Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As I was out walking around my neighborhood the other day, I came to the realization that the brilliant fall foliage is beginning to ... well …"fall". We ARE in November I mused, then came to the sudden realization that Thanksgiving was just around the corner. Ironically enough, I had just finished my Turkey day shopping but it STILL hadn't hit me untill I saw the growing number of bare tree limbs that winter was breathing down our necks. The telltale piles of leaves signal the journey towards yet another season.

Thanksgiving to me is the only holiday that always seems to herald the next. Every year, the Christmas decorations go up earlier and earlier (pretty soon you’ll be hearing caroling at Fourth of July picnics). Not that I'm complaining; I love the holiday season. It's just that as soon as Christmas and New Years pass in a blaze of glory, we're left with several dreary months of winter before the world reawakens with spring. For many, this winter is more than just a season. Some of us have lost loved ones, many of us still struggle through this "recovering" economy, and we ALL deal with the brokenness around us.

Despite the coming of winter, we still find time once a year to come together with family and friends to celebrate the giving of thanks.

Which makes me think. What am I really thankful for?

I am thankful for every morning that I awake beside my amazing wife.

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful for the roof over my head and food in my pantry.

I am thankful for life in all its splendid diversity. I am thankful for my family and friends (the visible reminders of God’s grace and love for us) as well as for the knowledge that God indeed does care for us. I am thankful for the Cross. Not only for what it represents, but what it made possible:

The reunion of God and Humanity. The gift of life that is to be lived to the fullest.

Although the mercury is beginning to fall, I find that there is much to be thankful for. What is it that you are thankful for? How have you been blessed this past year? What are blessings yet to be realized, that you look forward to? How can we demonstrate our gratitude?


Related Verses
Colossians 3:1-17

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.

Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Songs in the Night

When I suffered through a period of depression during my final year of high school, I would sometimes have trouble sleeping.

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and stared out into the gloom? You look at your alarm clock, HOPING to see that it’s about to ring anyways and are dismayed to see its still in the early watches of the night? Then you try to get back to sleep, but it’s all in vain because the cares and struggles of the previous day come trickling in until all you hear is a fearful roaring in your mind?

And all the while, nobody else seems to care.

You are not alone.

One cure for my insomnia at the time was a radio program titled “Night Sounds”. The program host, Bill Pierce, would start each program with a masterfully played trombone rendition of Debussy’s Beau Soir.

You can hear it at Night Sounds Radio.

Following the intro, Bill would share the topic for the evening and quietly mull over his points, with musical interludes in between.

It was so relaxing, that I usually fell asleep by the end of the program.

The following is taken from Charles Spurgeon’s devotional that was written over a hundred years ago, but still rings fresh and true today…

Morning and Evening, October 20th, Evening Reading
“Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it. When wealth rolls in abundance around him, any man can praise the God who gives a plenteous harvest or sends home a loaded argosy. It is easy enough for an Aeolian harp to whisper music when the winds blow—the difficulty is for music to swell forth when no wind is stirring.

It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but he is skilful who sings when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart. No man can make a song in the night of himself; he may attempt it, but he will find that a song in the night must be divinely inspired.

Let all things go well, I can weave songs, fashioning them wherever I go out of the flowers that grow upon my path; but put me in a desert, where no green thing grows, and wherewith shall I frame a hymn of praise to God? How shall a mortal man make a crown for the Lord where no jewels are? Let but this voice be clear, and this body full of health, and I can sing God's praise: silence my tongue, lay me upon the bed of languishing, and how shall I then chant God's high praises, unless He Himself give me the song?

No, it is not in man's power to sing when all is adverse, unless an altar-coal shall touch his lip. It was a divine song, which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said,

"Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Then, since our Maker gives songs in the night, let us wait upon Him for the music. O Thou chief musician, let us not remain songless because affliction is upon us, but tune Thou our lips to the melody of thanksgiving.”

-Charles Spurgeon

As this week of Thanksgiving approaches, let us remember what God has accomplished in our lives; the past, present, and future.

Let us remember that He cares for us.

And let us ask Him to provide Songs in the Night.

Job 35:9-16
“People cry out when they are oppressed. They groan beneath the power of the mighty. Yet they don’t ask, ‘Where is God my Creator, the one who gives songs in the night? Where is the one who makes us smarter than the animals and wiser than the birds of the sky?’ And when they cry out, God does not answer because of their pride.

But it is wrong to say God doesn’t listen, to say the Almighty isn’t concerned. You say you can’t see him, but he will bring justice if you will only wait. You say he does not respond to sinners with anger and is not greatly concerned about wickedness. But you are talking nonsense, Job. You have spoken like a fool.”

Psalm 77:1-15
I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.

You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray! I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Snapshot of Time

In my childhood home, we have a hallway that’s packed with framed photographs. Pictures of my siblings and I at various stages of maturity.

My father, you see, was a voracious taker of photos.

While some parents take many pictures of their first-born, then continue to take less and less photos of their subsequent offspring, my dad was the opposite. We had albums filled to the brim with photos of every event, every party, every holiday, every outing, and every trip to the zoo.

