Monday, November 05, 2018

WHAT SHALL WE DO AND HOW SHALL WE LIVE?

I am deeply concerned about the state of America these days.  I’m seventy-years old, and I’ve never seen in my seven decades such vitriol. At  www.vocabulary.comthere is a statement that rings clear, 
Back in the day, vitriol was the name for sulfuric acid, which burns through just about anything. So think of vitriol as language so mean-spirited and bitter that it could eat through metal. 
There you have it: America in a nut shell, couched in the mind and spirit of life in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Sadly, as a culture, it seems we’ve fallen and can’t get up.  So, stuck in the rut of anger and hostility we breathe in what we constantly breathe out. We now live in a war zone the weapons of which are character assassination, pungent humor designed to make fun of and destroy persons as persons, and acerbic news telling, designed to defend world views rather than tell the story with journalistic integrity.

How did we get here? How in the world did we get here? 242 years into the American experiment and this is the best we can come up with?  Generations in, and we can’t seem to live together.  We hold our worldviews so tightly that anyone who thinks differently than us is worthy of character assassination?  Vitriol might just be our downfall in the age of Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Facebook.

In the film, “The American President”(Castle Rock Entertainment, 1995), president Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, gives a speech in which he states,
America isn't easy. America isadvanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight.  It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. 
We live in a republic and the people of the republic are responsible for its ongoing development. If you only want people who think the way you think to make their home here, you’re living in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is America, American that has a constitution the Preamble of which states,
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In our Declaration of Independence, we find a driving principle that should be embraced by every man and woman who seeks to have a leadership spot in our republic:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 
All this being said, I suggest that our leaders are not living up to the leadership requirements of the  242 year old dream.  Leaders on both sides of the isle and those who claim to live in the middle or as independents are not a part of the solution but a part of the problem.  And, it trickles down into the everyday lives of all of us.  The anger and hostility expressed every day on social media, particularly, leaves one wondering if the days of democracy are coming to an end.  

We simply don’t know how to live together in the land we call “United.”  Yet, we’ve got to learn to live together or we all will be in deep trouble.  However, where in the world do we begin?  How in the world do we begin?

In brief and insightful article at oprah.com entitled, “Why You Should Take Your Demons to Lunch,” Elizabeth Lesser has a powerful paragraph that might just help us.  At least, it is helping me.
"Otherising" is the dangerous act of turning someone into the enemy just because he or she looks different, prays different, speaks different, or thinks different. Some of history's most tragic events—wars, genocides, terrorist acts—began with ordinary people demonizing other ordinary people. 
What if we chose not to participate in “Otherising?”  What if we chose not to demonize others?  Too radical? I don’t think so.  Granted, It will take intentional reaching out that is rooted in some degree of humility and a great degree of seeking to resolve conflict that, if we’re not careful, will rip us all apart.

As a follower of Jesus I am wondering if Jesus wasn’t actually on to something when He said, “In everything…treat people the same way you want them to treat you… (Matthew 7:12). 

Let me leave it here for now.  Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

INHALE AND EXHALE

The car stopped in front of me at a stop light had two decals in the back window.  On the Drivers side I read "Inhale Courage."  On the Passenger side I read, "Exhale Fear."  That was two days ago and I'm still thinking about those two statements.  

Over and over in Scripture we are called to trust God and "fear not."  Long before Nike made popular the phrase, "No Fear," God had already driven into the hearts and minds of His people the incredible insight of trusting God so much that fear would be tossed out of their lives.  After all, God is love and “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18, NASB).  God is not about fear and the bondages fear creates.  God is about life and freedom and renewal and transformation and renewal.  God doesn’t tie people up in the dungeons of despair.  Jesus said He came that people might have life and have it to the full.

God is getting bad press coverage these days and that’s sad; sad on so many levels.  We human being need hope and dreams and belief; the very realities God builds into people who trust in Him.  People who have tasted God’s amazing grace are blessed beyond their capacity to fully experience or explain.  God’s love and grace are so vast that they are simply to be received.  We try to explain them but our words far short.  

