A Fist Full of a Dollar

Last  Sunday morning, in 2nd service, I was holding a basket for our children’s collection, to gather funds that bless our kids in Haiti.

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THE STORY

A little boy, I think he is 3 and one of my favorites, came up to give his dollar. He stood with his hand poised over the basket but was having trouble letting go. Others were waiting so his mom coaxed him to drop it in. But he wouldn’t. Then he happened to glance at one of the screens and saw himself “on TV.” That was his moment!

It was then I noticed that he had folded his dollar into a kind of airplane. He wasn’t gripping it due to its monetary value, nope, he just wasn’t ready to let go of his plane. But finally, he gave it a safe landing, smiled, and walked off holding his mom’s hand. It was the sweetest thing ever!

Basket of Dollars

I suppose we all hold on to something, to our…

  • memories
  • the past
  • fears and anxieties
  •  kids
  • pride
  • old letters
  • trust in the Lord
  • stuff

NOW: A FISHING STORY

Simon was preparing his nets for the next night of fishing, he was a commercial fisherman, and had just spent all night catching nothing. Then Jesus came by and asked him to take his boat to deep water and let his nets down. Simon didn’t want to. He knew successful fishing only happened at night. He argued a bit but reasoned that Jesus was an important rabbi, and so, he let them down and instantly they became full of fish. He shouted for his partners to bring their boat to help. When the nets were emptied both boats were overflowing with fish and looked as if they might sink.

Fishing Boat of Galillee

AN INVITATION

When they returned to shore, Jesus invited Simon to go with him and become one of his disciples, and he did. Simon let go of the greatest catch of fish in the history of the Sea of Galilee, or so I’m saying. He walked away from a boat full of “dollars” to walk on with Jesus.

Jesus didn’t fill the nets so Simon could make a killing at the market. He filled them so Simon would know that the Messiah had come, that Emanuel had arrived, that the long awaited Anointed One had appeared.

Simon could see that there was something more important than fish or money.

Peter and Jesus With Fish

TO CLOSE

We know that Simon was Simon Peter, the Apostle who preached on the Day of Pentecost and helped thousands to get saved. Peter demonstrated that a connection with Jesus was worth all he had.

And the little boy and his airplane? Well, he demonstrated an innocence and wide eyed wonder that made children the all time favorite of Jesus our Lord. Jesus loves the little children indeed.

Shalom 

 

Spirit Filled Wiggle Room

There are several phrases used in church that I haven’t located in Scripture. It’s okay, they don’t have to be found in scripture to be used.

Here Are a Few of Them

  • Have the communion trays been filled?
  • Who has our opening prayer?
  • Who’s officiating the Lord’s Supper?
  • Are we singing old or new songs?
  • Do we have announcements?
  • Is it time for the children’s contribution?
  • Don’t you think his sermons are too long!

These and others can be heard in my church on any given Sunday.

That’s because on any given Sunday we sing, pray, observe the Lord’s Meal, have a sermon and take up an offering. Sometimes we have a baby blessing, or a blessing for a mission trip, or for donated items to the less fortunate. Often there is a video, a testimonial or a baptism. It’s all pretty good.

IT’S REASSURING

Frankly, I find it reassuring that the Holy Spirit left “the worship service,” fairly vague. If a global, all time Order of Worship (another phrase not found in scripture) was important to the Spirit then it makes sense the Spirit would have given one. But he didn’t.

Clearly the early church sang, prayed, heard the word, shared the bread and wine and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Obviously they gave and they gave a lot.

Growing up in conservative churches our worship focus was about 40% on what we were doing and about 60% on doing it right. Doing it right was big in our church. Doing it right meant making sure we didn’t do it wrong. Doing it wrong might incur the wrath of God bringing judgment and condemnation on us and we sure didn’t want any of that.

