Some look for a Wild Time; I’m looking for a Wild Place

When our kids were growing up, they were fascinated by a series of books (maybe more so, their dad) called “Where’s Waldo?” (Christian book fans, you may remember the “Seeking Sammy” series – I’m guessing it was the Biblical Sammy the Prophet.)

In case you don’t recall spending hours searching through the red and white minutiae for the scarf and ski cap bedecked Waldo, These colorful books opened to panoramic scenes of tiny people in public places, and stuck in the crowd was “Waldo.” The winner found him.

At times, I feel the same way about Jesus. Where’s Jesus? In all the minutiae of life, where is He? Sometimes life’s details hide or push out the right stuff.

Luke 5 is a busy time in Jesus’ life. But it has an interesting aside. Jesus is in the midst of gathering a group of friends and he’s performing miracles (while already avoiding arrest, it seems). And Luke says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” I imagine that, in their travels, the guys got up, rolled their backpacks, and someone would say, “Where’s Jesus now?”

Oh, he must have found a wild place.

Jesus was regularly taking time from the wild press of people and their needs, and drawn to seek a place to be alone with His Father. Is there a connection between a wild place, the alone-ness, and God’s presence? Maybe our willingness to go to a wild place can helps us see God’s hand and presence more readily? And it might be the questions become more real in a wild place?

Three things about a wild place: 1)It’s not a quiet place (the noise is different, but still there. 2) It’s not a normal place (we have to choose to go there; the “beaten path” and a wild place are exact opposites.) 3) It’s not a safe place. (Wild places have critters. And the dangers can refocus one’s mind.)

When I find a wild place – a place off the beaten path – to spend time with the Father, I expect that my life will be refocused, on Him and His purposes for me and for His world. And that can be dangerous.

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A Lifetime Punctuated with Suddenlies…

What do shepherds, a leper, and Simon Peter have in common? (Cue “Jeopardy Theme). What is, they each were waylaid by a “Suddenly?” The shepherds on the hillside with the angelic host, the leper healed by Jesus, and Paul and the horse (on the road to Damascus, and that’s what he fell to the ground from in my picture Bible… humor me.)

How many times does the word “suddenly’  occur? A whole bunch… I quit counting in YouVersion. In the New Testament, though, it happens forty-five times.

“Suddenlies” are different from how we like to describe our Christian experience. It’s akin to Bilbo telling Gandalf, “Adventures? We don’t want any of those around here, thank you!” We go for lifelong, for the walk, or the word du Jour, “process.” But, what’s the fun in a walk without a few surprises?

In fact, when we have a real prayer need (not the ones that involved parking places or nail fungus), we pray for “suddenlies.” And we should.

Each moment as Christ-followers should prepare us for “suddenly.” We may still freak out, shake in our sandals, or drop to our knees in fear like the shepherds, Mary, the disciples, Paul, and even the centurion at the Cross. But our story afterward will be, “yep, that was God!”

We aren’t far away from Easter – it’s in just a few weeks. And we are not at all far away from our next “Suddenly.” So get ready… and if you freak, shake or fall down, I hope someone has a camera.

With all immediacy,

Rick

 

Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,

Rick

Jesus isn’t like that…

Preachers have long suspected that most of what we say is forgotten. I know we want to think differently, and we can seek to be memorable and quotable all we want. But, a snippet or sound bite here, or a timely story there, and that’s all we get.

But, Sunday was different.

Let me cast the normal flowers: your message was moving, great, spoke to me, nice job, nailed it (that’s always a curious comment to say to a preacher of the Gospel), and my favorite – were you thinking of me when you prepared this message.

Here’s what changed my life.

Our lead pastor (Tim Holt, Seacoast Vineyard, been doing if faithfully since “the Call”) described what happened with Jesus and his disciples as they left the crowd one day, and in dire need of rest, sailed to a remote place to get some rest. The crowd got wind of the relocation and showed up before Jesus dropped anchor.

And here’s where it got good.

He said, for us, we might have looked at the crowd and despaired, or tried to send them away, or ignored them. After all, we were tired, we deserved some rest, some “me time.”

Are  you ready? Then he said, “but Jesus isn’t like that.” Wait… wait… wait… let it hit you.

He’s not like us. He’s not. Confessional time. He isn’t like me. We live in a world that measures Jesus by us. I know the argument: we’re the only “Bible” some will ever read, and how else will others know Jesus unless we are “Jesus with skin on.”

But, no matter how much we model our lives by Jesus, he is not like us. I can show compassion in a kind action. He is fully, beyond measure, love. I can share a word of wisdom with a friend. He is the source of wisdom; he invented it. I can pray for a sickness to be healed. He expresses healing and wholeness in all he does. Even in my best, he’s not like me.

A dose of humility. Jesus already has come with skin on. And if the Gospel another reads comes from my life, it will not be enough to save or transform. Jesus is completely and wholly not like me. Measuring Jesus by me is a mistake. But oh, how by His immeasurable grace, I want to be measured by his standard (“Life is not measured by how much you own. Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:15, 21)

Maybe we can quit judging Jesus without knowing him. We make him small when we say he is like us. Maybe a better plan is to go for a rich relationship with Him.

