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

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Day One – Mathematician and Faith

Most people don’t place mathematics with the Creative Arts – mainly because of traumatic algebra tests or unmemorized theorems. But the classical studies planted arithmetic squarely in the midst of seven primary liberal arts. Medieval philosophers so valued numbers that they declared “arithmetic to be pure numbers, geometry to be numbers in space, music to be numbers in time, and astronomy to be numbers in space and time.”

Boethius, a Roman during the last throes of the Empire, popularized math as a coveted discipline through his writing while waiting on death row as a political prisoner in the 6th Century. Though all he had to work with was the cumbersome Latin letter/numbers, he showed the West the value of studying arithmetic for it’s on value. Math became more than a tool for counting things; it became an art that influenced all the other disciplines.

Math and Church don’t mix well. Numbers equal counting, and counting (nickels and noses, especially) gets in the way of real Christianity. Christ-followers don’t think of faith in terms of numbers. but Jesus certainly did. Some of his best promises were math equations.

Read Mark 4:8-9. He promises that, if we keep our soil (Jesus says this represents us and the texture of our lives) supple and yielding to His Word, it will multiply in our lives and into the lives of others around us. It’s math.

Now, read the whole story (from verses 1-9). My ears hear what I shouldn’t do – no rocks, no weeds, no shallowness. I get the shouldn’t’s.  In math terms, we should add soil where we are shallow, subtract the weeds that distract us, and divide the rocks from our good soil.

But the promise is multiplication. Every truth I let sink through the crusty surface impacts my life in Kingdom benefits thirty or more times.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1)Plan a game night with study – one with math involved like dominoes or Uno. Discuss the questions below during the game.

2)What truth from this chapter is God trying to get you to trust in?

3)Where in your life will you begin to apply this truth right away?

4)Who will your faithfulness impact?

And let God bring math back to your faith.

Changed by Simple Choices

I talked to a couple a few weeks ago, and they found our church because of a traffic snag. It was one of those events – car show, fun run, softball tourney, etc. – that sent cars all over the beach roads to get north or south. We do church right in the middle of the action, so they turned left to go right, and there we were. They worship with us now.

What matters most often is the result of simple choices. I’m not just talking about personal randomness like what dropped into these guys’ lives. The simple choices of how to spend a few minutes, or who to call just to say I’m thinking about you, or whether to turn left or right at the juncture of a dilemma, can literally transform your life.

I saw this today in Jesus’ life once again. And if anyone didn’t do randomness, He didn’t! But it sure seemed like it sometimes in Scripture; that is, until we got the rest of the story. (Ask the lonely guy at the Pool of Siloam how, out of all the sick, he was healed, if randomness figured into the plan. Or the lady with the issues who touched Jesus’ robe in the midst of her own traffic jam, if she was healed randomly. It may look random, but Jesus chooses very personally who to touch. But, I’m off topic…sorry.)

Mark writes his account of what we’ve come to call The Transfiguration (Mark 9). If you’ve read it before, and I asked you “why did he go up the mountain?” what would be your likely answer? To meet with Mose and company? To be Transfigured? To give a glimpse of His glory to the three disciples with Him?

From Mark’s pen, it was the result of a simple choice. The intro goes like this: “Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.”

He wanted to rest, pray, get away from the noisy crowds, and have some alone time with His best friends and His Father. He knew that, being quiet for a time settles things deep down inside. It can clear the fog and cause the main things to rise to the top of the list, above the “not-so-main-things.” And it did just that – the Transfiguration account is all about the Father’s plan coming about through Jesus! It’s about the Father’s voice and the Father’s glory being seen in His Son! (Not to mention the very important cameos from Moses and Elijah to affirm the the mission!)

Simple choices just don’t get enough credit, but choosing wisely instead of poorly, or thoughtfully over impulsively, can cause us to land right into those important crossroads in our lives. There is a “default” perspective at times in the thought processes of follower’s of Christ. It starts with something like, “It must be God since I want to do it” and ends with “OK, it will somehow work out in the end” when the results skew a different direction. It’s almost a baptized fatalism that can rule our choices.

Take your choices before the Father, and make your choices based on His wisdom and His mission in your life. And, of course, it’s always a good choice to get away with your Father for some alone time with Him! Doing this as a simple daily choice will lead to your own personal transformation, and who knows? You likely will find yourself standing right in front of a far greater adventure than you could have chosen on your own!

