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

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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

Day One – Architect: Foundations, Spans, and Lanterns

Mark 1 – “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah…”

Of all the forms of art and kinds of artist, the one that gets to “play big” most often is the Architect. He may start with pen and charts (or CAD-CAM.) But, the medium of choice is often big…very Big! Space, acreage, height, square footage all call for a grand imagination and vision. No matter how large the vision is or how tall the building designed by the architect grows, one feature remains essential. The Foundation.

In 1418, the city of Florence, or more specific the guilds, commissioned through competition the design and building of what was to become the largest dome to ever top a basilica. The cathedral building itself had been rising slowly over more than a century at the site of a crumbling and much smaller 5th Century church. The foundation had been set 118 years previously.

Filippo Brunelleschi, a watchmaker and goldsmith, won the commission. He beat out a dozen other architect plans and set in motion the building of a structure that called for scaffolding, machines, and techniques never before invented.

No matter the project, the architect as artist works with the same basic elements: lines, angles, curves. Brunelleschi faced the enormous challenge of spanning 143 feet diameter with an octagonal dome that reached twenty-seven stories high.

But, building high wasn’t the problem; concrete walls can go higher. He needed to be able to go high and curve inward; the pressure straight down was complicated by the weight of 37,000 tons pushing outward.

He had to account for hoop stress. Like the pressure of two hands pushing an inflated balloon, each level he completed had to distribute the weight of the next level, or it would “balloon” outward. He needed all of the weight above to sit on a strong foundation.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1 Try this for a fun application. Hand out decks of cards and have a competition to build the biggest “house of cards” using the most cards. Give awards for the tallest and the one with the most cards.

2 What have you built in your lifetime? What was the foundation like?

3. If you were to name one main thing in your personal or family life that needs a good foundation to support its weight, what would that be? What presses you in this area and causes “hoop stress?”

4. What kinds of elements make up your spiritual foundation? Is it deep? Is it deeper or wider? What reinforces it?

Keep building what no one else can – your extraordinary life of faith!

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.

Does this hurt?

We avoid pain (no-brainer). We run from it unless there is a higher payoff – improved game, better abs, new baby in our arms, a bill paid off, a binge weekend of “Glee.”

My son, for his first dozen or so years, came to me and announced “Does this hurt?” Then he would pinch, punch, pull, twist, or otherwise separate tissue from tendon. It came in the form of a question: it was really a warning. Pain was imminent.

Next to inclusiveness and tolerance, pain avoidance is right up there as sacred. In fact, some preach that, if we experience pain, we must be out of God’s plan for our lives – if God’s plan is wonderful, how could pain be involved.

I remember when my kids were younger, that they would start down a road to pain and punishment. (Don’t get me wrong: they were good kids. But also living proof of humankind’s fallen-ness.)The first action received a warning, the second a sterner warning, and finally the pain that halted the path they’d taken. It almost seemed like they were asking for punishment (my dad’s two phrases – “Do you want a spanking?” “Sure, sign me up.” and “This will hurt you more than me.” “Uh, yeah.”)

Good pain comes at the right place and for the right reason. Maybe I ask for it (discipline) or maybe I don’t.

Have I ever seen a branch ask for a good pruning? A smart branch knows a good pruning will make it better and healthier. More fruit, less dead weight, more pleasure in the purpose of growing and living. Jesus prunes what he cares for. So, in the pain, trust his hand and his love.

Lord, prune me. I am good with the pain if it makes me more alive. I can take the lopping off of the dead weight I carry. Snip, saw, and drag it away so my heart, life and fruit can be yours and spilling over.

Not finished yet,
Rick

Come and get me, come and get me…

I’m not sure it’s exactly a mathematical formula, but the closer we get to “old-ness” the deeper is our longing for eternity. Things that taste like heaven remind me that’s where I’m supposed to dine some day. Things that hint of eternity nudge me to think how unsatisfying it is “down here.” When God’s Kingdom flashes through the dark and touches me or someone I pray for, I’m drawn toward that brilliance, if just for a moment.

Susan and I watched “City Slicker 2” a few days ago. Setting aside all the vignettes for the stars (Lovitz’s impersonation of Rainman, Crystal’s conversation with the cow on the jogging path, etc.) the whole story is Billy Crystal’s consummate self-centeredness set against the total focus of Jack Palance’s character toward “getting Curly’s gold.” At one point, Palance’s hungry gaze looks over the wilderness and hears the gold calling, “come and get me.” It’s a frightening look he gives to the character: a man possessed by the big fever for gold.

I need an impassioned longing for real treasure! Not “Curly’s gold” but the stuff of heaven. And I need to accept that God passionately loves me. His love for me is totally full-time – no momentary flash of “I like Rick.” He loves me (and you, if you’ve chosen to believe how far He stretched to rescue you) with unrestrained passion.

