“It’s Like Camp For Kids”

It’s been one and a half weeks since returning from the Holy Land. My sleep seems to have readjusted. My daily routines have resumed and the bad cold I caught on the last day of the tour is almost gone!

BACK TO NORMAL?

What hasn’t returned to normal is the levels of enthusiasm and excitement regarding what I learned. This was my fourth trip to the Holy Land and yes I am still learning, still receiving new thoughts about God and his word, and it’s thrilling. 

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At the Wailing Wall, The Western Wall of the Temple. I’m the one on the left.

Thoughts About Meeting With God

  1. God calls me to the desert to meet with him. 
  2. He always has a message I need. 
  3. It may be personal or a new insight, or an assignment.
  4. It begins the moment I arrive and is completed by the time I leave.
  5. He calls me there to get my attention. 

Jerusalem's Wailing wall

DESERT EXPERIENCES?

If you read your Bible you will find examples of people receiving messages from God while in the desert. There are many. 

No, I didn’t go into the wilderness as Jesus did and certainly not for forty days. I didn’t go up on a desert mountain as Moses did. I didn’t spend time in the Arabian desert like Saul of Tarsus. Just the same, I was there, by His invitation, and he spoke to me. 

Did I hear him audibly? Yes, but probably not in the way you think. I heard him through the teaching of our Jewish guide who is a strong believer, a Messianic Jew. I heard him through Moshi, a brilliant Orthodox Jew who is open to Christians and Christianity and had an understanding of the New Testament that was impressive. I heard his voice through Joseph, and Muslim who converted to Christianity through the example of his believing wife.

I heard his voice while walking in the Desert of Zin, a place the Israelites camped on their journey to Canaan. I heard him while on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I heard him while standing on the stone floor of the Capernaum synagogue where Jesus taught and healed. Frankly, I’ve been to those places, and many more, several times. But they never fail to connect with me. 

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The Canyon In The Desert Of Zin, Possibly Where Moses Struck The Rock For Water

I heard him through the voices, comments, and insights of those who joined me on the tour. I heard him while communing with them in the Garden Tomb. I hear him every day I am there.

TO CLOSE

No, I don’t think God speaks to me only when in Israel. But the Holy Land is like how one of my friends on the tour put it,”The Holy Land is like camp for kids. It’s where we slow down, disconnect from daily life, and finally listen to God.”

She was exactly right.

Shalom 

 

 

The Nature of Awesome

Awesome defined: “extremely impressive, inspiring great admiration.”

Actually

“Awesome” is a word used in a diet of verbal overindulgence. 

It’s used to describe our children, marriage, profession, vacations and the cat.

Each generation has their jargon. When I was young everything was cool and super. As in, “That was so cool,” or “That was just super!” Looking back on it the “super” was just super annoying. 

My Point?

If everything is amazing and awesome then what words are left to describe what is actually awesome and amazing? If I repeatedly say my kids are amazing for everything they do then what do I say when they actually do something awesome? If my breakfast burrito is amazing then what word do I use to describe the grace of God? 

Okay, Something Actually Awesome

For the past eight summers I have spent some time in the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado. I fly fish, hike and ride ATV’s. But mostly I sit quietly, look at the mountains, and reflect and pray. I seek clarity and inspiration, and find them. I leave as if I’ve touched the face of God. To me, that’s awesome, it’s, “extremely impressive,” because it “inspires great admiration.” 
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For the past three summers my San Juan Mountain friends have hosted my ministry staff for an annual retreat. They house, feed, and take care of us, and freely let us play with their mountain toys! They refresh our souls and restore our spirits. They minister to us so we can return and better minister to others. They do all that for us, but really they do it for the Lord, for they are believers, the church family of a sweet congregation up high in the mountains. We are one of their many ministries and they pray for us throughout the year. We return to Houston fresh and freshly prepared to faithfully follow Jesus. 

Now that is the nature of awesome!

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View from parking lot up at the mountains.
San Juan Mountain Church
The San Juan Family, truly awesome to me!

 

Thank you my mountain friends, you are the best!

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Button-Popping Proud

There’s some people that I’m button-popping proud of. 

Who Are They?

They just returned from a mission trip after a week of serving people in need. They served by rolling up theirs sleeves to do anything needed and everything asked. 

