What Is Your Ark?

Woke up this morning thinking about Noah.

I Wonder Why?

  • Maybe the 24 hour a day rainfall?
  • Or the 2o” of rain in the last couple of days?
  • The people boating their flooded streets?
  • Helicopters rescuing people from roof tops?

Personally

I love the sound of falling rain. But lately, it’s become the sound of anxiety, fear, and loss. With every inch of rain, somewhere there’s another two feet of water, welcomed by the two feet already there. And another neighborhood goes under.

Feels like Judgement Day, but it’s not.

Harvey
Hurricane Harvey: will it ever leave? 

The Promise

God promised Noah the earth would never again be destroyed by water. That’s good news for the earth. But cities, towns, and houses are still vulnerable.

 He once destroyed humanity for their sins. Is that what’s happening to Houston? What about League City, Sugar Land, Beaumont, Lake Charles, New Orleans, and ….?

Sure, Houston has plenty of sin, but plenty of redeemed sinners too. And such is the case all across Harvey’s destructive path.

But Harvey isn’t forever, it just feels like it. Hurricane Harvey will have its final blast of wind, its last drop of rain. Then it will be gone, and it will be over. 

Noah & His Ark

  • He had never seen a flood.
  • He had never built an ark.
  • He had only a few helpers.

But build it he did. It floated, protected his family, and it got the job done.

From Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

The ark was salvation, built by faith, saving a family from a world-wide flood. The ark becomes a metaphor, a symbol, for all that comes by faith.

To Close

Your ark may be the raft, the boat, or the helicopter, or the media alerting you to the tornado in your neighborhood.

Perhaps the car getting you to safety before the roads flooded. Or the shelter that provided food and safe sleep. Your ark may be your family.

rescue boat

Your ark may be your faith.

God be with you all. Keep breathing, keep going, and keep believing.

Shalom

A Temple Visit

A DIFFERENT BLOG

Today’s blog will be different. So, for your consideration, here is something different.

A HINDU TEMPLE

Recently, while enjoying dinner with friends in their home, our hosts asked if we had seen the Hindu temple. We hadn’t.

So after dinner we made the very short drive to see what’s in the picture below. It was impressive. The grounds were beautiful, the temple was of gleaming marble, and it was all just pretty amazing.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

BAPS Houston Mandir Moods 05f

THE TOUR

We had intended to just look from the car as we slowly drove by, but a sign at the entrance indicated the temple was open for visitors, so we pulled in.

Their tradition:

  • We had to remove our shoes. 
  • Their were two rooms for removing shoes: men’s and women’s. 
  • Entering the temple, I was asked to wear a cover for my legs, as I was in shorts. In their custom, feet and arms can be exposed, even the bare midriff of women in traditional Indian clothing. But not knees and shins.

We were greeted by a man who gently insisted that he provide us a tour. We said sure, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. It was 45 minutes.  

He was informative, friendly, and interesting. His beaming pride in their temple ran deep. We learned that only five of these major Hindu centers exist within the United States: Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Trenton, and Houston. 

FEELING AWKWARD

I felt a bit awkward. I was essentially wearing a skirt and was the only man doing so. But mostly, I was just out of my element. 

Houston_diwali2015_01_005

THEIR BELIEF SYSTEM

Hinduism isn’t easily explained. It’s a faith of consciousness, mediation and prayer. References to God are common, but their belief system allows for many manifestations of him. Formally, Hinduism worships 33 Gods. I couldn’t help thinking about the Apostle Paul in Athens. Remember his reference to the temple of the unknown god, a god for everything and everyone?

 Many of their ancient texts have no recognized authors. There is no identified founder. They firmly believe in reincarnation, in strong family values, and each devotee is free to practice the faith with a wide range of expression.

SOME OBSERVATIONS

  • The people we encountered were sincere, devout, and friendly.
  • They are serious about their beliefs and diligent about their faith.
  • They are proud to have such a magnificent building for worship.

DONT SHOOT ME

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but I saw some similarities.

