Okay, its Halloween, the day the dead rise to bother us.

Maybe Not?

But maybe they won’t. I know it’s October 31, but just thing about it:

  • How do the dead know its October 31?
  • Billions have died/buried, where are they?
  • When the night is over, how do they find the right grave?
  • What’s their range? How far can they really go?
  • And what’s the point? Are they angry about something?

Then there is the fact of it being impossible, but lets not ruin it with the truth.

Its Great for Kids

I loved Halloween. We didn’t spend much time on costumes. They were always homemade, never store bought. Just used some old clothes to become a hobo, or a pirate, and off we went with a pillow case. We ran from door to door to maximize the volume of candy per block covered. It was like science.

Not So Much for Demons

I never cared much for costumes representing the devil, or demons, or something evil. It wasn’t a popular position, but that’s how I felt. But costumes were fun and gathering a gargantuan amount of free candy was even more fun.

My Halloween Wife

My wife loves Halloween. She loves answering the door and talking to the kids and seeing their costumes. She gives candy by the handful. If the trick or treaters are teens, and if they aren’t polite, then she will trick them before treating them. She’ll require them to sing a song to get the candy. She’s maniacal.

Be Careful

You have to be careful these days. In my day Mom and Dad just whisked me and my brothers out the door, with a, “Have fun.” Our only boundary was to be home by 8:30. That was the only boundary needed. We didn’t have to be careful.

It’s different today. It has to be, it’s sad.

In Closing

There is no bewitching hour, no dawn of the dead, no ghosts or goblins or zombies rising to get us on All Hollow’s Eve. Yes, these border-line frightening creations produce a never ending line of bad movies. The kind of movies that are more sketchy than scary and more gross than engrossing. But they can be entertaining if you enjoy such fare.

So have fun tonight. Be safe. Get gobs of good stuff. And remember, its fun to dress up, to play make believe, and to use our imaginations.

Just remember what’s real and who is real.

God bless you.

Exposed Before the Father

I’m blogging this morning about being like God.

Imitating the Father

There is a text in Ephesians that is challenging and a bit disturbing:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  -Ephesians 5:1-2

The idea of imitating the Father scares me. Who am I to be like God? And yet, I am called to do so:

  1. “Be holy as I am holy,” Leviticus 11:44,45
  2. “Just as he is holy…so be holy in all you do,” I Peter 1:16
  3. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Matthew 5:46

Live a Life of Love

Paul provided commentary on what it means to imitate God, “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Once again, we are faced with a calling that reaches beyond rules, is deeper than doctrine, and calls the Christian to a singular standard.

Our lives are about sacrificing for others, as Jesus did. I’ll assume, at least for now, that Paul isn’t calling us to die physically. But maybe he is?

The emphasis of Paul’s teaching was to imitate the Father. God wants me to be like him, to live as he does, to live as his son lived. That’s a lot to ask.

The Sacrifice

When I think of a life that imitates God, I think of these examples:

  1. A devoted parent caring for a special needs child.
  2. A husband or wife caring for a severely disabled spouse.
  3. A soldier volunteering to serve in high risk places.
  4. A single parent working two or three jobs to provide.
  5. Missionaries who spend a life time in hard, third world missions.

There are many more.

Why This Is Difficult

It’s hard because it exposes us. It strips us down, attacks our selfishness, and deflates our egos. It humbles us.

It’s hard because it requires us to surrender, to embrace something higher, to be more. It’s difficult because its sacrificial in nature and it’s not my nature to be sacrificial.

To Close

What should I to do with Ephesians 5:1-2? Can I ignore it? Forget it? Reject it? Sure, I can do that. It’s easy. Or, I can embrace it as God’s will but that will require me to live for others more than I have. It requires me to be like God.

Remember, Paul referenced how Jesus’ sacrifice was a fragrant offering to God. Am I a fragrant offering to God, or do I just smell?

jesus-cross-and-sun

Shalom

Dealing With My Stuff

It’s early Saturday morning and a glorious opportunity to finish my garage project.