They are High School teens from our Youth Group. 

Where Did They Go?

They went to a place that cares for at risk kids. A place that takes in single mothers and their children when no one else can, or will. To a place that always has too much of not enough. To a place most of us will never volunteer to serve.

What Did They Do

They broke up and removed concrete, they tore out walls and repaired walls. They painted things in need of painting and spruced up what needed sprucing. They cleaned and helped and they did this and that. Most of it in the brutal Texas sun. 

Then, after working and sweating all day they spent their evenings playing with the kids. They played basketball and whatever else could be played. They sat and talked and listened, and made new friends. They found depths of care and compassion they may not have known they had.

They spent a week being Jesus to others in need.

I didn’t have mission trips when I was in High School. I didn’t go anywhere to help anyone. Mostly I focused on making money, working out for Fall football and hanging with my friends. All good summer stuff, but not quite the same. 

“But these times they are a changing.” 

At a time when the news is captivated with stories of kids killing kids there comes a story about kids helping kids. In fact, this summer Youth Groups from all over the country will travel near and far to serve others. 

I wish those stories could headline the news for a few weeks.

To Close

Thank you Parker for leading them. Thank you parents for going and helping.  

Thanks Southeast teens for being the heart of Jesus, for demonstrating the splendor of his love, and for reflecting the radiance of his light, for you are the light of this world.

And I am button-popping proud of you.

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“I’m An Easy Mark”

I bought six.

Six What?

Little boxes of chocolates. One of my young friends at church was selling them for a school fund raiser. Something about some volleyball nets. 

candy-bars
Not what I bought, but close, really very close.

An Easy Mark

We used to buy from every child that was selling something. But we couldn’t sustain it. At our lowest point, we had to make a tearful appeal to our Church Benevolence Ministry just to eat. (Okay, that’s not true, but its close!)

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 I understand philanthropic fundraising campaigns.

Why So Many?

I had $12.00 and they were $2.00 each, so I bought six. Her mother told me,

“You didn’t have to buy so many.”

And I said,

“I didn’t have to buy any, I just wanted to support my friend.”

My health and well-being didn’t need the candy, it wasn’t about the candy.

Risky?

Sure it is. Some of you are members of my church and now you’ll go tell your little fund-raising kids:

“Go see Mr. Rick, he’ll buy anything.”

Sadly, I can’t. The Benevolence Committee has me on a program. Sorry kids.

Now Jesus: Mark 10:13-16

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. 

Why Her?

  • I’ve known her since she was a toddler.
  • She used to sit with us in church.
  • Each Sunday, she still finds me and hugs me.
  • We like talking about school and stuff.
  • I love her. I love her family.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not close to every kid in church, but I wish. We have 150 kids in our Children’s Ministry and 100 teens in our Youth Ministry. It’s likely most of them have little interest in knowing me! 

To Close

Sunday morning, we had a Baby Blessing for a sweet couple with a sweet baby girl, their first child. I encouraged them a little, challenged them a little, and gushed over their baby, a little. Then we prayed for them and blessed them. It was beautiful.

Maybe in a few years I’ll be buying chocolate from her? You never know!

Have a blessed day.

“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

Trouble After The Storm?

“Not everyone bounces back, some just keep bouncing.”

What?

It’s a quote, regarding the emotional impact of experiencing a major storm like Harvey or Irma. While most people can pick up the pieces and get back to normal, others  struggle, sometimes for months.

Struggling?

  1. General anxiety
  2. Post-traumatic stress
  3. Inability to sleep
  4. Gnawing sense of fear
  5. Depression

Studies reveal that 25% of people experiencing a severe hurricane can still be struggling six months later, or longer. It’s especially true for those affected by the worst aspects of storms: flash floods, loss of home and property, witnessing injuries, drowning’s, and storm related deaths.

 An Example

I read about a woman who was trapped on a roof with her three children. They huddled together as she shielded them from the rain and prayed to be rescued.

During the eight hours they waited, she witnessed four people die. She watched a woman and child trapped in a car as the water rose over and swept them away. She saw a woman clinging to a tree who lost her grip and quickly drowned. She watched as a man was being rescusitated, but died in the attempt.

