Friday, April 30, 2010

Cold Comfort Camping

Growing up camping, there was a lot of togetherness, but not necessarily comfort. That meant six (and occasionally more) people enduring a road trip of roughly fifteen hundred miles (each way!) in a vehicle with only three seatbelts (actually only two since nobody wanted to sit in the middle of the mini-pickup with the manual transmission gearshift bruising your kneecaps). It also meant huddling for warmth in a frosty tent and spending time hiking trails with sore feet. Even when we camped close to home, we endured gravel campsites and dense swarms of mosquitoes.

BTW, mosquitoes like cologne (Dad found that lesson out the hard way).

Needless to say, we went through enough privation growing up that we not only grew accustomed to it, we actually kinda liked it. This helped immensely during my year in ROTC because I just didn’t care if I wasn’t comfortable. Oh, I WAS miserable at times, I just didn’t complain about it. College brought me my fair share of walking (even when I wasn’t mad). Finally, in seminary, my palate became numb to my daily dose of ramen noodles, shredded cheddar cheese, and canned spaghetti sauce (I called it seminary goulash and my wife forbids me from making it at home…sigh).

Through the process of getting older, I have also grown somewhat softer.
You see, I LIKE being comfortable.

I especially like that I have a programmable multi-remote that lets me control the TV, VCR, DVD player, digital cable box, and sound system without having to dig out a bunch of remotes. I like having my Cuban Coffee in the morning. I like having a garage door opener that opens with a simple push of a button. I like having the house frosty at night so I can cocoon myself in my down comforter. Every morning, I am reminded of Proverbs 26:14, which says, “As a door turns back and forth on its hinges, so the lazy person turns over in bed.” It DOES feel like my back is attached to the bed!

With all that in mind, I saw a man sitting in a planter this morning as he waited for work. He literally was sitting on top of a pile of dirt and rubbish.

And he looked comfortable.

What is it that makes a person comfortable in a seemingly difficult position? Have my sensibilities gotten so soft that I look down with disdain at anything that requires “needless” exertion (and yes, I do go to the gym)?

What makes us comfortable now? What have we gotten so used to that we’ve lost our edge? Have you ever tried cutting a tomato or raw piece of chicken with a dull knife? You’re just as liable to cut yourself! When a knife is sharpened, it actually loses tiny pieces of the edge. Afterwards, a honing steel is used which actually straightens out the ragged edge and makes the knife razor sharp.

What can you start doing to sharpen yourself? What habits must be developed? Which ones must be discarded? Who can help you to hone yourself?

What is ONE thing you need to change today? This week? This month? This year?

Related Verses
Matthew 9:14-17

One day the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked him, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we do and the Pharisees do?”

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

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

Proverbs 27:12
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

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.”

Scripture quotes taken from the NLTse

Friday, April 23, 2010

Just a Coincidence?

This coming Friday (April the 30th), Downtown Culpeper will be transformed from 6-10pm into a festival celebrating Latino culture aka “CULPEPER FIESTA”. There is food, live music, professional dancers in traditional costumes, and more. Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike have a great time together. Kathy and I have been to Culpeper Fiesta several times over the past few years, and we thought this would be a great opportunity for us to serve our community with the love of God. The River often gives away freshly made Cuban Coffee (or CafĂ© Cubano) at various community events.

I tried tracking down someone who was in charge of the event but had no “luck”.

On this last April Fools Day (Thursday, April 1, 2010), I wrote on the Facebook wall of Culpeper Fiesta, asking for someone to get in contact with me regarding this request to give out free Cuban Coffee.

After writing on their wall, I headed off to my part-time job at the Culpeper Library. It was a normal, hectic day, when out of the blue, someone approached the circulation desk and asked me if she could post a flyer.

The flyer looked very familiar.

It was a flyer for Culpeper Fiesta, and the woman holding it was one of the organizers.

She hadn’t known about my plea on Facebook just a few hours earlier.

Just a coincidence?

I constantly run into people who share similar stories. You probably experienced a few yourself. Where does this stuff come from?

Coincidence is defined by Wikipedia as, “The word is derived from the Latin co - ("in", "with", "together") and incidere ("to fall on")”

My loose translation? “To fall together.”

