Friday, April 30, 2010

Who is Your Neighbor?

Have you heard the one about the Good Samaritan? A guy gets beat up and left for dead along the road. A pastor and a church leader both pass him by without helping. Then along comes a___. (Fill in the blank with anyone you think very little of; foreigners, politicians, Miley Cyrus, etc.)

When Jesus first told the story, He used a Samaritan, the hated distant cousins of Jewish people. And as Jesus tells the story, the Samaritan helps him out, even paying for his medical expenses.

Jesus tells this story to an ‘expert in the law’, which means He’s talking to a guy who memorized the first 39 books of the Bible. The ‘expert’ had asked who his neighbor was. This story shows that Jesus’ answer equates to anyone we see in need.
What’s interesting here is that the ‘expert’ didn’t just strike up a conversation with Jesus about neighbors. He asked that question when Jesus said loving God and loving your neighbor was a correct answer. The real question was “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

If you’ve ever asked what God expects from you, it’s laid out here, very simply in a story kids have heard since their earliest days of Sunday School.

Being a neighbor means loving God. Loving God means loving others, no matter who they are.

As Jesus told the expert, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do You Remember?

It's amazing how quickly old habits can be broken. I know it usually works the other way around, but perhaps it's different with little girls that are 3. We had quite a week with our 3-year old, as her stomach refused to keep anything down for 6 straight days. One trip to the hospital and an IV later, she is doing fine.

Except...

Now she thinks the norm of her life is not eating, sleeping in my bed and watching TV all day. When she does decide to eat, she wants ice cream for breakfast since that is what they gave her in the hospital. After all, if doctors are approving this kind of diet, why should the parents fight it?

It makes me think of hard seasons in my life, last week included. When your days become long and your nights become longer, and it happens for a long enough period of time, it can be difficult to remember what life was like before the hard season. Just ask anyone who has had or has lived with someone with a long-term disease.

These burdensome thoughts make the promise of Psalm 77 ever brighter. Asaph, the writer, had been asking if God will always reject him. He too had been going through a difficult season, so much that he was lifting 'untiring hands' to God and his 'soul refused to be comforted.' He even wondered if God had forgotten him.

And then he remembered. 'I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago' (Psalm 77:11). When our days become long, we need to recall Who made each day. When our life is not seeming to go in the direction we think it should, we need to remember Who gave us life. Asaph remembered all that God had done in the past.

And if we can remember what God has already done, and trust that He indeed holds the future, then we can trust Him and praise Him today. Even if you are 3 years old and you haven't had a normal meal in a week.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Because He Said So

I wish there was a way to spell the response I get from my children when I confront them on disobedience. The grunt that comes from them is best visualized with shoulders shrugged and eyes looking anywhere but me. It most closely resembles the phrase ‘I don’t know’, but it is like all the vowels have been removed.

I ask why questions a lot. Why did you do that? Why did you think that was okay? Why, God, why? When asked of my children, I normally receive the aforementioned, guttural, non-vowel response.

It’s difficult for me because I don’t see a lot of gray in the commands I give to my children. Putting your clothes in the hamper does not mean putting them somewhere else. Brushing your teeth does not mean lying down on the bathroom floor. And being nice to your siblings will never involve weapons.

In the first chapter of Mark, we find Jesus healing a leper. Unlike other times that Jesus did this, when all He expected was a simple thanks, this time He asks the cured leper to do a few things. “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them” (Mark 1:44). This seems pretty straightforward. Keep your mouth shut and go offer some sacrifices.

“Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news” (Mark 1:45). Okay, I get it. You get miraculously cured by someone and you might be tempted to share this great news. Normally I would be all for that. But when the guy who just cured you says not to, especially when it is THE GUY, I would encourage listening to what He has to say. If for no other reason, then because He just healed you and He asked you nicely.

This leper’s disobedience caused problems for Jesus, namely that He was no longer able to walk freely in the open without receiving rock-star like clamoring for His attention and time. When we disobey God, it has detrimental effects as well.
My children avoid my gaze when they have done wrong. I imagine it will be hard for us to look at God if we have done wrong as well. Perhaps we can avoid excuses and simply do what God tells us to do. Somehow it seems like a better solution than mumbling unrecognizable phrases.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Be Careful Little Mouth, What You Say

I was listening to ESPN radio, as the experts began to weigh in on Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. It would appear that Jerry made some disparaging remarks about Tim Tebow. To be sure, I’m not here to jump on any Christian bandwagon to ensure the supremacy of Tebow, an outspoken Christian over Jerry Jones. I actually couldn’t care where Tebow gets picked up in the draft and I care less what happens to the Cowboys.

