my Creator?

I am beginning to think that I may be that child on the seat, wanting that safe and secure grip of a loving Father, until...I can do it on my own. Then, "Hands off, God. I can do it all by myself." Isn't that the way it is suppose to be? Isn't the role of a parent to train a child to do for themselves? Right?

That's the fallacy of my logic. I have allowed myself to come to believe that I am fully capable of handling my life perfectly well on my own. Not that I don't need God though. God can run right behind me and catch me if and when I fall. That's how I think it should be, or at least that is how I tend to live out much of my life.

God is not "hands off" though. When we profess Jesus as LORD of our life, it's our whole life, not just certain areas and not as a back-up to our failures and inadequacies. Though I have had years of theological training and moments of good ideas, I must remind myself daily that, yes, I Need God Every Hour. I need to pray about the little things as well as the big things. I must not rely on my cleverness and natural tendencies alone. When I think I can handle these situations alone, that I have enough experience and education that I don't need to "bother" God, then I am setting myself up for a fall.

No wonder I am so often faced with problems that seem too large to handle; they are, for me alone.

No wonder why I often feel at a lost and frustrated over the complexity of ministry and life.

No wonder that God calls me a hypocrite.

Godspeed,
Tim

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mutual Thanksgiving

2 Corinthians 9:11
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.


It's the day before Thanksgiving. This is probably my most favorite holiday, because other than the cooking (I know, there's lots of that), there isn't much expectation tied to it. So far, our captialistic society hasn't found a way to cash in on it. Well, I may speak too soon. I heard from our server at one restaurant the other morning that she is thankful to have the day the morning off. That afternoon she will go in to work at her second job at another restaurant. It seems many of the restaurants are open because many people don't want to participate in the time-honored tradition of cooking all day. (Ka-ching) I guess there are few years left before we hear those sentimental words being offered over the television, "Tell her how you are thankful, with a diamond." Oh, how I hope I didn't just plant that seed

I am cautiously optimistic that most Americans will still pause to give thanks before we start stuffing our faces tomorrow. But I propose that we take a moment to hear sentiment of thanks expressed to us too. Over the last few weeks, I have become increasingly convicted that God may be wanting to thanks us. I know that seems foreign to us, but let's stop to think about something. Don't most parents offer their children thanks when they do something special? I think God does that with us too. When we look beyond ourselves and help out those who are in need, I think that pleases God and God thanks us for "getting it," understanding that the world is more than just about us.

So, tomorrow, when you bow you heads and offer the prayer of thanksgiving, insert a brief pause and hear God whisper to you, "Thank you. I love you." Maybe that will inspire us to be even more thankful, know how much God does care.

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right Mixture

James 2:14-17
14 Dear brothers and sisters, what's the use of saying you have faith if you don't prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can't save anyone. 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, 16 and you say, "Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well" -- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, it isn't enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn't show itself by good deeds is no faith at all -- it is dead and useless. - New Living Translation


What a beautiful drive into the office this morning! It was just warm enough to turn my air conditioner halfway up (which for my old truck is rolling one window down). The air was crisp and just wanted to make me sing out, and I apologize to all the cows I scared as I passed by. But I just could not imagine anything being more beautiful. That was until she pulled up alongside side of me. She was a candy-apple red, 1966 Mustang convertible with the 289 small block engine and white pony interior. Oh, she was a beaut! Mostly, stock, gleaming and shining in the bright morning sun. The driver was a man who looked just a few years older than me. He had the top down, of course, had on a Mustang cap, just like the one I used to own, and a pair of dark Ray-Ban sunglasses. He had a cherry car and he knew it. He also saw the extreme envy I had; he had to with it being so evident as streams of drool gushed from both sides of my mouth. I only got to fantasize over her until the horn from the car behind me brought me back into reality that the light had changed. the driver of the Mustang just kind of gave a smirkish grin as we both pressed on our accelerator pedals to launch us toward our respective destinations. Then I heard it...the sound with which I had become all too familar...VROOM...pft.pft.pft...VROOM.pft.pft.pft. Then the smell of gasoline started to waft its way toward my nose. I started to hang my head in complete shame when all of a sudden, I noticed something strange out of the corner of my left eye. The Mustang started it trek across my peripheral vision, but traveling in the opposite direction from what I was expecting. It seemed to be traveling backwards. It suddenly dawned upon me that I was the one moving forward and it was not my truck that was sputtering; it was that candy-apple red, 1966 Mustang convertible with the 289 small block engine and white pony interior! As I proceeded on, I saw my dream car sputter into a side street where I knew the driver would then open his hood to wonder why his prized possession would be acting up like it was. Of course, anyone with minimal car knowledge (of which I consider myself to be the posterchild for) will begin to surmise that the culprit is the carburetor.

The carburetor is a component that is rarely found on cars today, having been replaced by the fuel injection system. Its purpose is to mix the right amount of gas and air to support combustion. If too much gas is in the mixture, the engine runs "rich" and will not perform right. If there is too much air in the mixture, the engine runs "lean" and will fail to perform right. For optimum performance, the right mixture of both gas and air is required.

