Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Oswald New Year

Great stuff from Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for His Highest”. Happy New Years Everyone! - Joe

This is from the December 31st reading…

“You shall not go out with haste, ... for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
Isaiah 52:12

Security from Yesterday.
“... God requires an account of what is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise when we remember our yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God's grace tends to be lessened by the memory of yesterday's sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present.

Security for Tomorrow.
“... the Lord will go before you ...” This is a gracious revelation — that God will send His forces out where we have failed to do so. He will keep watch so that we will not be tripped up again by the same failures, as would undoubtedly happen if He were not our “rear guard.” And God's hand reaches back to the past, settling all the claims against our conscience.

Security for Today.
“You shall not go out with haste ...” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Feast for the Ages

Noche Buena (or Christmas Eve to my non-Caribbean friends) always brings a smile to my face. Growing up Cuban-American, this was the high point of my family’s yearly social calendar. We’d somehow cram all of our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, godparents and assorted friends of the family together under one roof to celebrate Christmas (before even opening a single present!).

Center stage was the roast pork. They get a whole pig from a local butcher (yes, the whole hog) and prepare it for the coming evening. I have vivid memories of seeing the pig before it would be infused with garlic, spices, and marinade. My thoughts? “Man that’s gonna taste good!” It would then be put into a “Caja China”, a box where the coals were spread on top of the metal lid, and the pig would lay underneath.

A veritable cornucopia of food surrounded the event. Rice and beans, Yuca root, Tostones (twice-fried plaintains), ham croquetas, veggies, mashed potatoes, arroz con polla (Caribbean chicken and rice), even roasted turkeys! Food somehow served to bring us together. The real celebration was family; our love for one another. Differences were set aside and we enjoyed each other. The younger kids would play, the older cousins would hang out (and play pranks on the younger ones), and parents would sit around and talk (and eat). Leaving was always bittersweet…Ok, maybe not (Christmas morning awaited just a few hours away). But the memories of our time together far outlasted the life-span of the toys we’d get the next day.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember the baby in the manger; God with us. His greatest gift to us was Himself. The outpouring of that gift, resulted in a mending together of our broken relationship with Him. When history ends, Scripture states that there will be a great wedding feast between Jesus and the Church. That which was separated now has been united. What is it about food and the healing of relationships?

May God bless you this Noche Buena and Christmas Day!

Revelations 19:5-10
And from the throne came a voice that said,

“Praise our God,
all his servants,
all who fear him,
from the least to the greatest.”

Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder:

“Praise the LORD!
For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”

For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can you map out a heart?

During a recent walk with a friend, we discussed science and faith and how over the years have wielded them like weapons against each other. But it's like comparing apples to oranges. They're simply different. Science is diligently at work trying to make sense of that which can be measured, codified, and tested. Faith wrestles with everything else that (so far) cannot be prodded and probed by lab technicians.

There is much mystery that continues to cloak our existence.

And I think that’s great.

Sure, you can share the science behind why stars twinkle and what makes the sky turn various colors at sunrise and sunset. You can explain how an acorn turns from a tiny seed to a mighty oak. You can categorize the various constellations and even use them to guide your way across a starlit sea. And you can use mathematics to analyze a song.

But what person who possesses a soul can stand unfazed by the beauty of what they can observe or the music that they hear?

Where can you find the wellspring of pure joy?

I mean, it would be a real downer if you could somehow quantify love.

What is love? What does it mean to be in love? What does it mean to be moved by love?

And I’m not just talking about romantic love (although that has its share of delights). How is it possible to ignore your own needs, interests, and sometimes even safety, because of love?

Love is the most powerful word in our language. People seek heaven and earth for a taste of it. To experience it. To somehow attain it.

But what is love? What does it look like?

There are so many things we can understand, so many things we can control.

But we cannot control love.

What we can do is yield to love. To let love have its way with us. To deny ourselves and to live for others.

That’s the sum total of the life of Jesus. He came to show us the way to God. He was killed to take away our sin and rose again to make reconciliation with God possible. He ascended to heaven to lead His followers in beginning the process of growing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Kingdom of Love.

For you see, love wins.

When someone mistreats you and you forgive them, love wins.

When you stand up for the rights of another, love wins.

When you give to another who cannot repay you, love wins.

When you seek after God, love wins.

When you live with the faith of a child, love wins.

This Christmas season; remember that the baby in the manger represents God’s love for humanity.

Emmanuel, God with us.

1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Start of Joy

On Tuesday morning I got up REALLY early (obscenely early if you ask me). I couldn’t go back to sleep and so tried to do some productive stuff while the rest of the world slept in peaceful oblivion. Cuban coffee helped wake me up a little bit and I was thus able to talk with God, work on some writing, and catch up with the latest news regarding my beloved Miami Dolphins as dawn began to break.

But dawn didn’t just break that morning; it cracked wide open like a dropped china vase. Pink fingers of light crinkled their way across the gloom. The clouds lit up like they were on fire. The dark trees just outside our yard along with the recent snowfall magnified the effect of the growing light in the sky. The contrast between dark and light was like watching an evenly matched game of tug-of-war.

But the light was winning.

It was so amazing that I ran upstairs and got Kathy (who was up at the time). Together, we watched the glow of a new day, spellbound by the beauty we savored.

I felt peace and joy. A genuine, non-commercial Christmas moment.

This week of Advent, marks the coming of joy.

It was only fitting that Kathy and I watched “a Charlie Brown Christmas” that evening. After complaining that he can’t possibly memorize his lines for the Christmas play, Linus shares with Charlie Brown and the others what the true meaning of Christmas is.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

With the arrival of the Savior comes joy. We have joy because even though we are surrounded by the gloom of circumstances, sickness, problems, and pain, we can see the light at the edge of the sky.

A new day is dawning. Let us greet it with joy.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Peace on Earth

In describing an argument between two of his children regarding an object, Bill Cosby recalls the younger one screeching “MINE, MINE, MINE,” a wail that could decalcify your spinal column. He ended the argument by snatching the item from the older sibling (who was the rightful owner) and giving it to the younger (immediately silencing the shrieks). The older one protested mightily about this injustice, but Bill was unmoved. He later shared that, "The truth is that parents are not really interested in justice. They just want peace and quiet."

Ah, peace…

Peace is a state of being. A state of well-being. When you are at peace, life tends to slow down. You can savor positive experiences as exquisite delicacies. You can also weather horrible events with grace and patience.

But where does our peace come from?

Am I at peace because of my current conditions or environment? Is peace situational? Can I only find peace in a secluded beach where staff unobtrusively bring me drinks shaded by little paper umbrellas? Do I find peace when I immerse myself in tasks? What happens when I take a break? Do my beliefs bring me peace? Just because I believe in Santa doesn’t mean that I forgo Christmas shopping (or Christmas “making”). If I leave it all up to the big guy, THERE WILL BE NO PEACE on Christmas morning. That’s something you can believe in!

