Sunday, April 23, 2017

Loose Change

LINDA’S DAD WOULD PLAY A GAME with the kids and grandkids where he would rattle the loose change in pockets and would challenge the kids to guess how much. The one closest to the amount got the money held in his pockets. He would often give each one hints like, “too much” or “too little” in order to help them narrow down the amount, often to the penny. It was great fun and sometimes yielded a goodly amount of money.

This kind of change we all welcome. It’s change wherein we can assume a benefit. But too often in our lives the change which lays hidden is a frightful thing.  We don’t know what the outcome will be.  Will it be too much or too little? Will it bring growth or loss? That’s the way it is with change, there are just some things we do not know.

There are times when change happens all at once, the earthquake that can disrupt the whole of our lives. Sometimes it comes in incremental steps, getting us ready for new life, like the arrival of a child or grandchild. There are times that change just affects our preferences, like the style of music in a worship service, and there are times when the change affects our foundations, like the loss of a job or loved one. One thing is sure, just like grandpa’s pockets, change is inevitable.

Now, here’s the good news, in spite of all the change in our lives, our God does not change. The Holy Scriptures tell us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change.” (James 1:17) And again, “I the LORD do not change.” (Malachi 3:16) And, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

If we have a powerful and loving God who does not change, neither does His love, grace and mercy. He is the One who promises never to leave us nor forsake us. I personally find comfort in King David’s words to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

God, our God, will never fail us, no matter if the change is little or much. Maybe it’s better just to receive the change from His gracious and deep pockets and count it a blessing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sweet, Sweet Savor

ONE OF MY FAVORITE SMELLS is that of a baby that has just been bathed with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. I love to hold the tiny one, put my nose to their little head and breathe deeply. It’s the aroma of clean, of newness. I love it.

On this Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the newness of life. The sweet savor that not only fills the air, but fills the heart as well. I wonder what aroma followed the women as they made their way to the tomb with spices in hand to finish the burial process of their Lord and friend, Jesus? Were their minds taken back to other anointings, other deaths? Would these aromas remain with them throughout the day, throughout their lives to remind them of this horrendous death?

As they enter the garden where the tomb was hewn, what early spring, dew-drenched smells invaded their senses?  Were they aware at all, too overcome by the grief of the day? One can only imagine.

But what change overwhelmed all of their senses when they arrived at the empty tomb? Questions. Fear. Doubt. Wonder. What fresh aroma greeted them, the aroma of life, of a world forever changed. The spices they carried no longer filled them with the dread of death, but now filled them with the newness of life. The fragrances they now possessed became a bouquet that would forever remind them of the miracle of a resurrected life.

What aroma draws you to life? Is it the smell of your favorite meal being prepared? Is the bouquet of scents that fills your head as you stroll through a rain-washed redwood forest? Or is it the clean head of a newly bathed baby? This year as you move through life, take time to savor the sweet aromas of life, and let them bring to you the reality of the Resurrection, the assurance of new life. For Jesus is risen and new life abounds offered to all who would believe and receive. Because Jesus lives we too can live and know life to it’s fullest. (John 10:10)

Believe! Receive! Breathe deeply! For He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Monday, April 03, 2017

Spot-On

IF CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS, then the home I grew up in was near the throne room of God. Seriously, our home was in a constant state of being cleaned, not that it ever had time enough to get dirty! Whether it was dusting behind the couch in the living room, or combing the fringe on the rug in the dining room, or straightening the closets, we were always cleaning something. If not the house then on your person. Washing behind your ears, combing your hair or tucking in your shirt. Yup, God was pretty close by.

My mom had a plan and being spotless was on the top of the list. The only real problem was with me, I was anything but spotless. My mantra? “Outta sight, outta mind.” If you doubted that all you need do was check under my bed. Empty space was meant for collecting stuff, just check out my garage today!

I guess my mom and Jesus had something in common, they’re always cleaning up someone else’s problems.