IT’S DIFFERENT

It’s different today, or maybe I’m just different. The last few Sundays we took time to bless two groups of kids. The first were children about to start Kindergarten, a big change for them and their parents. We prayed over the parents during Bible Class and then over the kids in the worship assembly. The next week we did the same with kids, and their parents, entering the 7th grade. Both are important milestones. I’m glad we do that kind of thing. It’s important for the families and for the church family.

Children's Blessing 1
PRECIOUS LITTLE FIVE YEAR OLDS ABOUT TO START KINDERGARTEN 
SIXTH GRADE BLESSING
A BUNCH OF SWEET KIDS ABOUT TO START 7TH GRADE AND JOIN THE YOUGH GROUP!

IN CLOSING

I’m glad the Holy Spirit left us some wiggle room regarding what happens in worship.  The wiggling is some of the best stuff we do to encourage and bless others. I think the Spirit would be happy about it, but that’s just me.

Shalom

 

 

 

I Like Coffee and Donuts

Some places are special, some are structures and some are pieces of land.

  • Gettysburg
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Ground Zero: 9-11 
  • Valley Forge
  • Arlington Cemetery 

Why?

A place becomes sacred because something deeply significant happened. Sacred ground may be a battlefield, a national memorial, or a cross on the side of the road marking the death of a loved one. 

It’s sacred because it’s sacred to us, or to God. 

An Example

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, (Mt. Sinai) the mountain of the Lord.”

“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses thought, 

‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’

‘Do not come any closer,’ God said.

‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'”

Holy Ground?

Why was the ground holy? Had something special happened there? The answer is no. The ground was holy because God was there and he is holy.

God’s Omnipresence

Here’s a thought: If God is omnipresent then why isn’t everywhere holy ground? It’s a fair question. However, from Scripture it appears that a place was holy due to the direct presence or specific work of God. Some examples:

  • the burning bush
  • the Holy of Holies
  • the tabernacle or temple
  • the mount of transfiguration
  • the birthplace of Jesus

For Consideration

The place where Moses removed his sandals was holy because God’s presence made it holy. When God finished with Moses then the place on Mount Sinai ceased to be holy ground.  

When Moses threw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake and then became a staff again God said,

“This is so they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to you.”

Miraculous things happen in the presence of God. Miraculous things happen on holy ground and at holy places. 

To Close

Can you imagine when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies that he did so carrying a Starbuck’s coffee? Or a Coke? Or a donut? Just a thought. 

coffee and donut 2
I like a good coffee and donut, but I won’t bring them to a wedding, funeral, or commencement ceremony. But to worship God? Hmmm.

Far be it from us to treat the holiness of God causally, right? And may we never make common what he has made sacred.

Shalom and May God Richly Bless You

To That Place Supernal

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

 

Who Said That?

Jesus did. It’s recorded in John 14:1 and was said to his disciples at their last supper. It’s a relatively brief statement, only seven words, but holds great meaning. 

Only Jesus

You might disagree, but only Jesus could say what he did and it not be lightly taken or thinly held. It was a serious thing to say and he backed his words with a serious promise.

What Was It? 

Their hearts could have been troubled because Jesus was leaving, he was going away. I can understand how disheartening that would be.

Reasons not to be troubled? Because they could trust God and trust Jesus. The trust was in reference to what was said next:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

“Do not let your heart’s be troubled.”

Reasons to maintain an untroubled heart:

  1. Trust in God
  2. Trust in Jesus
  3. Promise of a heavenly home
  4. Promise of his return to take us there
  5. Promise of our being there with him and the Father

Lot’s of things can get us down. Discouragement pounds our door and disappointment rises like a seeping flood. 

However, we have reason to lift our heads, to look above, and see the unseen. Our Lord is coming back, he promised, and he always keeps his promises. Until he does we soldier on, not losing hope. We choose victory over defeat.

We see a glorious future while others see only a grimy present. 

To Close

So hang in there. Hang tough and don’t let go.

Our blessed redeemer, by the power of his resurrection, will brings us to that home supernal, to the place that has been prepared for us.

god lending a hand

God Bless You, Shalom!