I believe James, the writer of the letter from which comes the above excerpt, would understand this concept. He used a similar postulation in reference to our faith and how we live it out. If we say we have faith (air) but it is not combined with the right amount of action (gas), what good is it? It gets us nowhere. Similarly, if our action (gas) is not mixed with a right amount of faith (air), then again, we are at a loss in our performance. For us to have optimum performance in our lives as followers of Jesus, we must combine both faith and action. When we do so, our lives will show it as we live it out.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just the Facts

John 12:20-22
20 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to attend the Passover 21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, "Sir, we want to meet Jesus." 22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus. - New Living Translation

I've been looking for another car or truck to drive. Now, I've been doing this for some time now, so it's not like I am actively looking to do something soon, much to my wife's frustration. I have an old truck, and being an old truck, let's say it has issues. The carburetor doesn't always carburate, the alternator doesn't always alternate, and the pistons don't always...well, you get the point. But, trying to be a thrifty and frugal person with money now (it's about time), I prefer to get something pre-owned. That, however, leads to the possibility of buying someone else's troubles. Wouldn't it be great if when you went to look at a used car, the seller would be completely honest about the condition? Not too long ago, I called about a car that sounded great and for a pretty decent price - fairly low miles, new tires, no interior damage, good running engine. So what was the problem? Nothing according to the ad. It was only after I called the fellow that I found out that it didn't have a transmission! That's a significant bit of information that was left out. But, the seller still tried to sell me the car based on all of the other things, like he cleans the inside with Armor-all each month. I'm sure it is nice an shiny sitting there in his driveway, unable to move.

I am beginning to thinks that it is just human nature to perpetuate the trivial rather than the central, especially if we haven't really grasped what's really important. I am beginning to think that's a systemic problem among a large percentage of church people and many churches too. Too often, when we try to go out and tell the Good News, it becomes more about what goes on in our church rather than about Jesus. Seekers of Jesus aren't hungering for Bazaars and committee meetings, they hunger and thirst for Jesus.

I think that is why today's scripture is so poignant. The Greeks came searching for Jesus. They weren't looking for theories or postulations. They were after the facts. They weren't at all interested in the "fan club" meeting, the Jesus t-shirts, or I Jesus coffee mugs. They were looking for the real McCoy - they wanted Jesus.

Now, I'm not down on church or on our "feel good" expressions of faith. I just hope that we make sure that in the midst of all the hoopla, we don't forget that what the world is seeking, what the world needs is not more items and programs about Jesus, but Jesus. All these other things should always point and lead to Jesus.

Godspeed,
Tim

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Messed up or Misunderstood

Acts 16:16-32
16
One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her.
17 She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, "These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you!" 18 She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, "Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!" And it was gone, just like that. 19 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them 20 and pulled them into a court with the accusation, "These men are disturbing the peace - dangerous Jewish agitators 21 subverting our Roman law and order." 22 By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood. 23 After beating them black and blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. 24 He did just that - threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
25 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn't believe their ears. 26 Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose. 27 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, 28 when Paul stopped him: "Don't do that! We're all still here! Nobody's run away!" 29 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. 30 He led them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?" 31 They said, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live - and everyone in your house included!" 32 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master - the entire family got in on this part. - The Message

What a strange world we live in. The news that is coming across the Internet this morning is filled with stories that make the perplexed even more confused. That firmly grounds me in this category. I am bewildered at how messed up or misunderstood people are today. Last week, we anxiously waited to see if more lives would be lost as a result of a small, obscure church's plan to burn thousands of books that are held sacred by a sizable percentage of the world's population. The pastor said that his church's intent was misunderstood. Another story that surfaced in a local news story was about a man who was arrested because he picked up and carried a lost child to the service desk of a local store. The frantic parent accused him of trying to kidnap the child.

What's happening here? When did it come about that people started to think that their constitutional rights gives them the liberty to trample on other's rights and beliefs? When did it become unsafe to help help out a frightened child? We are messed up and misunderstood.

The scripture passage above gives some hint that this isn't a recent phenomenon. We see that some two millennia two men who were trying to do a good and godly act was quickly arrested and thrown in prision. They were misunderstood by a messed-up world.

But, the story doesn't end there - not with them rotting away in prision. Instead, it gives the insight to their hearts, that was still filled with joy for serving God. No one around them could believe it. Even when they had the opportunity to escape from their unjust accusers, they remained, so that God would be be honored. Because of this, God was honored with more to believe in his saving grace.

That's probably not what most want to think about though when we are in misunderstood by a messed up world. As a dear friend of mine used to say, "When you are up to your elbows with alligators, it's hard to remember that your purpose is to drain the swamp." But even in the midst of the alligators, even in the mire and muck of the swamp, God is with us. Don't forget that. Don't forget to sing some praises.

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Wisdom of Friends

Acts 15:35-41
35
Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren't alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.
36 After a few days of this, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let's see how they're doing." 37 Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. 38 But Paul wouldn't have him; he wasn't about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. 39 Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; 40 Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, 41 went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations. - The Message

Have you ever thought you knew what was best? Of course you have; we all have. It is human nature to think that what we know is, at least for a moment, is the best course of action. Sometimes while driving in a unfamiliar part of the country, I will forgo the directions that are given to me by my GPS, especially when I can see my destination. Sometimes, I am right, but not all the time. I have found myself on more than one occasion having to backtrack because the course I chose turned out to be the wrong one. though I could clearly see where I was wanting to arrive, the my self-improvised path was mired by roadblocks or one way streets, that went in the wrong direction. Yet, as stated earlier, sometimes my chosen path was the better one.

