Halloween: Light of the World?

About Fall Festival

What Churches Are Doing

A quick Google reveals that many churches offer an annual Fall Festival. They offer it as an alternative to Halloween. The message?

“Come out of the darkness and into the light.”

Halloween Concerns?

  • Some say Halloween supports the worship of evil.
  • Others suggest it’s unsafe to eat the treats given by strangers.
  • Many fear the strangers.
  • Are these valid concerns? Just read your newspaper the day after.

Have we exchanged our fear of witches, goblins, and zombies for our fear of kidnappers, malevolent candy givers, and unsafe neighborhoods?

Our church’s Fall Festival doesn’t replace Halloween, it’s on a different night. Some believe that the light of the world still needs to be out there and not be hidden under the bowl of a church fun night.

Still, our Fall Festival has hundreds of community guests. And this year, we offered more than treats. We set up a “store” with all kinds of supplies like food items, bedding, cleaning supplies, school supplies, clothes, and much more, available for anyone, for free. Many visitors left with bags of needed items.

Me?

I love Fall Festival. We have bouncy houses, cotton candy and popcorn, and a great meal. There’s a petting zoo, an arcade with decent video games, and super-heroes walking around being super. It encourages fun costumes and discourages the imitation of evil. Families young and old interact and have great fun.

rick and chicken
Not my pet, but close, really very close. I think it was a chicken? 

I’m grateful for my church staff who envision such events and produce a fantastic experience. Our Children’ Ministers, Youth Minister, and Media Director deserve a lot of gratitude.

My Favorite Part?

It was a family whose house had been flooded and destroyed by Harvey. They aren’t members of my church. I met them and then helped carry bags of needed items to their car.

Yes, their children left with bags of candy! They all left with bags of something.

I guess there are many ways to be the light of the world.

Shalom

Our Most Exciting House

The house we were most excited about.

Which One?

The View? In our first ministry, a couple from church offered us their home at no cost to us. The house was in an upscale neighborhood in the hills above Los Angeles, with a pool, and an amazing back yard with an amazing view. We didn’t own it, but we loved living there.

beacon-hill-griffith-park-view
We loved living there, it had a gorgeous view.

The Acre? Years later, we got a house on an acre, about a mile from the church. It had oak floors and lots of charm. It was like living in a huge garden. Each time I pulled into the driveway I felt so happy.  We loved living there.

The Atrium? Currently, we live in a beautiful neighborhood of custom homes with mature trees and landscaping. It’s gorgeous here. It also has a pool, a charming atrium with a water-feature and fire pit. For us, it’s a cool house. We love living here.

Which was our favorite, the one we are were the most excited about? None of them.

Our favorite house was only 1450 square feet. It wasn’t fancy or upscale. It didn’t have hardwood floors, a pool, or a great view. It was a starter house, but it was our house. It’s where we brought our son when he was born. We were so excited to live there..

Now Jesus: John 2:17

“His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Jesus was in his Father’s house just after his birth. He was there at age twelve. He was there during Passover, the week of his death. He was in God’s house many times.

To Close

There are things Jesus did that I can’t do. I can’t walk on water or turn water into wine. I can’t feed the multitudes with a few a few fish and loaves. I can’t heal the sick or give sight, hearing and mobility to those without them. I can’t live a perfect life.

But there is one thing I can do.

I can be consumed with zeal for his house.

Not a house with architecture and a parking lot, not a building, but the house of God that is the sacred community of Christ.

This morning, I’ll be speaking on the theme of, “Zeal For God’s House.” Come join us at 10:00, or watch the livestream from our site: www.southeastonline.org                 

God’s house is the house I’m most excited about!

Not A Superstar, Or Even A Star!

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player.

Why Is That?

I was never any good. In fact, I wasn’t any good at several sports.

  • Baseball: couldn’t hit, field, or throw.
  • Golf: lowest score is an 87, clubs in the attic.
  • Tennis: couldn’t find the sweet spot.
  • Hockey: never tried, assuming I wouldn’t have been a star.
  • Swimming: love to swim, but competitive swimming?

Five sports in which I didn’t get trophies, scholarships or professional sponsors.

Didn’t Try Hard Enough?