On the Journey – Rick

Praying for the City

Who wouldn’t agree that we need to pray… a lot… when we are faced with the insurmountable. But, “we need to pray” can become a phrase we say to segue to “the real work” of evangelism, servant-hood, social help, etc. Or it can at time sound tired, and almost empty, as if it’s the best we can do since the situation is, after all, insurmountable!

OM-Italy is convinced that the real work of ministry alongside churches, of servant-hood, of redemptive social help, and especially of declaring the Great News about Jesus, begins and ends with prayer.

“Our goal is to pray in preparation for ministry and outreach, pray throughout the campaign, and pray for the results after we pack up the tent, fold up the boxes, or put away the face-paint. We want to surround the ministry of the Gospel with prayer,” said Rick Harrell, discipleship leader for OM-Italy.

A recent cool Monday night, Rick and members of the OM-Italy team drove into the center of Turin to the Piazza della Repubblica to pray. In two weeks a team from all over Europe will join a dozen evangelical churches in an outreach campaign in the center of this busy piazza.

The area, locally called Porta Palazzo, is filled with high rise buildings of flats that surround the piazza and line nearby streets and alleys. The dense population is split among Chinese Buddhists, Moslem’s from various countries of Northern Africa, and a modest mix of various other nationalities, including Italians. Christ’s name is heard infrequently on the streets of Porta Palazzo.

Market day, everyday in Porta Palazzo, Turin, Italy

This night, however, the name of Jesus was heard, praised, and lifted up as the team moved from one corner to the next worshiping and interceding for the city, the churches, and the outreach campaign.

The format was simple with just a few words, or tags, to guide the prayer time.

Praise, to remember that God is Lord of this City. He is worthy of worship even in places other gods are honored. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and highest praise is due Him.

People, to remember that there are people groups, or “ethnos” clusters, that live here and need Christ. And more specifically, there are families, students, marriages, seniors, children, singles, widows, businessmen and women, all on the edge of eternity – and Christ left heaven to rescue them.

Pictures, to remember that God speaks to us and reminds us visually of what He has done, how He works, and what He delights in and longs for in this city. An image or metaphor brought to mind can be a catalyst for faith and prayer when we intercede (the Bible is full of these pictures, by the way.)

Promises, to recall that He has assured us that He will move on behalf of His children, and that He is active working in hearts and lives, even in the inner city of Torino.

Powers and principalities, to remind us that the enemy has designs and influential activity in the center city, that we need God’s Spiritual Armor to advance His kingdom, and that we can take the city for Christ.

The Italian word, inondazione, describes the growing prayer strategy of OM-Italy. “We want to flood the city with prayer before, during, and after the outreaches. Already, we see a coalition of churches who are reaching into Porta Palazzo multiple times this year. We want to see the churches and pastors join us in the streets and piazzas as we all intercede for the city”

OM-Italy invites you to join them in praying for Italy, for Turin, for Porta Palazzo, and for the outreaches planned on November 11 through 13.

Fire Proof Day 11 – Fires of Calling

Day Eleven – Fires of Calling
Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up. Exodus 3:1-2

Moses was a committed shepherd, and had been for decades under the wife’s dad’s family business. There was likely a lot of time to think in the backcountry while watching the sheep graze. For Moses, those thoughts may have included remembering how he was raised: in the palace, surrounded by the riches of Pharaoh’s own family, bound for royalty. Instead, he was in the wilderness, smelling like sheep, and bound for serving his father-in-law. He was learning the humble lessons of the desert.
I suspect that an occasional brush fire in the wilderness was normal, but this one was different.  The fire blazed bright, the bush was totally inundated with fire,  yet not really consumed, and God got his attention. And Moses’ agenda was replaced by God’s agenda.
For some followers of God, it takes a lot to get our attention. Moses had his “burning bush,” Paul had his “Damascus Road.” We each most likely experience a “turning point” moment when God speaks and redirects us. It may not be as dramatic as Paul’s or Moses’, but it scares and excites us at the same time, nevertheless.
The Bible tells us that we are to “live by faith, and not by sight.” What does this mean in relation to what Moses experienced?  He certainly saw God’s presence in the bush. He heard a definite voice calling him. All in a moment. Then he lived by faith that God would do what He said He would. (Granted: he did see some awesome evidence of God’s making good on His promise and calling!)