This second Sunday leading to Christmas is the Advent of Peace (Advent means “coming”, so we’re talking about “the Coming of Peace”). In Israel (an occupied nation at the time), the idea of peace was welcome … but nobody expected that it would come in the form of a helpless infant. This infant grew and became a man. He walked among us. He taught us the Way. And He suffered and died to purchase our peace. To regain that which had been lost since the beginning...

Peace between God and His Creation.

As we continue to watch and wait for Christmas, let us reflect on the gift of peace. While peace cannot be created or earned, it can be accepted. It is a great gift indeed.

John 14:27
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Zechariah 9:9-12
Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt. I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Inkwell

Pain makes a fitting inkwell for the writer.
Out of the tarry depths, she splashes black ink against bleached parchment.
Again and again.
Until the ink is gone.
But so much pain only covers a fraction of the pages.
That which is left uncovered reflects the light of life.
And a new perspective is gained.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Advent - Hope

We will start our celebration of the Advent season this Sunday (November 29th). I started to write my blog and came upon this masterpiece by Dennis Bratcher while doing my research.

I decided to run this instead. Enjoy!


Small Things and Possibility: An Advent Reflection

“We live in a world in which bigger and better define our expectations for much of life. We have become so enamored by super size, super stars, and high definition that we tend to view life through a lens that so magnifies what we expect out of the world that we tend not to see potential in small things. But as the prophet Zechariah reminds us (Zech 4:10), we should not "despise the day of small things," because God does some of his best work with small beginnings and impossible situations.

It is truly a humbling experience to read back through the Old Testament and see how frail and imperfect all the "heroes" actually are. Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise. Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody. Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen. Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God. Gideon, the cowardly Baal-worshipper. Samson, the womanizing drunk. David, the power abusing adulterer. Solomon, the unwise wise man. Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough. And finally, a very young Jewish girl from a small village in a remote corner of a great empire.

It never ceases to amaze me that God often begins with small things and inadequate people. It certainly seems that God could have chosen "bigger" things and "better" people to do His work in the world. Yet if God can use them, and reveal Himself through them in such marvelous ways, it means that He might be able to use me, inadequate, and unwise, and too often lacking in faith that I am. And it means that I need to be careful that I do not in my own self-righteousness put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances. I think that is part of the wonder of the Advent Season.

I am convinced that one of the main purposes of the incarnation of Jesus was to provide hope. While most people today want to talk about the death of Jesus and the Atonement of sins, the early Church celebrated the Resurrection and the hope it embodied. It was a proclamation of a truth that rang throughout the Old Testament, that endings are not always endings but are opportunities for God to bring new beginnings. The Resurrection proclaimed that truth even about humanity’s greatest fear, death itself.

Both the season of Advent and the season of Lent are about hope. It is not just hope for a better day or hope for the lessening of pain and suffering, although that is certainly a significant part of it. It is more about hope that human existence has meaning and possibility beyond our present experiences, a hope that the limits of our lives are not nearly as narrow as we experience them to be. It is not that we have possibility in ourselves, but that God is a God of new things and so all things are possible (Isa 42:9, Mt 19:26, Mk 14:36)

God's people in the first century wanted Him to come and change their oppressive circumstances, and were angry when those immediate circumstances did not change. But that is a short sighted view of the nature of hope. Our hope cannot be in circumstances, no matter how badly we want them or how important they are to us. The reality of human existence, with which the Book of Job struggles, is that God's people experience that physical existence in the same way that others do. Christians get sick and die, Christians are victims of violent crimes, and Christians are hurt and killed in traffic accidents, bombings, war, and in some parts of the world, famine.

If our hope is only in our circumstances, as we define them to be good or as we want them to be to make us happy, we will always be disappointed. That is why we hope, not in circumstances, but in God. He has continually, over the span of four thousand years, revealed himself to be a God of newness, of possibility, of redemption, the recovery or transformation of possibility from endings that goes beyond what we can think or even imagine (Eph 3:2). The best example of that is the crucifixion itself, followed by the resurrection. That shadow of the cross falls even over the manger.

Yet, it all begins in the hope that God will come and come again into our world to reveal himself as a God of newness, of possibility, a God of new things. This time of year we contemplate that hope embodied, enfleshed, incarnated, in a newborn baby, the perfect example of newness, potential, and possibility. During Advent, we groan and long for that newness with the hope, the expectation, indeed the faith, that God will once again be faithful to see our circumstances, to hear our cries, to know our longings for a better world and a whole life (Ex 3:7). And we hope that as he first came as an infant, so he will come again as King!

My experience tells me that those who have suffered and still hope understand far more about God and about life than those who have not. Maybe that is what hope is about: a way to live, not just to survive, but to live authentically amidst all the problems of life with a Faith that continues to see possibility when there is no present evidence of it, just because God is God. That is also the wonder of Advent.”

- Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2009 CRI/Voice, Institute, All Rights Reserved

Isaiah 9:1-7
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will soon be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light—a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow. Israel will again be great, and its people will rejoice as people rejoice at harvest time. They will shout with joy like warriors dividing the plunder. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the army of Midian with Gideon's little band. In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ostrich

Seeing the Vice-Principal was not my favorite way to start the afternoon, but I had nowhere else to hide.


For several days I had avoided the necessity of completing my math homework by simply not showing up at all to math class.

Simple logic for an elementary school kid.

After recess, I’d make my way up with the rest of my class but would slip away to “use the bathroom”.

Use the bathroom was right. I used a stall as my hideout for several days. It was conveniently located between my regular classroom and the room we had math in, so I thought I was actually getting away with something.

How was I supposed to know they took attendance?

I spent the hour I had blissfully working on 3D paper Transformers that actually could change from vehicles to robots and back (hey, I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of the REAL ones).

Anyways, it all finally caught up with me, and I stood before the VP. He was on the phone when I was led in for slaughter. I remember he stayed on the phone for what seemed like an eternity.

He had something to tell me, he just wasn’t ready to share what.

Meanwhile, I was a worm squirming on a hook.

I don’t remember what he told me, all I can remember is waiting with dread.

Procrastination in life has neither served me nor the ones I love well. I know I need to talk to someone about something, but I feel (or sometimes I know) it’s not going to be pretty. So I don’t do anything.

I play the ostrich and keep my head in the sand.

At the last possible moment I blurt out what I’m feeling or thinking, and I always seem to do it in the worst possible way and at the worst possible moment.

This has happened on two separate occasions in the past WEEK, and broken pieces are still falling.

Why do I wait and hurt those who I love dearly?

