Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Power of Friendship

My brother and I first met Danny and Kenny one day during our elementary years. They were visiting their grandmother who lived down the block from us and we happened to run into each other. The bond was immediate and we became fast friends.

Through the years, we shared many adventures and got through a few tough scrapes. We would open up the manhole cover in the corner of our backyard and watch the roaches dart away from the light. We'd play G.I. Joe and hang out in our tree house (aka “the fort”). We'd go out on their grandparent's boat (with their grandfather at the helm). Or, we might go over to their house and play Nintendo.

We knew each time we saw them that there was adventure in store for all of us.

Good friends do that.

As I made my rounds this morning, I ran into my friend Bennie. I grumbled (kinda sorta) about the weight of the coffee in my shoulder bag as I shifted the weight from one shoulder to the other. A comment was made about how this burden lessens with each blessing given and I was hit with the reality of how we bless each other through friendship and through fellowship.

Through fellowship, we walk with each other, we bless each other, we inspire each other, and we carry each other's burdens. If our times of devotion with God are extremely important, our times of fellowship with one another should also be held in highest esteem.

“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.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He said there were two: love God, and love each other.

Fellowship is a very spiritual act. We are walking alongside those who have been created in God's image.

A shared walk is precious time indeed.


1 Samuel 18:1-4
After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond of love between them, and they became the best of friends. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

1 Samuel 20:16-17
So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, saying, “May the LORD destroy all your enemies!” And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.

John 15:9-17
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where is Your Tent Pitched?

We did a lot of camping growing up. As a result, I missed out on a lot of sleep. No matter where we seemed to pitch our tent, I’d inevitably end up in a spot that had some rocks or a large root underneath. This streak of ill-fortune followed me into my ROTC days as well (sleeping with an assault rifle didn’t help much either).

There were two different types of campgrounds we frequented. Family campgrounds like KOA which had great facilities, or rustic campgrounds which had a hole over a pit. The problem with KOA camping was that it was like being in a crowded suburb. You’d have a tiny lot, and were surrounded by neighbors who ranked each other on what type of gear you’d have. The rustic sites, however, were huge and filled with trees. You might never see your neighbors (which might not be a good thing if you would happen to fall into the ravine that’s ten feet behind your campfire). The problem (or blessing depending on what direction the wind was blowing) was that you’d have to hike down a long gravel road to get to the facilities.

I always was happiest when we were able to land a rustic spot that was close to the facilities. The best of both worlds.

We often segment our lives; work/play, friends/family, quiet time with God/rest of my day.

Should we be this segmented?

What if instead of lining up our day as little boxes to fill up then move on, we kept the boxes together?

What if we pitched our tents between life with God and life with the world around us?

Genesis 12:1-8
“The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the LORD, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD.”

The following excerpt is from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest…

“Worship is giving God the best that He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love — gift. Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship. If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded (see Exodus 16:20). God will never allow you to keep a spiritual blessing completely for yourself. It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others.

Bethel is the symbol of fellowship with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abram “pitched his tent” between the two. The lasting value of our public service for God is measured by the depth of the intimacy of our private times of fellowship and oneness with Him. Rushing in and out of worship is wrong every time — there is always plenty of time to worship God. Days set apart for quiet can be a trap, detracting from the need to have daily quiet time with God. That is why we must “pitch our tents” where we will always have quiet times with Him, however noisy our times with the world may be. There are not three levels of spiritual life — worship, waiting, and work. Yet some of us seem to jump like spiritual frogs from worship to waiting, and from waiting to work. God's idea is that the three should go together as one. They were always together in the life of our Lord and in perfect harmony. It is a discipline that must be developed; it will not happen overnight.”

May we live our lives in such a way that we can worship God as we work and as we wait.


Genesis 28:10-12, 16-17
Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

… Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

Psalm 66:1-9
Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth! Sing about the glory of his name! Tell the world how glorious he is. Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Your enemies cringe before your mighty power. Everything on earth will worship you; they will sing your praises, shouting your name in glorious songs.”

Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people! He made a dry path through the Red Sea, and his people went across on foot. There we rejoiced in him. For by his great power he rules forever. He watches every movement of the nations; let no rebel rise in defiance.

Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises. Our lives are in his hands, and he keeps our feet from stumbling.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Quiet Thunder

It is quiet in the room where I sit and write. The walls of the conference room absorbs much of the silence, save the stream of tappity taps that echoes off my middle fingertips as I make letters appear on the screen, which turn into words, which stretch into sentences, which end up in paragraphs.

The paragraphs sometimes go places.

But it’s just me and the keyboard.

And it’s quiet.

I like it when it’s quiet (why d’ya think I enjoy working in a library?).

When things get really quiet, you can hear yourself breathing; sometimes even the beating of your heart. When we’re THAT quiet, when we’ve pushed out all the distractions, we’re just left with ourselves and God.

Sometimes that’s a scary place to be.

I remember instances in my college years where I would spend days or even weeks not reading the Bible on my own. I felt sure that if I opened the scriptures, God would convict me of doing something wrong, or (even worse) God would tell me to do something I didn’t want to do. Claiming ignorance may not hold up in a court of law, but for the time being, it sure seemed the right way to go.

What a miserable existence.

It took many years for me to get to the understanding that God wasn’t out to get me; He simply wanted to live life with me. And as Creator of everything, He assured me that He had a better understanding of what was right and wrong than I could ever grasp. Some of my times alone with God became amazing adventures of discovery.