Where has God met you recently and clearly? What has God said to you in your Quiet Time or through Scripture? Who has He put, in an undeniable way, on your mind to serve or share with? In the context of our Life’s Calling, He often calls us to specific tasks to meet specific needs or to make specific issues your own. Write some notes on what God has on His agenda for you to do. Now, it is up to you to “live by faith” based on what God has said.
Note: Tomorrow, Day Twelve is a “Fast Day.” If you are already practicing regular fasting, keep it up as it keeps you close in to Him. If this is new to you, choose to skip breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner tomorrow. Give Him the extra time with extra Bible reading, study, prayer, and worship. Make notes on your day in your journal.

All For Him – Rick

Fire Proof Day 13 – Fire Altars, & Fire Alters

Day Thirteen – Fire Altars & Fire Alters
Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. Colossians 3:9-11

Today, read Colossians 3:9-11 in context with the rest of the chapter. Everyday brings a fresh set of choices. God has given His followers a lifestyle that has both clear boundaries and plenty of room to grow and roam and experience life. The “don’t’s” of our faith-life are all there to make life and relationships work right.  The “do’s” are there to replace man-made restrictions to freedom in Christ. The dividing labels listed in our verses today keep people apart, demean and belittle others, and tell them they are excluded and will never measure up.

In fact, the central point of the Gospel is that none of us measure up when we use God’s standard. We all are people of grace, needing His and each other’s forgiveness and space to grow.
God’s plan redefines how we measure one another. It is no longer the label, the heritage, the “bloodline” of our families, our education, our jobs, or the name of our church.  It is the simple truth that we are forgiven by the God who provided the Savior and Forgiver.  That causes us to give plenty of room for those who aren’t quite like us, or worship like us, or dress like us… or, well, you get the picture.
Read Colossians 3:1-17 again. But this time, read it in first person. Use your name; use, I and me; and use the word “choose” when the verse indicates a choice to be made. Everyday brings a fresh set of choices.

All For Him – Rick

Fire Proof Day 15 – Close to the Fire

Day Fifteen – Close to the Fire
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is “a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28

The same God who came near in the Old Testament Place of Holiness is near you today.  We don’t always feel Him; we don’t always blaze for Him. But His promise is true and secure.  He is not “an indifferent bystander.”
God has an end in sight for each of us – to be made holy, complete, and “like Him” in all ways. We are “in process” and that process is at times a cleansing process, at other times a connecting process, and at still other times a consuming process.
He says that He will complete that process, that work He has begun in you and me. And the awesome truth is this: He sees us as a finished product.  He sees the beginning and before, and He sees the ending and beyond. He looks on us with the sight of omniscience.
We see with faith. But we can trust that He is not finished with each of us. He will complete it.  That gives us hope for ourselves, and grace toward each other. Our Fifteen Day Fire Proof Devotional experiment comes to a close with this entry. As you conclude this devotion series, write down what you believe He is burning in your heart. What has He been speaking to you about doing, changing, adopting, re-imagining, or laying at His feet as a sacrifice. Then, put in your calendar system (whatever you use to manage your days) a reminder to look back at this devotion in three, six, or twelve months. You will be surprised at the work God is doing in you!

All For Him – Rick

Fire Proof Day Six – Fire Connection

Day Six – Fire Connection


They moved on from Succoth and then camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. God went ahead of them in a Pillar of Cloud during the day to guide them on the way, and at night in a Pillar of Fire to give them light; thus they could travel both day and night. The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people. Exodus 13:20-22

When God led his chosen people away from the Egyptian slaveholders, He protected them by sending a fiery column. This pillar of fire stood between His people and their enemies. As they traveled further toward their destiny in the Promised Land, God continued to send the pillar of fire.

Instead of protecting them from an imminent enemy as it did from the Egyptian army, however, the fire provided three things: 1) it guided them as they traveled through the dark of night, 2) it gave them light to live by, and 3) it reminded the people that He was with them.
God sends His fire to cleanse and purify, and in these verses He sends His fire to connect Himself with His people. The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit connects us to God’s family. For us today, the fire of the Holy Spirit serves to give wisdom, direction, and light to live by. When we are surrounded by darkness, or can’t find our way out of an unclear situation, the fire of His presence shows us the way out. And the kindled flame of God’s Spirit within is the Presence that reminds us “he will never leave us or forsake us.” If it is dark in some places where you are, ask God to send the fire of wisdom and direction.