All of those who know me at all acknowledge that I’m not perfect. It’s very true, and I’m glad that I can recognize it. I’m a screw-up just like everyone else.

I don’t have it together.

I’m glad that God loves screw-ups. That He loves those who don’t have it all together (and never will). I’m thrilled to have a relationship with a God who doesn’t treat me like I deserve to be treated.

And it’s all because of the Cross.

Luke 23:26-49
As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened to the cross above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”And with those words he breathed his last.

When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Prayers for El Salvador

Rambo does not drink coffee.

He told me a while back that he doesn’t because of health issues. It doesn’t sit well with his digestion.

I usually find him around one of the local gas stations, waiting for work like everyone else. He stands out because he’s usually dressed in battered camouflage fatigues. First time I met him, I asked him his name and he simply shrugged and replied in Spanish, “Everyone calls me Rambo.” So Rambo it was.

I see him often, and ask how he’s doing. He usually talks about how little work there is to be had. I reply that there MUST be some good things that happened in the past week (this either brightens his outlook on life or royally annoys him; I never know for sure).

Two days ago, I ran into Rambo and a few of friends. I was down to my last container of coffee and cheerfully greeted them. They were not as animated as they usually are; I could tell something was out of place. Rambo was the first to speak. He shared about the mudslides in El Salvador; the brutal aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“They need so many supplies. Nothing is being done for them.”

What could I say to this? I felt deflated. We discussed the needs for a few minutes, and I said I would try to find out what relief agencies are doing to help. What good would that do, I thought? Find some facts on the internet. Share it with them later. Whoopee. Good job, Joe.

Well, yesterday, I found out that Virginia Baptists are responding to the emergency in El Salvador.

“Raúl Santamaría, a native of El Salvador and pastor of Tabernáculo Biblico Bautista Virginia, a BGAV church start in Ashburn, is coordinating relief efforts among Latino churches in Virginia and planning to lead a response team from his church to the affected area. The purpose of the trip is to assess current and future needs and to distribute items of relief. The team will be ministering in connection with the Tabernáculo Biblico Bautista in San Salvador, El Salvador.”

I found out that churches are invited to collect clothing items this Sunday (November 15th), which will be transported to Fredericksburg this Tuesday (November 17th).

“Pastor Raúl and the team will take the collected items with them as they travel to El Salvador. Items listed are to be distributed to all ages. They are looking for jeans, slacks, shorts, skirts, dresses, t-shirts, short-sleeved shirts and shoes (tennis, deck, sandals). All items should be in good condition and lightweight in nature as this is a tropical climate. All sizes are needed.”

In conjunction with the gathering of clothes, The River will offer a prayer service for those affected by this disaster.

Please keep El Salvador in your prayers. Interestingly, “El Salvador” is Spanish for “The Savior”.

Jesus said that when you clothe another, you are clothing Him.

Let us clothe “El Salvador.”

Friday, November 6, 2009


It was the winter of 1999 and I had experienced a great first semester at seminary. I passed my five classes, was active at my new church, had a good group of new friends (why do seminaries seem to attract weird people?), and was working two jobs. Through all this madness, I also managed to find a girlfriend. I looked forward to coming to Miami to hang out with my family and friends, and to celebrate Christmas and New Years 2000.

I got home, ready for a frantic week of social activity, and got sick.

Really sick.

Sick, sick, sick.

I was so sick that I was bedridden for several days.

I have my theories as to what happened, but the one that really sticks out is that my body couldn’t take it anymore. I had experienced a brutal schedule and my body was in survival mode. As soon as my schedule let up, my body decided that it was time to recuperate.

So I was on a forced bed rest to give my body and mind a chance to heal.
With all that we go through, why don’t we take time apart more often to avoid the crashes?

ESPECIALLY after we experience success?

Times that I have been my lowest have usually followed mountain-top experiences. We find similar occurrences all over the Bible. Something amazing happens, and then the participants get pummeled by circumstances. Moses, David, Elijah … and that’s just a few.

We have this habit of soaring like an eagle, then plummeting like a lead duck.

I, for one, don’t like drops (I don’t exactly enjoy being flung up in the air either).

What’s the answer to keeping a level keel?


Jesus did a lot of it. If you look at His life, He didn’t ride a rollercoaster of emotions.

His life was a steady walk.

He knew His mission and fulfilled the life His Father placed before Him.

He walked with His Father.

His life was consumed with the reality of a dual existence. He lived life among us, but He also lived with His Father. He would take time away from us to walk with Dad.
We become who we spend time with.

My challenge this week isn’t to pray to God every day for 30 minutes, or to serve others, or even to hang out with other believers.

My challenge is to carve some time out of your busy schedule and to hang out with God. Take a drive down a lonely road. Sit in a field, or by a lake, or in your garage. Walk around your neighborhood at six in the morning (or nine at night).

Whatever it takes.

To be still.

Genesis 5:21-24
When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it. The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble! God’s voice thunders, and the earth melts! The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Come, see the glorious works of the LORD: See how he brings destruction upon the world. He causes wars to end throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and snaps the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.

Luke 4:38-44
After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. Many were possessed by demons; and the demons came out at his command, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But because they knew he was the Messiah, he rebuked them and refused to let them speak.

Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Change on a Bus

The clock was ticking and we had to get out of the District of Columbia … fast. Through an unforeseen sequence of events, Kathy and I were standing on a street corner waiting for a bus, that would take us to a train, that would take us to our car, that would finally take us home.


I had a few bucks in my pocket and nervously awaited the Metrobus. Although I had ridden the bus in Miami countless times, I had never ridden one in D.C. and so was not familiar with their toll system. The fare would be $2.70 and no, they wouldn’t take our Metrorail cards. Leafing through my wallet, I found two singles and a five dollar bill. They also wouldn’t give change.


As we stood there, in the front of the moving bus, swirled with uncertainty as thick as the diesel fumes, it happened.

“Hey, they need some change.” I turned around and noticed a guy in the middle of the bus.

“C’mere,” he motioned to me.

I hesitated, then walked up to him.

“How much ya need?”

I told him the fare, and he gave me five singles for my Lincoln. I gratefully thanked him.

He then turned around and called out cheerfully. “Anybody got change? They need seventy cents.”

An older gentleman motioned me over. He counted out three quarters into his gnarled hands and popped them into mine. I started to give him a dollar but he wouldn’t take it. He asked where we were heading and told us he’d give us a heads up when we got near our stop. I thanked him, paid the fare, and sat down with Kathy.

Once we arrived at our stop and got off the bus, I turned to her and whispered, “You do realize that we just saw an angel.”

Were they angels? I don’t know. Did God provide for our needs through them? You betcha.

How many times in our lives have we rubbed shoulders with messengers from God? How many times have we been served by the angels of the Servant King? When might have we served them?

