Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Heading North

Tomorrow morning, Beverly and I will be flying to Pittsburgh for Tommy Maddox' gala tomorrow night. I would like to ask you to be in prayer about this. Tommy will be speaking, and I would ask that you lift him up to the Father -- that he will feel the peace and presence of the Spirit and that the Lord will speak boldly through him.

Friday, Beverly will be speaking at a luncheon being put on by Jennifer Maddox. There will be a number of the Steeler's wives there. Please be praying for Beverly during that time. She wants so much to give them a message from the Lord. I am confident that she will. But pray that the Father will direct her heart to just the words that these women need to hear.

I have a tough assignment, too. I will be playing golf on Friday. Please pray that I will get a hole-in-one (Hey, come on. I've never had one! I figure all of the fervent prayers of you righteous folks can accomplish much).

Blessings! Rick

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

A Calm in the Storm

This morning, I was reading about the time when the apostles were crossing the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose so that the boat was about to be swamped. The disciples were afraid they were going to drown. And Jesus? Well, Jesus was asleep!

So, they woke him up. He got up and rebuked the storm. All became calm. Then he asked them, "Where is your faith?" I have struggled with that statement many times. Why did he ask them that? "Where is your faith?" They had faith that he would do something, or they would not have awakened him. So, were they supposed to have faith that they would not drown? Were they supposed to have faith that nothing bad would ever happen to them? Let me remind you that they all (except John) died a violent martyr's death.

I have struggled with the answer to this, and I don't think I like it. But I believe it. I think Jesus is saying, "When you are in the middle of a storm, and I am there with you -- that's enough. Even if you drown in the storm -- I'm enough. So, set aside your fear -- even when you are in the middle of a situation you have no control over. Don't be in awe of the storm. Be in awe of me."

Thank you, Jesus. Let me find calm in the midst of my storm, because you are enough. Please just keep reminding me of that. Keep readjusting my gaze from the fierceness of the storm to the faithfulness of my God.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Good Soil

Jesus' parable of the soils always has a way of shaking me into reality. I would like to think of myself as good soil -- which Jesus says stands for "those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." Surely I wouldn't be like the seed that fell on the rock, or the seed that fell among thorns. Surely!

But when I read the way Jesus describes those soils, I do see myself. He says the seed that fell on the rock are "the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, . . . but in the time of testing they fall away." I don't guess I fall away when tested -- at least not in the way we usually think of falling away. But I don't think I always make him look good when I'm tested.

And how about the seed that fell among thorns? Jesus says that seed represents those who "are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures." Guilty as charged! I spend way too much time in the thorns of worrying about my work, my retirement, and the poor performance of the stock market.

God, I beg you to deliver me from the rocks and the thorns, and set me solidly in the good soil. Please work the soil of my heart until it can grow only one crop -- a crop whose fruit is Jesus.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Disciple-ettes

When we think of Jesus traveling Palestine to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God, we usually think of the 12 apostles walking with him. But Luke tells us that in that nomadic band there were also some women. He mentions three of them by name.

There was Mary (called Magdalene) -- from whom Jesus had cast 7 demons. She is mentioned on a number of occasions in the Gospels.

There was Joanna, the wife of Cuza. Luke tells us that Cuza was the manager of Herod's household. I can only imagine some of the discussions that took place between Herod and Cuza over that issue. Herod: "I'm told that your wife is traveling around with Jesus of Nazareth. You know he claims to be king? I'm thinking it isn't such a good idea for my household manager's wife to be following him. Do you get my drift?" Cuza: "Herod, she's a 1st-century woman -- with a mind of her own."

Then, there is a woman named Susanna. I don't learn anything about her from Luke. But don't you cry for me. Luke also says that there were many other women.
Catch this: Luke tells us that these women were helping to support Jesus and his followers out of their own means. I'm betting that Judas was very polite to them. After all, they were helping to fatten the account that he was skimming off of.

I'm reminded today of how blessed we are by the women who minister among us. And I don't mean that in a patronizing way: "The church wouldn't be where it is today without the women (but stay in your place)." That is often the bone that is thrown to them.