Ten centuries ago Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai wrote words that resonate even today when we don’t think much about parchments and scrolls and quills. He wrote,

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

God’s love rocks the world of everyone who dares receive it.  God’s love has been known to change the trajectory of a human life, turn people of anger into people of peace, and to enter into spheres of desperation and to create hope where there seemed to be no hope.  In the places and people of fear God’s love has shouted, “Inhale courage and exhale fear.” The life-transforming words of Jesus call out to all of us, “Come to Me…and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:29), “In Me you…have peace…take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), “My peace I give to you…Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).  

Inhale courage … Exhale fear. Take the grace and be filled with the love of God. After all, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).  God is with us and our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:14-15). Take the grace and live.  Take the grace and do not fear.  Take the grace and let it become courage in you.     

Thursday, May 31, 2018

DREAMING DREAMS

I suppose if you live long enough you turn seventy. It happened to me just a few weeks ago.It was a wonderful day of celebrating with my family.  It was extra special, too, because I share my birth date with one of my grandchildren, Carson,-- April 29, just 57 years apart.

Being 70 I now feel a part of  a group called, “the old men” in the book of Acts, who “dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). I feel good about it, too.  While the sons and daughters of the church prophesy, and the young men have visions, I am one who now gets to dream.  By a grace I don’t understand or deserve, I am one of the multi-millions of people on whom the Holy Spirit has been poured.

“Pour.”  I like that word.  It has about it the image of being soaking wet.  The Holy Spirit has been poured forth, on both men and women.  Together they speak forth the holy Word of our holy God to a generation of people in desperate need of the holy.

Why the holy?  I think it is because people are tired of the ramifications of the unholy -- greed, violence, anger, poverty, the daily bombardment of man’s inhumanity to man, lust for power, sex, and money, regardless of the innocent who are deeply damaged along the way.

Our world thrives on the unholy.  The Bible informs us, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Of course, the world would disagree because the world is so busy being the world it can’t see beyond its own passions.  It simply presses on in its narcissism, getting what it wants when it wants it regardless of the collateral damage left along the way.

The unholy is the normal state of being in a world patterned after self-centeredness, power and greed.  N. T. Wright has a compelling paragraph that speaks into this issue. He write,

In the Western world, and many other parts as well, homes and families are tearing themselves apart.  The gentle art of being gentle -- of kindness and forgiveness, sensitivity and thoughtfulness and generosity and humility and good old-fashioned love -- have gone out of fashion.  Ironically, everyone is demanding their “rights,” and this demand is so shrill that it destroys one of the most basic “rights,” if we can put it like that: the “right,” or at least the longing and hope, to have a peaceful, stable, secure, and caring place to live, to be, to learn, and to flourish.
--Simply Christian, Why Christianity Makes  

Sense,(HarperOne: New York, 2006), 8

Our old world needs some Godly prophesy, and Godly visions, and Godly dreams.  God help us to catch His visions and dreams for His world.  God help us to hear His truth.

Back in 1955 Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul” (From a letter written on September 6, 1955 to Betty Hester in “The American Reader”).  I believe O’Connor was on to something.  Also, I believe if it were true in 1955 how much more so in 2018. “Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”

Jesus has a great word for people who lived in His day and for people who live today.  He said to hurting people, 
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)
Because of the realities of life going on all around us and because of Jesus’ gracious invitation, I feel a strange and marvelous hope for all of us.  Am I too optimistic?  That’s a fair question.  Let me just respond by saying , “I’m an old man now, and I get to dream dreams.”  

I’ve seen a lot in our world over the past seventy years, a lot of which I wish were not true.  However, as O'Connor writes again somewhere, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”  One truth that does not change has set me free to live and move and have my being in the very life of God:  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NASB).