The Constant Counting

How high can you count? Ever tried?  It’s tougher than you think.

Challenges to Counting

  • Falling asleep at 231.
  • The Boss: “Stop counting and start working”
  • Irritating people by counting out loud.
  • Sneezing, losing your place, having to start over.
  • Not sure what comes after a trillion.

Things People Count

People count sheep, their money, and their kids. Some people count beans, like accountants. We count the number of tickets sold. The pills left in a prescription bottle. The miles to get someplace and the miles left to get there. Kids count the days until school is out and the days until Christmas.

We look up into the clear night sky and count the stars.

counting stars
How high can you count? How many stars are there? 

When Something Really Matters

Counting isn’t always about numbers. Teachers say, “This test counts for half your final grade.” Coaches say, “Alright, let’s make this one count!” A patient, “Doctor, does flossing count for every tooth?” The Dentist, “No, just for the ones you want to keep.”

The Spiritual

There’s a book in the bible named Numbers, it counts bunches of stuff.

Pastors and Ministers say, “We’re not all about nickels and noses.” But everything and everyone gets counted all the time.

Jesus appointed twelve apostles. He sent out the seventy. The baptisms on the day of Pentecost were counted. Paul wrote about his persecutions and gave a number for how many times each thing happened.

A Preacher’s Story

During his sermon the preacher noticed a boy looking up at the ceiling. After the service, he asked…

Preacher: “Why were you staring up at the ceiling?”

Boy: “I was counting.”

Preacher: “I see, how high did you get?”

Boy: “176.”

Preacher: “Why did you stop at a hundred and seventy-six?”

The boy: “That’s how many holes are in each of the ceiling tiles.”

To Close

We count the days until vacation, the dollars in the account, and the beds to be made. Lots of things get counted.

But for today, what matters most? What is it that really counts?

Shalom

 

Fine Meals & Nice Suits

Sometimes we do the lesser thing. 

Lesser Things

Eating subpar meals in lesser restaurants to avoid finding a better one.

Buying a cheap, off the rack, suit because it’s faster than tailoring.

Not getting our car repaired because it’s too much hassle.

Sometimes we accept lesser things due to a lack of opportunity, or laziness, or impatience. Sometimes, it takes too much effort to reach for the brass ring.

In Matters of Faith

Faith isn’t a meal, a suit, or a car repair. However, do we sometimes treat God like a lesser thing because He is inconvenient?

We Wouldn’t Choose…

  1. To talk to our spouse only on our anniversary.
  2. To see our children only on their birthdays.
  3. To care for our family when it doesn’t conflict with other things.

That would be absurd. But when it comes to God, do we offer him less?

An Example

Yesterday morning, the combined attendance at my church rose above our average by hundreds. And it won’t be that full again until next Easter.

packed church
Not my church, but you get the idea.

Admittedly, we preachers prefer standing room only to hundreds of empty seats. We’re egocentric that way. But still…

           “Why do so many people only attend Easter Sunday?”

Is it like only speaking to your spouse on your anniversary, or only seeing your kids on their birthday? Is it the subpar restaurant, the cheap suit, or neglecting your car because keeping it in good shape is too much hassle?  

To Close

Nobody’s perfect. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to honor God with our lives, our hearts, and our will. 

Sometimes we do the lesser thing.

But the Lord our God is not a lesser thing, and he should never be offered less. 

 

Final Blog of Solitude, Pt 8

I started out as a child.

Didn’t We All?

I guess we all did. We came into the world without speech, mobility, or fine motor skills. But we held great potential. We adapted, learned, and developed. Our first word was probably Mama, or something to that affect.

We Got Better

Soon, we learned enough words to interact with others. We learned that language was effective for getting what we wanted, or needed. Babies cry because they are hungry, wet, or in pain. Or maybe just fussy. The crying was replaced by expression of thought. But was it still about wanting and needing?

tantrum

As adults, much of our language is still about getting what we want, or need. Some suggest that personal maturity is measured by the percentage of words used to assist others verses serving ourselves. Maybe?