Of course, thinking we know best isn't just relegated to our navigational skills. It encompasses so much more. I cannot begin to think of the times, when I was much younger, friends warned me that the relationship that I was in was the wrong one. Love or infatuation was blind. I thought I knew best and found myself hurt and wounded later. The funny thing was that I often wondered why no one told me this would happen.

Often our pride and/or our heart gets in the way of reason and common sense. We will go against the grain of wisdom from family, friends, and colleagues, hoping for the chance to prove them wrong. Sometimes we prevail, but most often, we wind up wondering where we went wrong.

The scripture passage today tells of a similar account between two of the early church leaders. Paul and Barnabas had been tight in their mission of spreading the good news about Jesus. They were successful and wanted to ensure that their message was remaining entrenched in the hearts of those they spoke to earlier. But, as they made plans to return to the cities that had previously visited, they reached an impasse about who would accompany them. Barnabas chose someone who had deserted them earlier. He missed out on acquiring the basic first-hand knowledge that the early church required. Paul and Barnabas argued vehemently about this and decided to part company. Paul took with him and man whom had the blessing of the church leaders and his ministry is recorded as being exceedingly fruitful. Barnabas, while still trying to accomplish the same goal, followed his own ambition and went against the wisdom of his friends and colleagues. This is the last account recorded of Barnabas in this book.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here. In my faith tradition, we are to temper our decisions based on scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. I believe that second part includes the wisdom imparted to us by our friends. Sometimes, our way is best, but we should always weigh others views and insights. Afterall, friends are gifts from God.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, August 12, 2010

True North

Psalm 119:100
100 I've become wiser than the wise old sages simply by doing what you tell me.
101 I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil so I can spend all my time keeping your Word. 102 I never make detours from the route you laid out; you gave me such good directions. 103 Your words are so choice, so tasty; I prefer them to the best home cooking. 104 With your instruction, I understand life; that's why I hate false propaganda.
105 By your words I can see where I'm going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.
- The Message

Have you ever had an off day? Of course you have. We all have. That's part of being human. Sometimes we're on top of our game and sometimes we're not. When I'm on the golf course, I'm usually not because I don't play enough to have a good day. That takes practice. But in each of us, we have a talent or a hidden trait that we really don't have to develop or practice, we just naturally have it.

I have one of mind is a keen sense of direction. For some reason, I rarely get lost, but it has happened. Maybe it's because I like to look at maps and because I do, I can usually find my way around. But that's not always the case. My gift or talent is strictly relegated to the outdoors. Once i in a building, don't ask me which way is north. I will probably point up. It often surprises me to sit in a room and feel pretty certain that north is one way only to discover that I have missed by 5 or 100 degrees. I'm not sure why my sense of direction is so off when I am enclosed behind four walls, but it is.

The psalmist who wrote the scripture above knew what it's like to be lost from time-to-time. He knew that if he wanted to say on the right course in life, he needed to follow the trail blazed before him. He sang that God's word leads him through the darkest points of life and won't lead him astray.

On occasion, I find it useful to have a compass with me. It may come in handy when my natural senses fail me because I am surrounded by certain barriers. But, a compass will only guide me towards a temporal destination. On the other hand, when I take time to engage in daily devotions, my spirit is re-oriented to my eternal destination. How about you, when you find yourself surrounded and lost, where do you turn for your guidance? Remember the psalmist exclamation, "By your words [God's word] I can see where I'm going, they throw a beam of light on my dark path."

Godspeed,
Tim

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quench the Thirst

John 4:1-14
1 Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, "Jesus is baptizing and making more disciples than John" 2 (though Jesus himself didn't baptize them -- his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea to return to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Please give me a drink." 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?" 10 Jesus replied, "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water." 11 "But sir, you don't have a rope or a bucket," she said, "and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?" 13 Jesus replied, "People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. 14 But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life."


I have halfway noticed a commercial on television where people are unexpectantly hit with water. I think it is a commercial for a razor, I guess I need to pay attention to that. Anyway, instead of getting hit in the face with a boxing glove or a pillow, these objects become water, cool, refreshing, and non-traumatizing water. I would have really appreciated that last Friday while mowing the grass during the sweltering heat. It would have have been so nice instead of the branch that smacked me square in the face to have turned into water. But, it wasn't...and i had the mark and scratches to prove it.

What was refreshing that day was when my adorable wife came out and brought me a cold bottle of water. So cold, the bottle was sweating. Oh how it hit the spot! Nothing like cold water to quench the thirst on a hot and steamy day.

Sometimes it is easy to know what you want and what you need. Other times, you know you want something, but you don't know what. I hate those moments; especially when they involve food. I will clean out the refrigerator and cabinets trying to fill that insatiable taste. Then when I find it, I am usually to full from all the other "stuff" to fully appreciate the savoring moment.

