The Wookii Effect

There are places for men with really hairy backs who wear tank tops?

Sure, Such As?

  • the beach
  • the internet
  • carnivals 

Places They Shouldn’t Be?

  • fashion shows
  • bill boards
  • church

Did that last one surprise you? It did me too but then I was there in 1997. 

Where?

In church when a man with Wookii like body hair walked in and sat down wearing a tank top. I noticed him right away, he was hard to miss.

Wookii
Not the gentleman from 1997 but close, really very close.

Then It Was Monday Morning

 I began getting phone calls, letters and not a few drop by conversations from members. 

Even in 1997 tank tops were considered, by some, to be an undershirt. To go out in a tank top was to go out in your underwear. There were complaints and demands. There was a call for action, for a dress code, and that I should speak up for modesty and good taste. 

It was a long and difficult week. 

What Did I Do?

I took it to heart and the next Sunday I spoke against inappropriate clothing in church.

I said,

  • “You wouldn’t wear your swim suit to church.”
  • “You wouldn’t want your family coming in their underwear.”  
  • “You need to be sensitive to those around you and set a good example.” 

 I was thorough, clear, and effective. I was proud of myself. Good job Rick!

Then It Was Monday Morning, Again

I began getting phone calls, letters, and not a few drop by conversations from members.

They said it was inappropriate to set a dress code. They asked, “Where do you get the authority?”  People were mad, and they were mad at me. 

Well?

There was no pleasing them. I was either to soft or to hard. The younger people, my peers, were furious. 

They said, “In a growing church we need to do everything we can to reach out to the community and the last thing we need is a dress code that makes them feel awkward and unwelcome.” Okay, good point. 

The others said, “In a growing church we need to do everything we can to reach out to the community and the last thing we need is inappropriately dressed members who make them feel awkward and unwelcome.” Okay, good point. 

Two sides of the same coin and I was getting flattened by both sides.

Something Interesting

  • Neither was willing to see the other’s point of view.
  • The two sides were generationally divided. 
  • Both used church growth as the basis for their objections.
  • Truthfully, it had little to do with growth and everything to do with preference. 

To Close

Ultimately, I gave a sermon appealing to everyone to see everybody’s point of view. I asked us to do what leads to peace and mutual edification, and to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. I appealed on the basis of love.

I quit being the moderator of modesty and good taste.  

It worked.

Shalom 

 

The Twin Towers

There was a sanctuary with two pulpits, affectionately, the twin towers.

First Ministry

My first church had a worship center with identical pulpits. They were large, made from hard wood, and imposing. In-between was a lot of space as the twins were proudly perched at the far edges.

Church christmas interior 2
Not my first church, not even close, but you get the idea.

The announcements, prayers, and songs were done from the right while the preaching was done from the left. It’s how it was done, it was steeped in tradition, for as long as anyone could remember and no one could explain why.

Tradition

For some, tradition frames faith, holds to a heritage, and connects us to the right place and the right things to do. Long held traditions can be comforting.

However, I’m concerned when tradition gets elevated to the plane of doctrine, leaving believers incapable of separating them from scripture. At that place, traditions aren’t harmlessly comforting, they are just wrong and bind believers with knots that remain knotted for life. Such were the dual pulpits in my first church.

The Towers

Being young and unseasoned, it seemed odd to exalt one pulpit for sermons while relegating the other for “lesser” functions. I didn’t attempt to remove one, nor move one to the center. Nope, I crafted a neck-strap for the mike that was on the preaching pulpit, ordered a 50-foot cable, and mounted center stage.

I got closer to the congregation, was unfettered, and preached from an open bible. It defined my preaching style for life. It was my new tradition!

Now Jesus

He was accosted for breaking tradition.

  • He associated with sinners.
  • He befriended prostitutes.
  • He entered Zacchaeus’s home.
  • He touched lepers.
  • He ministered to Samaritans, in Samaria.
  • He and his apostles failed to properly wash their hands.
  • And there were other sacred traditions he didn’t keep.