Thursday’s Blog

Thursday’s blog was about stuff. How having an overabundance of stuff can master us and how easily we become its servant.

Things and Stuff

The things we have and the stuff we store sometimes have great meaning, or sometimes not. Just consider some of the reasons we have so much:

  1. Sentimental value.
  2. It was on sale so we got one, or two. Maybe three.
  3. A project couldn’t be done without it.
  4. It was a gift and it would be tacky to throw it away.
  5. An inheritance, it’s our legacy.
  6. We know that one day it will be needed.
  7. Don’t want to be wasteful.
  8. We bought the thing, there must have been a good reason.

And so on.

Unpacking

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Not My Garage Or My Stuff, But Close

Yesterday morning, in the garage, I was unpacking the last few boxes. I was excited as it meant the end was near.

I’ve been slowly building a work bench. The project grew from simple to complicated. It was finished with two coats of walnut stain and two coats of polyurethane. It’s gorgeous and I’m never going to use it. It’s too nice to use. Didn’t really need it anyway. Just seemed manly.

 Anyhow, I was putting stuff on the workbench shelves and was amazed at all I had. There were tools, hardware, bits and pieces, rope, wire nuts, wood glue, all kinds of liquids in tubes and bottles and cans, and a huge collection of various odds and ends. Wow, what a treasure!

None was inherited. None had sentimental value. None was bought on sale. I just had it.

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Not My Garage Or My Motorcycle, Not Even Close

In Closing

I’ll finish by saying,

“Good morning Holy Spirit. I greet you in faith and with a smile. I will strive to keep in step with your lead and my thoughts and actions will reflect your presence. Thank you for all the people in my life, for my ministry, and thank you for the joy of living. Thank you for my home and for all the things I have. I am truly a blessed man. Amen.”

Is It Love or Stuff?

I have a lot of stuff. I have all kinds of stuff. I may have too much.

The Garage Project

The garage needs attention. Granted, we moved in to a new house about six weeks ago and it takes some time to get organized. Just the same, I’ve stepped up to get it done. Last week I had a stomach virus. This week I have a garage virus. I need to purge some stuff.

Storage Rental?

One source states that America has 48,000 mini-storage places. That’s an average of 960 storage places per state. Just think about it.

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Another source reports:

  • America has 2.3 billion square feet of rental storage space
  • 50% of all mini-storage is for stuff that won’t fit in our homes
  • 15% reported that they rent space to store stuff they no longer want

Seriously?

Here’s The Deal

The deal is that we love to hoard. We gather more and more and end up having to store what we don’t use, need, or even want. We could pay off the national debt with a country wide garage sale. We’ll sell our unused, unneeded stuff to other countries. Let somebody else store it.

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Some Perspective

Jesus said that he had no place to lay his head. I guess that meant he wasn’t a home owner. When he died, as far as I know, all he had to his name were the clothes on his back. Then the soldiers gambled for his clothes. He died penniless and naked.

Does it pain you that the King of Kings owned nothing? That the creator of the universe, the architect and builder of our world, died on the old rugged cross without one piece of stuff to his name?

Jesus would struggle as an American.

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To Close

Someone once said that love makes the world go round. They were probably right. But today, I believe it isn’t love that spins the world, it’s stuff.

Just a thought.

Shalom

They Did It Again

There have been moments of great generosity in my life.

Some Examples

  1. My brother buying lunch nearly every day my sophomore year.
  2. A good man taught me to fly fish and gave me my first fly rod.
  3. My Grandmother sent me money for my birthday.
  4. Friends who helped support me through preaching school.
  5. A four-year-old who shared his grilled cheese sandwich with me.

There are other examples of great generosity and some of them include greater amounts of money. But the generous heart can’t always be measured by monetary value. What’s the value of half a grilled cheese sandwich?  