One of my favorite passages in Scripture revolves around the dialog between Manoah (who would become the father of Samson) and an angel of God. Manoah didn’t recognize that he was in fact a spiritual being. The angel shared that they would have a son who would begin the deliverance of their people from their oppressors.

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.”

The last sentence can also be translated “It is wonderful.”

“It is wonderful.” It is so amazing, that you cannot wrap your finite minds around it. We as a race love to name things. Naming things helps us to categorize, to control. What do we say when we finally understand something? “I get it.”

Why should we show hospitality to others? I mean, anybody can do nice things for others. But what begins to happen when we start asking God to open our eyes to the needs of those around us? When does showing love to others transcend our own understanding? When does the motivation for our service shift from “I am doing this because I want to be a loving/nice/balanced/good person,” to “I am doing this because I see God at work in this. Regardless of the cost, I must press on.”

This week’s challenge encompasses changing our world. We as a church have a vision to expand God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Quite frankly, this isn’t about slapping bricks together to make huge new church buildings or expanding LISTS of people who see things as we do. This is about watching and listening to see where God is at work and joining Him in it.

Reveal God’s love and kindness to someone this week.

Don’t make a decision beforehand on who, what, when, or where. Just make the decision that you’re going to do it and WAIT for God to prepare the circumstances. He’ll let you know.

It is wonderful.


Related Verses
Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

Judges 13:15-18 (NIV)
Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”

The angel of the LORD replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.)

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding (or is wonderful).”

Matthew 25:31-40 (NLT)“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Scripture quoted marked NIV taken from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Get Big

I hate going to the gym. There are many things I’d rather do than work myself to physical exhaustion several times a week.

Gym proponents speak of the endorphin rush you get after a good workout. Funny, I always thought that rush was my body celebrating the fact that the torture session was over. I have often shared that my favorite part of going to the gym was LEAVING the gym.

You see, when you work out, you are putting stress on your muscles. They break down and the body works to fix them. What the body ends up doing is growing the existing muscle fibers while adding MORE. The body then stands back as if to say “Ha. Let’s see you break THOSE.”

Which is exactly what happens the next time you head to the gym and are surprised to find out that you can lift the barbell one or two more times than the last time (having a workout buddy who counts your repetitions in German so you have no idea when you’re SUPPOSED to stop also helps in squeezing out a few more reps). You do this long enough, this cycle of breaking down and getting bigger, and you indeed will (to quote my Germanic friend) GET BIG.

We do not grow when we do not challenge ourselves. So over the next four weeks, our church will face four challenges that will help us live out our vision of what it means to be a church.

Our first challenge is quite simple; Starting on October 25th, hang out with someone who follows Jesus three times this week. It can be the same person (other than your significant other or spouse (NOTE: if you’re not hanging out with your spouse three times a week, then THAT is your challenge this week!)) or it can be three different people or three different groups of people.

A church gathering counts ONLY if you actually get to hang out with someone before, during or afterwards.

Having a friend over for coffee at home in your bunny slippers counts.

Showing up for a small group counts.

Carpooling counts.

Texting, emailing, IMing, Facebooking, etc. do not count. You need to be able to make eye contact (webcams don’t count either).

Why go through this? Especially if you have younger kids or work multiple jobs? Because we were created to live in community. The crazier our lives get, the more we need others to walk along.

One week; three opportunities to hang out with those who share your faith.

If you want to get an early start, show up to where you typically gather for worship. Or hang out with us (the Cuban coffee will be flowing…) at 317 South West Street from 11am to noon, Sunday morning.

Related Verses
Acts 2:42-47

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Hebrews 10:19-25
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 7

I’m REALLY looking forward to Saturday.

My mind has always been a hamster wheel on steroids (doesn't always go somewhere, but man can it spin). Growing up, I was always thinking through some Random Technical Thought. One example in the 5th grade involved trying to invent a levitating device with a box and a pair of electromagnets (that idea put a smile on my science teacher's face. He then asked me to let him know the outcome; adults can be so cruel).

My mind was also busy creating storylines in my head. Like how I escaped a stricken airliner, miraculously survived a plummet into the ocean, washed ashore on a Cuban beach, and ignited a revolution that restored freedom and democracy to my peoples (this was just one SEGMENT of a storyline).

Remember Ralph Phillips from the animated Loony Toons series of the fifties? That was me!

I would think so much as a child, that I had chronic insomnia. I couldn't help it. My mother would tell me that I needed my sleep and to just stop thinking (like that was going to happen). It got to the point that I got pretty good at faking sleep when mom came in to turn off the wall AC unit (it helped cut our energy bills).

As a matter of fact, I'm writing this entry at 12:23am on a Tuesday morning. I'm writing NOW for several reasons:
(A) I just finished watching my beloved Miami Dolphins beat their divisional rivals (the New York Jets) on Monday Night Football. We scored a touchdown with six seconds left in the game to retake the lead, and my adrenaline is still flowing …
(B) I just checked my schedule for the week and I'm crunched for time because of all that needs to be done for our Community Coffeehouse on Friday and our church's total makeover Open House on Sunday, and …
(C) Saturday.

Saturday I'm doing nothing.

Nothing related to work, that is.


It's crazy, I know. There are a lot of tiny details I could prepare for on Saturday to really make our Open House pop.

But six days are enough.

The opening chapters of Genesis give us a blueprint. Work six days, and then take a rest. It's a cycle, a rhythm. It's necessary from a physical, mental, and spiritual perspective. Our bodies need a break from daily labor to recharge. The mind as well needs a change of pace to keep functioning at a high level.

But spiritually?

The day of rest is a declaration that God provides for our needs. Do I trust that six days of work are enough? He commands that we rest to showcase His provision. It’s so important that it’s one of the Ten Commandments.

Do I trust God enough to focus my energy on my work days so that I can take a day of rest sandwiched between two high-profile events?

Can we all learn to take a day to rest from our jobs on a regular basis?

Genesis 2:1-3
So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Exodus 20:8-11“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

Psalm 127:1-2
Unless the LORD builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the LORD protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.

(Thank you Charlie for bringing that Psalm to my attention!)


Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day 6

Jose Gonzales was my best friend in high school. The first time I met him was in 10th grade waiting in the hallway for lunch to be over and 5th period English to start (this was before I learned that I could pick the lock to the classroom with my glasses, but that’s for another story). He struck up a conversation about the merits of lizard meat and a friendship blossomed.

Over the years, we spent a lot of time together. Since neither of us had a car, we walked everywhere around our neighborhoods. We’d walk a few miles to go to a music store, or walk down the street to get something from the supermarket. Or walk to the Dade County Youth Fair to try to sneak in (I have no recollection if we actually ever succeeded). On our journeys we once decided to chase down an annoying chihuahua. It also had a friend; a pit bull who decided to chase us (more on THAT one another time).