Jesus was moving on in his mission with his followers, heading for death, looking toward the resurrection and the new way of relating to those He calls. He says to his loved ones on the week of his execution:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

So, if you are troubled by the trouble? Trust that God has you life in the safe cup of his hand. If you feel the wonder when His eternity flashed into our time-consumed existence? He has a place beyond time that fits you perfectly – it’s under construction just like you are. Do you have a longing for knowing Him more intimately? Trust me: your longing to be with Him is only a smattering compared to His longing to have you with Him always. He longs to “come and get you (and me.)”

Eternally for Him

Rick

Keeping It Together

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Paul to the Colossian Christians)
 
 

Real Treasures

So we’re driving back from Dallas and another long Sunday in the Inner City (really, we capitalized these words, as in Inner City Baptist Church) and Erwin begins explaining a message he had been working on. Yes, we had been in ministry activity all day long — Erwin is a little intense when it comes to Scripture.

“We give God our worst,” was the core truth of the message.  Wait a minute — we strive for excellence, we give Him our best when we serve Him. We love Him with the best we have. At least, that seemed to be the message I had gotten in church, and now in seminary, all my life.

But the principle that we give God our worst stuck in my mind. I didn’t agree with it, and I still wrestle with it since God is worthy of our best.

My relationship with God is an exchange. He give me His treasure and I give Him mine. His treasure is an eternity in friendship with Him, a relationship through His Son Jesus.

But what have I treasured. Wrongs done to me. Sinful habits. Envious thoughts. Places my heart and mind have lingered around, and at times jumped into full-on.  My treasures are the worst part of me because they are worth more than the greatest treasure God has given. I have placed great value on the very things that deflate the value I place on God’s mercy and favor.

My treasures are tangible. I can see them, touch them, befriend them, and place high worth to them. But they are so temporary, and really gone within seconds of the value I had place on them. Nothing left but the bad memory, the hurt friendship, the guilt.

Hosea said of Israel, “They are mud-spattered from head to toe with the residue of sin.” One writer has said that God has given us access to all He has created. We have access to His gifts, to use for His glory and to enjoy. He created it, we benefit from it.

And we give Him back the one thing that is solely ours through our creative powers alone — our sin. Everything else we do, live for, create, give purpose to, is a gift from the Great Giver. Except the sin we created by our own purpose.

The Great News is, He invites us to exchange gifts. We give Him the sin we created; He gives us mercy, favor, relationship, unfailing love. He gives us His best.

We give Him our worst.

Exchange gifts with the Great Giver when you pray today.

It’s the season!

Rick

Gifts and Spincasters

Maybe its the season with all the giving and getting that Christmas calls for, that leads me to think on gifts and ownership. We give a present to someone we love with a lot of thought and expectation. Or we write a check or roll up some bills to drop in the offering on Sundays. Or more commonly, we give our time to someone or something we value, again rolled up in a tidy amount that we can afford like an offering.

So who owns all this stuff, this money, this time and energy we give away? When I was a little kid, my dad owned a fishing business. So, I grew up surrounded by the “hurry up and wait” people (and all their stuff) who hang out on piers and docks. Fishing is one of those, engage every sense possible, sports. Sounds of the waters lapping against the pier. Feel of the bait sliding onto the hook. I still get a rush at the first smell of the salty air from the ocean!

When I want to fish, my dad points to the corner of the shop where all of his rental and personal rods and reels hang on the wall. Simple one-button reels and five foot “starter poles,” all the way to open-faced reels and spincasters with strong line and nine foot rods.

For years, I would always pick a little Zebco, one-button job. That satisfied me. I could bait it, drop the line in the water, and wait for the little fish to grab the goods.

But, my dad owned it all. And he was waiting for me to take the good stuff and use it for what it was designed for — to catch the big ones! (Years later, I got hooked on the good stuff and even caught a big one once or twice!)

God owns it all, and he sometimes sees us playing around with the “one-button job” while all along waiting for us to take up the good stuff He has promised us, use the awesome talents and gifts He has “hung on the wall” of our lives, and go after what He has designed us for and called us to.

He points us to it all the possibilities, but we grab the Zebco “starter pole.”

(I know this whole illustration has a whole disciple-making side — we need to grow up and learn to use what He’s offered us. Sometimes, we need to ask someone to help us use the spincaster. And we need to, by faith, take steps of using what He’s given us.)

Back to ownership. God really owns it all. Since He’s the Father, we look to where He points and to what He promises and offers us. It’s all there. We have access. We can use the gifts, the money, the time for what it was designed for. A full life invested for His glory. It all flows past so quickly, like the water through the gaps of the pier deck after a cloud-burst. So grab the spincaster and find the deep waters, and go for the big things God has waiting for you.

Going for the Big One! — Rick

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1

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