It’s More Blessed to Give

It’s recorded that Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” Is it?  What is the blessing? Will more money come back than what I give? Will the blessing be a warm feeling for having done something good? Will a smiling face be the reward?  

Two Weeks Ago

Two Sundays ago, the church I serve was asked to help the people of Haiti, to support the relief efforts in Cite Soleil after hurricane Matthew. So they helped. They always do. They have the most caring, compassionate, and generous hearts of any people I have ever known.

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How Will They Be Blessed?

“Those who honor me I will honor, says the Lord.” “Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers you did for me.” “You reap what you sow.” “Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”

I can’t say exactly how anyone will be blessed for their gifts. Jesus said that if we seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, that goods things will come to us. I believe.

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All I Know

I know this. The Southeast family is completing a nearly $3,000,000 capital campaign. They have supported the general budget, and they continue to give and bless and help time and time again. And then again. They are just the best!

To Close

I’m just proud of my church.

God bless them. Please.

Logo slide reverse

I’m Not a Child

I picked up a stomach virus last week. O joy of joys. Can you believe it?

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Not Me Or My Pajamas, But Close

Here’s The Thing

The thing about a stomach virus is that it tends to destroy your life. Then it ratchets down to a horrible inconvenience. Finally, it dissipates and fades away. Like the plague, it leaves behind a trail of brokenness and fear.

Top Ten Things I Like About A Stomach Virus

10. You get to miss work

 9. 

  8.

  7.

  6.

  5.

  4.

  3.

  2.

  1.

That’s all I have.

Such A Child

I’m not the best patient when I’m sick, maybe it’s because I have no patience for it. The person who really suffers is my wife. She has to nurse me back to health. Sad for her. I whine a lot, complain about vomiting for the 29th time, and constantly want things but can never decide what. I do want all the medicines I can get but don’t believe they will help. It must be like dealing with a child. I’m not a child. Mostly.

Better Now

I’m a tiny bit better and beginning to feel almost not sick. But I’m on my guard, you never know, these things come back, can have a relapse. Can’t have that. No sir.

A Day Is Coming

There will be a day when all stomach viruses will go away and not come back. There will be no more fever, projectile vomiting, or debilitating diarrhea. Can you imagine? It will come, it will happen. Probably the day after my funeral.

But I Soldier On

I soldier on because that’s what soldiers do, and I’m a soldier, sort of. It’s time to get up off the mat, pull up my boots, tighten my belt, it needs tightening due to the 64 pounds the flu beat out of me. Okay, didn’t really lose 64 pounds, but still. I need to get back to being a healthy, strong, functioning human being. Wow, I love the way that sounds. Go Rick.

To Close

It’s possible that I’ve exaggerated my stomach virus experience. Maybe. However, it’s Monday morning and I’m returning to the land of the living. There are sermons to write, meetings to attend, and people to serve. It’s time.

So I’ll leave you with this:

“Good morning Holy Spirit. Thank you for sharing your divine nature with me. Thank you for being such a wonderful gift. Please help me to be the man you want me to be, to serve to glorify our Father, and to do something that advances his kingdom. Amen.”

Shalom

The Ubiquitous Straw

The ubiquitous drinking straw. As a child I thought they were pretty amazing. Clearly it didn’t take much to amaze me. 

The Straw

I see people using straws in different ways. Some drink from them. Some chew on a straw until it’s all chewed up. Others use them as drum sticks, beating the time to whatever song is playing in their heads. Some people twist them into shapes.

Marvin C. Stone

 Do you know Mr. Stone of Washington D.C.? He patented the drinking straw on January 3, 1888. He came upon the idea while enjoying a cool drink on a hot day. His straws were made of paper.

Joseph B. Friedman

Forty years after Mr. Stone’s patented paper straw, Mr. Friedman, of San Francisco, CA, invented the plastic, flexible, bending straw. It revolutionized the industry.

Yet Vestergaard Frandsen

A straw of a different color. In 2006, Mr. Frandsen, and his Swiss based company, conceived, designed and manufactured the LifeStraw, a microbiological filter tube that can take in filthy water and purify it by the time it reaches the user.