Discoveries about myself. Discoveries about life. Discoveries about God and His Nature.

It has been said that the writers of the Bible weren’t interested in proving whether or not God existed. They were fascinated with the idea of WHO God was, of WHAT God was like.

Those questions only begin to get answered when we practice the disciplines.

Getting away from the everyday and spending time with our Creator. Reading the Bible. Talking to God … and listening.

Always listening.

You see, contrary to common belief, you don’t have to head to Tibet, a secluded beach, or (insert your ideal spot for reflection here) to experience the silence where God can speak to you loud and clear.

This silence only appears in the heart of someone who REALLY needs to connect. Someone who is willing to turn off the baseball game, put down the wii, unplug the headphones, and listen…

1 Kings 17:1-7
Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”

Then the LORD said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”

So Elijah did as the LORD told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

1 Kings 18:1
Later on, in the third year of the drought, the LORD said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!”

1 Kings 18:41-46
Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!”

So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.

Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.”

The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.”

Seven times Elijah told him to go and look. Finally the seventh time, his servant told him, “I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.”

Then Elijah shouted, “Hurry to Ahab and tell him, ‘Climb into your chariot and go back home. If you don’t hurry, the rain will stop you!’ ”

And soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm, and Ahab left quickly for Jezreel. Then the LORD gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel.

Psalm 55:1-7
Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.

My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats. They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down. My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.

Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness. (NLT)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shattered Resolutions

A New Year has begun … and New Year Resolutions have already been broken. If I had a dollar for every time I broke a New Years or Birthday resolution, I could probably buy some cool stuff.

But I digress…

Whether it’s going to the gym more often, eating smarter, getting organized, being a better _________, or (insert your resolution here), we all make them and we all break them.

What do we do when we fall short of the goal? Why do we so often just give up after we only fail ONCE? Why do we put so much importance to dates? Why are you going to wait until 2011 to re-try? So what if we screwed up our resolutions, tomorrow we start again.

And again. And again.

And this is what discipline looks like.

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Four hundred and ninety do-over’s. And I’m sure Jesus wasn’t being literal. Even so, 490 opportunities vs. 365 days? I like those odds…

You see, I’ve yet to meet a reasonably sane person, who, when they slip and fall, remain on the ground despite the fact that only their pride is hurt. In reality, if you slip and fall, you get up as quickly as possible and look around to make sure that nobody saw your goof-up.

Failure is only failure if we refuse to get up again.

Discipline is not an easy thing to endure. It takes time to develop.

Because of this, we’re going to take the next few weeks sharing about the disciplines of the Christian life. We ARE NOT going to talk about daily checklists. Rather, we’re going to share with each other the ways that God helps us to grow in His likeness. It’s His life within us that changes our habits. We just have to open ourselves to those changes.

That involves getting back up.

Again and again.

Victory doesn’t happen overnight.

But it WILL come.

So keep getting up, for today is a new day.

Lamentations 3:21-26
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.

2 Peter 1:3-11
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.

Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.

Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Lease on Life

I ran into a friend of mine named Harry the other day. He lives by a large lake near where I live and loves to kayak on it. It’s been fairly cold recently (parts of the lake have frozen over) so he surprised me by sharing that he might be donning a wetsuit on January 1st and taking the kayak out for a run. I laughed until he assured me that he was serious. He shared that he likes to start off every New Year by doing something he loves.

I think it’s a worthy tradition.

Many a December 31st during my childhood were spent at my Tia Marta’s house. She and my Tio Juan lived just a few blocks away from Southwest Senior High (my one-day alma mater). What I remember most, though, is what they had in their backyard. A pool. It was a large (for kids) screened-in pool which always beckoned to us from the concrete patio. We spent many a summer afternoon cooling off from the South Florida heat thanks to their hospitality. They would often host Noche Buena as well.

On New Year’s Eve, the family would gather together in the living room to watch the ball drop on TV (Dick Clark was ageless even back then). In the waning minutes leading up to midnight, someone would inevitable pass out either small bunches of grapes, or cups containing twelve grapes apiece. We’d yell out the final ten seconds of the old year and then proceed to gobble up the grapes as quickly as possible.

Things were always more pleasant when they gave us the seedless variety…

Why are we always in such a rush? Why do we get annoyed by the little seeds or trials we face on a daily basis? It’s as if all things are working against us as we rush to the finish line … only to get ready for the next race, the next day, the next season, the next holiday, the next year.

What if, instead of flailing about, we decide to be different this year? What if we look at this year as days to be savored instead of gobbled down (they digest better that way)?

What if we slowed down enough to hear God’s voice in everyday life? Not just on Sundays, or when we kneel in prayer, but all the time? What if we got so close to God, that His Heart became one with our heart?

What would be awakened by such a miracle? What are desires He may have already placed in your heart?

Spending more time with your family? Mastering that gift He’s given you? Mending that relationship? Learning to love yourself and others? Taking long walks with God?

As we start a new year, remember that God holds all of time in His Hands. Time is a gift; what does your time have in store for you?

As you take delight in God, what dreams will emerge from your heart?


Psalm 37:1-13
Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the LORD and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the LORD.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the LORD will possess the land.
Soon the wicked will disappear.
Though you look for them, they will be gone.
The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity.
The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance.
But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming.