Gathering a Circle

My cousins and I were once asked to heard some chickens. It was a joke on us.

Chickens won’t heard. 

boy and chickens
Not me or the chickens I chased, but close, really very close.

Other Animals Difficult to Heard

  • lizards
  • goats
  • badgers
  • humming birds
  • small children  . 

Last Night

We tried something different. We asked our Life Groups to come to the building. They didn’t all come, but 16 groups did and about 250 people gathered. We had to set up more tables and chairs. We talked and visited and enjoyed seeing everyone. There was a fun table game for everyone to do.

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Then we stood and lined the four walls of the gym. We were crowded and people stood shoulder to shoulder and two and three deep. We sang a few songs, had a prayer, and then left to have our Life Group meetings in classrooms. It was organized for two groups to meet together, an older and a younger, it was inner-generational. The teens, middle schoolers and children had their own events. 

It was simply marvelous. 

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The Connection

People got acquainted that had never met. We each shared a few thoughts about ourselves. We laughed a lot and realized how much we all had in common, from people in their 30’s to people in their 80’s. 

We called the event, “The Circle.” 

Jesus had circles. His apostles were a circle of followers. Among them were a smaller circle of three: Peter, James and John. He also had a close circle of friends: Lazarus, Martha and Mary, a family of a brother and two sisters. Jesus often stayed in their home. 

To close

Crowds can be unruly. Goats will find their own way. Kids run and play. Getting any group of people to cooperate can be challenging. 

But last night, we had the Circle and then had smaller circles. It was tremendous. I enjoyed people of all ages and could easily see Jesus in their lives.

It wasn’t like the chickens at all!

Shalom

Even His Clothes

Labor Day

Sure, why not? Let’s have a national day of non-labor.

 Labor Day was created by the labor movement and inaugurated as a federal holiday in 1894. For a 124 years we’ve recognized the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Congratulations, you don’t have to go to work.

The Timing

I find the timing interesting. After three months of Americans taking time off for vacations, trips, and get aways, we enter September with a day off of work. Banks are closed, schools are closed (having just started). Federal offices are closed, no mail.  

You know who isn’t closed today:

  • Starbucks
  • Home Depot & Lowe’s
  • Denny’s 

So it isn’t all bad. Even on Labor Day you can get a cup of coffee, a Grand Slam breakfast, and whatever you need for home care and repair, so labor on. 

My Labor

I’ve labored, here’s a partial list:

  • 8th grade I did yard care for my Bible Class teacher.
  • 9th grade I used a hoe to weed crop fields.
  • 10th grade I worked on two different farms and a hog farm. 
  • 11th grade I put up hay bales, all summer long.
  • 12th grade I worked after school at the Skelly Gas Station out on the hi-way.

I earned $1.00 an hour for weeding fields. Farm work got $1.25 an hour. The Skelly Station paid a $1.50 an hour, It was skilled labor! 

And Now?

Well, now I’m the Senior Minister for the Southeast Church of Christ in Friendswood, Texas, a very pleasant Houstonian suburb. It’s a great job and I’m blessed to have it.

Reasons for feeling blessed:

  • I have a job instead of being unemployed.
  • I make more than a $1.50 an hour.
  • Only work one day a week. (as some suggest)
  • It’s a great church
  • Get to work with a phenomenally gifted staff.

 

And Jesus?

Was Jesus ever employed? Scripture says he was a carpenter, which is a bit confusing since the word translated as “carpenter” actually means builder. Most building in Palestine was done with stone. Was he ever paid? 

He once said that he had no place to lay his head. People gave money for he and his apostles to travel and minister; and we know Judas stole from the fund, but was that gainful employment? 

At his death Jesus owned nothing. Even the clothes on his back were taken. With outstretched arms he hung naked on the cross and the King of Kings owned nothing; no money, property, or possessions.

He preached, healed and ministered to the masses, all for no charge. He never asked for anything. Well, he once asked a woman for a drink of water.

Thank you Jesus. You were the son of Joseph, the son of David, the Son of God. You were the Lamb that gave his life. You were the perfect sacrifice to bring us back to God. You  labored to get it all done and get it done you did, you even said so:

“It is finished.”
And then you died.