Like them we are:

  • Sincere, devout and friendly
  • Serious about practicing our faith
  • Proud of our facilities

Although shorts aren’t permitted, they can go barefoot. I’m not sure how I feel about people coming to church bare foot. I probably wouldn’t care. People can wear shorts though.

SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS


As we drove back, my friend, who is our Associate Minister, said to me,

    “We are completely unprepared to talk about Jesus to the people around us.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

What makes us different? I don’t mean doctrine and theology, that’s obvious. How are we  different from any other devout and sincere person of belief?

I’m asking this question:

“If we are worshipers of the one true God and exist as the light of the world, then why aren’t we better at sharing our faith?” 

I’m not even talking about actually converting people, but suggesting that most of us would have no clue how to share Jesus with many of the people of our world.

If someone from one of the world’s religions toured your church building, could you be a friendly, informative, and interesting host? Would you be an effective ambassador for the Christian faith?  

Just a thought. 

Holy Cow, It’s Saturday!

Morning-Med2-e1393952189681-3.jpg

To Get Started

Is “Holy Cow” something people still say. I’ve said it. What does it mean? Basically, it’s an expression of amazement. When did it start, who started it, and why? 

Who’s Saying It? 

The phrase is commonly found in the US, England, Australia, and Canada. 

When Did It Start?

The earliest know reference was in 1905. Apparently, a Hindu person wrote a letter to an editor protesting an article that made cows appear less than holy. To the Hindu, the cows were sacred, they were holy.

Baseball players were using the phrase in 1913 and probably much earlier. It became a euphemism for Holy Christ. The players said it to avoid penalties for swearing. 

In the comic books, Batman and Robin were using phrases beginning with “Holy” at least thirty years before Adam West and Burt Ward used them in the Batman TV series. 

For those who followed the Simpson’s. little Bart Simpson was fond of saying, “Holy Cow” and lot’s of other “Holy————-.” 

Some Perspective

Some say using the word in common application is disrespectful. That only God is holy and to use the word flippantly is at least discourteous and at most blasphemous. 

Some people may be right.

holiness

On A Personal Note

This morning I got up and got ready and realized that it is Saturday! Without much thought I quipped, “Holy Cow it’s Saturday.” Was that wrong? I didn’t mean any disrespect or blasphemy. 

I’m not trying to make this into a mountain. But I need to be careful with what I say. Especially when I say it around others. 

I agree with Paul that to the pure all things are pure. But I’m not sure using Paul’s perspective allows me to excuse sin or to push the limits of my verbal boundaries.

Some Final Thoughts

If I say, “Holy Cow, it’s Saturday” and then tomorrow at church I say, “Praise God, for He is Holy,” am I not sending mixed signals? If not to others then at least to the Father?

If God is Holy, then is his holiness should not be diminished in my heart. And He is Holy.

And Finally…

I’m glad it’s Saturday, I like Saturdays. I’m repainting the front porch railings. Will do some reading, maybe catch a game on tv and then take a nap. More than likely, I’ll fall asleep watching the game. Later, we may join some friends for dinner.

It’s too good of a day to abuse the name of God.

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Shalom 

When Life Takes A Plunge

Stock Market.jpg

It’s January 8, 2016, and the new year has seen it’s first week go down in history. The big news is the market, which is also down, plunging 392 points. It’ll bounce back, right? Should I be worried? Is it time to liquidate and fill my mattress with cash? I don’t know if Palestine had a version of Wall Street. If so, would Jesus have invested in the market? And if the market plunged, would he be worried?

After his baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the desert; not Jerusalem or the nearest synagogue, but the desert. Did he go camping with marshmallows and hot dogs? Or was it a retreat for solitude, with quiet reflection and meditation? No, his desert experience was far more challenging. He took no food or water, there wasn’t a tent, a gas lantern, or an air mattress. Were there blankets and a pillow? Evidently he relied only on the sandals he wore and the faith he owned. This would be a test, a true trust experience in the Judean desert.