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LifeStraw removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 98% of waterborne viruses. People in third world countries can drink from contaminated ponds, rivers, and stagnant pools.

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In Haiti

LifeStraw is saving lives in Haiti. After hurricane Matthew, many are tempted to drink the contaminated flood waters, or from polluted rivers and streams. The LifeStraw makes it possible to stay hydrated and avoid disease. It’s a modern miracle of science. And a donation to Hope For Haiti’s Children will help them get more of these little miracles into Haiti.

http://www.hopeforhaitischildren.org

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Personally

I personally prefer the little plastic stir sticks found in coffee houses and wherever better coffee is served. They aren’t really straws but that doesn’t matter. They are small, compact, and great for chewing. I don’t really chew them but thought it made me sound cool.

To Close

There are many great ideas for helping people in 3rd world countries. But unfortunately, most of them require some kind of infrastructure, a better government, or something to already in place in order work.

The LifeStraw isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require an infrastructure, a better government or anything at all.

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Now, if you will excuse me, my coffee needs stirring. 

Peace 

An Amazing Evening

Tuesday evening I attended the Yom Kippur service at Temple Emanu El.

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Temple Emanu El in Houston

The Synagogue

The Synagogue was beautiful, large, and tastefully done. The presence of the law of Moses and the Prophets was obvious, and good.

The Service

Yom Kippur is the Great Day of Atonement found in Leviticus 16 and perhaps the greatest of the high holy days in the Jewish calendar, perhaps only Pesach, or Passover, equals it.

The service was two hours long, and the congregation of about 1500 attendees stood for most of it. Standing is a demonstration of honor and respect for Yahweh and for Torah. I’ll admit my feet were tired and sore.

The service consisted of prayers, songs, and readings. It was very well done and deeply personal.

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Standing For Most of The Service, Both Young and Old

Some Observations

  1. I have rarely been among people in possession of such a reverential focus. They didn’t fidget, shift, or move. They stood quietly in honor of Yahweh.
  2. The music was phenomenal. Some was acapella, some with a string ensemble, and some with an organ. It stirred me greatly.
  3. The prayers, of which there were many, were sung by the Cantor, in Hebrew. I didn’t follow most of it but was moved by all of it.
  4. There were moments of great passion and of quiet reflection.
  5. I couldn’t help noticing the lack of technology. There were no screens, projectors, or monitors. There were no power point presentations. Nothing but the hearts and voices of people of a deep and abiding faith.

Honoring Their Ancestors

One part of the service honored their ancestors. When this was introduced my immediate thought was grandparents, great-grandparents and so forth. Nope. They honored Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachael.

I sat there in awe as I released I was in the company of hundreds of people who traced their ancestry to Abraham. Frankly, it was inspiring.

Sin

Part of the high holy days of October includes fasting, confession, and repentance for sins. There was a deep emphasis on the recognition of sin and for seeking Adonai’s mercy. It was convicting, impactful, and cleansing.

Yeshua Ben Yosef

I’m a believer in Yeshua Ben Yosef, or Jesus son of Joseph. The people around me were not. My heart aches for them and when I pray for the Jewish people, I pray not for nationalism but for their acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God.

To Close

I completely enjoyed my visit. The service was marvelous and their devotion to God was every bit as real and sincere as anyone I know.

By the way. How is your faith in Jesus? Is it strong? Are you fully engulfed in a life devoted to serving and honoring him? Am I?

Just a thought.

Shalom

A Tale of Two Men

Two men went to the temple to pray. One was arrogant. One wasn’t.

The Men

The first man was highly respected. He was devoted to obeying the law of Moses as perfectly as humanly possible. His whole hearted devotion caused others to hold him in high regard.

The second man was a traitor. He was thought to be crooked and unscrupulous and as such he was anathema to his people. He was despised.

