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.