Listen: I am so blessed to be able to stand in the shadow of a woman who is a spiritual giant. She has instilled in our family a depth of faith in God that leaves me speechless. Her example has moved me from a "satisfied with mediocrity" Christian to one who is hungry for God.

Praise God for faithful women! Keep on dragging us guys along! Someday, we might get it too!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Cancelled Debts

In my opinion, it is one of the greatest stories told about Jesus. He had been invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee for dinner. While he was eating, a "sinful woman" came in with a jar of perfume. Weeping, she allowed her tears to wet Jesus' feet, and then she cleaned them with her hair and poured perfume on them.

Simon was watching, and said to himself, "If Jesus were a prophet, he would realize that he is allowing a sinner to touch him." Jesus, perceiving his thoughts, told a story about two men: one was forgiven a tremendous monetary debt and the other was forgiven a small debt. Who, he asked, would love the forgiver of the debt more? The obvious answer is the one who has been forgiven the greater debt.

My first thought upon reading this story again was, "Have I been forgiven a tremendous debt, or a small one?" Then it struck me: This really isn't about the size of the debt. Rather, it is about each one of us coming to the realization that we have all been forgiven a tremendous debt. If we think we are only small debtors, then we place ourselves with Simon. But it is to this "sinful woman" that Jesus speaks these words, "Your sins are forgiven." Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving my sin debt! Jesus, I am so in love with you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Give Me What I Want

I am, by nature, a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me -- especially in my preaching. Yet I am also aware that I can't please everyone all of the time. In fact, people today tend to want "something new" about every 6 months or so, it seems.

I was reminded of that again this morning as I read from Luke 7. Jesus was contrasting his ministry to John the Baptizer's ministry. How different these two were! John preached fire and brimstone, and doesn't strike me as the kind of guy you would want to go play golf with. Jesus, on the other hand, enjoyed a social occasion and, while he preached repentance -- also extended such grace.

It appears that the people of his day were being openly critical of both John's and Jesus' style. So Jesus said, "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a durge, and you did not cry.'

"Do it our way, or we will complain." "Do it our way, or we'll withhold our contribution." "Do it our way, or we'll get someone else who will make us happy for a little while."

That's why I must constantly remind myself that I play for an audience of One. All that really matters is hearing him say, "Well done."

Monday, October 18, 2004

What We Deserve

Imagine telling God that you deserve his grace. Not only that, imagine then proceeding to enumerate the reasons that you deserve his grace. Seems kind of spooky to me.

One day, some of the Jewish religious leaders came to Jesus on behalf of a Roman centurion whose servant was about to die. They asked Jesus to heal the man's servant, and then told him, "This man deserves to have you do this." They then presented their evidence for why the centurion deserved it: He loved the Jewish nation, and he built their synagogue.

Those were certainly nice gestures on the part of a Gentile toward the Jews. It may have placed them in his debt. But did it obligate God?

Well, Jesus set out for the man's house. Before he got there, the centurion sent some friends to tell him, "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof." He then explained how -- being a man of authority -- he understood how it works. You speak the word, and those under you obey. He recognized that Jesus was one of authority who needed only to speak the word and it would be done.

Catch this: Jesus was amazed at him! He turned to the crowd and said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." And he healed the centurion's servant.

Someone has said that justice is when we get what we deserve. Mercy is when we don't get what we deserve. But grace is when we get what we don't deserve.

Thank you, Lord, for giving me what I don't deserve!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Just Do It!

We read the words of Jesus and marvel. As those who heard him said, "No one ever spoke the way this man does." I'll bet people said, "I could sit and listen to him talk for hours."

But guess what: Jesus said that the wise person is the one who heards his words -- and puts them into practice. Now we're talking a whole different dimension. Because you know what? Jesus said some really tough things -- things that are upside down from the norm. Things like "don't murder people in your heart," "don't commit adultery in your heart," "be a person of your word," "don't take vengeance," "love your enemies and do good to them."

Great ethical teachings. Teachings we would love to see other people put into practice. But it all begins with me. God, give me a heart and a will to put into practice the teachings of your Son. Let me live a radical life for you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Putting Things in Storage

Storage buildings -- it must be a great business. They're popping up all over the place. As I see them, I'm wondering, "What are people putting in all those things?" I don't know. But I can guarantee you this: Whatever they put in them, that's all that they're going to get out of them.