Practice worship today by singing aloud to Him, even if it seems you are in a dark place. A common refrain as a result of God’s deliverance in the Old Testament was: “For the Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” Worship Him, and He will meet you.

All For Him – Rick

Cleansing Fire (Day 5) – Plows, Stones & Sowing

Day Five – Plows, Stones and Sowing
Listen to me now.
Give me your closest attention.
Do farmers plow and plow and do nothing but plow?
Or harrow and harrow and do nothing but harrow?
After they’ve prepared the ground, don’t they plant?
Don’t they scatter dill and spread cumin,
Plant wheat and barley in the fields
and raspberries along the borders?
They know exactly what to do and when to do it.
Their God is their teacher. Isaiah 28:23-26

Let’s change the metaphor this time, from fire to farming. Have you watched the local farmers working their fields in the spring? Some are plowing land that was cultivated as recently as last year. Some are plowing fields that have lain fallow for a long time. Others are claiming new land for fields and turning soil that hasn’t been farmed before. There is one element that is consistent in all three of these kinds of fields: rocks, rocks, and more rocks. The fallow and unfarmed fields have more rocks; but the recently tended fields give up their share of stones, too. It amazes me that rocks seem to rise up from beneath the topsoil to cause problems, even in a field that has been plowed recently. But they have to be discovered and removed if the field is to produce what it ought to and holds potential to produce.
Jesus compares our lives to soil in a parable, and one of the hindrances to receiving the seed (the truth of God) from the farmer (the Father) is the rock beneath the soil. You and I will go through seasons of plowing, planting, producing – and again plowing, planting, producing. The plowing may hurt, and rocks that have been under the surface may come up – but God has a plan for removing those rocks, those hindrances. It’s called repentance & forgiveness. The steps are simple: admit, submit, and know. Admit the rock, or the sin, is there and you can’t move it yourself. Submit to His touch and forgiveness as He removes it. Know that, when you ASK for forgiveness, He always forgives. He promises. Don’t forget to journal what He is saying to you.

All For Him – Rick

Cleansing Fire (Day 4) – Cleaning & Refining

Day Four – Cleaning and Refining Fire
But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3:16-17

Try to imagine this picture at the river shore. John, a forceful character if there ever was one (and maybe even a “driver” of sorts), is preaching and baptizing everyday. His message is clear. In brief: The Messiah is just a few steps behind me; the Kingdom of the Messiah is bursting onto the scene; believe the truth, turn from the wrong path, and give God His rightful place as Lord.
No one alive in John’s day had seen or heard someone like John (there had not been a real live prophet in Israel for 400 years.) Could John be “the One?” Is he the Messiah?
John may have been strong, but he knew he couldn’t change anyone from the inside out. It takes God to do that.  Read his words again. The Holy Spirit within you is a cleansing, purifying fire; and He – God, the Holy Spirit – longs to transform you.  He can burn the dross, the waste, the refuse, the stuff that has no value in our lives because it devalues you and me; and He can refine you so you’ll be more of who God created you to be. Give the cleansing fire room to work, since it is God’s method of creating space in our lives for His Spirit to work in and through us.
One writer compares our lives to a house, with different rooms and doors that are either open or shut to God’s presence. Each room represents a part of our lives, and each room either has a “Welcome” sign for Jesus or a “Do Not Enter” sign hung on the knob.  This has been the first of two “fasting days” in our fifteen days. Take extra time out of your day to spend with Him in His Word and in Prayer. Picture the elements of your life as a house. Is your den (spare time room) or your kitchen (friendships) cleaned up and straightened? How is each closet of your mind? What about your game room or movie room? Has God been speaking to you about a room that needs His touch, His cleansing and loving touch?  Take that room to Him and let His light reveal what needs to be transformed and cleaned up, and allow His cleansing fire clean it. Choose a friend to tell how He is transforming this room in your life. It may be that, during the retreat, He was very clear about a room that needs “Welcome” hung on the door. He waits for the door to open.

All For Him – Rick

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