Monday, May 15, 2017

Everything's Ducky

AFTER ONE OF OUR RECENT SPRING RAINS I noticed two mallards walking down our street, a male and a female. The female was searching the muddy puddles for a morning meal while her faithful partner stood by vigilantly.  As she moved from puddle to puddle he would waddle a few feet away always casting an eye for any hint of danger. It was only when he was sure of her safety that he ventured to scoop through the murky waters with her.

I watched my two feathered friends for quite awhile as they worked their dance of eating and protecting. It was only as the sound of an approaching car was heard that they made their way around the bend and down the street to a safer spot.

The protective relationship exhibited by Mr. Duck, brings to my mind the words of the psalmist found in Psalm 91:1-4. He writes,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
They say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.
Surely He will save you
from the fowler’s snare
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Our God is the God who is with us. He is the God who stands by our side. He promises never to leave us, never to forsake us and in Him we can find our shalom.

My pray for you this day is that you would know the peace of the God that surpasses all understanding, and will live in the awareness that His peace shall guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, May 08, 2017

They Can Kill You!

MEDICATIONS ARE MEANT TO HELP, until you read the small print. If it wasn’t so scary I would find advertisements for medications quite humorous. Meds for heart problems can give you heart attacks. Meds for intestinal ailments can bring about cramping and diarrhea. If you have asthma you can take a pill to help you breathe, but the side effects can cause seizures. These medications can help, but they can also hurt.  It really makes you wonder.

I realize that the drug companies need to cover themselves from lawsuits, etc. but wouldn’t it be great if these drugs that were meant to bring us relief would do so without the threat of death? The promise of life is not life at all. I suppose, when you think about it, this is true for some many things in life. The tool or toy, if not handled carefully, can bring harm to the user. And let’s not forget food. That diet drink you’re drinking to cut calories can give you cancer. Yikes! The stuff out there to help you can kill you.

Too often we see God’s Word that way. We see it as putting chains upon us. Directing our lives into places that will take our freedom away. His Word can make us feel guilty and can give us the sense of not being able to measure up. But, that’s not the way God’s Word is. It is meant to bring us life, not death.  God’s Word is to bring us to the good, not to the grave. Consider Moses’ words to the Children of Israel just shortly before his death.

Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. When Moses finished reciting all these words to Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you -- they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing this Jordan to possess.’” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47)

God’s Word is life. Yes, it may be a hard pill to swallow at times, but when taken regularly and faithfully they do not bring harm, but healing. Hey are for our good and His glory.

Therefore, I encourage you to take of them daily, take the full dose and receive the life that they are designed to give. As the writer of Proverbs wrote, “Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to all who find them and health to one’s body.”  (Proverbs 4:21-22)

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Blessing

AT THE END OF MOST OF OUR MORNING WORSHIP SERVICES we offer a benediction, a blessing to all as they leave the service and head back out to the “real world.” A blessing is something that we all need on a continual basis, and thankfully our God is a God of blessing.

He blesses us with that which we need, and often He’ll bless us with a few things we didn’t know that we needed, like trials. I was reading Oswald Chambers this morning, a little piece he wrote on the place of peace in our lives. He wrote, “we would never know the ‘treasure of darkness’ if we were all in the place of placid security.” (The Philosophy of Sin, Discovery House Publishers) The ‘treasure of darkness’ does not sound like a place I would desire to be, but without those dark times, we would not know the true and abiding peace that the Lord brings during those time. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, but that He has overcome the world, so that we can have peace in Him. In the place of the unknown, it brings peace knowing that we are known and cared for by our gracious God.

Blessing is important, and not only from God, but from each other. We have been blessed in order to be a blessing. Our blessings come from the words we not only pray for others, but the words we speak over others. When is the last time you pulled your child aside, or a brother or sister in Christ, or a spouse and in their presence spoke a blessing over them?  I know this can sound like a scary proposition, but this blessing can truly lift a person up and help them to find peace and comfort.

The Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Giving a blessing can instill peace, it makes you a peacemaker, the very thing that the Lord called you to be. This is one of the reasons we offer a benediction at the end of our worship service, to bring peace.  With that in mind I would like to speak a blessing over you today. This blessing comes from a  prayer found in the Common Book of Prayer (from the Church of India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka) . The author writes,

May the cross of our Risen and Conquering Savior, which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan and more glorious than all the hosts of heaven, abide with you in your going out and your coming in. By day and night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places may it protect and defend you. From the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits, from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil, from all passions that beguile the soul and body: may it guard, protect and deliver you. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be upon you, and remain with you forever. Amen.

May you go forth to be a blessing. Blessing in the holy Name of our God, and may you know His peace as you seek to bless others.

Ancestry.com

THIS PAST CHRISTMAS Linda gave me the gift of having my DNA analyzed through Ancestry.com. It was something I had desired to do since I heard of the process of checking your family roots. My mom always told me that my heritage was rooted in Ukraine and that on my dad’s side in Prussia. Sadly, Prussia, as a country, doesn’t exist anymore and the family records only go back to my grandparents. As far as I was concerned my roots were pretty shallow.

The idea of having my DNA checked struck me as pretty cool. A little spit in a plastic tube, put it in a special mailing envelope and in six weeks my history would unfold before me.

So I waited . . .

Then the day came when I received the results, complete with colored charts and graphs. The results? Not too surprising . . . my folks had it nailed down pretty well. I am Eastern European. I was hoping for some sort of exotic results, like I was Jewish or Hawaiian, but alas, my roots are firmly planted in Eastern Europe.

As I have pondered the results and gone over the charts I have been brought to the thought that the most important part of my heritage is not where I have come from, but rather where I am and where I can help my family go. As I write this I can look up and see a picture of my family. We hail from America, Bolivia and Burkina Faso. Three generations, an international mix, quite a lovely picture. I realize that my responsibility is not so much living up to my past, but preparing my family for the future. Specifically, that they know and follow Jesus Christ and that their homes are made secure in His love and grace.

History is important, it can give us a sense of rootedness to the past, but the roots we are nourishing now are much more vital. As a father and grandfather, how am I developing an environment that provides a rich soil in which my family can thrive? That is the question that must drive me today.

Providing a garden of God’s love, joy, hope and peace where there is security to grow as God designs. That’s this gardener's job.

How does your garden grow?

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.