The Issue

The first man devolved into self-righteousness. He thought way too much of himself and way too little of others. He believed himself superior and allowed the adulation of “lesser” people to go to his head.

The other man was a terrible sinner and lived out of harmony with others. The subsequent ridicule and isolation ultimately brought him to his knees. In his brokenness, he found  humility. He knew he wasn’t better than anyone. He didn’t try to be.

Just Imagine

Just imagine that you are walking down a street and come upon the first man. Dressed in his religious finery, you recognize him as someone respected by the people and you have a sense of being blessed for having come close to him.

As you go, you come upon the second man and immediately know he is someone to be shunned. You quickly cross to the other side of the street, averting your eyes, and wanting no contact of any kind with him.

What You Didn’t Know

What you didn’t know is that both men were on their way to the temple to pray. On arrival, the first man prayed a self-righteous prayer, expecting God to reward his moral excellence. He even thanked God that he was better than other men, even mentioning the second man who was there in the temple.

When the second man prayed, he didn’t compare himself to others, he didn’t thank God that he was better. In his brokenness, he lowered his head and begged God for his mercy, for he knew that he was a sinner and only God can forgive.

As They Left

As they left the temple, which man do you think God blessed?

Well, it wasn’t the Pharisee, for he was proud, arrogant, and self-righteous. No, in the parable of Luke 18, it was the second man who was blessed, the Jewish man employed by Rome to collect taxes from his people. It seems counter intuitive that the abject sinner was blessed instead of the celebrated clergyman. But he was. The heart matters.  

pharisee   taxcollector

Now…

Be honest, as you passed each of them in the street, were you more like the Pharisee or more like the tax collector?

Just a thought.

Shalom

Creating A Beautiful Flower Bed

It took a week but I did it. I transformed a weed filled flower bed, bordered by a big boxwood hedge, into something beautiful. I had to cut, uproot, and dig. Tough work.

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Not My Flower Bed Or My Weeds, But Its Close

And Today…

Today I have the following:

  1. A stiff back.
  2. Shoulder pain.
  3. Raw knees.
  4. Many mosquito/insect bites.
  5. Legs, arms, and hands are nicked, cut, and scraped.

But it’s so worth it. The flower bed looks sensational!

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Not My Flower Bed Or My Flowers, Not Even Close

What Would Be Amazing

What would be amazing is if we could overhaul everything as easily as an overgrown flower bed. A rotten disposition, no problem. Marital discord, no worries. Reversal of fortune, got it covered. Yep, a little hard work, some weed pulling, and bingo, it’s done!

Not going to happen? Probably not. But it would be amazing if we could.

What Would Be Really Amazing

What would be really amazing is if we could fix places like Haiti as easily as a flower bed. Change their government, establish a firm rule of law, develop a thriving economy, and return their land to high yield productivity. Build world class schools and medical facilities, and make it attractive for global industry to expand in Haiti. Maybe even move the island of Hispaniola about hundred miles east, just enough to get them out of hurricane alley.

Not going to happen? Probably not. But it would be amazing if we could.  

What Would Be Even More Amazing

What would be even more amazing is if we could overhaul people as easily as a flower bed? Criminals, abusers, the violent, the hateful, and the murdering malefactors could all be transformed into healthy, productive, responsible people.

And Wouldn’t It Be Truly Amazing

What would be truly amazing is if American politics could be transformed from the back biting, knife stabbing, slap fest campaigns into something decent and respectable?

Not going to happen? Probably not. But it would be amazing if we could.

And The Most Amazing Of All

The most amazing thing of all is the amazing grace of the Lord our God. From his grace comes transformation, regeneration, and renewal. The old can disappear and the new can thrive in the brightest glory of the kingdom of light. Sin is sent away. Guilt is gone. The new evolves and the old dissolves; for we are born again of the water and Spirit.

Not going to happen? It absolutely happens, and is happening, and it’s amazing when it does.  

Just a few amazing thoughts.

Shalom