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.

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

Collateral Damage

It’s almost Easter again (2013) and the Cross gets the headlines in churches and news-blogs. Most of us relegate crucifixion to the Gospels, but what about today? Men will be crucified on Good Friday in the Philippines as a sign of desperate devotion (one woman joins the parade of the crucified – her fifteenth time – hoping for a miracle for her sister.) The cross as execution tool is still used against Christians (and other betrayers) in the Muslim world. Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia and other nations have had recent crucifixions to punish the infidels.

For some, this is collateral damage to show the world that Islam rules. Or in the case of the Filipino devotees, a way to display a profane dedication to their God’s holy demands. For many, it’s a religious sideshow. For this Christ-follower, it breaks the heart.

The message of the Cross is simple, liberating, life-altering, and resolves the soul’s deepest cravings… for those who believe. For those who deny or oppose, it is a foolish thing for anyone to think God would take on the pain of the Cross for a barely worthless person. Such an idea would trip up the rationale of anyone with the sense the world gave him or her.

In some ways, the collateral damage that hurts the most is the sacrifice willingly made by the Son of God. (Maybe we should, at least around Easter, feel the pain of what God allowed in the crucifixion.)But beyond the Cross (and really for the Cross) Christ-followers have been willing to sacrifice themselves to show the message of the Cross to generations of cultures. Some have been willing participants of collateral damage, crucified or otherwise executed for the Message… a part of the legacy of getting the Good News to the world.

Collateral means parallel or alongside of, a good picture of what we as Christ-followers do in sharing the Good News with others through our lives, prayers, resources, gifts and talents… and of course, our words. But collateral also means payment or bond or guarantee (as in bail money).

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the bond paid forward and offered to be received by faith. And the sacrifice you and I make to take this Message that is so offensive to some in hopes they will received the gift? We may or may not be a part of the collateral damage, but it’s worth the risk and the reward.

With a view to the Cross,

Rick

The Greatest Act of Worship

Have you even wondered how the beauty of goodness and the ugly of evil can exist in such close proximity? Just inside the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, covering the wall is Michaelangelo’s “Judgement Day” fresco. He depicts heaven, Jesus enthroned, worship and redemption graphically juxtaposed with hell’s fires, anguish, hopelessness and evil. The light of heaven is above; the darkness of hell is below. And pulling toward the dark those who long for good are the demons of hell. He had insight!

I see this juxtaposition of goodness and evil every day around me (and unfortunately, the battle of this inside me, too.) In Matthew 26 you can read about the greatest act of evil happening right alongside the greatest act of worship.

The Pharisees plot Jesus’ death. They do so in a politically correct way, of course, by trying to avoid Passover — a sort of Jesus-gate collusion.

While they look for a breakthrough to this “Nazarene problem, Jesus experiences the greatest act of worship possible. He is with his disciples dining at the house of a man he likely healed of leprosy, and “the woman” brings the alabaster jar in and breaks and pours out this expensive gift in adoration onto his feet.

The writer of this account uses two key “transition words” that indicate these two events were happening side-by-side – different locations, down the street from each other, but at the same time. How revealing!

When I break open and pour out what I am before the Lord, the fragrance is sweet – not because of the good I have done or am, but because of the good He has poured in. And when this happens, the aroma can overwhelm the place I’m in and draw others to the Source of this perfume. No matter the evil “down the street” or the pull the enemy has to tempt us toward the darkness, the fragrance of God’s grace and the goodness through a life poured out for Him is greater!

As you and I seek the Father, live by the Spirit, and pursue the Son’s command to follow Him and build disciples of all nations, keep pouring out the good He has poured into you.

Broken and splashed – Rick

Looking for God

It was 1986, and it was another Sunday morning. My role at the church I serve in San Antonio was as pastor of discipleship and evangelism. We had begun a Hispanic church on half of our campus, and had recently begun a small group program in homes around the neighborhoods. And God was showing up in the homes in refreshing ways. One of our “nights of worship” with all the small groups together lasted long into the evening (long, especially for Baptists on a Friday night.)

The Sunday morning in question had been a better-than-normal crowd. The message was good for the moment, but I can’t remember it. The worship was very normal (and very forgettable) for a Baptist church with a choir loft and organ. The invitation was short; the results escape me. What was memorable happened as I was gathering my Bible and notebook together at the end of the service. In fact, I will never forget the words nor the look on the faces of the young Latino couple who found me at the front of the church.

“I have heard we can find God here.” The couple looked really out-of-place among the stained glass and maple woodwork. And at the same time, they looked like perfect candidates for the altar we were standing beside. The sunlight magnified the dust particles in the hazy air of the empty sanctuary these two had invaded, with hopes of finding God.

I said, “Yes, I can help you find God right here.” We prayed.

Skip forward to tonight. My pastor at the Beach led a membership class tonight for about a dozen people. I was there because I help with small groups and disciple-making. He talked about values, the history of our church, and told stories of how God has been working and how He has led us to this point.

Then he shared what kind of church he envisions us becoming. The top of his list didn’t include large numbers, huge buildings, a publishing house or film department (that seems the rage lately.)

He looked out the front door to the streets, the beach, the road to the local schools, the bars, the strip clubs, restaurants, malls, and the hideouts for the street people who live here. “I want the people who don’t know God to know that, if they can just get to our church, if they can just get here, they will find people who will love them, and they’ll find the love of God.”

He was the prophet tonight. There are people who come looking for God. The word is out. Hope…help…healing… wholeness…the love of God is here. God wants the place where church meets to be a place that people who may not look like they belong in church can look for God. Like the latino couple, they can risk the question, “Can I find God here?”

“…so he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

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

Telling the Greatest Story Through Art

Can the Arts take a significant place in global missions through OM? Field and area leaders from Europe invested a day discovering how professional artists are effectively declaring the Gospel through the Arts on the mission field.

Leaders from Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Central Europe and the Ships took part in the OM Arts Forum in Mosbach, Germany on November 23, 2009. The participants explores how the Arts can be integral to the mission of reaching the world for Christ and how artists can be effective colleagues and team members at the OM field level.

OM Arts Director Bill Drake led the forum and defined the vision and growth plans for the newly formed OM Arts International.

Drake addressed how an OM field can embrace Arts Ministry as a part of the field’s direction, how to best communicate Arts in the field’s vision, and how the field can lead, care for, and release the professional artist to fulfill their missions calling.

Consultant and Arts in mission catalyst Colin Harbinson led the forum participants through a Bible study of Bezalel, the artist chosen and called to work with Moses to create the tent and elements of worship commissioned by God on Mount Sinai.

Harbinson reminded forum participants that Bezalel was called and filled with the Spirit for the work of creating art for God’s glory.

Artists who are called to missions can be released to create art with excellence in the context of the OM field. Harbinson encouraged the need for professional artists in missions and warned that “art done poorly communicates poorly.”

Quoting writer A.W. Tozer, Harbinson affirmed that, “Christians are obligated to excellence because God is supremely excellent.”

OM Arts will work with field leaders to identify artists who are ready to serve in missions and help the fields and the artists to prepare to establish unique arts teams.

A leadership training seminar for artists preparing for missions will take place in Rome, Italy in conjunction with Transform 2010 in July. For more information about the training seminar or about OM Arts, contact info@arts.om.org.

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

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