Talking With God

If we were taught to pray, we learned that prayer was about asking for things. We learned that prayer was talking to God but also that God didn’t talk back. That shaped our perception of God and prayer, for life.

Consider This

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God.” (Henri Nouwen, “The Way of the Heart.”)

A Broader View

What if prayer could also be about reflection, meditation, and the opportunity for God to speak back? Does his still small voice still exist? Can the Holy Spirit still place a thought, an idea, or a blessing within us?

Prayer is from the heart, it’s of the soul, not just the mind.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” To worship in spirit is to worship with expression from your spirit, from your heart, not just your mind.

what-is-the-holy-spirit-dove

To Close

The last seven blog posts have been about spiritual quests, the need for a deeper communication and a closer communion with God. I’ve blogged about solitude, silence, and prayer. And I hope you have been blessed, or at least encouraged, to seek a closer walk with him. This is the final blog on this theme.

God Bless you and keep you, and may the peace of God be yours in abundance.

Shalom

A State of Mind? Solitude Pt Six

Is it a state of mind?

Nearly Impossible?

Solitude in quiet, peaceful places may be hard to find. It may be impossible for some.

  1. Mothers with young children.
  2. People with long, daily commutes.
  3. Care givers with little time for themselves.
  4. People with widely different schedules each week.
  5. Anyone with a lot of people in their home.

busy-people

In Our Minds?

Can we find it in our minds? Having a mind of solitude and silence can be as challenging as the real thing; it’s why the desert fathers went into the desert. Consider these:

  1. Our brain doesn’t come with an off/on switch.
  2. Our ears pick up sound even when we don’t want them to.
  3. The distractions of discomfort, sound, sight, and touch are inevitable.

Regardless of the location, quiet or busy, crowded or deserted, we can learn to listen for the voice of God. But we must approach it with determination. 

lightmeditatinginachurch

Let me offer some steps that may be useful. I’ve learned these from my experience and from the mentoring of others.

The Basic Quiet Time Devotional

  1. If possible sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing: in and out, in and out, letting go of what’s happening around you. (One minute)
  1. Offer a prayer asking God to bless you with his Spirit. (One minute)
  1. Open your eyes and read a few verses of scripture. You can read though books of the bible or randomly. It doesn’t require much, but read until you find one thought, phrase, or word that jumps off the page. (Three or four minutes)
  1. Contemplate on the one. Why did it appeal to you? What is its value? How is it beneficial. Now, go back and read it again, read it four or five times. Appreciate its beauty and truth to your life, appreciate God.  (Ten minutes)
  1. Now, close your eyes and relax your shoulders and arms. Sit quietly. Allow your mind to be receptive to the leading of the Spirit. Resist the need to take control by creating structured thought. This sounds crazy, but try to un-focus your mind. (Five minutes)
  1. Finally, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the benefits you’ve received. After the prayer, sit quietly for another minute or two and enjoy the peace. (Three minutes)

The times can adjust as you like. The suggested times only provide a sense of what can happen in 20 minutes, it’s up to you.

Don’t think of this as a formula or a structured template. It’s only a guideline.

If you are just starting, then try a couple of times a week. If it grows from there then fine. It’s not about a rigid schedule or being able to say, “I’ve had a devotional every day this week!”

More to come, to be continued

The Blog of Solitude, Part 5

Hearing and Listening

Girl listening with her hand on an ear
The Awesome Power of the Listening Ear?

Some Quotes

  1. “Listening is a positive act; you have to put yourself out to do it.”
  2. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
  3. “One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to someone.”

Listening To God

 I was taught that God spoke to me through the bible, it’s how I listened to him. It’s true. But through the years, I’ve discovered that his voice can be heard in other ways.