Case in point. Remember one of Jesus’ last evenings with His disciples? (John 13) Jesus enters the room where the meal is to be served and instead of sitting down to be served, He strips down and takes the role of the servant and washes His disciple’s feet. He had the right just to sit down, maybe even to be lost in the contemplation of His coming death, but rather than think of self, he thought of others and their need to be clean. Of course with Jesus every act is a lesson for action. Jesus said to them, “You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you,” (John 13:12-15)

The truth is we are all dirty, marked with that spot of sin that soon encompasses the whole of our being. It was for this reason that Jesus came, to remove that stain of sin, to wash us white as snow. As the prophet Isaiah records, “‘Come, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)

All the way to the Cross Jesus was at the work of cleaning up the messes of our lives. Whether those messes be a broken body or a broken spirit, Jesus was at the work of cleaning. And He still is at that work. The work of the spotless lamb of God sacrificing His precious, sinless life in order to bring us spotless before our heavenly Father. The work completed on the Cross still washes us clean today.

Years ago a good friend of mine penned a song that has stuck with me to this day,

Come on down to the river
Jesus is a-washin’ us up.
We all go down dirty in the sweet living water,
And we’re clean when we come back up.

Do you need that cleaning today? Come to Jesus and let Him wash you head to toe.

The Groaning Ginkgo

OUTSIDE OUR KITCHEN WINDOW we have a very nice ginkgo tree. We love the tree. In the late spring we relish it’s effervescent green leaves. The the summer we welcome the dappled shadows it throws upon the ground. In the fall our eyes are overwhelmed by the bright yellow leaves that seem to be dancing in sunlight. Even in the winter its barren branches draw us to gaze heavenward. But now, in the early spring we can almost hear it groaning as it pushes forth its leaves. I can hear it say, “Ugh this is hard work, but it’s what I am created to do, so push forth I must!”

The Christian life has its seasons as well, each one of them important to fulfilling that for which we are created. We have our summers full of life and our fall season that glimmers with the hope of the year to come. We have our winters, too. Times for rest and reflection. Then comes the spring, that time of new growth, a time of pushing once again, of straining from our core. It is at these times we can often wonder if it is worth it. After all, there is something comfortable about the restful sleep of winter. But, winter is not where we are called to live.

God has created us not for the winter. As purposeful as that time may be, He has called us for the fruit producing season of summer and fall; and spring is the process by which we get there. Even with all its groaning.

I don’t know what season you may find yourself in today, but remember God has called you to fruitfulness, to be found in the fullness for which we were created. So, bloom on dear friend, even if it takes a little grunting and groaning. Know that as you push through, once again living forth as God designed, you shall be a blessing to all, reflecting His glory.

So, let us grow!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Riotous Reconciliation

IT WAS 1965 AND I WAS TEN. It was a typical summer night at my suburban Orange County home. Our family’s store, (think RiteAid) was about a 30 minute drive from our home, but socially it was decades behind, and that hot summer night the flames of the infamous Watts’ Riots were roaring too close for comfort. I remember the night that my dad got the call that rioters were marching in front of the store. I remember my dad and brother jumping in the truck and heading out to see what they could do to avert too much damage. It was a scary time for all.

From as early as I can remember I was taught that skin color and social ranking were not to be markers of a person’s worth. My dad lived-out that teaching everyday as he opened the doors of his store on Compton Ave. That night in August, 1965, my dad’s faith in the goodness of people, no matter their race or social status, would be put to the test.

Upon driving up to the store my dad and brother found a number of black men with guns at the ready. An even greater dismay occurred when my dad recognised that these were his regular customers, people he had befriended with free items when they were in need. Angered, he jumped from his truck, pistol in hand. As he approached the men they yelled to him, “Mr. Bob! Mr. Bob! Don’t you worry, nobody is going to touch your store. We’re here to protect it!” And protect it they did. The businesses on either side of our store were burned-out, but ours remained untouched.

It was in the midst of the riot that the true nature of people was released. Yes, some rose to cause damage and hurt, be they white or black, and yet others rose-up to show that the color of one’s skin was not to be the determining mark of one’s heart.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are in a riot zone. But we are not called to be rioters, fighting for what we think are our rights, but rather reconcilers, living for what is truth. In the Scriptures we read, “And God reconciled us to Himself through Christ Jesus and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ,  not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)  

Let us all then live out the reconciling reconciled life everyday in everyway.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Standing Stones

IT’S EASY TO GET LOST in your thoughts, especially when you’re walking along West Cliff Drive. It was a week ago I found myself in just that spot. A gorgeous sun-drenched day found me strolling along the foot path lost in my thoughts.


At first I walked right by it, but something caught my eye and turning I saw this amazing stack of stones, one place precariously upon the other.