Once college rolled around, we kept hanging out because (a) we both lived within walking distance of Florida International University and (b) neither of us still had a car. After a few years I graduated and headed to Texas for seminary. We didn’t really keep in touch, but every time I would fly down to Miami, we’d hook up and it’d be like I never left. Jose is one of a small handful of friends I have that are like that.

On December 21st, 2001, I was in Miami. I had finished my last class in Texas a few weeks earlier and had just gotten a position as a minister of youth at Culpeper Baptist Church in Virginia. This gave me a few days to spend with friends and family. I called Jose and we decided to walk around some. We headed toward the shopping centers and ended up at the Burger King on Bird Road and 117th Ave. I got my usual Whopper Jr. combo and we took our meals to the vacant play area outside. I did not realize at the time that my life was about to change radically.

You see, that was the last time I hung out as a “single person”.

It was in that play area, surrounded by red woodchips, that I received a phone call from Kathy Correa (my “friend” of seven years) wanting to know if I was available to get together later that evening for dessert.

We went to Swenson’s, I insisted on paying, and the rest is history.

On the sixth day, God created relationships.

Genesis 1:26 reads “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.”

“Let us.”


God has always existed in terms of a relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A mystery; Three yet One.

“Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.”

We were created to live in relationship with others, as God lives in relationship with Himself. Jesus said that when two or three gather under the umbrella of His identity, that He co-exists in that relationship. God becomes visible through those relationships. Is it any wonder that the first thing Satan attacked was the relationship between Adam, Eve and God? We were created to enjoy a relationship with each other and with God.

“…to be like ourselves.”

To be like God. To live in perfect harmony and grace. The greatest commandment according to Jesus was to love God and to love others.

Pretty simple stuff, really.

Questions to Ponder
How does my relationship with God affect my relationships with people?

How do my relationships with people affect my relationship with God?

Genesis 1:21-34
Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image.

In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.

Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.”

Genesis 3:1-5
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’ ”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 5

My family grew up with a wide assortment of animals. My first recollection of a “pet” was my dad picking up a dog from an animal shelter named “Cookie”. She apparently was given away because she had bitten somebody, but she was always a good dog to us. Cookie was a melting pot of various breeds whose main job was to keep our large backyard rodent free. Although I have no recollection of male dogs living nearby, she raised a few litters of puppies (this was before it was popular to spay your pets) following God’s decree to multiply and fill the earth. Her one weakness, however, was that she liked sleeping on the street.

She only got hit once.

This led to a trip to the vet for a broken paw. We were so worried about her (well, I was worried; I think my dad was ticked off for getting such a dumb/expensive dog). I remember the smell of the vet’s office when we went to visit her. It was an acrid aroma of antiseptic and animals. Poor Cookie was lying in a cage, her paw in a cast. I vaguely remember her thumping her tail in greeting to us as if to say, “You didn’t forget me!”

Once she got out and back on her feet, she returned to lie in the street (but probably decided to keep closer to the curb). Dad eventually gave her away.

We had cats too. And chickens (do chickens count as pets if you eventually eat them?). And rabbits. And fish. And we had birds.

For Christmas one year, I spied a large package that was done up in light blue wrapping paper decorated with Smurfs. This was the largest present I had ever seen under our tree, and I was sure it was for me. Well, it was for Mom. She got Wiku, a male cockatiel that year. Wiku had an amazing voice and would lift his wings and start singing if you wiggled your index finger up and down in front of him. He would then bow down his head and gently press the top of his head through the bars so you could scratch him. He would then either start singing again, or snap his head up and try to bite off a chunk of your finger (he could be temperamental at times).

The common denominator with all our pets was we (by “we” I mean my parents) made sure that they were fed. They were under our care, so we provided for their needs. On the fifth day, we find God creating fish for the seas and birds for the air. This corresponds with Him separating the waters to create the oceans and the skies on the second day (land animals apparently had to wait till day six).

So we have oceans full of fish and skies filled with birds, and God is there; smiling at His creation and providing for their needs.

Providing for their needs.

When Jesus shared about His Father’s care and compassion for us, He often spoke of birds and fish. Here are just two of several passages regarding these.

Matthew 7:9-11 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

Luke 12:22-26 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”

Jesus went to great pains to describe God’s concern and provision for us. And so often we forget. We forget that the Creator of the Universe has us in mind. We focus so much on what we don’t have that we often forget what we have been given.

The fifth day of creation is a reminder that God not only is at work at creating, but He’s also at work providing. God has not forgotten you.

What are some moments in your life where you felt hopelessly in need?
How did those needs get met? Or, how are those needs getting met?

Related Verses
Genesis 1:20-23

Then God said, "Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind." So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth."

And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 4

Tuesday of this week (September 22, 2009) marked the Autumnal Equinox and the official start of fall.

One of the things I love the most about living in Virginia is that we truly get to experience the changes in the seasons (without facing extreme weather). Sure, it gets hot and it gets cold here … but we don’t typically experience REAL extremes.

Those who think that a 95 degree day in Virginia is extreme should try surviving a summer in Miami with a car that lacks air-conditioning. My beloved 74’ Camaro got me through college (that is, when it wasn’t sitting in my front yard for lack of parts or service). I bought it from my brother-in-law for a pittance one winter in Miami. Had he tried selling it to me during the summer, he might have had to pay me to take it. It got HOT in that car with all the humidity. I finally attempted ignoring the heat (hey, people walk on coals don’t they?) but that didn’t prevent the blisters on my rear that I’d get sitting on the vinyl seats after an afternoon parked in the South Florida sun. Virginia doesn’t get THAT hot.

Now, those that think it gets too cold in Virginia should spend a day atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The average temperature is 48 degrees with a wind speed of 25 mph … in August. If you really want to see bad weather, check them out on a January day where the average temperature is 5 degrees and the average wind speed is 46 mph! The worst weather in the world has been recorded atop that mountain (-47 degrees in January of 1934, and a wind gust of 231 mph on April 12th of that same year!).

We visited Mount Washington twice in my childhood (both in August) during camping expeditions in New Hampshire. There is a weather observatory on top that has an enormous flat roof (with rails) that you can walk around to see the amazing vistas. The times I’ve gone it was rather cold (or as my dad told a visitor on the way up “It is C-O-L-D, COLD.”). Not only was it cold, it was extremely windy, and visibility wasn’t that great either. The wind was so powerful, my cousins and I would take turns atop the roof with our jackets open (using them as sails), seeing how much faster we could run. Let’s just say that a 40 mph tail-wind will do wonders for your sprint speed. We would have to close our jackets by the end of the runs to avoid hitting the rail, flipping off the roof, and ending up somewhere in Ohio.