  1. In moments of awesome majesty. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” (Psalm 19:1). God’s heart is revealed in nature. When I’m up in his mountains, I see his heart and hear his voice. For me, the mountains are where the glory of God is truly declared.
  1. In moments of great grief. The Spirit has given me comfort in moments of suffering, grief, and crisis. The Lord has blessed me with thoughts that calmed and strengthened me. His voice is often strongest when I am at my weakest.
  1. In moments of amazing worship. I hear his voice in moments of whole-hearted praise. If I can distance my worried distractions, unshackle my bonds of self-awareness, and freely give my heart, mind, and soul, then his voice is clear.

Things The Voice of God Are Not:

  1. mystical
  2. magical
  3. emotional
  4. invented
  5. audible

His Voice?

God doesn’t speak to me audibly, at least I’ve never heard him. He speaks to my spirit, for he is spirit, (John 4:24). Long have I journeyed to better hear his voice.

I’ve had a lot of help along the way.

Men and women of God, people of towering faith, who wholly love their holy Father, have taught me much about solitude, silence, and listening, and I have  grown.

It’s taken decades.

Just So You Know

There are no three-point plans. No seminars or conferences. There’s nothing man can offer that will rewire your spirituality. Preachers, mentors, books and events provide ideas and point in the right direction. But they can’t change your life.

A vital connection with God isn’t like an exercise machine promising weight loss and restored abs. The machine doesn’t deliver simply because you bought it. But they are easy to get, available for three easy payments, and then are just three months away from a garage sale.

Do we believe that everything important, including God, can be obtained or managed with a short cut, a work-around, or an app? Helen Keller wrote, “There are not shortcuts to anyplace worth going.” 

no-shortcuts

To Close

The quest for God is a holy quest. It’s reachable. But it requires the continual seeking of solitude and silence. We must get comfortable with silence and good at listening, so we can welcome the Spirit to speak with his quiet, still voice.

His voice comes nearer when we draw closer, with a listening heart and a willing spirit.

…to be continued.

Shalom

The Quest: Solitude, Part 3

Do you have a spiritual quest?

What Is It?

A spiritual quest (SQ) is a goal, or objective. Begin with an idea, something for which you are passionate, then let it mushroom with heartfelt urgency. Not quick action, poor choices, or bad decisions, but an urgency that can’t be ignored.

A SQ isn’t about one’s profession, or avocation. It isn’t a goal shaped by this world. It’s about you and God. It’s a holy desire that must be realized. It’s a quest that must be fulfilled. It calls you, it moves you, and it will not be denied.

Examples

  1. Moses seeking God’s face on Mt Sanai.
  2. David’s need to raise God’s honor by defeating the Philistines.
  3. Nehemiah’s brokenness over Jerusalem’s walls.
  4. Jesus with the Father: In the wilderness and the garden of Gethsemane.
  5. Paul wanting to know the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.

 

Sierra Exif JPEG
A Metaphor: Finding the Voice of God

The SQ may involve spiritual development, or specific action. But the corner stone of the quest is a holy hunger for God. To know him better, deeper, to experience him.

The Challenges

The SQ will face challenges. Maybe in the form of distraction, road blocks, or persecution. Our world doesn’t encourage spiritual development. Our culture doesn’t facilitate the deeper things of God, to the contrary, it raises hurdles and obstacles.

One of the hurdles may be in hearing the voice of God. Listening is essential to the SQ. Noise engulfs us, permeating our minds. We are distracted by the moving parts.

(to read more on distraction and solitude click here: The Blog of Solitude, Part 2

When do we hear his voice? Are we hearing his voice? A worthwhile SQ could be to reconnect with the heart of God.

From Henri Nouwen,

“Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved—but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ.”

To Close

A passion for God. A holy hunger. A quest for his presence and deeper meaning in our lives. Does it exist? Can it be found? Where do we look?

Achieving our SQ may require solitude. It may require a desert experience. In fact, finding the listening place for the voice of God may be our first SQ.

….to be continued.

Shalom