His violating tradition put him in bad odor with the religious elite. The self-righteous defenders of the ancient ways were appalled. The broken sinners were refreshed. He said that he came to save the lost and to make them righteous, not self-righteous. And no traditions of the Pharisees, Rabbis, or Synagogue rulers were allowed to interfere with his mission and message.

To Close

Jesus didn’t simply discard tradition or lessen the law, at least not until all was fulfilled and he fulfilled it all. Salvation by a covenant of law was ended at Calvary and replaced with a covenant of grace, a better covenant, a covenant of the heart. And we are all the better for it.

The first Sunday I preached in the middle, without a pulpit, there were gasps.

Shalom

It’s Not About the Cows

A COW STORY

During my Junior year of HS, while living in northeastern Kansas, I had an unusual Saturday morning job.

I had a milk route.

milk cows

Actually, I assisted an older gentleman who handled the route on weekends. His route wasn’t to the stores and homes, but to the dairy farms, to collect their raw milk. He drove a truck with a big stainless steel tank. We collected the milk from the farmer’s holding tank, drove to the next farm, and so on. When our tank was full, we offloaded at the Dairy.

milk truck      milk tank.jpg

THE MILK COWS

When we arrived at each farm, the first order of business was to check a sample of the milk. Occasionally, disease or sickness would break out and affect the cows. Diseased cows produced contaminated milk which had to be discarded. Serious illness among dairy cows is more common than you might think.

cows milking.jpg

It was vital that each test was carefully done. If contaminated milk got into our tank, then it contaminated all of it.

If it got into the Dairy, then all kinds of trouble ensued.

The milk had to be perfect.

A SPIRITUAL APPLICAITON

The Law of Moses required the priests to maintain a supply of cleansing water for purification of certain sins and defilements. The water was made with the ashes of a red heifer, a cow that hadn’t given birth.

The animal was taken outside of Jerusalem and burned to ashes. The ashes were collected, placed in stone jars, and then mixed with the water. It was holy cleansing water.

HOLY PERFECTION

A perfect, flawless red heifer was rare. Just the birth of a red cow was uncommon.

It would be inspected closely and if even one black hair was found, or some other aberration, the animal was rejected. The red heifer had to be flawless.

redheifer

That flawlessness was a symbol of God’s righteousness, of his holy perfection. The water mixed with the ashes cleansed people from defilement, such as having touched a dead body.

THE RED HEIFER/THE RED ROBE

The red heifer and cleansing water was a picture of the coming Messiah who would offer himself in perfect righteousness to cleanse those who were neither perfect nor righteous.

Jesus was taken outside the city, was given a scarlet robe to wear, and was sacrificed.

TOMORROW MORNING

The cleansing water was stored in stone jars, not clay, but stone. Jesus once used six stone jars in a powerful illustration of who he was and why he came.

Tomorrow at the Southeast Church of Christ, I will be speaking at 8:30 and 10:45 on the topic of, “Six Stone Jars.”

So come and be lifted up by the cleansing power of amazing grace!

I’ll look for you.

Shalom

A Coat of Paint?

OPENING THOUGHTS

The power of paint is found in its ability to make things look new. It’s what paint does.

man painting ceiing
Not Me Painting, Thankfully

I’ve been painting walls, ceilings, and porch railings for the last few weeks. It’s marvelous how rolling on a coat of paint instantly hides all the imperfections.

SOME PERSPECTIVE

It’s interesting though, that the paint doesn’t really change anything. What’s underneath remains the same, stained and dirty. Even if the new paint is the same color, it’s only hiding the old paint that’s become marred or faded.

That’s what paint does. It makes imperfections imperceptible.

Thinking about the way paint covers a flawed surface makes me appreciate God and what he does for us.

CONSIDER THE TRANSFORMATIONAL POWER OF GOD

God created the world submerged in water. The water wasn’t created later as were the universe, the animals, and humanity.

No, water came into existence with the earth itself. Everything began with water. 