Getting back to the change in seasons, I love seeing the leaves changing in the fall. I love looking out my window and seeing a snowfield in my backyard during the winter (I reserve other feelings for when I look at my icy driveway …). The spring brings color and life (as well as allergies). And the lazy days of summer herald trees ready and able to offer shade.

Without seasons, life as we know it would not exist. The way our planet functions is through changes. Birth, growth, reproduction, death. Biology is about seasons. Life is about seasons.

On the fourth day of Genesis, we are introduced to the idea that there is a reason for why we have seasons.

To mark changes.

Life is about change.

Change happens to all of us. Even mighty granite mountains are changing. One day in the distant future, our current mountain majesties will be an eroded pile of dust. The oceans change. Temperature and salinity affect aquatic life from the smallest microbe to the largest whale. We are aware of the passage of time because it is something we can measure. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons … and the cycle of seasons continues.

We can take comfort from this. From the fact that time and seasons exists. We take comfort that the present moment is not forever (unless you’re a teenager and you’re certain that the pimple you discovered this morning will doom you for the rest of your humiliated existence). The sun WILL rise tomorrow morning. And God will continue to provide for your needs. He is the Master of the seasons and He is in control of whatever season you find yourself in.

What season do you find yourself in today?

How has God provided for you?

How will you know that the sun has indeed risen again?

Related Verses
Genesis 1:14-19

Then God said, “Let great lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them mark off the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. God made two great lights, the sun and the moon—the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day.

Job 38:31-41“Can you direct the movement of the stars — binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? Can you direct the sequence of the seasons or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?
“Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct?
Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?
Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods?
“Can you stalk prey for a lioness and satisfy the young lions’ appetites as they lie in their dens or crouch in the thicket?
Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God and wander about in hunger?

Psalm 104:19-24
You made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to set. You send the darkness, and it becomes night, when all the forest animals prowl about.
Then the young lions roar for their prey, stalking the food provided by God. At dawn they slink back into their dens to rest.
Then people go off to their work, where they labor until evening.
O LORD, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 3

Have you ever tried to make something happen? Something that you are sure would revolutionize your existence? Something that would right all the wrongs you have endured so far on this journey we call life? I’ve tried LOTS of times.

There was a girl called … well, I can’t remember her name so we’ll call her Carla. There was a girl called Carla back in the ninth grade who I was sure would be a great pick for me because she was pretty and somewhat intelligent. I believed she’d be a great complement to me because I was NOT pretty and I had barely escaped Algebra with a D the year before. Mr. Vredenburg (my Algebra teacher) called me aside at the end of eighth grade and declared that he was allowing me to pass WITH RESERVATIONS; he was certain I’d have trouble facing Geometry the following year.


I distinctly remember running into him in the office the next January and letting him know that I aced my first two semesters of Geometry. Later on in high school, however, I decided against letting him know that I flunked Algebra 2. I took it over in the summer with a Pakistani named Dr. Zakkour who called us meatheads and communists. Dr. Zakkour, incidentally, became one of my most beloved professors.

But I digress … let’s rewind back to middle school.

Carla wanted to be a marine biologist when she grew up. She was very preppy. You could picture her stepping off a tennis court with a pastel colored sweater loosely tied around her neck. Why was it that all the pretty girls I met growing up wanted to be marine biologists (my wife included)?

Carla and I shared several classes with her on again off again boyfriend Robin who had blue eyes, blond hair, and a dad who was a Navy Pilot. But that didn’t deter me; I plotted my strategy and decided to make her something that would make her mine. I sculpted a dolphin for her out of clay to demonstrate to her that I knew her heart, and gave it to her one morning when I thought she and Robin were at odds.

I was quite the crafty fellow in more ways than one.

Well, later on that day, she returned the dolphin to me. She had a series of conferences with her girl friends who voted unanimously that her accepting my gift would mean that we were more than friends; something she was not interested in. I tossed my crumbled dreams into the trash can. It took many years, many prayers, and many failed attempts to guide cupid’s arrows before I discovered my true love.

On the third day, God set apart the land from the sea. Then He created life. He created order out of chaos. Stuff began to grow, and it was good.
So often we try to force the issue only to see more harm done than good.

God takes His time to grow stuff. And what He grows, grows well. Really well. Much better than what we can grow. So does this mean we just kick back and relax since God’s got this growing thing covered? Nope. We still have a few days until the Sabbath, and He expects us to work. We should always have our eyes open to what God is doing around us. To stand in amazement at what His hands can (and will) do. It is THEN that we jump in and work alongside Him. When we try to pull off our own stuff, it sooner or later falls flat. God knows what He’s doing in your life. And He is at work in your circumstances.

How have you tried to force your will on something only to see it backfire?

When have you let go of something that you have no control over, only to see something beautiful unfold as a result?


Related Verses
Genesis 1:9-13

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.
And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day.

Proverbs 14:12
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Ephesians 3:14-21
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

The River Community Church. A Community of Connections!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 2

I have always loved overcast days. You know, those flat grey days where a thick blanket of clouds hides the sun. The light ends up being so diffused that shadows hide. The best overcast days in my opinion are in autumn. Those days remind me the most of my childhood in the suburbs of Miami.

Playing with my brother and sisters in our backyard. Fishing out a plastic Star Wars light saber that a friend down the block decided to toss in the trash. Walking out of Perrine Elementary in fourth grade (a one hour bus ride away from my home) clutching a book on how to make model rockets. Feeling the first cold front of the year sweep in as I played street football with my friends.

Those were simpler days; life without politics. I’ll actually get goose bumps when I walk outside on a flat day; a thrill that comes as quickly as it leaves. It’s not so much that I yearn for what was past as I am thrilled to the core to be reminded of what will be.

God is still at work.

As we continue walking through the days of creation, we hit the second day which sounds kinda boring at first glance. God separates the waters from the waters and creates sky in between. The first overcast day :).

What I love the most about Genesis is that God doesn’t just snap His fingers and everything magically appears. The Universe, the galaxies, solar systems, planets, geology, life, ecosystems, etc.

God is in the process of creation. He takes His time.

Have you ever seen potters at work? They slowly squeeze and form a lump of clay as it spins on the pottery wheel. They’ll put “slip” (watery clay) on their hands to help fight friction as they gently guide the clay into what it is meant to be. It is VERY dirty work, but the potter loves it. Potters know that they are in the process of creation.

My neighbor Ben loves to garden. His lawn and backyard are the envy of the neighborhood. I watch him as he pulls weeds or aerates his lawn. He rakes in new seed and trims his bushes. It is very dirty work, but Ben loves it. Ben knows he is in the process of creation.