Optimism is good. Some say if you hold on to your dream, work hard enough and never give up, that you will succeed. Maybe. But at 7’-1” and 260 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal could never have won the Kentucky Derby. No matter how optimistic, he was never going to be a winning jockey.

I was never going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, or quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, or beat Jack Nicholas’s record of 18 major golf tournaments.

At age 61, the dream is probably over.

houston-astros
Not me out there on the playing field, not even close.

Now Jesus, Matthew 9:36

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Some of us didn’t become super-stars, or even stars. In fact, some of us became lost sheep, suffering life’s harassing hardships, and needing a helping hand.  

To Close

As I watch our Houston Astros in the World Series, I’m glad they were blessed with the gifts, opportunities, and drive to succeed at that  level.

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player. I’m happy being a rescued sheep.

Thank you Jesus.

“Hey, Your Blinker Is On”

You know you are getting older when…

  1. You forget to take the things you wanted to take.
  2. You leave things around the house that you can’t find.
  3. You miss turns and streets on your way home.
  4. You forget what day it is.
  5. You change lanes and leave your blinker blinking, forever.

I have no experience with the above list, they just came to me while writing this blog. Sometimes I do some of them. Some more than others. Maybe one or two of them a lot. Maybe.

Yesterday

Driving back to the office from lunch, a car came alongside and the driver was waving to get my attention. It was odd, but he persisted. So, I rolled my window down and here is what he said,

“Your blinker is on.”

I guess he had been behind me for a while and was irritated that my signal was on but I wasn’t turning, ever. Some call that, “An Eventual Right.”

right turn blinker
Not my car or my right turn signal, but close, really very close.

The driver was young, polite, and was smiling. Or was he laughing? I got the feeling that his telling me about the blinker was his way of serving society and making Houston a better place to live. He seemed pleased and proud. Uh Huh.

What I Said

I said to him, “Okay, thanks,” and rolled up the window. I was a little bit annoyed. His rather manic waving suggested I might have been dragging my bumper or something. But no, it was the blinker.

Now Jesus: Matthew 7:3

“’Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”                                                                

 Jesus spoke of our being judgmental about the minor weaknesses of others while ignoring the major failings in our lives. He would call it, “Hypocritical.”

Was his pointing out my forever blinker a speck or a plank in his eye? Or neither? Was my annoyance with him a speck or a plank in mine?

To Close

We can all be a little more tolerant, offering a little more grace to others. Yes, there are those who are annoying. But let’s practice the peace that passes all understanding, and not forgetting to check our mirrors for planks.

By the way, the young man was right, my blinker was on. I sheepishly turned it off.

Shalom

It’s Astro’s Time!

On the nature of sport’s-fans.

The True Believers

These people are all in, win or lose. They wear the jerseys, t-shirts, and ball caps. They’ll have snacks, but not chips and dip. Nope, they’ll have wings, poppers, and pizza and something special at halftime. They’ll get loud and excited. They are the true believers, the true sports fans.

Fair-Weather Fans

These people don’t believe. They are casual observers and won’t wear anything special. They snack on microwave popcorn and carrot sticks. They only watch if the team is in the playoffs. They won’t get loud and excited. They aren’t true believers, they aren’t true sports fans.

How Do I Know?

Because I’ve been both types. I’ve been the die-hard supporter and the casual observer. 

My Die-Hard Sports

  • College Football
  • Pro-Football
  • Summer/Winter Olympics

My Fair-Weather Sports

  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Track and Field

My I Don’t Care Sports

  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Racing (horses, cars, boats, etc.)

You have your own lists. No judging please. It is what it is. Thank you for not writing.

Here’s Something

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Any anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27.

Did Jesus ask us to literally hate ourselves and our families to be his disciples? Probably not since he didn’t mean for us to carry a literal cross and to literally follow him.

Jesus wants us all in. To wear the hats and the t-shirts. To show up for every game. To get loud and excited. To be the true sports fans of his word.

new-york-yankees-vs-houston-astros-20082014As a Houstonian, I’m excited the Astros are in the World Series, and I’ll watch every game, and with above average snacks. But honestly, I hadn’t watched a single game until the American League Championship with the Yankees. Clearly, I’m a fair-weather fan and not a true believer.

To Close

Jesus seeks the true believers, and he isn’t much interested in the other kind.

