Thursday, July 29, 2010

No Lone Rangers

When I was a young child, my siblings and I inherited a variety of toys. Coming from a large extended family with lots of older cousins, we would often get toys that were slightly used, but just as fun to play with. We got everything from vintage G.I. Joe and Japanese B-movie monsters (thanks Orlandito!) to a large crossbow with a quiver full of target, hunting, and even fishing bolts (thanks Roger!). It didn’t come with a bowstring, but we were resourceful beyond our tender years. By taking several lengths of heavy twine and “braiding” it with a bunch of knots, we crafted a suitable (if not unspeakably dangerous) substitute. We were terrorizing wooden boards all around our backyard in no time!

At one point early on, we got a Lone Ranger action figure along with his horse Silver. To the best of my knowledge, it was a rare complete find. You could outfit Silver with a vinyl saddle and riding tack. Both horse and rider had clumsy joints, but you could position them pretty much any way you felt like. I remember Silver being plastic, but his mane and tail being hard rubber. “Hi Yo Silver Away!”

The origins of the Lone Ranger (not to be confused with Sherriff Woody Pride of “Toy Story” fame) are varied but similar. Here’s an abridged version: The Lone Ranger was originally part of a team of Texas Rangers who were killed in an ambush set up by outlaws. A wandering Apache named Tonto found one ranger still alive and nursed him back to health. Vowing to fight for truth, justice and the American…oh, wait that’s Superman -- Anyways, the Lone Ranger vowed to fight for justice and help people.

Funny thing is…the Lone Ranger wasn’t really “lone”. He had his sidekick beside him to share adventures and to help people wherever they went. His focus was the settlement of the West and its transformation away from a lawless, vacant frontier.

For many years, our culture has put a premium on the idea that everyone should be able to “pull himself up by his own bootstraps”. We glamorize those who face seemingly impossible odds and do great deeds on their own.


Isolation was not the Creator’s intent. We were designed to live in community. It is through community that we share life’s ups and downs. Don’t you feel like you can share more over a cup of coffee than by writing or reading an email? Isn’t a long walk with a friend better therapy than reading the latest “self-help” guide?

Too many followers of Jesus have decided to walk a dusty trail alone. Too many people try to substitute discipleship alongside other seekers by only reading the Bible and the latest books about God. They miss something special. The church is a remarkable organism; it needs its members as much as its members need it to live out their mutually supportive purposes.

This is reinforced in part four of our vision, which goes as follows:

No Lone Rangers are allowed here. We were created to live in community with God as well as each other. We want to be like Jesus so we take hold of His identity and allow Him to wrap His life around us, above us, beneath us, yes, even within us. We recognize that truly following Jesus is a process that does not come from just reading the latest books and taking a bunch of classes. Rather, we learn His ways as we serve others and walk with those on the Journey. The Way of Jesus is caught more than it's taught. As we follow Jesus, we begin to see changes that we couldn't bring about in ourselves. Miracles happen. We become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, and self-controlled. We choose a lifestyle of purity because it's how we were designed to live and who we are called to be.

Who do you walk with and why?


Related Verses
Hebrews 10:24-25

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.

1 Corinthians 12:12-27
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.


Friday, July 23, 2010

El Pulpo Paul

When Kathy and I went to get groceries the other day, she at one point snatched a small can from the shelves and declared, “We need to buy some pulpo.”

We looked at each other, laughed, and then she quickly put the can back.

Pulpo is octopus. Ugh.

If you’ve followed the World Cup last month, an interesting side story emerged from behind the scenes in an aquarium in Germany. Paul, an octopus, began predicting matches involving Germany. His handlers would lower two clear boxes in his tank; each with food, and each bearing a different flag. As Paul would predict, Germany would follow suit. He correctly guessed all eight World Cup matches. He chose Spain (much to the chagrin of German fans) who ended up beating Germany in the semifinals, and then chose Spain again to win it all. He was hailed as a prophet!

However, it turns out that the Octopus Oracle didn’t have a perfect track record after all. He missed some games during the European Soccer Finals and as a result only boasts an 86% lifetime record predicting games (he is currently retired). He wasn’t a true prophet. The mark of someone who speaks on God’s behalf is 100% accuracy. 100%.

Paul reminds me of a classic source of guidance from my youth; a shiny black orb otherwise known as the “Magic Eight-Ball.” I would consult with it while I was in drugstores waiting for my mom to get our prescriptions filled. Inevitably, I’d ask if a particular girl liked me, or if I’d get something I wanted. If it didn’t give the message I desired, I’d shake it up and try again … and again ... and, well, you get the picture. I never thought of it as a slight against God…I just thought that it might be cool if it was true.

The issue with divination touches upon God’s deep desire to share life with us despite our refusal to walk with Him. It’s not that He doesn’t want us to know what’s around the corner; it’s that He wants us to trust in Him and walk with Him. Attempting to consult with the supernatural world by any means other than through the Creator of life is forbidden in Scripture. It results in trying to catch shifting shadows as opposed to entering the presence of the Author of light. It’s dangerous.