My wife is an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at an elementary school. She helps children who speak another language at home to better grasp the English language. She teaches everything from science to vocabulary and phonics to grammar (for the record, I just misspelled grammar. Thank you spell-check!). It is very hard work, but she loves it. She knows she is in the process of creation.

God is still in the process of creation.

He is still at it.

The religious leaders got angry with Jesus one time because He healed a man on a day of rest. “But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17)

God is working on your situation. While we are so often focused on the past, or concerned about the future, God is outside of time. He was there before you were around, and He’ll continue to be there to see His plan through.

Life is not about our insignificance. It is about God’s belief in our significance. A belief so strong that it sent Jesus to the cross.

God is still in the process of creation.

With us in mind, He’s separating the waters. With us in mind, He’s forming the clay. With us in mind, He’s tending His gardens. With us in mind, He’s placing knowledge in our minds. With us in mind, He’s building His Kingdom.

Where do you see God still at work?

Related Verses
Genesis 1:6-8

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The First Day

What is it about first days? First day of your life (from then on celebrated as your birthday). First day in kindergarten. First day of a new school year. First day of summer. First day of college. First day at a job. First day of marriage. First day of an empty nest. First day of retirement.

First days are marked, because, well, they’re first. They’re fresh and new. A whole new world of possibilities open up on these days.

Of all my first days of school, the one that always stands out is ninth grade.

I was fortunate in many respects as a ninth grader. I was still attending South Miami Middle School, so I was at the top of my class (not that it made any difference in my social ranking) as opposed to being a frightened, persecuted freshman in high school.

In the waning days of August, I became upset with my mother over some trivial matter and decided that I would prefer to live with my father (a few miles away). So, I packed my bags, and moved out the SUNDAY before classes started. This led to my restless night on a pin pan pun.

I’ll let someone else describe what it’s like to sleep on one of these monstrosities.

“A pin pan pun is a folding cot that is stored in a closet or "garaje". A trundle bed is what Westin hotels might call "heavenly" next to a pin pan pun. A pin pan pun has a bar that one feels through the 1 inch mattress. Nobody has ever actually "slept" on a pin pan pun. Fitfull intermittent unconsciousness is the best that can be hoped for.” (anonymous web poster)

Imagine a sleeper sofa that’s narrower than an air mattress.

People ask me how it is possible for families such as mine that are so large to get along so well with each other. ESPECIALLY when visiting.

“El pin pan pun” is the answer.

Guests get so little sleep that they don’t have the strength to remember old grudges, let alone bring them up. When you go through our old photos, you can tell who the guests are (hint: they’re unconscious on the couch). The included picture is deceiving because a “real” pin pan pun has a chain link fence as opposed to the wooden slats supporting the flimsy mattress.

So I spend the night staring at the flip clock. Listening to its mechanism crank away even failed to lull me to sleep. When the dawn appeared at last, I had breakfast with my dad, and he drove me to school in his old, rusty, work van.

We arrived at school.

Coral Gables High School.

The WRONG school.

He knew I was planning to attend Gables, he just didn’t realize that I had to finish a year at South Miami first. It was just as well. I arrived at South Miami Middle just in time and moved back home that afternoon.

I think there’s a reason why the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

God is in the business of creation. Every day is a new day to Him. Each sunrise heralds a day filled with His glory. He somehow is able to take that which is mundane and make it sparkle. God has often been described as possessing infinite knowledge and power, but it took a professor of mine in seminary to awaken me to the realization that God also possesses infinite creativity.

He loves to create.

And He loves for us to create with Him.

Light is also mentioned in these verses; dispelling the darkness. Jesus often referred to Himself as light for similar reasons. With light comes hope, and hope … hope gives us the strength to keep on going.

One scene in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ that never fails to raise goose bumps on me is when Jesus, traversing the Via Dolorosa, stumbles and falls. His mother Mary rushes to offer comfort, but he simply says, “See, mother, I make all things new.”

The light dispels the darkness and creates new life.

• What does your new day look like?
• What darkness exists in your day that needs to be dispelled?
• How is Jesus re-creating your life and relationships with Him and those around you?

Related Verses

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

Lamentations 3:18-26
I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!”

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.

Matthew 4:12-17
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:
“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

John 8:12
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Revelations 21:5
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Fresh Start

I've always had an affinity for shopping carts.

Growing up, my brother and I stole (I mean found) a beat up shopping cart and kept it in our backyard behind our plywood fortress/tree house (part of which can be seen in the photo behind the kid about to do something stupid with a pointy stick). We turned it into an "attack cart" and added slight modifications that made it much more dangerous than it already was. Dangerous to us that is. I won't divulge what we did to it (to keep less creative youths from major bodily harm) but I will say that it involved fire.

*sigh* those were the days.

Anyways, I did the unthinkable this past Wednesday morning.

I braved the crowds and went to the grand opening of Martin’s Supermarket a few minutes after it opened. Part of me was curious, part of me was greedy for goodies, and part of me actually believed that I might win something. I didn’t win anything, but I did get a free reusable grocery bag and a small bag of free ice cream parlor flavored jelly bellies. But, I am getting ahead of myself …

I found a parking space way back near the gas station and readied myself. Grabbing a cart, I entered the sprawling store.

That’s when it happened … or rather, that’s when it DIDN’T happen.

You know what I’m talking about. You grab a cart and it waits 30 seconds before announcing what its quirks are. It may pull sideways. Or, one of the wheels might squeak horribly. I’ve had carts at stores that had a wheel that had a flat spot so you’d go THUMP, THUMP, THUMP all the way through the store. Or (my favorite) a wheel just sticks at inopportune moments and you feel like you’re trying to hold onto a bucking bronco at a rodeo. Or, some twisted combination of these.

The worst part is feeling guilty for immediately exchanging the cart knowing that you’re sticking it to someone else. Then again, the next cart you get might be in even worse shape…

Well anyways, I started pushing this cart and my muscle memory kicks in. Subconsciously, my body tenses as I enter the doorway; waiting for the inevitable screech of plastic against metal, or violent shift as the cart decides to veer away towards something breakable. But nothing happens. The cart glides like a Mercedes on new asphalt.

It takes a moment for my body to register this and to tell my fingers to release their death grip on the handle. This is what a brand-spanking new cart feels like. This is what a cart is supposed to feel like.

And I am now hopelessly spoiled …

However, instead of dwelling on how carts should be and on why I can’t seem to find “perfect” carts, I am thankful that I got a little taste of shopping cart heaven. While I don’t think there are shopping carts in heaven, it wouldn't surprise me if hell was full of them (well, where ELSE do bad carts go?).

What is it about new experiences or new ways of doing things that gets us excited? Sometimes all that you need to do is slap some fresh paint on your walls to change how the room feels like. A piece of furniture or two (or twelve). Some lamps. A table. A change is great if it heralds a new beginning. A new way of looking at things.