Think about the vitality of water within scripture. The priests washed the animals, and themselves, for the sacrifices. Ceremonial cleansing was required before entering the temple. It was also necessary before joining with others in table fellowship. Hands, arms, and feet were always washed with water before sharing a meal. It removed the dirt and symbolically, the sin and impurity. The idea: not taking sin into another person’s home.

baptism-image-only

Immersion in water, to cleanse the soul, is rooted in scripture. New life comes from water and the Spirit. Naaman got cleansed in the river. The blind mind  washed in the Pool of Siloam, and on and on.

God isn’t offering a thin coat of paint, a quick splash of color to freshen our lives. He offers renewal, a new life in Jesus our Messiah, a soul cleansing transformation.  

Paint doesn’t change what it touches. Whatever gets painted remains exactly as it was before it was painted. But the New Birth is a complete and total regeneration of the soul. Change takes place at the deepest level, the New Birth transforms us.  

baptism in ocean

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I make mistakes when I paint. I drip on the floor and on myself, and spill and make messes. But I can put some paint thinner on a rag and clean it right up. Paint isn’t permanent, its temporary. Its temporary  because its paper thin and man made.

baptism in lake

It isn’t so with our Messiah and his Father. When he redeems he reaches deep, all the way down. He washes everything away, transforming  us, completely and forever.

The transforming power of God to create new life; it’s no paint job.

It’s a glorious thing.

Top 10 Lost & Found Items

 

car-key-locksmith
Here is a list of the top ten things people lose the most:

  1. car keys
  2. cell phone 
  3. tv remote     
  4. wallet
  5. purse
  6. ring
  7. watch
  8. glasses
  9. pet
  10. your mind

My parents once lost me in a store, then someone found me and took me to the lost and found department. A lady got on the intercom and said they had little boy named Ricky who could be claimed at the lost and found department. They came and claimed me.

I know how to find lost things. If I lose the remote, it’s usually between the seat cushions. If not then its probably on a kitchen counter, having set it down to get a snack or something. I know how to look. 

Keys can hide anywhere. I’ll turn the house upside down to find them. Usually they are right where I left them, right out in the open, as if they were begging to be found. 

This all reminds me of Jesus. He told stories about a shepherd searching for a sheep, a woman looking for a coin, and a father watching for his son to return. The parables illustrate our importance to God, how determined and committed he is to saving us. For each lamb is precious, each coin has value, and each person is created in God’s own image. If lost, he wants us back.

As we approach Passover and Easter’s resurrection, we should remember that we too have been lost. For we have all sinned, fallen short, and missed the glory of God. We were lost but someone found us. We were sinners but someone saved us.

In Closing

We will look and not give up until we find whatever is lost. Why? Because of its value. We value things and we know how to find them when they are missing.

Our spiritual lost and found department is the heart of the Kingdom of God; and our King is bringing us home.

Shalom

 

What’s Your Sign?

original

It’s a question people asked in the 70’s, “Hey man, what’s your sign?” It was a reference to the astrological chart and was a pop-culture phenomenon that lasted about 15 minutes. The question was a way of breaking the ice in new acquaintances and also served as a cheesy pick up line. For those who believed in astrology, it carried deeper weight.

For Jesus, a sign was a miracle performed with a message. The miracle itself revealed a truth or established confirmation. A miraculous sign was a divine reference point, it pointed people in the righteous direction of God. 

In Luke 11, Jesus spoke about two signs: the sign of Jonah and the sign of the Son of Man. Both were resurrection references. Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish and then deposited on the Mediterranean beach. For Jesus it was three days in the tomb and then raised to life again. For both, it was the coming out alive part that was the sign.

Jesus was teaching people with closed minds. Worse, they sought to discredit him by questioning his miracles and accusing him of using demonic powers. They had cold hearts of hardened stone.

Some people wouldn’t believe even if a dozen angels lifted them up and flew them around. The dead could be raised right in front of their eyes and they still wouldn’t believe. Rivers could run backwards, mountains topple, and the sky turn purple, it wouldn’t matter. They don’t want to believe. 

By the way, what is your sign? Are you grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is your faith resting like granite on the power of the empty tomb? Do you have an unwavering, unswerving, unimpeachable confidence that Jesus walked out of Golgotha?