The passage of scripture above addresses those kinds of moments. Jesus saw that the woman was searching for something. She was looking for love. Later in the story, we can see that she looked for it the arms of several men...and she was still thirsting. Jesus peered straight into her soul and saw that what she was craving was the love that only could come from God.

What about you? Does your soul thirst? Have you tried to satisfy a craving that nothing, no matter how delicious and appealing it may be, still left a thirst that pleads to be quenched? Then let me ask, How is your relationship with God? What Jesus gives truly is a well-spring of hope and joy. Go ahead and take a sip and see that the water is good.

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Real Friend

Philemon
1 This letter is from Paul, in prison for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.It is written to Philemon, our much loved co-worker, 2 and to our sister Apphia and to Archippus, a fellow soldier of the cross. I am also writing to the church that meets in your house. 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 I always thank God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing of your trust in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people. 6 You are generous because of your faith. And I am praying that you will really put your generosity to work, for in so doing you will come to an understanding of all the good things we can do for Christ. 7 I myself have gained much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because your kindness has so often refreshed the hearts of God's people. 8 That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do, 9 but because of our love, I prefer just to ask you. So take this as a request from your friend Paul, an old man, now in prison for the sake of Christ Jesus. 10 My plea is that you show kindness to Onesimus. I think of him as my own son because he became a believer as a result of my ministry here in prison. 11 Onesimus hasn't been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. 12 I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart. 13 I really wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf. 14 But I didn't want to do anything without your consent. And I didn't want you to help because you were forced to do it but because you wanted to. 15 Perhaps you could think of it this way: Onesimus ran away for a little while so you could have him back forever. 16 He is no longer just a slave; he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, give him the same welcome you would give me if I were coming. 18 If he has harmed you in any way or stolen anything from you, charge me for it. 19 I, Paul, write this in my own handwriting: "I will repay it." And I won't mention that you owe me your very soul! 20 Yes, dear brother, please do me this favor for the Lord's sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ. 21 I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more! 22 Please keep a guest room ready for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. 24 So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


I received a pleasant surprise last night. While I was surfing the Net, a strange sound erupted from my laptop. It was a sound that was vaguely familiar, yet still not one that I am used to. After determining that it wasn't a warning of some viral attack, I noticed a little box flashing in my taskbar; I was being invited to chat with someone. The person wanting tho converse with me turned out to be an old friend, a guy who was one of my groomsmen at my wedding, and one that I spent countless days with before getting married. It's funny how much time we spent together, working and cutting up back twenty plus years ago and now, we hardly ever talk. But here he was, wanting to talk. After all the normal "catching up," he got rather serious and asked if i would pray for another old friend. Some trouble had befallen this other friend and in the end all that could be done is to pray for him. I was humbled by the request. While I had forgotten to keep up with old acquaintances,my friend is still watching over them, helping as he can.

The apostle Paul knew how to watch over his friends. When he befriended a slave named Onesimus, he sends him back to his owner with the plea to treat him like a brother and to charge any debt that Onesimus may have incurred to Paul. Paul realized that friendship had to be much more than just saying that you are someone's friend; it has to be backed with action.

I am sure that my old friend would blush with the thought of me using him as an example of being a true friend, but that is what he is. When he sees a need, he steps in. When the need is beyond anything he can do physically, he assures that the person is entrusted in God's care. What a friend - what a real friend.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's It to You

John 21:20-22
20 Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. 21 When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, "Master, what's going to happen to him?" 22 Jesus said, "If I want him to live until I come again, what's that to you? You - follow me." - The Message


The other morning I read a bit of news on the Internet that just wowed me. It was real news and not some glorified, electrified, digitalized email, but straight from the AP News Service. The story told about Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and I believe thirty-eight other billionaires have each agreed to donate half of their wealth to charity. The amount could equal somewhare in the neighborhood of $600 billion dollars! Yep, you read that right, 600 billion. That is pretty close to the amount that our country had to borrow from China a couple of years ago. What drove them to this unprecedented act of kindness and charity? I don;t know, but I am happy with their action. The problem is, as I read the story with amazement, I was quickly brought back down to the level of my fellow human beings in the comment threads that followed. Many, all so many, rather than praising these folks were bashing them for not giving more! They were making comments like they don't need that much money and that they should give until they have less than a thousand dollars in the bank like most people. What?? These forty or so people are giving away, on their own free will, this much more and people are criticizing them for not giving more? I began to burn with disgust. I started thinking, "How much do you give to charity? What percentage? Give me the number. Most Americans give somewhere around 2% (including to the church) and you complaining about someone who isn't giving more than 50%!" I couldn't understand that mentality. I worry about my fellow people. What's up with them?

This isn't a new problem, not the problem with the people who want to criticize Gates and Buffet. And it's not a new problem with my attitude. We always think we know better or are better. We become jealous when someone else trumps us and looks better, or voices their opinion and seems more pious. Ouch, that hurts.

Jesus saw this for himself. Peter was their with the resurrected Lord when he saw John standing off in the distance. Knowing Jesus' great affection for John, Peter ask about what would happen with him. Was it that he was jealous of John or really concerned about his well-being? We aren't clear about that, but Jesus saw that it was a stumbling block for Peter and said, "What's it to you? Your priority is for YOU to follow me."