Those images emerge whenever she closes her eyes. It’s why she’s hardly slept since she and her children moved into a downtown Houston shelter.

people waiting to be rescued

Other Challenges

People traumatized can feel overwhelmed to restart their lives. There’s frustration with contractors, insurance companies, and government agencies, and with basic needs like medical support and food and water.

Storm victims often lose their jobs due to devastation of businesses. They face financial trouble and then the shame of finding help from government agencies or the community. They know the feeling of standing in lines for help instead of being the one helping. 

Here’s some gently offered advice:

  1. Find a good church, faith and spiritual family will help.
  2. Join a support group, sharing your story could be beneficial.
  3. Resist the urge to feel like you’ve failed, you haven’t.
  4. Pursue positive short term goals, moving forward is healthy.
  5. Find a good counselor or mental health professional. You may need it.

To Close

“Not everyone bounces back, some just keep bouncing.” So, please try to remember these words from Jesus in John 16:33,

“In this world, you will have much trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Shalom

It Happened at the Well

It would be unusual, surprising, and perhaps even shocking.

The Well

Jesus and his disciples traveled north from Jerusalem to Samaria. Their route isn’t known. What is known is that they went to the village of Sychar. Tired from the 35 mile journey, Jesus sat down by a well.

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The Woman

A Samaritan woman came to get water and was surprised to see a Jewish man. But Jesus was friendly and asked her for a drink. Her response was predictable.

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

It was a fair question, probably reflecting her surprise that a Jew would drink from the bucket or cup of a Samaritan. Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. It was a boiling feud that had been boiling for 500 years.

The Issues

  1. A man speaking to a woman in public
  2. A rabbi talking to a woman in public
  3. A Jewish Rabbi talking with a Samaritan woman 
  4. John 4:17-17 revealed she had a checkered past
  5. It was unusual, surprising, even shocking

Is that why she went to the well at an odd time? Was she hoping to avoid other people? Was she not respected and therefore not accepted?

But Jesus

He didn’t care. He really didn’t. It mattered not that engaging her was taboo and broke a bunch of social norms.

He offered her living water, which from a study of John means that he offered the Holy Spirit, but she didn’t understand. The story ended well, in fact, it’s an awesome story and has much more depth than we typically see. It’s one of most significant events in his  ministry.

To Close

Jesus was more than a Rabbi, or a Prophet. He was the Messiah of God, his anointed. He came to seek, find, and redeem those in need. The Samaritan woman needed him, and he was there for her. In fact, he was waiting for her.

He came for me and he came for you too. If you don’t know him, he waiting for you!

Shalom

Try, Try Again!

I’ve noticed some things…

  • It’s hard to be brilliant with a mediocre IQ.
  • Its tough to be gorgeous with below average looks.
  • It’s difficult to be a high achiever with only basic skills.
  • It’s impossible to be accomplished without a work ethic.

Of The Four

I can’t raise my I.Q. My looks were fixed at birth. I can’t order more skills from Amazon. However, working harder is within reach. Effort requires no skill, only determination.

Determination is within everyone’s grasp.

The Lie

Some say success comes only to the brilliant, to the beautiful, and to the gifted. No doubt it helps. But how would I know? However, it’s a lie that success is only for the blessed.

  • “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” T. Edison
  • Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Unknown
  • “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Babe Ruth

The Messiah

Reading about the Messiah’s ministry, I get these insights about his work:

  1. He was an early riser.
  2. Every day he taught, did miracles, and blessed people.
  3. He went to different villages & synagogues every day.
  4. He always welcomed children.
  5. He was never too busy to help someone.
  6. Jesus often worked till late in the evening.
  7. He had the Spirit’s power, but the work ethic was all him.

Now Jesus

“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” Luke 4:42-44

A Famous Quote

The following quote came from a Teacher’s Manual written by American educator Thomas H. Palmer (1782-1861) He wrote it to motivate students to do their homework.

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Be encouraged. Don’t give up. Effort requires no talent, just an unyielding desire to see the job done.

Success may be just around the corner.

Shalom

Flapped, Totally Flapped

Patience

Patience is a problem, it’s problematic, and having to wait is the worst. Having to wait patiently is just painful. Not a toothache kind of pain, or a broken leg kind of pain, but still.