Have a good week.

Pass the Chow Mein Please

Here is a story for you.

The Neighbor

Our Preschool Minister, who has been busy serving in relief efforts, was approached by her neighbor asking for help for her parents. Their house was damaged in the storm and had a leaky roof.

Her Response

She told her neighbor, “Sure, we can help.” She gathered a work crew and asked them to do what they could to help her neighbor’s parents leaky roof. And so, they did.

What Happened?

As they were getting started, a work crew from a different church showed up. Evidently, the other group had volunteered and the older couple forgot to tell their daughter.

The second group offered to get up on the roof and take care of it. Our group said, “Sure, thanks.” And so, they did.

And Then?

The older couple, feeling a little awkward that our group had come but wasn’t needed, offered to take them to lunch! And so, they did.

They took them to a Chinese Restaurant.

See The Picture

Gathered for lunch were the Vietnamese couple who didn’t speak English, the work crew who didn’t speak Vietnamese, sitting together in a Chinese Restaurant with menus written in Spanish, which neither the Vietnamese couple or work crew could read.

“Dinner Is Served”

Houston’s Population

  • Vietnamese-100,000
  • Chinese-90,000
  • Hispanic-1.7 million
  • The work crew not speaking Vietnamese, Chinese, or Spanish-4
  • Making it all possible: Our Preschool Minister-1 
around-the-world-in-houston-thailand-696x407
Count The Different Cultures In This Picture of a Houston Store

To Close

What in the world did they have in common?

  • A desire to help others in need.
  • The need to show appreciation.
  • A willingness to reach across barriers.
  • The humility that brings people together.
  • The fact that everyone likes Chinese food.

Shalom

The Secret to Success

It’s hard to see and get the things we set out to see and get.

Spotting Game

A friend says she saw scores of elk on the side of the road, at night. I was in the car behind them and saw no elk at all. I think she saw scores of rural mailboxes.

A friend I had been staying with, warned me that the deer were active and that he had  recently hit two of them. I said, “Yes, I’ve come around curves and seen them standing in the road.” He said, Yes, but I’m talking about deer who step out in front of you at the last second and before you can hit the brakes, you’ve hit the deer. Be careful going down the mountain.” 

So, I carefully drove, in the dark, ten miles an hour, certain I would hit a deer. I spotted some, but they turned out to be bushes or small trees, which I didn’t hit. I saw no deer.

Catching Fish

I fly fish the Conejos River, catching brown and rainbow trout. I practice catch and release, but before I can release, I have to catch, and I don’t catch many. Seems everyone else catches by the dozen, but not me.

My Point

The things we seek in life can be elusive. Like the deer, elk, or trout, or whatever it is we seek. You can fish all day and catch nothing, or go hunting and never see even one.

Is life like that? Do we seek things that are elusive and hard to get?

  1. Bigger
  2. Better
  3. More
  4. Unnecessary
  5. Unhealthy

Do we set our hearts on things beyond our reach? Beyond what is good for us?

If I focus on what God has promised: grace, divine connection, my basic daily needs, then I’m never disappointed.

When I fix my heart on what’s not been promised, well, that’s when I get frustrated and irritated.

To Close

I’ll keep fishing, but I’ll keep in mind that God hasn’t promised a lot of fish.

Shalom

Is This The End?

At long last, the end has come!

What Has?

Well, the end of my Harvey bloggs. Since the storm left Houston I’ve blogged 24 times about Harvey.

This is the 25th and final time.

Some Observations

  1. I’ve never seen this level of devastation.
  2. Houstonians weren’t hit by a hurricane, but by a tropical storm.
  3. If it had passed quickly, we would have been okay.
  4. I’ve never seen people helping like they have.
  5. The heroic efforts of the rescuers were amazing.

Some Memories

  1. The trucks, boats, and helicopters.
  2. People on their roof tops.
  3. Walking the neighborhood between the rain bands.
  4. The five-day junk food fest.
  5. Praying for it to stop.

Grateful

I’m grateful to friends who stayed in constant contact. On one stressful night, the worse night of all, I texted with friends till 4:30 AM. We couldn’t sleep due to the lightening, thunder, and tornados.

Not Total Devastation

About 140,000 residences were damaged or destroyed. But many came through Harvey unscathed. In fact, millions in the greater Houston area had no flooding at all, and a majority of those never saw the water get even curb high.

 

Harvey
Hurricane Harvey struck south Texas. Then Tropical Storm Harvey headed for Houston. 

To Close

The storm gave its worst and the people gave their best. They gave themselves to assist and to save. It was our finest hour and it still is.

In the storm, in the darkness and devastation, there has been a divine presence, a leading of the Spirit, a sense that the highest power of all was getting our attention. Did he? Does he still?

May God be with you.

Odd Responses to Being Helped

There are some odd responses to receiving help.

people waiting to be rescued

  1. Minimizing the Assistance

Minimizing is common, especially for those who see others in worse condition.

“Don’t help me, there are so many who need it more than I do.”

It’s true that often there are others requiring greater assistance. The person with a roof leak isn’t first in line, that goes to the person with a flooded house and no place to go.

 Often, the “lightly affected” feel guilty for asking, or receiving, assistance.

Someone with a broken leg shouldn’t refuse help because someone else has a gushing head wound. Severe injuries need attention, but at some point, so does the broken leg.

  1. Rejecting the Assistance

Some reject assistance due to stubborn pride. They would rather go down with the ship then accept a hand out, or admit they need help.

“I can take care of myself, go help somebody else.”

After Harvey, I met people with this level of pride. It offended them that I thought they needed help, so, they refused it.

The prideful person with a broken leg knows there are others needing help, others without their resilience and strength. Although their broken leg is  painful, and prohibits them from getting up or walking, they still feel good about their pride being intact.

  1. Indulging the Assistance

Some respond to trauma by indulging every want and desire. They take advantage, demanding they get everything. Workers come to fix their damaged roof, but then are expected to repair everything in the house.

It’s the person in the hospital with a broken leg and insisting on a face lift, a tummy-tuck, and a little liposuction. Then they want a daily massage and maybe a few elective surgeries, all provided by someone else.

“I need a lot of help, while you’re fixing my leg, go ahead and fix everything.”

Some respond to trauma by demanding a level of care beyond what’s reasonable. It comes from the fear and anxiety they can’t seem to shake. So, they indulge in the help of others as a means of coping.

Me?

During Harvey, our roof leaked, and our dining room ceiling was destroyed, our kitchen ceiling was damaged, and a wall had to be stripped to the studs.

I didn’t tell anyone, that was me in the 1st group. Then I refused help, that was me in the 2nd group. Then I wanted someone to come and take care of everything, that was me in the 3rd group.

I understand.

To Close

People laugh at trauma. They deny anxiety and fear. They push it into a jar, screw the lid on tight, and set it in the pantry. Not a healthy response.

We all need a little help. We need a hand and need to extend one. The best response to trauma is to deal with it intelligently, which may mean talking to someone, or getting help in some other way, or maybe offering it.

Today: Be safe, make good choices, and rely fully on God.

 

Fast or Far: You Decide

Here are a few thoughts on togetherness.

Going Fast

In High School, I was a sprinter. I ran the 100 and the 220. Sprinters run on nervous energy and adrenalin and rely only on themselves. They are quick, but they don’t go very far.

Going Far

The cross-country team ran a 2.3 mile course. They trained together and competed as a team. For distance running, they did better as a group.

When I worked with Hope For Haiti’s Children I made many trips to Haiti. Sometimes I went alone and sometimes with a large group. When I went alone I could visit all the schools in a day or two. But the large groups did something I couldn’t, they put on medical clinics and served hundreds of kids. Going alone was faster, but the group got much more accomplished. Working together was the key.

Now Jesus

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead…” Luke 9:51-52

Only Jesus could die on the cross. It’s why he came. He could have gone to Jerusalem alone, but he didn’t, his disciples went with him. They went together.

Now Paul

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Paul elevated the value of connection, of the fellowship of believers. Caring for each other is how a church is sustained and grows, by doing it together.

In Closing

Here is an old proverb:

“If you want to fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.

The body of Christ is a sacred community and the community exists in service to one another.

god lending a hand
We all need a hand once in a while. 

Spiritually, we go farther by going together. If you doubt it, just ask the people whose homes were destroyed by Harvey.

It’s just a few thoughts on togetherness. 

Shalom