I think that is something we should all think about and incorporate into our daily lives. Rather than complain about how others are living, let's get our own lives right first. Then, I bet, we wouldn't complain so much about others, because we would be loving them in spite of the shortfalls, just as Jesus loves you and me.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Break Time

Mark 6:31-32
31 Jesus said, "Come off by yourselves; let's take a break and get a little rest." For there was constant coming and going. They didn't even have time to eat. 32 So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves.
- The Message


I'm hungry. No, not spiritually (though my spirit may be rumbling and grumbling a bit), I just mean, I'm hungry. It's six o'clock in the evening and I haven't had a thing to eat all day. It's not that I am fasting or anything, I just haven't had time to eat. I have been busy - busy trying to get ready for Sunday, getting ready for a meeting with the District Superintendent tonight (though I don't know why I need to be ready for that, he is the one leading the discussion), getting ready for a Leadership Team meeting following the other meeting,... the list goes on. So, why don't I stop and eat? Good question. Maybe it's that I am stubborn and feel the need to get all of this other ready first. Or, maybe it's because I just forgot to eat until my stomach started growling. Probably a bit of both.

Jesus knows what it's like to be busy...very busy. Yet, he made sure to listen to his spirit and body and tend to their needs. And he made sure to take care of his friends too. So, if I am going to be a leader of the church, I need to set the example and take time to attend to my needs - physical and spiritual. I guess I need to stop typing and go get something to eat. Bon appetit, my friends!

Godspeed,
Tim

Friday, July 30, 2010

There's an App for That

1 After the death of Moses the LORD's servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant. He said, 2 "Now that my servant Moses is dead, you must lead my people across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: 'Everywhere you go, you will be on land I have given you -- 4 from the Negev Desert in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River on the east to the Mediterranean Sea on the west, and all the land of the Hittites.' 5 No one will be able to stand their ground against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. 6 "Be strong and courageous, for you will lead my people to possess all the land I swore to give their ancestors. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Obey all the laws Moses gave you. Do not turn away from them, and you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed. Joshua 1:1-8

I just a new cellphone. Not just any phone, but a Droid. No, it's not the Droid X, or Droid Incredible, but the original Droid. I am amazed with all the features it has. But what really surprises me are all the other apps that you can download to make it do even more! Like the Keyring app that allows you to scan the barcode from all those annoying MVP and Rewards cards. My wallet has just decreased by almost a third. Or the Bubble Level app - now who can go without having your phone convert itself into an old fashion bubble level. I doubt that I'll use that very often, but I have it, just in case. I did also download the Bible onto the phone, something that will now always be nearby without adding to what I already have to carry around. Now that truly is cool. If only there was some app to help me gain clarity on what I am suppose to do today, tomorrow, and so on. Well, guess what, there is...and I already have it.

Joshua, in the text today, was at a point where he wasn't sure what he was suppose to do. Moses, the leader of the people of Israel was dead and now Joshua was being called on to take over and lead the people. God, seeing the anxiety, confusion, and sheer desperation rising up in Joshua told him to calm down, relax, and get his head together. All he needed to accomplish the task before him, he already had. He had it in his toolbox. God told him that the app he needed, he already had; he just needed to move it from the app collection area to his home screen. Then he would succeed.

Many of us already have all we need to accomplish the tasks that loom before us, especially those spiritual tasks or the God-given tasks. They loom large over us, but God's written word (The Bible) is one of our apps for that. Believe it or not, when you break them down to their most basic elements, most all the problems we face today are addressed by God in The Bible. Most problems we deal with today are relational problems - problems in relating with others, relating with ourselves (yes, that happens all too frequently), or relating with God. The Bible speaks to these issues and more. Another app is God. God has provided the Holy Spirit to dwell with us and guide us, but we have to utilize the Spirit. All of this means, we need to spend time each day in reading God's written word and praying. Over time, you'll be amazed how much more prepared you feel to tackle those tasks before you. So, be strong and courageous - there's an app for that.

Godspeed,
Tim

(P.S. Yes, I know the saying "There's an app for that" is for the iPhone. But that's not the point.)


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

High Maintenance

28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." - Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Over the years, our daughters, as well as Karen and I, have had some friends that we refer to as "high maintenance friends." It's not that they are bad people or that we didn't enjoy their company. It's just that they required so much energy (physical, mental, and/or spiritual) that after we got home from being with them or they left to go home, we're completely wiped out with exhaustion. We like these folks, but we know that when we are around them, we're not going to relax or be at ease.

The scripture text above is one that we can relate. Especially the first line. I have to hand it to Eugene Peterson in his translation of this passage. For pastors and leaders in church, this line so speaks to us at various times in ministry. We just get burned out on religion - not Jesus, mind you, but the toil that is associated with high maintenance people.

Normally, I read this and think, "Yes, Lord, you understand!" Then this morning, I was slapped right in the face with this sentiment as I read this passage in my daily devotion. Jesus does understand what it is like to have some high maintenance friends. And I'm one of them. I have never thought of that before, that I am one of them. I always thought that Jesus understood because, well, he's Jesus, God in flesh, knowing all. But I am coming to realize that it is more that just knowing because he knows, it's knowing from experience - experiencing with me.