So, if you want to know what Jesus is like, my life is probably not the measurement you want… he’s not like that. But I suspect that, what you hope he is like – compassionate, consistent, near, trustworthy, forgiving, powerful, and full of grace – he is, and then some.

Thanks, Tim, for a life-altering word. (And btw, I remember what you said next, too – Jesus isn’t like that. He saw the people and had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And sheep when there are no boundaries or fences, need a shepherd.)

Rick

Not Mine.

It takes a lifetime to get and a lot of reminders, but I don’t own my life. The SUV I drive? Not mine. The TV I watched last night? Not mine. The checkbook I paid bills from? Not mine, either. The kids I helped raise? The marriage? Not mine.The hobby I claim? The diversion I make time for? The secret place where no one else is invited? Not mine. The faith I claim? The church I attend? The office I spend time in? Nope. Not mine. The country I love? The world I pray for? No. They don’t belong to me, either.
Jeremiah reminds himself as much as anyone else: “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.”
Sure, I have obligations, even passions for all of the above, but they belong to another. If I don’t own my television, my hobbies, my checkbook, my family, my marriage, or my nation… then, they don’t own me. Freedom.
Property of God.
Rick

When Did the Right Way become the Old Way?

This is what the lord says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ I posted watchmen over you who said, ‘Listen for the sound of the alarm.’                                          Jeremiah the Prophet just before Jerusalem fell

I am an early adopter. I love new stuff and even if I can’t afford it, I want it and admire it from arm’s length. At the same time, I have this unexplained affection for the person who uses a flip phone. And if I stumbled across someone with a phone bag I would think, “how cool is that! I wish I’d saved mine!”

New, improved, next, unveiled, upcoming, and words of this ilk draw me in. But so do phrases like, that works, it’s good, and always right. Just because new is attached to it, doesn’t make it better than right or good.

Jeremiah addressed this when he called the Judahites to follow the old way, the right way. They had chosen a new god and a new morality, and it was me-centered. And the consequences were at the gate.

Every day, I am at a crossroads. I can go “me,” or I can go “God.” I can listen to the lure of the Garden (God won’t mind if you want His spot on the throne) or I can honor the call to decrease while Jesus increases in His expression through my life. I can do what shouts “look at me” (and my life, my way, my ministry, my call); or I can be one of the invisible saints that selflessly impacts today and that one day shouts “Yeah, God” to the field of saints seeking to make Jesus Lord.

If I choose poorly, I trust that the alarm will sound and wake me up.

Alert in Christ,

Rick

Price of slavery, Cost of freedom

Slavery has never been more profitable. But, human trafficking, as heinous as it is, isn’t the only end that the means justifies. Sell outs to subjugation go on all the time – bondage and entrapment are gussied up as the next experience to be had –  no matter how many shades of grey cloak it (btw, how can we rail against causing women pain and embrace the same in the name of pleasure? Using others for gratification or anger still leads to subjection.)

Judas gave up freedom for 30 silver coins. Whether he was disillusioned with the progress of the social takeover he’d hope would come with Jesus’ reign, or disappointed at being caught at embezzlement, he sold his freedom. Matthew and others give the details. Try Judas for your next character study. Or maybe not… it may be too familiar.

The cash he accepted equaled the cost of a slave (see Exodus 21) – 30 silver coins. Judas took his final step into slavery with the bribe, then surrendered it under remorse as the exact cost of a graveyard, the perfect final home for slaves.

Jesus planned for a better home for slaves.

For Jesus, these same thirty coins bought our slavery to sin. He cashed it in at the Cross. I am the direct beneficiary to this investment, a thirty coin bribe sought to capture and kill a King became the price to free a slave. Me.

Two simple applications: To the enslaved (yes, I know who I am – you do, too), your purchase has been proffered and accepted. The document is filed waiting to be claimed. To the set-free-ones, tell someone where freedom waits.

Rick the Purchased

Extravagant for good reason

We don’t have to read deeply into the news of the week to find at least one article criticizing a Christian leader extravagant living, for spending too much on (fill in the blank.) Too much house. Too expensive a building. Too beautiful a lobby. Too expansive the property.

It’s not the journalists’ fault. We can make some unwise choices. No doubt. And when it come to money, we live in the land of skepticism.

But, extravagant for the right reasons, pays off.

In Matthew 26, a woman shows up during dinner. This woman cracks open an alabaster container of anointing perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. Those around, including the disciples, are appalled at the waste: “this decision should have gone through the right channels.” But, context can really help here. She literally poured out her dowry. She, essentially, relegated herself to serving Jesus as a single woman the rest of her life. The price of alone-ness, no children, no heritage, no safety net – an act of worship before the Cross and the Grave. The payoff, linked to the preaching of the Good News around the world for all time.

