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

Flamingo & Flamenco

I didn’t know the difference between flamingos and flamenco.

But Different They Are

A flamingo is a large pink bird, a rather ridiculous looking bird with an oddly shaped beak.

flamingo

But Flamenco is a stunning presentation of dance, Spanish music with classical guitars, and non stop clapping. It was athletic but graceful, simple but complex, I was mesmerized. 

flamenco

The Audience!

During the performance the audience called out affirmation to the dancers, in Spanish. Without words the dancers told the ageless story of love. Their facial expressions and dancing revealed attraction, pursuit, heartbreak, and happiness. It was sad and celebratory. I loved it.

During the intermission a local book publisher explained to me that Flamenco was born in the underground during the Spanish Inquisition. Ferdinand and Isabella chose Catholicism to unite Spain and asked the Pope’s permission to launch an inquisition to purify the people of Spain. 

The expression of dance was most likely an unacceptable art form to those tasked with purifying the people. So the commoners went underground and found a way to celebrate happiness and sadness, they called it Flamenco.

Anyway

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. We left uplifted and so pleasantly surprised. Its life affirming to see performers who’s passionate talents developed over years in the pursuit of perfection. I appreciated their art and artistry.

Me, A Dancer?

Nope, not even a little. Dancing wasn’t encouraged when I was growing up and it didn’t seem prudent after I was grown. But from ballet to flamenco I am drawn to its beauty.

On A Different Note

Dancing in the Old Testament is often mentioned as a means of worship and praise to God:

“… a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4

“Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with delight.” Jeremiah 31:4

“Joy is gone from our harts; our dancing has turned to mourning.” Lamentations 5:15

And Finally

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” Psalms 30:11-12

To Close

Mercy Me released a song,

“Will I Dance For You Jesus?”

I don’t know if I’ll dance for him. If I do it won’t be a Flamenco, probably more like a Flamingo. I’ll likely jump up and down and scream and shout with my oversized beak.

If that’s dancing, then a dancer am I. 

Shalom

When Cats and Pharaohs Go Bad

A fox, badger, peacock, swan, squirrel, cat, and a seagull. 

In Common?

Yes, according to news reports those animal have all been reported as:

“Animals that have gone bad” 

In fact, there is a series called, “When Animals Go Bad.” I can feel the pain. There aren’t many things worse than a snarky squirrel, a raunchy raccoon, or a cranky cat. 

mean cat

Others? 

Sure, how about when people go bad? History is replete with dastardly dictators and noisy neighbors. What about pesky pastors? They are the worst aren’t they? There should be a TV show called, “When Pastors Go Bad.” Here’s another:

“When Pharaohs Go Bad” 

Pharaohs?

Sure, like the Pharaoh of Egypt who clamped down on the descendants of Jospeh and his brothers. As the Hebrews multiplied the god of Egypt decided to fear them. His worry was that the Hebrews would form an alliance with Egypt’s enemies. 

Pharaohs

What happened? Pharaoh orchestrated slavery to control them. Slavery was framed by brutality, abuse, and ruthless and bitter treatment. All of which was birthed in fear.

Fear

Fear will cause us to:

  • withdraw and separate from people
  • cower in the corners of our lives
  • attack others because we despise them
  • subjugate, diminish, or enslave them

Pharaoh feared the Hebrews due to their massive numbers. It wasn’t like they had a fortified army or weapons of mass destruction. They were sheep herders and farmers. At some point, prejudice and racism become foundational to hatred and discrimination. 

Pharaoh did it and so did the Nazis. As did a bible class teacher who didn’t like having a Vietnamese child in her class, and the kids who beat me up because I was new. 

To Close

We fear what threatens us. I guess its a normal response. But what did Jesus do? Did he attack those who feared him? How did he treat those who were different? Did he castigate and cast them out? Can you imagine this show on TV?

“When The Messiah Goes Bad”

Shalom 

A Joy To My Eyes

If you knew what to look for you could see a lot.

What Did I See?

Spark: Camp Spark is our camp for younger kids. We had 60 children who were led by teens from our Youth Group serving as the counselors. Saturday some of our elders cooked breakfast, it was so cool. I saw the teens caring for the little children and doing a fantastic job. Camp Spark was amazing! Thank you Janel.

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Camp Spark, 2018

Next Camp: Next week about a hundred of our older kids, teens and adults will be at Camp Bandina where nearly 400 campers will have an amazing experience. It will be fun, challenging, and Spirit filled. All who go will come home closer to God and to each other. Camp Bandina will be fantastic. Thank you Melissa.

gerald-james-300x200
Not Melissa, but close, really very close. Her dad and husband. 