Alas, before I got too depressed about that, I had to read on. From his experience, he offers me and you, the relief from the burden of high maintenance friends. It's not to shun them, because he hasn't shunned us, but to strengthen our relationship with him (Jesus) and learn how he deals with us. If I follow his example, not only will I change how I am, becoming a not so high maintenance friend, but I will be able to emulate that to my exhaustive friends.

Isn't it funny how Jesus teaches us? Just when we think we know something, he teaches us something new and better. Thanks, Jesus.

Godspeed,
Tim

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Body and Soul

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. 2 But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law. 3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper. - Psalm1:1-3

I did it. This morning, I finally did it. I got out of be before 6:00, well it was 5:57, and I went out for a two-mile walk/run. Half of it was actually running! Over time, I hope to work up to running five miles each day. But I have a problem - I don't like to run. I used to work with a fellow who had a pretty insightful disposition about running - "You can run for money or you can run for your life, but you don't run for fun." So, you ask, if you don't enjoy running, why are you doing it. The answer is both simple and complicated, but in essence, here it is - I want to run because I know I should. Holistically, it will benefit me. Of course we all know the health benefits, but for me it will help me spiritually as well. I know this from experience. Several years ago, I used to be in the habit of doing this ritual of getting up early for a time exercise and devotions. I was most attuned to my health and with my relationship with God because I had developed some good habits. And can't we all benefit from good habits?

In the text scripture text above, the psalmist expounded on the benefit of daily devotion. The more good we engage in, the less we do things that are harmful. I need that water and nourishment from above because, as we know from experience, the long dry days are plentiful just like the the temptation to be lazy. So for me, the regiment of a daily run will always be tied with meditating on scripture and discerning the direction in which God is leading me. the two fit together quite nicely - body and soul. Likewise, if I ever get out of the habit of running, my daily devotions will be that gentle reminder that I need to tend to my physical health as well. Body and Soul.

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, July 26, 2010

After the Rest

23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of wheat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, "They shouldn't be doing that! It's against the law to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath." 25 But Jesus replied, "Haven't you ever read in the Scriptures what King David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest), ate the special bread reserved for the priests alone, and then gave some to his companions. That was breaking the law, too." 27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. 28 And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath!" - Mark 2:23-28

I wonder if we have the wrong idea about vacation and weekends. My family and I just got back from a week-long vacation at St. Simon's Island. Usually, when I am on vacation, I try to distance myself from anything that resembles a regular week at home. that meant absolutely no work. After all, vacation is a time of relaxing after toiling in labor for many weeks and months (okay, stop laughing, pastors work hard too!). This year though, I did something different. In my down-time, instead of watching mindless programs on the television (we didn't have Internet - yeah, can you believe that) I spent time reading some business related material - not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I also made sure to keep up the discipline of daily devotions (well, for the most part). Here is the funny thing, I didn't dread coming home, or more significantly, getting back to work!

Maybe the idea of sabbath isn't about a reward for your hard work. Maybe it is a time to rest your body from the routine and also provide time for mental refreshment as well as spiritual.
The Pharisees in the text above had a misunderstanding about what could and couldn't be done on the Sabbath. Maybe we need to widen our vision about it too. Instead of the Sabbath or vacations being reactionary, what if we considered them to be proactive - a time of preparing us for what's ahead? It's worth considering. At least this time I am happy and refreshed.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home Again

Read Psalm 27:4-6

Our house is starting to look like a home. All but a few boxes have been unpacked. The endless mountain of empty boxes have been taken to the recycling bin, where I know the custodian there is wondering where all those boxes are coming from (especially all the empty Vodka boxes). Things are mostly in place. Except pictures. Who would have ever thought that we have so many pictures to hang. I don't think there is enough wall space for them all. Yet, we are pretty settled. The house is a home again.

It's amazing what the presence of a family can do to a house. Have you ever noticed how fast an empty house deteriorates? But put a family in there, it gets sustained. It's like it need the opening and closing of doors, the rubbing of floorboards from its occupants walking, the subsonic vibrations of stereos played too loud (from teenagers, mind you). Houses needs people.

Houses provide shelter for us, a place to feel safe and secure, a place to settle and have some privacy. But what makes the house a home is the love that is fostered within.

The reading from the Bible today tells of the psalmist longing to be in God's house. There he knows resides the love of God - and his eternal home. There like no other place, can the psalmist, or you or I for that matter, can rest at ease, knowing that no harm or misery can cast its shadow on us. Because there, God resides - the Author of creation, the Sustainer of life, the Redeemer of shattered souls.

But where can we find God's home? On a white sandy beach? On a lofty mountain peak? In a endless green meadow? On a busy street corner? In a park stadium? In my house? In yours?

God's home is found wherever the human heart is open for God's glory and grace to shine forth. God home is wherever God is. God's home is within us, ready to be open for all who seek shelter from the business and stress that life purveys. God, open my heart and let it be your home.