We all struggle at times, have moments of doubt, and even question God’s will. But we have an anchor that holds firm and fast, an anchor chained to our faith, it’s our eternal sign. For we know that whatever dark forces affect us; and however hard, confusing, and painful they may be, that we are going to survive and thrive.

How do we know this?

“For up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’re his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.”

Do you believe?

empty_tomb_wide

 

 

Becoming A Filled Basket

Thanksgiving leftovers: trays of turkey, mounds of potatoes, and gallons of gravy. Not to mention the cranberries, stuffing, and jello; who decided that Thanksgiving required jello, with cottage cheese?

Afterwards, there are tables to clear, dishes to wash, and a mess in the kitchen. But before all of that, there are leftovers to store. So out come the bowls, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, zip-lock baggies, and the plastic containers with air-tight lids.Then it’s football and pie. Usually, there is leftover pie too, pounds of leftover pie. I love Thanksgiving.

Jesus knew about leftovers. Twice he fed the multitudes with only a few loaves of bread and some fish. Both times, after eating all they wanted, Jesus had the leftovers collected. How did they collect the leftovers – with baskets. They filled twelve baskets the first time and seven baskets the second time.

Question: After miraculously feeding thousands of people, what was the point of the baskets? Clearly, if more food was needed, Jesus could easily multiply some bread and fish. Surely, he didn’t need all those baskets.

Is it possible the baskets represented something else? As if Jesus were saying, “I can provide for all of you, as much as you need, and when you are finished, there will be plenty for everyone else.” If Jesus could feed the masses with so little, just imagine what he could do with nineteen  full baskets? It was a sign:”I am the Messiah, I am Yahweh.”

We cannot deplete God’s power. We can exhaust neither his magnificient mercy or his gargantuan grace. We can’t. After he is finished forgiving the masses, he still has plenty for everyone else. There are yet baskets and baskets full of his compassion, love, and forgiveness. All we need.

Perhaps God has chosen to fill us. Maybe we are the baskets of his grace and divine purpose? Is he looking to bless others by working though us? Are we the living containers of his Word so others can find his kingdom and receive the Gospel’s saving power?

Be a full basket of God, a basket filled with Jesus. Share your heavenly blessings with someone who is empty, hungry, and in need.

God bless you.

thanksgiving

Choosing Our Altars

Dan-high-place-of-Jeroboam-tb011310469
This is the altar Jeroboam built in Northern Israel.

Most of my sins are spontaneous, not premeditated. I don’t typically craft a plan for sinning. Sometimes, but not usually. But Jeroboam did, at least on one occasion. He was the newly crowned king of the newly founded nation of Israel, of the divided kingdom, and he was greatly troubled. What troubled him was the idea of his people going to Jerusalem, in Judah, to worship at the temple. His concern was that they might not come back. So he thought about it and came up with the plan to build two altars: one in the North and one in the South. Having built them, he then needed priests to serve at the altars since all the Levites remained in Jerusalem. So he appointed anyone who volunteered. That was the only qualification for serving. He must have felt confident that he could keep his loyal subjects loyal by making worship convenient. His actions violated the Law of Moses, dishonored the Aaronic Priesthood, and ushered Israel into deeper idolatry, but none of this seemed to bother Jeroboam.

It’s when our hearts are laid bare and our intentions uncovered that the premeditation is evident. It’s the justification for trading what is right for what is popular, pleasurable, or politically savvy. Premeditated sin almost always ends in chaos, conflict, and pain, it happens all the time. I’ve done it and it’s never worked out well for me. I end up broken, seeking forgiveness, and so very grateful for grace.

God told Solomon:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Jeroboam wasn’t humble, praying, or turning away from wickedness. Whatever face he was seeking, it sure wasn’t the Lord’s. His plan ultimately failed because his intentions and actions were wrong. It destroyed him and his family, and plunged Israel into ruin. 

It’s never too late to do right. Never too late to turn our hearts back to God. If we are considering how to sin and get away with it, then we need to wake up and turn from our wicked ways. We choose humility and we seek His face. We seek Him still.