Why do people sometimes try to look elsewhere for guidance? Are we afraid to approach God with our requests? Are we afraid of meeting with God because of what He might tell us? I vividly remember spending several days during college where I wouldn’t look at the Bible or even pray; I was afraid that God would tell me something I didn’t want to hear. Why was I so afraid?

It’s one thing to make decisions about our lives by thinking through possible scenarios, making lists, deciding pros and cons, etc. You make a decision and live with it. It’s an entirely different thing when you approach God. If you ask, He will lead you…but maybe not in the direction you expect (or even want) to go. When God speaks, you end up with only two choices; obey or disobey.

The one thing God demands of all who would follow Him is trust. That’s not an easy way to live in a world as upside down as ours is. God wants us to trust Him. To take Him at His word. To experience the innumerable miracles He constantly parades around us through the eyes of faith.

How do we make and live out our choices in life? Our instincts? Our strategizing and planning? The Magic Eight-Ball? El Pulpo Paul? God?
Has God asked you to do something that would change your life and the lives of others?

Where do we put our trust?


Deuteronomy 18:17-22
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘What they have said is right. I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf. But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’

“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the LORD?’ If the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the LORD did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.

Exodus 28:30
Insert the Urim and Thummim into the sacred chestpiece so they will be carried over Aaron’s heart when he goes into the LORD’s presence. In this way, Aaron will always carry over his heart the objects used to determine the LORD’s will for his people whenever he goes in before the LORD.

Leviticus 19:31
“Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the LORD your God.

Isaiah 8:11-20
The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.

But to Israel and Judah he will be a stone that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many will stumble and fall, never to rise again. They will be snared and captured.”

Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me. I will wait for the LORD, who has turned away from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my hope in him. I and the children the LORD has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies who dwells in his Temple on Mount Zion.

Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?

Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness.

Chapter 9:1-7
Hope in the Messiah
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will 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. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder.

For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Striking Gold

Whenever I spend a few days at my old home in Miami, I inevitably wake up early one morning and go out to get the paper. By going out, I mean walking a mile to the nearest 7-Eleven. Of course, I could drive there in a few minutes, but the journey holds many memories for me; so I walk.

I go across my street and gaze at the home where one of my friends once lived. He is gone now, along with the mighty trees that once graced the corner we shared.

I cross over a canal by way of a bridge that people loved to drive over at full speed. This was before they put in a traffic circle at its base. It’s a little safer now.

I pass the boyhood home of one of my elementary school friends who also was named Joseph. He had one of those 1980’s light sabers that was just a hollow tube that made a “wooong-woong” sound without the need for batteries or fancy electronics…*sigh*

Eventually I come up to where 112th Avenue intersects Miller Road and I head left towards the rising sun. Traffic is in full force by now, and I watch the multitudes dodge and weave their way towards work.

I pass by where I once found a fifty-dollar bill on the sidewalk during my college years. I used it to keep a check from bouncing.

I walk by the Miller Dental Group, my former dentist’s office. I always wondered who the architect was that designed that building. The inside reminded me of a contemporary log cabin with paneled vaulted ceilings that soared. It was the only dental office that I actually looked forward to going to.

I glance over where I got my hair cut by a guy named Jose, and a little cafeteria that serves Cuban Coffee and other assorted delicacies.

I pass by our local Farm Stores (imagine a drive-thru market). Their chocolate chip ice cream is hands down the best I’ve ever tasted. Not even Ben and Jerry’s could compare.

I cross by the fish market and arrive at the 7-Eleven.

Once I arrive, I buy the Miami Herald and turn around to head back home, either pinning the paper under my arm, or loosely swinging the rolled copy in hand. This IS South Florida, so if it was under my arm, it would inevitable get damp with perspiration.

I know I’m home when I’ve got a fresh copy of the Herald in my hands.

Way back when, I would get the paper for several reasons. I liked keeping up with the Miami Dolphins (this was before the Internet) and loved the comics. However, once a year, I’d read my horoscope.

I remember the yearly ritual well. I’d get the paper and find a spot I where I could read in peace and quiet. I would search for the horoscopes in section “B”. Then, I’d looked for the familiar phrase, “If today is your birthday, you are…”

I wanted to be affirmed. I wanted to know who I was. I never thought to look within, or ask without. The newspaper would tell me, or so I would think.

I got the usual “You are creative, charming, and attractive to members of the opposite sex… “ I’d soak this in, then carefully read ahead to see if THIS was the year that I’d find a girlfriend, acquire wealth, or achieve success. I shake my head now thinking of all those birthdays spent searching for myself in the back pages of a sweat-stained newspaper.

If only they could have printed a mirror instead. If only they would print, “Stop looking here and start living!” If only they would say that if I sought after God, He would reveal who I was. He would open my eyes (albeit in His time) to whom He was creating me to be.