It is the source of this story that intrigues me. Apparently Jones was talking with some friends, thinking himself to not being watched by the public when he made these not-so-nice remarks. But make them he did. And they were made public. And the ESPN ‘expert-of-the-hour’ commented that he did not think Jerry meant to be hurtful. He further opined that if Jerry Jones and Tim Tebow were to find themselves in the same room, Jerry would possibly apologize, saying he meant nothing by it. After all, he only said it because he never thought the words would be made public, much less heard by Tim Tebow.

But I don’t see any apology coming. And I don’t want to vilify Jerry, but I’m not sure what difference it makes where the comments were made. If we don’t believe what we say is true, then why say it? If we don’t wish to hurt people with our comments, then why say them out loud? If we do not wish for our comments to be made public, then we should ask ourselves if they should be verbalized in private.

Our words cannot be taken back once they have been said. They can be explained away, apologized for, regretted and filed away. But they cannot be taken away. There is a reason that Solomon wrote that sin is present in many words (Proverbs 10:19) and even James encouraged us to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Perhaps we should take this advice.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Audience of One

On a mostly weekly basis, I write a thought or two out for teens to read, along with weekly announcements and perhaps a joke or two. I assume, stupidly, that at least some of them are reading it. A couple of weeks ago, I put it to the test. I was teaching on forgiveness and used the Old Testament idea of the Cities of Refuge to do so. This is an idea I blogged about just a few weeks before that.

After teaching about the idea, I asked the teens if they had ever heard about this idea before. You've never seen so many blank faces looking back at you. Not one even vaguely recognized the idea. This made me wonder about what I'm including in the weekly email. If a man writes about something and no one is there to read it, was I really that funny?

It reminds me of the classic question like that; if a man speaks in the forest and no woman is around to hear him, is he still wrong?

Actually, it does make me stop and think of the kind of person I am even when no one is looking. Because the truth is that Someone is always looking. God is not like some cosmic cop, but He does love me enough to keep watch. For instance Psalm 46:1 reminds us that God is always there to help us when we're in trouble. Or as Hagar said in Genesis 16:13, He is the God who sees me.

We should not think that God only sees us when we need Him to. Much better than any superhero, God is always around. So whether we feel alone and ignored, or bothered and busy, we should always remember that we do have an audience. It is His opinion that ultimately matters and His approval we should seek.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Forget Me Not



Forget Me Not is certainly a page turner by Vicki Hinze. Just reading the synopsis on the back cover had me wanting to start turning pages. In short, the owner of a crisis center, Ben, finds himself in a crisis when a woman shows up who bears a striking resemblance to his murdered wife. Oh, and she's wearing his dead wife's necklace. I hope she plans on returning that.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed the overall idea and the mystery that kept me turning pages late into the night. On the other hand, sometimes I would find myself turning pages backward in order to see if I had missed something. Maybe I'm just dumber than I think myself to be, but it felt, at points near the beginning, that too many characters were doing too many things all at once, making it somewhat hard to follow.

Rest assured, it all made sense in the end. I won't play any spoiler, but I did like how much faith played a role in the lives of the main characters. Even on the other side, the self-made 'bad guys' saw how faith in themselves paid off in the end.

Many of the side stories also piqued my interest, perhaps enough to buy sequels should they be written.

To purchase this book, please visit http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?isbn=9781601422057

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If My 8-year Old Can, Perhaps You Can Too

To the half dozen of you that read my blog and care enough to help a brother out, I'm actually going to try and shame you for a moment.

Do you remember watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon? As a kid, this was one of the annual events I watched on television. This was before live streaming, or even the internet, so the fact that one thing could consume a channel for an entire weekend was quite remarkable.

