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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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 – 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.

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.

Argos logos

The Stoics millenia ago invented a maxim to justify inaction, called “argos logos,” or “the lazy argument.” If it’s going to happen, there’s no reason to act against it, is the basic premise. It’s fated. Let it be. Que sera sera.

If that’s the case, why fight feelings or stand against temptation? Why repent? Why bother with choosing godliness over… well, all those other things we could choose, want to choose, and would if no one is looking.

Paul said to the Roman Christians, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” The sub-text to his plea is, “Don’t give up! Pursuing God and the life and adventure He offers is worth it! Turn to him and choose life!”

The alternative is to drift toward the rocks of self-centeredness and sin, or it’s dangerous opposite, self-righteousness and judgmentalism. The wreckage of relationships and soul-emptiness are in either choice’s wake.

Rome’s Christ-followers felt the tension, and from Paul’s words, gave in to “argos logos.” And I know the same tug and say to the soul drifting toward rocks, “Choose His Kindness.” Choosing Kindness!

Blurt it out

When I read the Gospel narratives, I sometimes superimpose Hollywood and years of how it’s been read publicly like a voice-over as I read. Sort of King James-ish, solemn, no jokes allowed. It can get stale when I read it through the wrong filters.

Jesus and the original “diversity awareness group” showed up at Caesarea Philippi – definitely off the usual path, north of their usual journey. I can guess that, after a long journey, the usual jabs and jest were tossed around. “Thomas, you doubted we’d ever arrive, eh?” “John, James, your mother couldn’t have made a better path for her son’s success, could she?” “Pete, anyone ever tell you, you rock?”

Then, Jesus asks: “What is the street saying about me?” A pause. “Some say you’re John come back from the dead to get back at Herod.” “Yeah, and I heard someone say you must be Elijah returned.” “Or… or, at the least, one of the prophets.” “Yeah, like Jeremiah… I like Jeremiah…I always listen to what he said.” “Yeah, John, so’s your mother.”

“But, what about you. Who do you say I am?” A longer pause. Simon, quiet all this time, for a change, blurts out what’s been bursting inside him since that day on the fishing boat. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Not a savior; The Savior. Not a son; but The Son of God.

Oh yeah, he got it right. May we blurt out what God has dropped into our hearts in worship and in witness. When we get the basics right, the rest falls into place.

Another blurt,

Rick

How Many Miracles?

When Jesus took the short-cut across water, He really didn’t expect the delay of a series of miracles. He planned to “pass them by” after a lengthy time of prayer, according to one of the Gospel writers (even though here Matthew says He came toward them.)

How many miracles surprise us in this passage: the miracle of Jesus walking on water (creating substance under his feet or creating a gravitational miracle, the miracle of faith for Peter to step out of the boat, then Peter’s miracle of walking on the water, and the subsequent repentance, forgiveness and rescue; and we can’t forget the calming of the storm.

Here are some “take-aways” I can walk away with, too:
1. Miracles happen when we are aligned on the same course with the God of miracles. The disciples were on course.
2. Miracles happen when we need miracles. They were on course, but they were struggling.
3. Miracles happen when we ask for one. Peter asked; Jesus answered. He could have said, don’t be an idiot, Peter, people don’t walk on water!
4. Miracles happen on His word. The firmness of the statement “Yes, come,” was the substance just under the waters that Peter walked on.
5. Miracles happen when we repent. The timeliest rescue is when we are going down for the last time.
6. Miracles happen in the midst of relationships. Does a miracle make a story if no one is around to share in it? Jesus got in the boat, and His Presence alone stopped the storm.

How many miracles does it take when I step out of the safety net around me? Let’s see – one so far, and looking for the next!

Staying on course,
Rick

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

Not business, but personal

I’ve heard the “it’s full of contradictions” comment on occasion when dialoging about the Bible. Here’s one that turns up occasionally. Why do Matthew have two ladies at the tomb after the resurrection and John only has Mary Magdalene?

A couple of simple insights clear this one up. The Jewish culture called for two or more witnesses to validate a truth. Mary, Salome, and probably a few other women were there. OK, so the truth is validates (of course, they are women, so some of the most strict would discount the testimony anyway – it was Jesus, and Christianity that return the worth to women’s importance.)

And, for John, the story is about the personal touch. He writes as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Relationship is the thread of insight throughout his story from chapter one — remember that Jesus (the Word) was with God in the beginning (emphasis “with”) and came to earth to dwell among people (emphasis “among”) — to chapter 25 when Jesus recast the call to “follow” and do life with and in Him. Mary Magdalene, for John, got the nod in his account because Jesus had done so much in her life, to forgive and restore.

So, when we are about the business of sharing the Great News, it’s not business, it’s personal.

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