Striking gold means discovering God and finding ourselves in the process.

As you look back on your journey, what moments serve as mileposts for your life? How has your life changed? How have you affected others? Where has God been through all of this?

What direction are you walking? Where are your answers coming from?


Luke 9:51
“As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

Psalm 139
O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O LORD, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Stack of Blocks

When my parents purchased a home in the Westwood Lakes sub-division of Miami in the late seventies, they soon planned and began construction on an addition to the three-bedroom house. They practically doubled the square footage of the residence by adding a large family room and a master bedroom with a large walk-in closet. We needed the space because the other addition (my sister Susie) rounded out the family to a total of two adults and six kids under one roof.

Tight quarters indeed.

With the construction of a new addition came the need for storing copious amounts of building supplies. As the addition was to be fabricated using cement blocks, we had stacks of them in our large backyard. For a kid, these stacks were enormous. They were several feet high, wide and deep. We enjoyed clambering up and around these blocks. I remember my brother jumping off the stacks onto the ground below, however I already suffered from early onset acrophobia and was too scared to jump on my own. It was just too high, and alas, I was too small.

Having a flash of inspiration (or was it ADHD?), I ran inside the house and emerged with a large bed sheet and a length of rope. If I couldn’t jump off on my own, surely I could jump off with the aid of a parachute…

My dad fortunately stepped in before I hurt myself. He explained that my parachute wouldn’t operate correctly, as I had designed it. As I sat on the blocks, he began to show me how the chute should be packed. He then used bits of rope and even began using long stems of thick grass to weave together a “proper” parachute harness. He even fashioned a ripcord for me to pull that would release the parachute.

When he was done, I didn’t jump. I was so enamored with the parachute he designed; I didn’t want to ruin it by using it. So I clambered down the blocks and spent the rest of my playtime running around with a folded sheet tied to a harness made of ropes and weeds. I vividly remember being extra-careful as I removed the pieces in the hallway bathroom as I prepared to take a bath. I treasure that memory because when you are one of six kids, you don’t get too much one-on-one time with your dad.

In retrospect, I suspect he spent that time with me to prevent me from doing something that would hurt me. He knew my fascination with all thing military, and having a “real” parachute on my back would hold greater allure to me than jumping off a stack of blocks.

Our parents (with all their shortcomings) knew us better than we thought. How much more does our Creator know us?

What situations have you found yourself in where the option you wanted is not the option you really needed? Has someone ever prevented you from doing something just because of their time spent with you? How well does God know you?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.

Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

Luke 12:22-34
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?

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.


Friday, July 2, 2010

All Things New

Growing up, our house hosted many celebrations through the years. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Noche Buena, or birthdays (there were six of us kids), the driveway and front lawn would be filled with cars driven by aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. A table would always be setup for dominoes, and a feast for the ages would be enjoyed by all.

I remember being extremely upset at one of these celebrations sometime during my grade school years. I was standing with several of my older siblings (who were high school age and beyond) by the front door. I somehow came to the realization that I didn’t want to get older. I liked being a little kid. I tearfully confessed this to my sisters who then shared with me that even THEY weren’t able to sit with the grown-ups yet. That began to put things in perspective for me.

When people look back and try to sort out their lives, we sometimes hit an impasse. What we remember is not always what really happened. Some of us believe we had idyllic childhoods while others continue to dredge through the pain of the past, not allowing old wounds to heal. And we all have questions we’d like answered.

The reason many of us may cherish happy childhood memories is that they remind us of when life was simpler and innocent. A time when most of our needs were met. A time when life seemed slower.

I understand that many people had a hellacious upbringing and have great difficulty looking back in the past to identify a baseline; when everything was right with the world. Let me correct this; when everything SEEMED right in the world.

How are things SUPPOSED to be? Is there a time and place you can look back to where life seemed to be at its vibrant best?

How is this world supposed to be? What were God’s intentions from the beginning?

Followers of Jesus believe that although our self-centered actions separated us from God, His death and resurrection paved a new way to live. Not as dogma and rules, but as a living, breathing, pulsating relationship with God.

A relationship built on trust and dependence on a heavenly Father who is perfect.

Is it any wonder that Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”? (Matthew 19:14)

God is in the process of making all things new.

Part Three of our Vision
All Things New

We stand for truth. The Truth that shouted “It is finished!” and passed into death, only to reclaim life three days later. We believe that because of the Cross, and only because of the Cross, broken people like us can reconnect with God. And we believe that this reconnection is only the beginning of true life. God is making all things new. We believe that God’s vision of heaven, a kingdom of reconnection and restoration, starts here and will one day culminate with the return of Jesus. Everything will be restored to the way things were created to be. That longing in our hearts that something just isn’t right in this world will vanish along with death, pain, sorrow, and isolation.

Related Verses
Revelations 21:1-7

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

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.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Matthew 18:1-6
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.