Godspeed,
Tim

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Panoramic Vision

Read Zechariah 2:1-5

I used to like to sit down and study maps. Not that for a test or anything like that; I just liked looking at maps. Road maps in particular. The reason I was so enamored by them was that that opened up the possibilities of going to and seeing new places and people. Now, I don't look at an atlas all that much; I found something better - Google maps with Street View! What a great resource tool! Now, not only can I find new places to go, but I can have a good idea what it looks like because with Street View, I can see exactly what it looks like from a perspective of being on the street at that location, all on my laptop. This also cuts down on the hunting a guessing where particular places are when I go somewhere new.

As cool as Street View is, it still has limits. It only shows what the place looked like the day that the roaming camera was there to capture it. It only gives a two-dimensional perspective, lacking depth. Also, it allows me to see only a portion of all that my eyes can take in if I was actually there. So, the vision is limited.

Vision is something I have been thinking a great deal about lately. I am prayerfully seeking God's vision for the church I serve, Sunrise UMC. I know God has a vision for this church - a big vision at that. But I need to open my eyes to it or, maybe, I just need to be prepared to expand the spectrum of that vision.

The prophet Zechariah could relate to that. In today's scripture reading, Zechariah saw a man who apparently was measuring Jerusalem, to ascertain exactly what it could hold, what it was capable of doing. Then an angel of the Lord came running out of the city, proclaiming that the surveyor was thinking way too small - because God would be there and nothing would be able to contain God's glory or those who seek to be in God's presence.

I wonder if maybe we in ministry, clergy and lay alike, try to size up the Church. We look at it and say, this is what we are capable of because of space, resources, and money (let's not forget money). My prayer for Sunrise and for wherever you worship God, is that we will find God's messenger running to exclaim, "You're thinking way too small - God is here!"

Godspeed,
Tim

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Whole Lotta Shaking Goin On!

Read Haggai 2:1-9

Fifty-some years ago, Jerry Lee Lewis sang for the world for the first time "Whole Lotta Shaking Goin On." Some of you may know that this was back when rock-n-roll was still relatively new and the style of dance appeared to be too new and different for some people to try. They found it to be too "loose" or too strange to try to get into. Evidently, they must have slept through the Roaring 20's when dance really parted company from its heritage. Beyond its catchy beat, the aforementioned song also simply illustrated how easy it would be to dance to it. As one verse said, "All you gotta honey is kinda stand in one spot, wiggle around just a little bit, that's what you gotta do." In other words, feel the beat and let the beat move you.

Many centuries before, the prophet Haggai spoke for God to the the governor, the high priest, and all the people to stop being timid about doing what they knew they should do. The Temple was in ruins and God was telling them it was time to rebuild it, but as my dad use to say, they had to "get shaking." God reiterated being with them, so what should they be timid or reserved about?

In our daily lives, we too get caught up in being timid about doing things we know we should do. But we feel alone, or unworthy, ill-prepared for the occasion. Has not God been faithful in the promise to be with us? Today is not the time to be timid. There is much work to be done in and for the Kingdom of God. God has promised that when we faithfully follow that leading, the future will be far brighter than any of our past. So, come on, there's a whole lotta shaking goin on!

Godspeed,
Tim

Monday, July 12, 2010

Roundabout

Read Haggai 1:3-11

I saw a sign that struck me odd the other day - it was a sign showing the traffic circle that was quickly approaching. It was showing how many different directions exit off of the traffic circle or, if the driver so chooses, one can just drive endlessly around the circle. I believe in other parts of the world, traffic circles are referred to as roundabouts. That name seems apt to describe them as well.

But it also seems apt about how we live life. We are traveling along on life's highway and we realize that we need to make a decision, change course, go off in a different direction. Some of us do just that, we start off in a direction that is a little different than the direction we are going, others do a 180, while others just seem to wander around and around without any guidance whatsoever.

In the passage above, God, through the prophet Haggai, was telling them that they needed to change their course because they were headed for destruction. The course they were on was one where they were concerned only about themselves and were failing to remember God. God was calling them to turn around before it was too late.

I wonder how many of us is God calling on to turn around. I am sure that some of us need to only deviate a slight bit to be back on the course that God created for us, while others need to make a big U-Turn, that 180, to bring us back to a fellowship with God. Still others need to get out of the roundabout, stop wandering aimlessly around, enjoying the same old sights.

By God's grace, we have free-will. By God's mercy, we have the ability to change our course and follow God.

Godspeed,
Tim

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judgement and Mercy

Read Habakkuk 3:1-2

Big news today. She's at it again. Lindsay Lohan is back in jail and rehab after being sentenced by a judge a couple of days ago. For one who just turned 24, she has already seen more and done more than most Americans and that's not a positive statement. But, she is a Hollywood celebrity, should we expect any different?

What a sad commentary for a group of people who we wrongly hold up as role models and heroes. Yet, when they do something wrong, we seemed shocked and surprised, then, anger. What causes me the greatest amount of consternation though is when any of these "fallen" people receive an ounce of mercy, too many "good Christian" folk are outraged. Do you remember the uproar of O.J. Simpson's verdict? Too many wanted to be the judge, jury, and executioner when all the facts they were getting came from the nightly "rag news."