So, move over John Lennon.  
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
(John Lennon & Yoko Ono, 1971)
Oh, by the way, unlike John Lennon, I do believe in heaven.  I believe in the God who came to us to bring us peace.  I believe Jesus died on the cross to put His broken world together again.  I believe in love.  I believe in hope.  I believe in truth.  I believe in forgiveness.  I believe in peace.  “You may say I’m a dreamer.”  Well, I am an old man after all.
God bless you. 

May God's Grace and Peace embrace you to His heart today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

STICKING TO GOD LIKE GLUE

There is a woman in our church in Montrose, California who has gone through some difficult times.  One Sunday after worship I asked her how she was doing.  She replied, "I'm sticking to God like glue."  Her answer connected with me and I've been thinking about it.

Sometimes life hits so hard that a person is left reeling in anguish and frustration and deep emotional pain.  The hits keep coming and the wounds get deeper and the solutions seem light years away.

What kind of faith does it take to stick to God like glue when it seems that everything in the world is working to get a wedge in so that the bond breaks? 

Everyday the sun rises, the alarm clock rings, and life goes, pain or no pain, frustration or no frustration, solutions or no solutions.  In the midst of the stories choices need to be made.  Will we crash and burn?  Will we face down the realities?  Will we run from God or to God?  Will we fret and fume or commit and trust? 

There is a story about King David in the Old Testament that speaks of how the love of God can embrace a person when they are in the throws of pain, suffering, and even death.  He found himself in a very difficult situation, complicated by the failure of a broken relationship with his Son, prince Absalom, who had instigated a revolt against him. King David fled Jerusalem and headed east through the Judean Desert (2 Sam. 16:1). He escaped to the Levitical city of Mahanaim, in the region of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River (2 Sam. 17:24). 

Needless to say, David was in a world of hurt, and there in the world of hurt, he gives us Psalm 63.  This Psalm is a prayer for all of us broken and human types who do desperately need to stay near God in the ebb and flow of our lives. David prays, "My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me" (Ps. 63:8). Perhaps this is David's way of saying that his soul was sticking to God like glue.  "My soul clings to You."

What is this amazing glue of which my friend spoke and of which David hints?  In Psalm 63:3 David revealed his heart for God.  He prayed, "Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you."  And there we have it.  God's love is the glue. 

My friend spoke of sticking to God like glue.  Maybe it is actually God sticking to us like glue.  Maybe it's both.  I think my friend is on to something.  She got me to thinking about how it might be good to think about God's love as Velcro, even more secure than Velcro; maybe something like a bond created by Sovereign and amazing grace, Sovereign and astonishing love, Sovereign and uncompromising acceptance. 


The love of God is an amazing reality, a reality that wraps the arms of God around us and refuses to let us go.  When you don't have the strength to stick to God like glue remember God is holding on to you with the love that led Jesus to the cross.  As you cling to God take a close look and you will see that He is hanging on to you, too.  And, remember, like David you, too, can pray, "My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds meYou are my God; I shall seek you earnestly" (Psalm 63:8, 1). 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

NAMES AND NATURES

Today's devotional thought from My Daily Meditation by John Henry Jowett spoke into my heart.  I thought I would share it. It was written over a hundred years ago, but it called me into a deeper walk with Jesus, and I just can't let it go.  It's yours today if you need it; if not, that's okay.  Just thought I would share it.
I've taken the liberty to update some of the language and replaced the King James Version of the Bible with the New American Standard.
God bless you all today.
Rick

JULY The Twenty-ninth

NAMES AND NATURES
Romans 8:1-10
People will recognize my Christianity by the sign of the Spirit of Christ. And they will accept no other witness.  I saw a plant-pot the other day, full of soil, bearing no flower, but flaunting a stick on which was printed the word “Mignonette.” “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1, NASB) The world will take no notice of our labels and our badges: it is only arrested by the flower and the perfume. "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him" (Romans 8:9, NASB)
And in the Spirit of Christ I shall best deal with “the things of the flesh.” There are some things which are best overcome by neglecting them. To give them attention is to give them nourishment. Withdraw the attention, and they sicken and die. And so I must seek the fellowship of the Spirit. That friendship will destroy the other. “You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24).”  If I am in communion with the Holy One the other will pine away, and cease to trouble me. 
Lord, make my spirit a kinsman of Thine! Let the intimacy be ever deeper and dearer. “Draw me nearer, blessed Lord,” until in nearness to Thee I find my peace, my joy, and my crown.