A new way of being.

The River is preparing itself for a big change (for us) this fall. The Sunday following our next community coffeehouse (Friday October 16th) We’ll be shifting our worship gathering to Sunday mornings at 11am. With this new schedule, more people who have connected to us through our small groups and communities will be able to gather together to honor God as a faith community. We’ve been given the green light to repaint the interior of the white house, and we look forward to making it a more comfortable and appealing place for all the groups who meet there. The church is about people, and this will give us a better opportunity to gather together as we walk this journey called life.

Luke 5:33-39
One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”

Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”

Questions to Ponder
Why do we like the old wine?
What must change?
What must continue to grow and expand?
What needs a new coat of paint?
What needs to be torn down and built up again?
How can we continue to focus on relationships? Touching the lives of friends and neighbors that God has blessed us with?

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do I Remember?

Camping in the rain may build character, but it’s not exactly fun. Especially when it happens to be cold outside … and you don’t have a tent.

Just about every year for vacation, we’d pile up in the station wagon or pickup and drive from Miami to New York. Non-stop. 1,300 miles in 24 hours. My dad would be the lone driver for these jaunts; He didn’t trust us to drive. Maybe his lack of trust had something to do with one of my older sisters (who shall remain nameless) who took over driving duties and sub-sequentially drove off the road and decapitated a mile marker off of I-95. Or maybe it was from his youngest son not being able to handle changing gears and chewing gum at the same time.

Sheesh, I was only 12 … or something …

We’d finally get up to the Big Apple, and my dad would collapse on my godparent’s sofa … recharging his batteries for the trip to New Hampshire the following day.
So my cousin Ricky and I (being the youngest guys and having to earn our “Indian feathers” as my godfather Adolfo put it) were under a tarp that was strung between some trees.

I secretly believe that Uncle Adolfo rigged it so we’d get soaked.

There was a patch of dry ground, but it was about the size of a watermelon, and needless to say, we didn’t get to sleep very well that night.

Regardless, we survived to tell the tale about our “happy” childhood.

Sometimes we look back at our lives with nostalgia. We remember laughter and tears. Struggles, failures, and triumphs join the parade. Painful memories will at times creep up as well. We remember how others have impacted our lives. We look at our relationships and marvel how over time they’ve blossomed or withered away.

There are still people I know from college and high school who I could call up and it’d be like we never left.

On the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples, He shared with them (again) that soon He would be joining His Father in heaven. And He told them that they and all those who would follow Him should remember what He was going to accomplish.

Reconnecting the human race with God.

This weekend, as The River gathers by the shore of Lake Pelham, we will take some time to remember what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

What does His death and resurrection mean to me?

Related Verses
Luke 22:14-20

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Low on Juice?

For those of you who have closely been following the odyssey of my attempts to transform my 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300E from a luxury car to a daily driver that doesn’t strand me on reasonably warm days, I believe the end is in sight.

For now, anyways…

My car won’t start if it’s hot outside. I ran through the checklist of possibilities and was pretty sure that the battery was going south, but I had a local tech check it out a few weeks ago and he said it was fine. So I spent the past few weeks being mighty careful where I parked (in case I needed it towed). Life is interesting when your car is as reliable as mine. I didn’t bother checking other potential causes ‘cause they all involved BIG $$$. So I tried only to drive in the early morning or late evening (when I knew it would reliably start).

Case in point, I went on my regularly scheduled water delivery this past Tuesday morning. I started my car (Yay) then drove two miles to Food Lion. I started my car after picking up the water (Woohoo) and drove a quarter mile to a parking lot. I gave out water to some guys and offered a bottle to a police officer who was waiting for speeders. He thanked me, but politely declined. I started my car. Again! I drove to a gas station and filled up my tank. I start it again! I’m feeling pretty good now. I park my car and give out the rest of my water bottles. I hang around and chat for a while. Then I go to leave. Car won’t start. Crap.

I can’t believe this. It’s not even noon yet … So … a migrant worker gives me a jump start, and the car starts up. I’m thinking … this HAS to be my battery! Sooooo …. I drive to Walmart to pick up some stuff and decide to test things by (once again) parking where I know a tow truck can get me. I get my stuff, return to the car, and once again it won’t start. This time, my guardian angels were a pair of good-ol-boys who were waiting with their landscaping equipment a few rows away. They got my car started and I drove to the Walmart Tire Lube Express. They didn’t have my stock battery in stock. Crap.

I went to my car, raised the hood, and decided I WAS going to get a battery right there and then. I pulled out my tool kit, disconnected the battery cables and lifted the battery out. I found the problem. You see, when they tested my battery, the tech was under the assumption that the battery was the correct one for my year and model car (a minimum of 550 Cold Cranking Amps). The test resulted in 596 CCA. “Battery’s fine,” I was told. When I pulled out my battery, I saw that it was not a stock 550 CCA, but a much more powerful 805 CCA battery. My battery was running at only 75% of its rated power; no wonder it’d go dead when days got hot! Mystery solved, I replaced the battery with an 850 CCA beast. I was so happy when I got behind the wheel of my car (that is until I turned the key and it wouldn’t start).

The Walmart folks were kind enough to help jump start my car, which I then took on the open road towards Warrenton to recharge the battery. Say what you will about the dependability of a 22 year old Benz, you can’t tell how fast you’re going unless you keep an eye on the speedometer. They are SMOOTH on the open road, and the faster you go, the happier the engine sounds. (Al, if you’re reading this, let the record state that I complied with the law insomuch as I was able to being that I kept my eyes on the road instead of the speedometer) J Ever since my trip on the Autobahn – uh, Route 29, my car has started even when it’s obscenely hot (so far).

What causes pain in our lives and why?

Why do we so often put our faith in stuff or beliefs that aren’t reliable?

Instead of burying our heads in the sand, or going around from person to person (getting the wrong advice), how can we tackle the problems that plague us?

Does God want me to live in bondage and misery, or does He want me to experience freedom and joy?
(Note: freedom and joy do not necessarily come with health and wealth)

How are our lives transformed when we finally believe the Gospel?

You know what the Gospel is? It means Good News.

The Gospel tells us that God is loving and just. That what separates us from Him (sin) has been defeated on the Cross of Christ. That He loves us just as we are, but He also loves us too much to for us to stay this way. That He’s in control of everything on this planet and beyond. That He cares about your pain, your low self-esteem, and the questions that don’t let you fall asleep at night. That He is in the process of establishing His Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven. That God is love.

That is the TRUTH to me, and I find life is filled with joy and peace (despite my circumstances) when I put my trust in Him.

I love you all, my dear friends.

Remember that God loves you much more than you can imagine.

Related Verses
John 3:1-21

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. ”

Romans 8:31-40
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.