Jesus once said, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."

When I read that verse, I'm usually thinking of the result: What comes out of the mouth. After all, we want what comes out to sound good -- to make a good impression.

But that is looking at this verse backwards. Jesus is saying that whatever comes out of a person's mouth is the result of what has been stored in the heart. We can't expect good to come out of the mouth of a polluted source. The spillway of a lake is only going to deliver the quality of water that has entered it. It can deliver nothing else!

So, what are we storing up in our hearts? What do we take in through what we view, read, or think on? Remember the simple principle: Garbage in, garbage out. I want my heart to be God's throne. He shouldn't have to share it with garbage.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Judging Others

I'm guilty. It is a subtle habit that can grab hold and -- before you know it -- you become a critic. You know what other people are thinking. You know their motives. You can read their minds.

What I have painfully discovered is that what I often do is project what I would be thinking onto other people. And sadly, it says a lot more about me than it does about them.

Jesus teaches me a difficult lesson about being judgmental in Luke 6. He does it by painting a humorous picture of a man trying to take a speck out of someone's eye when he has a log sticking out of his own eye. It reminds me of the cartoon that was popular when I was growing up -- Mr. Magoo. Mr. Magoo was extremely near-sighted. Can you imagine him doing lasik surgery? Trying to fix someone else's eyes? That's what I'm like when I judge others. I'm so near-sighted (focused on me). Yet, I'm going to try to deal with someone else's problem. The results could be disastrous for both of us.

I have decided I want out of the judgment business. I am asking the Holy Spirit to deliver me from this burden. And I am also asking you who know me to hold me accountable. Judgmentalism just doesn't wear very well. It certainly doesn't carry with it the aroma of Christ. Plus, it's a job that's too big for any of us.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Toughest Commandment

Undoubtedly, Jesus challenges us to a lifestyle that is clearly different from the norm. It is a lifestyle in which pretention and looking right and acting right mean little. He challenges our hearts!

Nowhere is this clearer than in what I consider to be Jesus' toughest commandment. Here it is: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." And he's not talking about us saying we love Al Queda terrorists who are thousands of miles away. He's talking about that person who has gossiped about your children. He's talking about the boss who has it out for you. He's talking about that church member who sees it as his purpose in life to criticize you each week. He's talking about that coworker who will stop short of nothing to pass you up.

Love them? It is the most unnatural thing a person can do.

Jesus goes on to say we should bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us. And here is the clincher: "If you love those who love you what credit is that to you?" That is natural.

Jesus has not called us to be natural. If that were the case, we would not need him. No, he has called us to be supernatural, because we are powered by that which is supernatural -- the Holy Spirit. To continue to live "naturally" is to deny him the controlling influence in our lives.

Fortunately, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies he is not saying that we should have a pleasant feeling about them. Rather, he is calling us to make a decision of the will -- a decision to do what is in their best interests. It's a decision to see that person as God seems them: An individual who is in need of redemption. That, by the way, puts them on the same level as us. Ouch!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Being Comfortable is Suddenly Uncomfortable

It's a line that comes up regularly in conversations about money. In America, it even carries with it a sense of humility. Someone says, "I would love to have a large house on the lake." Someone else says, "I'd love to drive a Beemer." Then comes the line: "Well, I just want to be comfortable."

And I do too! But then this morning I read Luke's version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6), and once again Jesus' Kingdom principles turn me upside down. Jesus issues blessings and woes. One list contains those who are rich, well-fed, laughing, and well-spoken of. The other list contains those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded and insulted. The 1st list sounds like the American dream. The 2nd list sounds like a loser.

Guess which one Jesus blesses and which one he issues woes to? You know, the more time I spend thinking about it, the more radical this Kingdom living gets. I just hope I can get it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

He Chose Me!

I can still remember the feeling in my gut when we would get together as kids to play a team sport. Captains would be selected. Then came the chosing of teams. I was generally a fairly-early draft choice. But being that I could never shoot well, I would usually be one of the last chosen for basketball.