The Bible

Happy Labor Day

Which One Are You?

Sponge, Funnel, Strainer and Sifter

sponge  funnel  strainer  sifter 2

 

What?

From the Rabbinical Jewish Talmud, there are four types of students, or hearers, who sit among the Rabbis.

1.”The sponge,” who soaks up everything.

2.”The funnel,” who takes in at one end but lets it go at the other end.

3. “The strainer,” who strains the wine but retains the lees. 

4. “The sifter,” who removes the coarse meal but collects the flour.

Sound Familiar?

It is similar to the teaching Jesus gave about the farmer who went out to plant his seed. It wasn’t about the farmer, but the different soils the seed was cast upon. There were four:

  1. The packed soil of the hard path that was impossible to penetrate.
  2. The rocky soil so full of rocks the roots had no place to go.
  3. The weedy soil that kept the plant from maturing and becoming fruitful.
  4. The healthy soil that was soft, receptive, and ready to support life. 

As we know, Jesus spoke the parable to illustrate four kinds of hearts.  

The Project

Over the summer I’ve been transforming my back yard. Not the whole yard but the flower beds that line the fence on three sides. They were overgrown with bushes, shrubs, trees, flowers, vines, and ground cover; it looked like a rain forest. Besides being an overwhelming jungle it was just too much to maintain. So, I’ve been thinning, pruning, and removing. I’ve been pulling out three kinds of wild vines and all the ground cover.

Along the way I encountered four kinds of dirt:

  1. Dirt that hadn’t been worked in years, it was hard and unyielding. 
  2. Dirt that was saturated with small rocks form earlier landscaping.
  3. Dirt that was rooted from the weedy and thorny vines.
  4. Dirt that was soft, clean and without rocks, roots, or weeds. 

I’ve spent the summer digging, pulling, uprooting, cutting, raking and leveling. It’s September 2 and it’s finally coming together! Yeah. 

If the soil had all been #4 soil I would have been finished weeks ago.

When it comes to cleaning up an unkept flower bed, give me soft soil without weeds, vines, or rocks. With clean and receptive soil I can easily plant new things and shape the soil to accommodate whatever I want to do.

With Jesus

I hope that’s how Jesus finds my heart. With a clean and receptive heart he can easily plant new teaching and shape me to accommodate whatever he wants me to do.

clean soil

But am I? Am I the 4th soil? Am I the sponge? Or am I something else. What about you? 

Shalom

My First & Last Day On The Farm

He handed me the keys to a 4 x 4 truck, a dually, towing a propane tank. I was 14. 

truck and propane trailor
Not the truck and propane trailer I used, but close, really very close 🙂

So there I was, an unlicensed driver, with no experience, driving a truck pulling a large propane tank. Uh Huh, sure. 

The Why

It was a summer job. He was a deacon at church and needed help around his farm. I had never worked on a farm largely because I had never been on one. 

The What

He had several large fields and various properties. My job was to drive to them and do weed control. When he offered the job he asked, “Rick, you can you drive a truck can’t you?” I replied, “Yes sir, I can drive a truck” 

I couldn’t.

The How

The procedures:

  1. Go to each place and park the truck
  2. Open the handle on top of  the propane tank
  3. Use the striker to light the torch
  4. Torch the weeds as far as the hose allowed
  5. Move the truck and repeat the process

The First Incident

He told me to stay on the “path” that bordered the fields on each side. I was in the fields to kill the weeds growing around the fence posts. His warning, “Rick, don’t get off the path or you’ll get stuck in the field.” Guess what happened? That was the 1st incident and he wasn’t happy.

The Second Incident

I’ll avoid explaining how it happened and just say that I burned down several cotton trailers and damaged some others. The good news was that the 2nd incident overshadowed the 1st one. He totally forgot that I stuck the truck in the field.

It was my final day on the farm.

cotton trailors
Not the trailers I burned, but close, really very close.