I recall Jerry Lewis singing and dancing and telling jokes. Every so often you'd see a bunch of numbers flip on the big board, showing how much money was coming in for a worthy cause, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. And if you stayed tuned long enough you would see the end of the telethon. This was when Jerry would stop dancing and singing. He stopped being funny hours ago. And there was a lot of sweating, as if he'd went and collected the money by himself...on foot.

I feel that way right about now. I've committed to trying to raise $1600 for MDA. So far, I've collected $170, plus $1 that my 8-year old gave me. She only makes $8/month, so I'm hoping that some of you who make more than that would be willing to help MDA. It also helps me, because I'll be going to jail on April 14 if I haven't collected all this cash.

Please stop by https://www.joinmda.org/kosciuskoindianalockup2010/rick0 and help me out. On this page, you can view where the money goes and how it helps. You can also view my progress. Thanks for your support.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Little Prayer of Mine



This children's book was a good read with my children. Quite simply, it's a prayer from the perspective of a child. Written poetically, which my children noticed and liked, it opened up some good discussion, especially with my 8-year old. We talked about fear, loneliness, greed, sharing and doing the right thing. And all in about 30 pages.

My children enjoyed the illustrations as well. I suppose the best review comes from my 3-year old who said, 'Me's wants you to read it to me again.'

To purchase this book, please visit http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?isbn=9780307458049

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Easter

This I my thirty-fourth Easter celebration. Admittedly, I do not recall the first few. And several more are clouded by a rabbit-shaped haze of chocolate. For some of you, this is your eighty-fourth Easter. It is possible that Easter has become review for you. A man raising himself from the dead should never become mere review. But if we’re being honest, for some, it has.

But let’s go back a few years before the very first Easter. After Joshua (the Old Testament guy with the book named after him) gives his famous ‘Choose For Yourselves’ speech (you can check that out in Joshua 24) he goes into review mode.
Josh reminds the Israelites of everything God had done for them since the great Egypt escape. It’s kind of like recalling crazy youth trips with old friends. Remember when Pharaoh got really mad and drowned in the Red Sea and then bread fell on our heads for the next 40 years? Yeah, good times.

After story-time, the Israelites all affirm their love and devotion to God. Then Joshua gives an interesting command. “Now then, throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23).

Excuse me, did I miss something somewhere? What foreign gods would the Israelites still have among them? After all, this is after God sustained them in the desert for 40 years. This is after bread from heaven and water from a rock. This is after Jericho’s walls falling to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers. This is after the conquering of many kingdoms (sometimes with longer than 24-hour days). This is after settling in the land from north to south and on the eastern side of the Jordan River. This is after settling in the Promised Land, long dreamed about since the days of Abraham. What foreign gods would the Israelites still have among them?
Even after the detailed review from Joshua, the people still held on to other gods.

This begs the question; what else are we still holding on to besides the God who raised Himself from the dead on that first Easter morning? I’m not a hater on colored eggs and some chocolate, but what do we worship?

Perhaps we better celebrate another Easter and remember the details a bit more clearly. “Jesus…has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Samuel: The Kind of Pastor I Want to Be

I think every young boy and girl dreams about the kind of pastor they would like to be someday. Actually, that probably isn't true at all. But from comments I hear from church members, you might think they know exactly what a pastor should be doing.

But I digress. I often think about the kind of pastor I am and the kind I want to be. I think I've found a good example in the Old Testament prophet Samuel. Consider the following examples of his leadership;

1 Samuel 12:20. Samuel has anointed the Israelites a king in Saul. Then Sam reminds them how sinful they were in asking for a king. Reminding them that God should have been enough, he gives it to them straight. Sinners.

1 Samuel 15:31-33. If you've never read this story, go read the whole chapter. Saul disobeys direct orders from God to totally destroy the enemy Amalekites and so Samuel steps in. Agag, the king of the Amalekites, assumes a pastor won't do him any harm. Wrong answer, Agag. Samuel, like a great pastor, makes it sound poetic, but then he kills Agag.

1 Samuel 16:4. This is my personal favorite. Perhaps because of his history of straight-shooting, no-nonsense style of leadership, the people of Bethlehem 'trembled' when they saw Sam show up on the scene. That's right, trembled. They had no idea what this crazy pastor might do.

I'm sure Sam wasn't perfect. But time and time again, he carried out the will of God. Apparently that left the people guessing. And that's why he's the kind of pastor I want to be.