Three things to note in this story to help us judge wisely when tempted to judge others:
1) It was her call. She was the one who brought the gift. Broke the jar. Poured out the anointing oil. When we are tempted to judge Franklin Graham, Steve Furtick, or whoever next lands in the sites of a whistle-blower, our first thought should be “her call” or “his call.” Err on the side of grace and trust that things are right instead of suspicious. There may be a “bigger picture” issue. (i.e. Furtick invested royalties from his book sales on a home, Graham received long overdue retirement investments.) The investment: all that she had. The payoff: Jesus is anointed for his burial.

2) It was on Jesus. Being extravagant for a good purpose is a good thing. Some things we don’t skimp on. Cool toys in the nursery (what’s with the cardboard fake bricks!) New strings on the guitars. New batteries in the mic. One more word: double-ply.  I want the best we can afford to do the best work. It’s for Jesus. But, it’s also “on Jesus.” We’re going to make bad calls. Miss the mark. Choose unwisely in the heat of the action. And in retrospect, we will need grace. His grace and the grace of others. No excuses. Plenty of mercy. The cost: humility. The payoff: God’s grace is seen.

3) She prepared for the Ultimate Scandal to be told. Her choice. Her gift. But, his sacrifice. The scandal of the Cross, that God would leave the place of glory for a gory death. So the sinful, badly managed, neglected, mishandled life you and I hold onto so fretfully, could be forgiven, the books reconciled, the life changed, and linked up to the Good News. The investment: identifying our lives with the death of the Savior. The dividend: our lives take the back seat, the Gospel moves to the front because of the grace God has given us in Christ.

So, be extravagant. Make choices that take into account your free will, His generous hand, and the grace to forgive. And spend your life foolishly for the Good News.
Foolishly His,
Rick

Locating God

I grew up learning that God is “up” and you-know-who is “down.” The psalmist says the Lord rides on the clouds; he chooses to dwell in the mountains. The ancients in the Old Testament looked to the mountains to where God lived. In fact, ancient cultures looked to the mountains as the place of the gods. Mountains were awesome, insurmountable, and only God could reign over something so spectacularly frightful. Or God dwells in the highest heavens, the clouds, or the sky; again, insurmountable, unapproachable, and no one but God can be up there.

Social theorist Joseph Campbell asserts that all people and cultures develop myths to handle the unexplainable, especially the nature and location of God. The mountains, the highest hills, the clouds were all completely off limits to humans. No one dare go there! But now, the myths are debunked (we’ve climbed mountains, surpassed the clouds, entered space, seen the galaxies) and, therefore, the “myth of God” is finally put to rest.

The writers of the Old Testament got it right. Yes, God lives beyond where I would dare go without a guide — he resides inside me where contradictions often rule, every turn may reveal treachery, and each cave or corner, darkness. God chooses to live within those who trust, love, and serve Him, even though the mistiness of wrong choices and the faint odor of damaged goods lingers. The grandest expression of the location of God? “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The God of the clouds compressed to the locality of my inner self. He chooses to live here, inside me.

To the heights and depths,

Rick

Day One: Painter – Unlimited Beauty, Unlimited Palette

Piero lived in the 1400’s  and spent nearly every day at a desk writing contracts and signing off on legal documents in an obscure village outside of the city of Florence. He would not even have made the history books except that, instead of retiring to his home after work,  he spent his nights with a peasant girl named Catarina. She gave birth to a baby that she and Piero named Leonardo. The village was called Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was given a general education in math and science in his early years. But, Piero came into a fortunate position with the di Medici family and connected his son with the best training possible through mentoring. He became the apprentice of a goldsmith of fame called Verrochio (meaning “true eye,” necessary for a master artist.) Leonardo was mentored in the arts and sciences, as well as the broad sweep of techniques in sculpting, casting, and painting. He soon surpassed his teachers, and began creating new ways to span rivers, irrigate fields, and do battle. But is passion was painting.

Mark 2:13-14 records that, “Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.”

A businessman with plenty of means like Levi (called Matthew in most places) would be content, satisfied with his good fortune. But, Levi was wondering, searching, and waiting for what would fill his inner emptiness. We know this by what he did soon after meeting Jesus.

Read Mark 2:15-18 Why did Levi think having a party with Jesus mattered to his friends? What did he hope to accomplish? How do  you think Jesus responded to this type of party?

We likely didn’t get a personal verbal invite from Jesus of Nazareth like Levi did. But, like his friends who got the party invite from their tax-collector friend, he uses those who know him to introduce others to Jesus. If you are his follower, someone introduced you to Jesus. He speaks to each of us through the compassionate invitation of others.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1. Consider your place at the party table. Who invited you? Send him/her a letter or email. Better yet, make a phone call. If that’s not possible, journal a letter you would want to write to him/her.

2. At church this Sunday, be intentional about bringing people to the party table. Look for a person, couple or family who needs a personal invite into your life in Christ. Ask them to lunch or schedule a time to meet, just for the benefit of “hang out time.”

3. Find a neighbor in your circle of people who needs a party. If it’s someone who needs your forgiveness, extend it. If it’s someone who is hurting or without something, provide it. Do something for someone that builds a bridge you can send a party invitation across.

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