Youth Worship : Sunday nights our Youth Group gathers in the gym for basketball, games, food, and worship. It’s a great event and packed with fun and fellowship. Last night one of our teens was born again, joining the body of Christ, such a sweet moment. Thank you Parker.

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Support: Our staff does whatever they can to serve everyone they can. Yesterday morning I observed one of our team serving a family experiencing some challenges. She was kind, supportive and serving in the spirit of Christ. Thank you Debbie. 

Down To The River: I visited with a couple who shared that while on vacation she decided to be immersed into Christ, and that he did the immersing, in a river. They are so happy and so filled with God’s love. It was wonderful. Thank you Jim.

jorden-river-baptisms
Not the river where he baptized her. This is where John baptized Jesus. 

Some Encouragement: One of our members told me that I am her favorite minister. She said she can remember what I preach and that my sermons are down at her level. I assured her that what she hears is the only level I have! Thank you Bernice.

Bibles: One of my members works on an off shore oil platform and is on four weeks and off four weeks. Recently, he asked if we could ship some bibles out to the platform. They have services on Sundays and needed some bibles. They arrived and he was saying how much they appreciate having them. Thank you Brooks.

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Bibles are best when Bibles are used! 

To Close

There are more stories. There are always more stories. But maybe these are enough to give you a sense that for believers the Kingdom of God is everywhere and the Kingdom of God is with everyone.

 It was a good week end, a great Sunday, and as always, so encouraging. 

A Joy To My Eyes

Shalom

Land of the Free

There are places I want to see, not exactly bucket list stuff, but still. 

Like Where?

  • Africa
  • Austria
  • the Swiss Alps
  • Banff National Park
  • Just to name a few

Why?

I like to travel. Actually, I like arriving but the journey can also be exciting. Traveling opens the mind, awakens the senses, and often offers valuable insights. Yep, lots of places around the world I would like to see. But there is plenty to see right here at home. 

grand canyon

The Rocky Mountains aren’t to be missed. New England’s leaves are a treasure. The Grand Canyon doesn’t disappoint. Have you seen California’s red woods? Yosemite? Yellowstone? I marvel at the fluttering leaves of Colorado’s aspen trees transforming into their annual crimson and gold. 

Forest panorama in autumn

The joy is immense because we get to live in an amazing country.

The joy is all the more grand knowing we can get in our car, board a train, or take a plane and go anywhere we choose at any time of our choosing.

Why?

Because we are free. We live in a country that fought and struggled to give birth to a nation born into freedom. 

So, Happy 4th of July!

Be blessed for you are free, prosperous, and alive to enjoy it. 

May God continue to bless this great nation of ours.

A Tale of Two Cookies

Question: What’s better than a really good home made cookie? 

The Answer

It’s obvious: two really good home made cookies, exactly like those I was given yesterday in 2nd service. They were fresh, they were delicious, and given by a friend. 

Our church has a children’s offering and any child is welcome to give. But typically the kids range from preschool to 3rd grade. On average we have 25 children in 1st service and 75 in 2nd. The offering supports Haitian kids through Hope For Haiti’s Children.

The offering is the most exciting part, so much more than the preaching!

IMG_9070
The children’s offering, it never gets old or ordinary.

The kids are:

  • innocent
  • fun
  • excited
  • energized
  • generous
  • sweet
  • and captivated to see themselves up on the screens

In 2nd Service

I hold one of the baskets for the children to give their money, it’s a selfish pleasure. Yesterday one of my friends, a five year old girl, handed me a bag with two cookies and then dropped her dollar in the basket. She looked at me with her beautiful eyes, she smiled her gorgeous smile, and was excited to give her dollar and happy to give her cookies. 

I was happy too. 

And Later

After the service, I was in the lobby and available to sign my newest book that was on display. My friend, along with her mom and grandmother, stopped by to pick up a few copies, which afforded the opportunity to talk with the adorable cookie giver. It’s impossible to guess what a five year old will say. It was so much fun.

friends uplift the soul
Not my little friend, but close, really, very, very close!

 

To Close

We went home for lunch and after cleaning the kitchen we each got to enjoy a really good cookie. Made with skill, given with joy and received by happy hands and a melted heart. 

It was a tale of two cookies.

I love Sundays

 

 

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