When it comes to waiting patiently, I’m not unflappable. Unflappability isn’t a strength of mine. I’m not unflappable, just flappable.

Besides, I shouldn’t have to wait, waiting requires patience and I’ve already admitted to having a problem with that. It seems so circular, so oddly endless.

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It’s Me Not Waiting Patently, I’m Totally Flapped. Not unflappable, Just Flapped

Lovingly Supportive

I’m thinking about my friends who are supportive regarding my impatience and flappable manner. Here are my top five caring and supportive friends:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Well, as it turns out, none of my friends are supportive regarding my impatience. Mostly, they want me to, “Grow up and stop whining.” They also mentioned something about an “intervention?”  

Does that seem right, “Grow up and stop whining?” Wow, how impatient of them!

The Holy Scriptures

Somewhere in the bible, or several places in the bible, patience is linked to suffering. Really? Suffering? Who wants to suffer? It seems unnecessary and it feels bad. I avoid it.

I could read more about the spiritual value of suffering, and about trials and perseverance, but reading is tedious and dull, and it takes too long.

Seriously

Control is the epicenter of impatience. Not self-control, but the need to control everyone and everything. When I’m not in control, then I get impatient, I get flapped, totally flapped?

Ever seen a 4-year old lose it because he can’t control something?

Just a few impatient thoughts.

Shalom

Loving the Different, Pt 1

Yesterday, I promised a better blog.

So Here Goes

From oldest to youngest, believers don’t know how to relate to unbelievers. We don’t know how to be friends, and we’re not sure we want to.

Parents don’t know how to keep their kids safe and still teach them to care about others who are different.

Why?

Well, I think it’s because many of us were raised in rules based religion. We grew up with: do not smoke, drink, dance, use drugs, have sex, or do anything sinful, under penalty of divine punishment. That’s code for going straight to hell. It’s how Christianity was taught at church and how it was applied at home. It’s what we knew.

Think about it: Rules enforced by fear. Behavior controlled by threat. Disobedience punished by God.

 Generations of faith based parents were controlling their teens and pre-teens with rules and fearsome consequences.

Here Are Some I Grew Up With

  • Can’t dance: it leads to unwed pregnancy
  • Can’t drink: alcohol causes car wrecks
  • Can’t smoke: tobacco is dirty and destroys your health
  • Can’t have sex: sexual activity results in STD
  • Can’t take drugs, they will destroy your life
  • And others

To Be Sure

At their worst, those threats and fears were well grounded. We’ve all know people who have lost their lives, damaged their health, or hurt themselves and others, by abusing such things.

But Here’s Our Problem

To be honest, the number of those who’ve destroyed themselves are infinitesimally fewer compared to those who haven’t. It’s unbelievably disproportionate. Most of us didn’t reap the whirlwind for having a beer, going to a dance, or for kissing our date. Some key results:

  1. Kids grew up realizing their parents controlled them with fear and damnation.
  2. We emerged without a healthy faith and struggled with guilt and shame.
  3. Rule based religion, no matter how well intended, fails miserably every time.

The Mosaic Covenant, with its 613 laws, was a catastrophic failure. It’s why Jesus came, to put an end to law based religion, and replace it with a grace based covenant. We were raised in rules the fear of breaking them. We transferred it to our kids. Then here is another key result.

A Key Result

Having emerged with rules and fear, we’ve struggled to love others who are different. We see them as threats. We look down our noses and we dislike them. Our kids watch us. They may even learn to hate as some of us do. When they grow up, they will struggle with loving others who are different, with those who didn’t follow the rules. 

To Close

We are ill-prepared to share the love of God. Do we even want to? Is the gulf widening, the gap increasing? The world is getting scarier, we are struggling with our kids, and we don’t know how to lead by example.

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I’m going to write some blogs about this. It will be a struggle, so hang in there.

Upcoming Blog Posts:

  1. Learning how to reach out, to care, to love, without judgement or condemnation.
  2. Teaching your kids to love others while keeping them spiritually strong. 
  3. Helping them to love those who are different without falling into their behavior. 
  4. Teaching your children to cope with bullying, how to stand up for themselves. 

And others: Stay Tuned