Today's scripture can hold me to a level of humility. As we read the first couple of verses, we first see Habakkuk asking for God to do again what had already been done generations before with the people of Israel. They, being God's chosen people, we think of all the great things God did for them. But let's not be too quick here; God punished them as well when they failed to follow God's ordinances.

It is easy for us to ask God to bless us as we have seen others blessed by God. But with blessing comes responsibility. We are called to a higher level of displaying love and hospitality, a deeper conviction and expectation for doing what we know is right. When we fail to meet those standards, we are held to a higher level as well.

But, thank God, with judgment comes mercy. We love to mete out judgment, when it is doled out on others, but cry out for mercy when judgment comes to lie at our feet. Thank God, mercy is available to all. Even to others. Even to you. Even to me.

Godspeed,
Tim

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remember

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9

We just moved into our old house. While there has been many advantages, like already knowing our neighbors, there has been one big complication - the house is much smaller than we remembered. Thus all the stuff we accumulated over our four years away from that house, we have discovered does not seem to have a place. So, we are downsizing where we can. One place that I am starting to turn towards is all of the old VHS tapes. Mountains worth. You remember those things don't you? All those movies that were on a cassette the size of a small book. All those tapes take up room, a whole lot of room. So, I am faced with a couple of choices, get rid of them or get them on something smaller, like a DVD. I can't get rid of them, a lot of them are our home movies of when the girls were small. So, I need to convert them. Why? So I can remember.

It's funny, isn't it, how some of the most important moments of your life can so easy wisp away over time. Eighteen and sixteen years ago, I thought I would never forget what my precious little girls looked like as they were small babies. But as time marches forward, I need pictures to remind me of their angelic little faces. I need videos to remind me of their cute little ways of pronouncing certain words. I need to remember.

It's not just with personal events we have trouble remembering. We easily forget other big things too. Even God. In the selection of scripture I asked you to read above, the people of Israel were about to embark into the land that they were promised and had journeyed toward for two generations. In just a few short days, they would enter into the land described as flowing with milk and honey. And God wanted them to remember that it was God who brought them there. It seems rather odd that God would think they would forget that, but God knows us better than that. God knows as we get comfortable and settled into a good lifestyle, we often forget the hardships, the strain and toil of rising above our condition, and that God has been with us. We need to remember. We need to remember God.

Today, why don't you join me and take a few moments to maybe jot down a few things that God has done in our lives. Remember God's ever-presence in our lives. Remember that just as God has been with us in the past, God is in our present, and will be in our future. As we remember the past, we are better prepared for the future.

Godspeed,
Tim

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My "New" Truck

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13

I just bought a new truck. Well, I use the term "new" loosely...very loosely. It's new to me and that's it. Actually, the truck is a 1983 Ford Ranger, four-in-the-floor, a 255 air conditioner (that's two windows down at 55 mph), white and rust color (you figure where the rust color is). My wife thinks I'm nuts! Well, not completely, she has relented in saying how I find beauty in old, broken down things. She is trying to make a vague reference to herself, but she shouldn't. Yet, I digress. She is right though; I do like the old and what some would say is the unattractive. And this truck fits the bill. But I did not choose it for it's looks. I chose it based on three criteria: 1) I wanted a truck, 2) I wanted a truck for a good price, 3) I wanted a truck that ran. For about an hour now, my "new" truck meets these three components and I am suspecting that it will continue to do so, although the third one will be the one I have to guard the most. So, I have a truck and it will do what a truck was built to do. I can get from point A to point B and I will be able to haul things in its bed. I did not get it to look cool in or pick up women (though there is room in the truck bed if they really need a ride). So, I am happy.

It is much like the story from 1 Samuel where the prophet Samuel is instructed by God to go look for a new king. Samuel goes to the house where God tells him to go and he is entertained by a parade of seven young men, all who looked "kingly." You might say that these young men were the Ford F-350 dually, the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra...well, you get the point. With each one, Samuel says, "Wow, this has to be the one." But with each one, God says, "Nope, not this one." Then God says something from which I believe we can all glean some wisdom; God says, "The LORD doesn't make decisions the way people do. People judge by outward appearances, but God looks at what's on the inside, the heart." Of course, by now, you realize God wasn't after the strong, strapping young men, God chose the eighth boy, the scrawny little shepherd boy, name David. And David became the greatest king Israel ever had.

So, am I saying that my old, rusty truck is another David? No, don't be silly, but what I do maintain is that we need to be careful about how we judge things. Sometimes the real treasures, the diamonds in our midst are still covered with mud and gunk and...sin. They just need to be polished up a bit.

Godspeed for today.
Tim

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Day - New Hope

I just read a brief passage of scripture - really - it is brief. From Psalm 144:9 comes these words, "I will sing a new song to you, O God!" As I start my ministry here at Sunrise, this brief passage reminds me that today is a new day and yesterday is behind me. Whatever mistakes I made in the past are behind me. Today, I sing a new song to God. Today, I have new hope, new opportunities, a fresh start. Today, I begin to create some new holy habits in my life that will help keep me on course. As I am enthusiastically excited about the future, I take time to read God's word for this day and spend time cultivating that special relationship with God, the One who knows me best and loves me the most. Exciting days ahead!

Godspeed,
Tim