It's like it was yesterday. Eyes fixed on the ground. Glancing up every once in a while to see who was still left. "Surely I'll get picked before Chuck." Next pick: Chuck. Argh!

Luke's account of the chosing of the 12 apostles is interesting. Luke says that one morning, Jesus called his disciples together. I wonder how many people were there? Luke doesn't tell us. But from that group, Jesus picks 12 of them to be "designated apostles" (Luke 6: 13).

I wonder how it felt to be in love with Jesus and ready to follow him, but not to have been picked. I wonder if anyone pouted and left him because he had "slighted" them. I wonder if any feelings were hurt that day.

But on the other side of the coin, think what it felt like for those 12 who were chosen. They must have felt wonderful. Of course, they had no idea what being chosen would end up costing them. Yet in the glow of the moment, WOW!

And consider as Jesus made his selections. They are listed for us in Luke 6: 14-16. When it came to that #12 pick, Jesus looked over those who were left and his eyes settled on Judas Iscariot. Would Julius Caesar have picked Brutus to be his right-hand man had he known the future? Surely not. But Jesus knew the future. Yet he picked the man who would betray him -- and for three years, treated him with all of the kindness and respect that he did the others.

For those who are in Christ, listen to Paul's words in Ephesians 1: 3-5: "he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight . . . adopted as his sons." Chosen! It's a wonderful feeling!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Who Made Up These Rules?

When I was growing up in the church, I remember being told that you could not pass out the Lord's Supper unless you were wearing a tie. I also heard people say that preachers should only wear black suits. And, of course, they had to preach from the King James Version. After all, it does say it is the Authorized Version (that is, it was authorized by King James -- not by God).

Also, in many churches -- women had to wear dresses on Sunday morning and men had to wear suits. But on Sunday night, the rules changed. And on Wednesday nights, they changed again!

Further, there was no dancing and no drinking. Men's hair had to be short. Beards were frowned upon. Jesus was not born on December 25th, so we joined the atheists in not mentioning him during Christmas season. We just partook in the materialism of Christmas.

Rules, rules rules. Everywhere you turned -- more rules. Unwritten rules -- from the folks who "speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent." Someone trying to come into the church had to walk on eggshells because they might break a rule. And if you broke one, there was sure to be a stern-faced brother or sister who would be quick to let you know that you were not "sound."

Just goes to show that the more things change, the more they remain the same. In Luke 6, Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders of his day. They were accusing Jesus of violating Scripture for doing things that were not addressed in Scripture. Like plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath. Or healing a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

Jesus asked them (v. 9), "which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" He confronted them in their arrogant religiousity. The result is that these men who wanted to be so prim and proper began plotting to murder him. How ironic!

Understand: God has certainly given his children rules by which to live. But when we get his rules and our own rules confused -- the products are not pretty.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Those Were The Days

"no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskings will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking the old wine wants the new, for he says, "The old is better.'" (Luke 5: 37-38)

"I wish we could go back to the way this country was in the 50's!" I hear statements like that a lot. Our minds have an incredible ability to be selective about what we remember. Sure, some things were better back then. Abortion wasn't much of an issue. And movies and TV weren't so saturated with things not fit for Christian eyes and ears. Gay rights? Back then, that referred to our right as Americans to be happy.

We do the same thing in the church. Folks in my tradition are fond of saying, "I sure wish we could go back to the 'good-ole days.' You know -- like back in the 60's when we were the fastest growing religious body in America." True. But how about our sectarian spirit that led to a fortress mentality? And how about our lack of mercy to those who were "sinners." And how about the splits over such crucial issues as kitchens in the building, songbooks, bible classes, whether we can pool our resources to support the fatherless, etc, etc, etc. And don't forget racism -- of which we in the church stand tried and convicted.

I think what Jesus is saying is that the good-ole days are like some of my flannel pants I wear around the house. They have been worn so long that they are soft and comfortable. But they are also threadbare -- and may soon have to be replaced. And there is a discomfort associated with the new. It takes some getting used to. We have to adjust our habits and our thinking. We have to stretch ourselves.

What the past holds is nice for reminiscing and for learning lessons from. But what the future holds is challenging and full of potential. It's in the new that we are stretched. It's in the new that we grow.