My first thought was, “Wow!”, followed by, “How did they do that?”, which led to, “Why did they do that?”  That’s the way it is with standing stones, they’re there to catch your attention. Ultimately they are there to remind you of something special. They might be placed there on a whim, or they may mark some event, but whatever reason they are there to say something, even if it’s simply, “Hey look at this!”


The peoples of the Ancient Near East, including the Hebrews, were good at erecting standing stones. For the Jews these pillars were to be reminders of God’s unique acts, like the crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 4) or Jacob’s encounter with the LORD at Bethel where the Abrahamic Covenant is restated (Genesis 35.) The standing stones were important to the one building and more important for the generations to come.


We too can build standing stones, not unlike those of the Old Testament. Some outward physical reminder of an inward spiritual work. It might be highlighting a passage from Scripture wherein God spoke to you. It may be a picture hanging on your wall that captures a place where you had a unique encounter with the Lord. it might even be a small stone setting on a shelf reminding you of a time and place where God met with you. I have numerous such items throughout my office and looking at them brings to my memory lessons learned and grace encountered.

What standing stones do you have? Why not take time this week to revisit some of them. Take time to ponder those Biblical passages where God spoke to you. You might even have a spot close-by where you had a special time with God, go there and remember. Take time this week to give thanks to God for those times He reached out to you. And know this, He desires to meet with you again and to give you time to create more memorials to His presence.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

BUYING-OFF THE RESURRECTION

IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, but you can be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and be bought-off with the promise of wealth and worldly protection. Boy, the lives of the Evil One are pretty strong.

Take a look at the resurrection account recorded by Saint Matthew. In chapter twenty-eight we are given the account of the two Marys coming to the tomb. What they find is an empty tomb, a powerful proclaiming angel and a bunch of dumb-founded soldiers.

According to the flow of the text the soldiers are there the whole time, witnessing the resurrection. They by all accounts hear the same message, and when they leave they retell the same story that the women will share with disciples. It's so difficult to believe that the soldiers were so easily bought-off after seeing what they saw. But such is the power of riches.  I guess there is something to be said about the admonition that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Given the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, how would you respond?

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

THE JOURNEY HOME

MY FEET HURT! ALL FOUR OF THEM! When did you say we were going to reach our destination? Tomorrow? You said that YESTERDAY! Do you really know where you’re taking us? Did I mention my FEET HURT?!

I was fine in our river-side home. And the river was just perfect, not too cold, not too warm and the food was plentiful. We hippos were meant for rivers, not dry grasslands. Are you SURE it was God you heard and not your stomach growling?  I mean, how can you be sure?  Yes, yes I realize we met a lot of other nice couples along the way, though those two crocodiles are disconcerting, and yes, all the husbands heard the same message, but husbands have been known to be wrong ya know!  Did I mention my feet are KILLING me?


I was happy where we were. No big changes expect during high river time, or when the kid came over.  That’s ANOTHER thing, why just us? Why couldn’t the whole herd come along? Oh yeah, right, God said only two. The fact is, I just don’t like this journey at all. I was comfortable at home. By the way . . . my feet have stopped hurting . . . I just can’t feel them anymore.


Are you sure you know the way? You keep looking around like you’re expecting something. Oh right, water is supposed to start falling from the heavens. Now look, honey, we all know, even the wildebeest know, that water comes up from the ground. Rivers, lakes, streams, and the mist that feeds them all, water comes from below, not above. Why am I following you anyway? Oh I forgot YOU'RE the leader of the herd!  The herd we LEFT BEHIND! OUCH! Blasted rock! Hey, I can feel my aching feet again! Thank the Lord for small blessings!


So, let me get this straight, this whole journey, an adventure YOU call it, is because we are to trust God, even when we don’t know the way or the destination? That’s a whole lot of trust, dear. Trust and follow. Follow and trust. Seems like a lot to ask of a hippo. We’re not really created for this type of journey. I’ll be honest, I’m more than a little scared. But I’ll trust you as the leader to trust the Lord, and I’ll follow you to our new home, a home you promised would be better, right? Of course, right. But my feet still hurt!


Hey now, who’s dropping water on my head! Well, I’ll be a hippo’s mother! Guess it’s time to pick up the pace, our destination looms ahead.