Friday, June 09, 2017

FORGIVE! YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME

Some thoughts from C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.  I offer his words as an injection into the society wide conversation going on in our country at this time. -- Rick 
One of the most unpopular of the Christian virtues is laid down in the Christian rule, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Because in Christian morals ‘thy neighbour’ includes ‘thy enemy’, and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies. 
Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’ 
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME

When my son was five years old he announced to Vonnie and me that when he grew up he wanted to be a community. We didn't understand what he meant so we pressed him for clarity.  He said, "You know; somebody who makes people laugh."  Ah! Comedian. Got it. I like his misuse of the word, however. 

Community!  That's a dream worth dreaming; not that being a comedian isn't fine and good.  Comedians come and go, though.  Community is forever.  And, the church, when it is being what God called her to be, is a God-called, God-shaped, God-formed, God indwelled, and God-empowered COMMUNITY.  The way of God is the way of community—there are no lone ranger Christians and nobody who can say, “I did it by myself.”

The community of Jesus is called to live out their communal faith in the world as a witnessing influence for God.  It is the one fellowship desperately needed by people.  Whenever we think "Church," our minds ought to automatically go to "Community."  Sadly, this connection is not as well practiced as one might think. Charles Swindoll shares this sad but helpful statement he read somewhere:
The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable.  It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.  With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be…a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I beat!”  “I’ve had it!”  (Charles Swindoll, Copyright © 1983 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal; at Christianitytoday.com)
From 1982 to 1993 NBC aired a sitcom entitled Cheers.  The storyline revolved around a bar called, "Cheers."  The words of the theme song for that show are these, written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo,
Making your way in the world today Takes everything you've got;Taking a break from all your worries Sure would help a lot.Wouldn't you like to get away?Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see, Our troubles are all the same;You want to be where everybody knows your name.You want to go where people know, People are all the same;You want to go where everybody knows your name.(Cheers”  featured on NBC from 1982-1993 )
The theme from "Cheers" strikes a cord in all of us, doesn't it? We want a place, a commuity, a safe environment where we are welcomed and received, a place where the folks are glad when we are present, a people where our name is known and we know the names of others, a community where we know we are home. King David wrote, "How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1, NIV). Unity seems far away and out of reach in a world like ours but, actually, it is in reach; In reach, if we will let the Church be the Church. The Church was born in community and she lives and moves and has her being in that unity which is born of God.

In 1975 Broadman Press released a song called, “We are Called to Be God’s People.”  The first verse has captured the heart and spirit of a people when that people lives with Jesus at the center of who they are.

We are called to be God's people  Showing by our lives His grace  One in heart and one in spirit  Sign of hope for all the race  Let us show how He has changed us  And remade us as His own  Let us share our life together  As we shall around His throne
Thomas A. Jackson, 1973, alt. and Franz Joseph Haydn, 1797;
© 1975, Broadman Press
"Showing by our lives His grace."  It is a wonderful time to be the church.  People like you and me are searching for friendship and community.  I'm pretty sure the neighborhood bar is very limited in being that place.    We are looking for a safe place where we are welcomed, received, loved, accepted, and forgiven.  What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3).


May every local congregation of Jesus around the world be that safe place where whoever comes under the influence of the people of that congregation know they are home.  People love them, and want them there.  May the unwritten but unmistakable spiirt of the congregation be, "Welcome home."