Jesus in the desert

After forty days, he was severely depleted; and that’s when it got really hard, that’s when the attacks started. Not with weapons of wood and steel, but the weapons of hell: pride, pleasure, and compromise. He was tempted by the body’s need for sustenance. He was tempted to test his Father. He would be tempted by the pleasures of wealth, power, and royal splendor. In the desert, he experienced real emptiness, poverty, and helplessness. Knocking at death’s door, maybe, just maybe, Jesus was  ready to embrace demonic enticements. Satan was counting on it.

But he didn’t. He worked through it, kept his integrity, and didn’t plunge himself into ruin; he chose the Father over self. I imagine him gaunt, with a blistering sunburn, cracked lips, and an unsteady stance. But he didn’t give up, give out or give in. Because of his victory in the desert, he could give us victory at the cross.

If Jesus invested and the market plunged, how might he respond? Would he remember the desert, how God kept him alive? Would he remember how he chose to honor his Father rather than bowing to evil? His choices in the desert prepared him for praying in the garden, when he said, “Father, please take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done.” Thank God for the desert. Thank you Jesus for going there.

Jesus praying in the garden

 

What About the Chickens?

eggs in store

Recently I was in a grocery store, at the egg section, when suddenly a woman said, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do with these chickens.” I replied, “Excuse me Ma’am, were you speaking to me?” She replied, “Yes, what are we going to do with these chickens?  Every time I come in here the cost of eggs goes up.” Well, I felt a little awkward. So I smilingly responded with, “Hey, why don’t we pluck them,  fry them, and eat them. That’ll teach those chickens to raise their prices.” She nodded, smiled oddly, then quickly walked away. I think the paradox of teaching chickens a lesson by eating them left her confused, especially since there wouldn’t be any more eggs. I thought it was funny.

For me, “What about the chickens,” has become a metaphor for unsolvable problems, for the things I can’t do anything about. As a preacher and spiritual leader, I bear some responsibility for making things better, at least on a small scale. I’m not alone; these same responsibilities rest on shoulders larger than mine. But still, I think God is looking to me to help.

To that end, I’ve been considering my goals for the coming year. I like to think of myself as a goal setter and a go-getter. Sometimes my go-getting needs some getty-up, but I’m trying. So what will I choose? Should I tackle some big chicken type goals, maybe? Not to limit God, but even with His help there are problems I can’t solve, like poverty, crime, or violence. I can’t stop abuse against women and children, or eliminate hatred and prejudice. So I need to ask: “With your help Lord, what can I do, want do you want me to do?” 

Here is what I’ve come up with so far: Jesus wants me to practice humility, to be more kind, and to trust him more than I have. He is encouraging me to be busy praying, instead of neglecting to pray. I think he wants me to soften my heart, to be less stubborn and more submissive. I know he wants me to serve more, especially to those who are less fortunate or unable to help themselves. Do these goals seem too small?

Jesus-washing-feet

I know, none of these address the big chicken problems of our world. And I have no idea what to do about the rising cost of eggs. But maybe in the eyes of Jesus, these smaller goals will do just fine for this coming year.

Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road to Bethlehem

Part 10 of a series counting down to Christmas and our Messiah’s birth.

These days, I define a difficult journey by flight delays, lost bags, and rude passengers. Airplane seats aren’t my favorite either. It can be down right brutal just getting from here to there and back again. Bless my heart.

Mary Joseph

Our Christmas couple, young and betrothed, were facing a journey. It was made necessary by Caesar Augustus who decreed an empire wide census. Each man returned to his ancestral home to register, for Joseph, that was Bethlehem, the town of David. It was a journey made at least annually, to observe Passover and the Feasts in Jerusalem. Bethlehem lay eight miles below Jerusalem.

They headed southeast, circumventing Samaria, then south along the Jordan River. At Jericho, they went west, up into the mountains, then south to Bethlehem. It was 90 miles and Mary was 9 months pregnant.

Mary Joseph 2

With a donkey or camel, travelers could make 20 miles a day. We don’t know if Joseph owned any, but given Mary’s condition, he would have borrowed one. Normally, it took four days, but was for them closer to eight. They could stay in homes at night, given the sacred honor of Jewish hospitality. But they might have camped out. Joseph would pack food and water, warm clothes, and other necessities. Daytime reached the mid 50’s with low 40’s at night. December nights could drop to freezing, and possibly have freezing drizzle, since December was the rainy season. It was a difficult trip for Mary and Joseph.