I don’t know why my dad just didn’t have his camera surgically implanted so he wouldn’t have to fuss around with a camera bag.

I have yet to ask him why he took so many pictures. It certainly felt at times that he had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it came to taking multiple shots. He’d line us up and take a photo, and then he’d take another, and another, and another. You can tell the chronology of an event because our eyes stop smiling after the third or fourth take.

Yes, we have big grins, but our eyes have started to glaze over.

We’d finally bolt when he paused long enough to try to get out another lens (or load more film).

I actually started to take an interest in photography when I was finishing my fourth grade year. I wanted to take some memories of my classmates and school, so I used up an entire disc of film that day.

Yes, I said “disc”. Kodak put out a Disc Camera that could take 15 pictures on a circular piece of celluloid as opposed to a roll of film (It didn’t pan out in the long run).

I can remember taking the various pictures, treasured memories all, and then forgetting to get the film processed. Where those images are, I’ll never know.

I thought if I could capture those pictures, I would somehow capture a moment in time.

Maybe that’s why Papi took so many pictures. To capture little snapshots of time and space.

To remember.

What is so important to you that you try to keep it fresh in your memory?

In the New Living Translation of the Bible, the word “remember” is found over 220 times! And it’s not all, “Remember to follows these laws and regulations” (though that does take up a good chunk). Over and over, we are admonished to remember how good God has been to us.

If He has been good to us, will He change His mind and His ways?

What has God done in your past? What does that mean for your future?


Related Verses
Deuteronomy 4:32-40

“Now search all of history, from the time God created people on the earth until now, and search from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything as great as this ever been seen or heard before? Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the LORD your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.

“He showed you these things so you would know that the LORD is God and there is no other. He let you hear his voice from heaven so he could instruct you. He let you see his great fire here on earth so he could speak to you from it. Because he loved your ancestors, he chose to bless their descendants, and he personally brought you out of Egypt with a great display of power. He drove out nations far greater than you, so he could bring you in and give you their land as your special possession, as it is today.

“So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The LORD is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other. If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14
This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

2 Timothy 2:8
Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The River Community Church. A Community of Connections!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Kingdom Like No Other

My parents, through differing means, left their homeland Cuba after Fidel Castro tightened an iron fist around the island nation.

I remember as a child asking how they were able to leave, and the reply I received was simply, “He let us go.”

That left a deep impression on my tender intellect. You see, I thought that meant they’d actually met the reviled dictator to gain permission to leave.

In my mind’s eye, I could see an impossibly large throne room with a line of people; some huddled in small groups, others alone or with a spouse, all waiting their turn at the great throne at the end of the hall.

I could picture Castro, a cigar butt sticking out of his craggy beard, waiting impatiently as my parents presented their case to him. After glaring at each in turn, he muttered under his breath to an aide-de-camp who jotted down their names on a list and motioned for them to proceed.

A procession that moved towards freedom.

Freedom from Castro’s Kingdom.

Freedom to voice their conscience, freedom to follow their dreams and freedom from oppression.

Freedom, unfortunately, found only in exile.

The reality of their departure was actually a little bit more interesting. They had not yet married when my father was able (through the help of a priest) to enlist in the United States Army and subsequently leave the country. My mother, on the other hand, secured her freedom in a manner more befitting a Cold-War spy thriller; she scaled the fence to the Uruguay Embassy in Havana where she secured her status as a political refugee. The following months were filled with boredom for her (punctuated by five marriage proposals) as she waited with over three hundred other refugees for their exit.

When my parents were reunited, it was in a new country.

What would it be like to live in exile? Away from your family, your culture and your shared history?

What does this mean for those who follow Jesus now, who often feel out of sorts with our society?

The Bible often refers to followers of Christ as “temporary residents and foreigners”.

Are we to sit idly by and wait for heaven, The Kingdom of God to one day appear, or is there more for us to do?

A very interesting piece of Scripture is found in Luke 17:20-21: “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. ” NLTse

What does it mean for the Kingdom of Heaven to be among us (or “within you” as some translations read)?

The seventh and final part of our Vision Statement wrestles with this idea:

A kingdom where the poor are rich and the lonely find family. Where justice and mercy slow dance. Where hearts, souls, and minds are opened and wisdom expands. Where we pour love on Jesus’ tired, dirty, beautiful, aching feet whenever we serve another person. A kingdom where we receive our name and engage our calling. Where shattered lives and fragmented dreams find the hope that leads to restoration. We have caught a glimpse of this kingdom and we have found it captivating. We as the church have been called to get this kingdom started on earth as it is in heaven. The keys to this kingdom are in our hands. When are we going to unlock these gates? Who will help push the boundaries of this kingdom until it swallows up all that causes disconnection and suffering? As this River bursts forth we will flood our community with the tangible presence of Jesus Christ.

How can we help grow God’s Kingdom this week?


Related Verses
1 Peter 2 9:12

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Mark 12:32-34
The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Luke 13:18-30
Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed that a man planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make nests in its branches.”

He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he went, always pressing on toward Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

He replied, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. And people will come from all over the world—from east and west, north and south—to take their places in the Kingdom of God. And note this: Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.”