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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oswald on Obedience

This is great stuff from Oswald Chambers about obedience. It’s so good, we’ll be discussing it during our gathering this Saturday.

Here goes…

July 28th - God's Purpose or Mine?
“He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side ...” Mark 6:45

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God's purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God's purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish — His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.

God's training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself.

God's purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious.

(Oswald Chambers’ devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” is filled with gems like this)