I wonder what they talked about; probably it was all about the baby. Did they discuss the Messianic prophecies and their son’s future? Had they grown accustomed to Mary carrying the Son of David? Did Mary talk about decorating the nursery, or adding a room to their house? Did they have the slightest inkling of what was about to happen? Could they imagine the Magi’s visit, or Herod’s murderous threats, or escaping to Egypt?

Mary Joseph 3

I think of the Bethlehem journey as quick and easy; just part of the warm and magical Christmas experience. But it was more likely painful, difficult, and dangerous. His birth was announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds, and honored by wise men. It was immersed in the light of an eastern star. But before all of that, Mary and Joseph had to get to Bethlehem.

The Savior was born to courageous and determined people. Emmanuel was about to arrive, but his arrival happened because of that brave young couple. Our spiritual blessings began with them; for there is no Christmas without Joseph and Mary.

Merry Christmas

Sad About The Tree

olive-tree-potted-williams-sonoma-agrarianSome of you will recall that I was given a potted olive tree. I loved that tree. Seven days later I declared it dead. But it rallied, seemed to improve, but no, it finally succumbed. No olives, just littering leaves and brittle branches. Towards the end I cared more about my ability to revive the tree, than the tree reviving. It bothered me that I couldn’t care for it. I felt inadequate and frustrated. “Dumb tree,” I thought.

There are moments when I am self-centered and selfish. I don’t mean to be, but then BAM, there I go, obsessing about myself. I’m not the only one, it’s an epidemic, a global outbreak of the Me-First virus. Actually, it’s just sinfulness. Do you remember Jonah? He was the prophet who reluctantly preached to the Assyrians, in Nineveh. Turned out the whole place just up and repented, and God forgave them, which was the last thing Jonah wanted. He wasn’t happy about it. In fact, he was quite angry. They were Israel’s enemies: vicious and cruel. So Jonah got mad at God, left Nineveh, and found a good spot on a hillside overlooking the city. “Perhaps God will change His mind and nuke the whole place,” was Jonah’s attitude. When it got hot, God provided a shade tree to comfort Jonah. But overnight the tree died and he was miserable. Must have been brutal sitting in the hot sun, waiting for God to rain down fire on Nineveh. But He didn’t.

That’s an example of the Me-First virus. It’s the sin of obsessing over my wants without seeing the needs of others. It’s not Jesus-like.

It’s easy to be selfish and obsess over things. Some of us do it every day. I wonder, could we pick a day to be unselfish. Just one day? Call it a “Me-Last” day. Go for it!

Quiet Moment to Connect

2015-09-08-14.21Have you ever been singing a well-known song when, wham – out of nowhere, the lyrics just knock you over? That happened to me last Sunday while singing a much loved classic, “How Great Thou Art.” Here are the words that reached out and gripped my heart.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Stuart Hine, an English missionary to Poland, wrote these lyrics. He was moved to do so by a poem by Swedish preacher, Carl Boberg entitled, “O, Great God.” Hine added the lyrics and made a new arrangement of the melody that Boberg gave to the poem, making it into the song we know as, “How Great Thou Art.”

Turns out that Hine had some unforgettable experiences in the Carpathian mountains which inspired him to write the song. The mountains were special to him and from these mountain experiences he completed the song. I find that looking down from lofty mountain grandeur inspires me also. I treasure the brooks and streams and gentle mountain breezes, all of which remind me of the Spirit of God.

Our Father is also in the urban centers with their crowds of people, cars, and buildings. He may be harder to find in the city, or maybe city life makes it harder for me to look for him?

Be encouraged to find a quiet moment to reconnect with your Creator. It takes faith and our heart’s desire to find Him when surrounded by so much that discourages closeness with the Father. But, try anyway. He is there and wants to be found. And, He’s worth it. Thank you Mr. Boberg and Mr. Hine for “How Great Thou Art.”