Our plans sometimes “fall apart”, but God is not surprised by anything.
The Bible teaches that God not only created everything, but he pays attention to details of life that we are completely unaware of; down to even counting our hairs.

John 5:17 states that Jesus said to (the religious teachers), “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

Knowing that God is not at rest but is actively at work in our world should give us joy! The big question is “Where is He at work around me, so I can join in with what He is doing.”

Related Verses
Matthew 10:28-31

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Job 38:1-41
Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know!

“Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!

“Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail? (I have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war.) Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind?

“Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up?

“Does the rain have a father? Who gives birth to the dew? Who is the mother of the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes.

“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?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A New Way to be Human

A year and a half ago, our dear sister Margo passed away after a long fight with cancer. Kathy and I were privileged to be at her bedside, holding her hand as she passed. The experience still leaves me filled with awe and wonder because I saw her transition from death to life with mine own eyes.

Yes, death to life.

She traded in her dying body for a new life with God. She was taken up into the arms of Jesus.

This is the hope we have. It is a hope that lives because we believe that Jesus is alive. Two weeks ago, many of us celebrated Easter, the triumph of Christ over death; a triumph that made it possible for us to walk with God.

The apostles were not only witnesses, they were historians; seeing to it that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was recorded for the sake of posterity. Most were martyred as a result. They believed that there was more to this world than their eyes could see, their hands could touch, and their mouths could taste. The apostles of course were skeptical at first when the heard about Jesus being raised from the dead:

Luke 24:36-43 "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence."

The apostles saw a spiritual dimension that coexisted alongside the physical one we live and move in. Growing up, I had a serious misunderstanding concerning the nature of God. I saw Him in church, I saw Him around priests, I saw Him on special days. I saw myself here, and saw Him as “the God over there.” One day I also discovered that this wasn’t true; His love and care surrounded me, despite my circumstances.

A love that shines a beacon of life, of the true life to come.

Revelations 21:1-7 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son."

It is through this relationship with God, made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, that we finally become whom we were born to be.

A new way to be human. Not a way of brokenness and pain, but one of joy, peace, and right-living. It is a way He offers to each of us.

Do we dare take it?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eleven Miles

When I was in high school (and especially in college), I was known for my short fuse. I would not only easily lose my temper; I’d do some really dumb things in my anger.

For example, there was the instance when I lashed out at my mom for “interrupting” my morning prayer time. There was also the time I walked out of a restaurant after attending youth group because one of the guys was going to lie and claim that it was someone’s birthday to the waitress. Another time, I got so mad, that a friend of mine left the room TO PRAY FOR ME.

But the time that I really went off the deep end takes the cake. I was having dinner with two good friends, Glen and Raul in a shopping center called The Falls in Miami. At some point during the evening I got so mad, I got up and went home.

Uh, Glen had the car.

I walked up US-1, took the Metrorail from Dadeland Station to The University of Miami Station, then walked down Miller Drive from UM to my house in Westwood Lakes.

Roughly eleven miles on foot.

It was a long, long walk for someone who has flat feet. I was afraid that I’d get run over, mugged, or worse. After the initial adrenaline wore off, I was tired.

So tired.

I was alone and the road seemed to endlessly stretch before me. I had driven or ridden on these streets countless times before, but never on foot. It was surreal. My heart was heavy; making my leaden footsteps even slower. I got home between 2-3am. To say my feet were sore was an understatement. Of course, my friends and I patched things up and I apologized for my stupidity. I forgot what I got mad about; but I’ll never forget that walk.

There were two guys who had spent time walking with Jesus. After Jesus was arrested, crucified, and buried, these men walked away. They were walking from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus (which was about seven miles away). They were sad and confused. Jesus’ body was missing and some of the women were claiming that they had received a report from angels who asserted that Jesus had risen from the dead.

At some point, Jesus (incognito) joined them in their journey and chided them for their lack of understanding concerning what the Messiah was about. When they ate dinner together, their eyes were finally opened concerning who sat before them. Jesus vanished.

Elated, they raced back to Jerusalem where they discovered that Peter also had seen Jesus alive!

The road from Emmaus must have seemed a great deal shorter to them than the road to Emmaus.
-What road are you on today? The road to Emmaus filled with pain, doubt and sorrow? Or, the road back to Jerusalem filled with wonder, joy and anticipation?


Luke 24:13-34
That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter. ”