 

Some Thoughts

Jesus talked about farming. Northern Palestine was fertile and good for growing wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and olives. He told a parable about a farmer who went to sow his field. He did it by using a sack tied around his neck that he held with one hand while casting the seed with the other.

casting seed

The parable illustrated…

  1. Seed on a hard path won’t grow, can’t get through the packed soil. 
  2. Seed on soil with lots of rocks will root but not deeply, roots can’t grow.
  3. Seed on weedy – thorny soil will grow but not well, too much competition.
  4. Seed on clean and fertile soil will grow and grow well. 

His wasn’t criticizing farmers but illustrating how people are like the soils. Some have hard hearts and the Word can’t penetrate. Some have rocky hearts and the Word won’t last due to shallow roots. Others are like the weedy/thorny soil, the Word roots and grows, but won’t mature since there is so much competition. But some have soft, fertile and open hearts so the Word roots, grows and becomes fruitful. That’s the good stuff. 

His point to each person standing there:

How do you listen to my Word; what kind of heart do you have? 

Shalom

Imperfections of Imperfect People

I’m not perfect. Here’s a thought, you aren’t either. 

The Rub

Here’s the rub: I’m comfortable with my imperfections but yours drive me crazy. I’m good at extending grace to myself and quick to excuse my weaknesses. However, there’s lots of people who need to shape up, and they need to hurry. 

Here’s Something

According to the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs there is a saying tracing back to John Heywood in 1546. Then in 1738 it was used by Jonathan Swift in his Polite Conversation and appeared in the 1713 Works of Thomas Chalkley. The complete saying goes like this:

“There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.”

john-heywood-english-writer
 John Heywood, the author of those, “Who are blind and deluded.”

How true it is that others are blind and deluded, the poor souls. 

The Manifestations

Here is a partial list of how imperfections are manifested:

  • arrogance
  • pride
  • ego
  • even bigger ego
  • compensating for inadequacy 
  • hiding the truth about themselves
  • believing themselves right about everything and everyone 
  • always thinking they are the smartest one in the room 
  • quick to give unsolicited advice about what is right and what to do
  • ruled by anger, frustrated by disagreement, resentful of different ideas

Their opinions are unscrutinized, there judgements unexamined, their ideas unvetted. They go about life believing that whatever they think is true. The juxtaposition is they tend to be critical of others who manifest the very same peccadilloes. 

They speak their judgements openly and without consideration. As if the whole world sits on the edge waiting to hear them speak. 

But enough about me. 

Some Wisdom

Proverbs 7:20-22

“There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may here your servant cursing you–for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.”

 

James 2:12-13

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

 

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful  for they will be shown mercy.”

To Close

We live in an imperfect world but the world’s imperfection is us, the broken and fallen. The world is imperfect because it’s inhabited by imperfect people. I’m one of them. I tend to be blind and deluded. 

And you?

Case of Mistaken Identity?

My wife sent me to the store.

Is That Unusual?

No, it’s not unusual at all. I’m often sent to the store to get a few things that didn’t make it on the list. For this particular trip I was sent to pick up three items.  

Going In

I went to our local Kroger store and as I was going in a young father was going out. He was pushing a cart with a few bags of whatever his wife sent him to get. Also in the cart was his daughter who was three or four and about as cute as I’ve ever seen. 

little-girl-sitting-shopping-trolley-thick-blonde-long-hair-dressed-plaid-shirt-denim-shorts-his-head-black-72051755
Not the little girl in the store, but close, really very close!

What Happened?

Well, she noticed me and I noticed her and then she smiled and said, “Hi Grandpa.” She was so exited!

Maybe she was just being snarky and using the “Grandpa” in the way someone says,

“Hey Grandpa, you want to hurry it up or what?” 

But I don’t think so. Her greeting seemed genuinely expressed.

What Then?

I was about to respond with something fun when her Dad said softly, “Honey, that’s not Grandpa.” She looked at me, giggled, and they were out the door. The whole thing lasted 10 seconds.

An Assumption

I can only assume that I resemble her Grandpa. Evidently, he is also good looking and humble. There are so few of us. Or maybe I just looked old and any old guy could be Grandpa. To a three year old, everyone over fourteen is old and I’m so not fourteen.

The Point?

Okay, this is a pointless Monday morning blog. Except to say that I couldn’t help feeling good about her mistaken identity. She was adorable and I would be proud to be her Grandpa. It made me happy that she spoke to me.

Someone you don’t know may speak to you in the next few days. You can choose to smile and be kind or you can choose to smirk, be dismissive, and go about your day. It’s your choice, and mine.

To Close

I don’t know if any children ever called Jesus Grandpa, probably not. But if they did, I’m guessing he didn’t smirk, or be dismissive just so he could get on with his day. Come to think about it, he was never dismissive or rude to anyone. That was his charm. He genuinely cared about everybody. Thank you Jesus!

Shalom

Needing a Consultant

There are times when I could really use a consultant. 

Whom Would I Choose?

I would choose the apostle Paul. Here are some reasons:

  1. Acts 9-28 are dedicated to his conversion, ministry, and mission.
  2. After Acts, 13 of the remaining 23 books were written by him.
  3. He was the apostle to the Gentile world.
  4. He lived in Roman society: a cosmopolitan, decadent, idolatrous world.

 What Would I Consult About? 

  1. how to live Christianity in an increasingly pluralistic culture
  2. the role of Christianity in today’s social and political arenas
  3. not the 1st century, but applications of scripture for the 21st century
  4. his advice about mission and ministry in our modern society

Same or Different

Perhaps his advice would be the same as it was in his day. Or would it? The principles would remain the same, but I wonder about the applications. Our 21st-century, western  world represents some conundrums his Roman world didn’t have. Would the reverse also be true? 

The Struggle

Did the 1st-century church contend with the same immorality and violence? Christians were openly arrested, persecuted, and killed. Idols temples dotted the corners. Every kind of sexual perversion was accepted and practiced. Yes, the early church struggled. 

Modern Man

I live in a nation of sophistication, with a strong rule of law, a deep respect for God, and a place of peaceful coexistence. A country that champions diversity with equal rights for all. A society committed to the highest standards of moral decency.

But lately, it doesn’t feel like it. 

To Close

I’m sure Paul faced the same challenges, issues, and concerns. He would point me to his 13 letters where all the answers can be found. 

worn out bible 1

I’m also sure he would sympathize with our school shootings, our ripping ourselves apart with rabid infighting, and our culture losing its moral compass. 

texas-shooting-moment-silence-rd-mem-180521_hpMain_12x5_992

There are times when I could really use a consultant. 

Shalom 

When Its Close To Home

I really don’t know what to say.

Violence

Its easier to cope with violence when it’s not in your own yard. Its still tragic, but a little less so when it happens someplace else to someone else. When it happens in your town, to people you know, well, that’s harder to cope with. 

The Weekend

From Friday to Sunday people around our nation have died. They have died in car accidents, from gang killings, drunk drivers, and from home invasions.

Last night, a man entered a restaurant, got his family seated, then went outside and crashed his car into the restaurant, killing two and wounding others. Last night a Houston woman was shot to death by a man wanting her cell phone. 

I guess the only good thing about weekend violence is that the schools are closed.

Lots of people died last week in America. However, when death happens in our schools, to our children, then we feel vulnerable and helpless. 

SantaFeHSCA

What People Say

Some say school shootings are the result of guns being too easily available. Some say the violence is the result of decades of violent television, movies, and video games. Others suggest that the perpetrators are kids who have been bullied. Others offer that the shooters are abused kids raised in abusive homes. 

That’s what some say.

I Know One Thing

I’m not an expert, but I feel certain about one thing, it isn’t over. There will be more mass murders in our schools. 

It’s A Problem

It’s hard to know what to do or how to do it. Are America’s kids at risk? Are the children of our nation in crisis? Are our families broken? It’s a problem we don’t seem to know how to solve. Are we rudderless and lost?

To Close

My prayers go out to the families, students, and people of Santa Fe, Texas; a community practically next door to me. I don’t know if my prayers are comforting, but I hope so. I hope their burdens of fear and grief are just a little easier today. I am so sorry for their loss. 

I really don’t know what to say.