Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rediscovering Wonder

We live in a world where most things are explainable.  There are fewer and fewer mysteries left to be explained.  Scientists have been able to send robotic submarines to the deepest pats of the oceans to discover and explain what lives in these remote areas. Rocket ships have been sent to the moon, to Mars and to the edge of our universe to discover if life exists outside our planet and to learn more about the scientific processes of creation.  
It seems there are few things left to discover.  There are no new worlds to discover.  The universe has been mapped and distant stars are named.   
I prefer to live in a world where discovery and mystery and wonder still exist.  I prefer to live in a world where I can still ask ‘why?” and maybe never know the answer. When was the last time you wondered about anything?  When was the last time you experienced something unexplainable?  
Wonder surrounds us; all we have to do is allow ourselves to experience the wonder.  Some call it having a childlike heart.  I think of Jesus instructing his followers to change and become like little children so they may enter the kingdom of heaven.  Imagine experiencing the kingdom of heaven (which we can experience here and now) with a childlike heart.
My friend, and one of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg has a new book releasing on Christmas day: “Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God.”  Recently I was sent a sample of the book and I found myself smiling and laughing as I read through it.  And it challenged me to see the wonder that exists around me.  Throughout the book Margaret displays her childlike heart, even in the ways she prays: 
“More than anything, what I long for is our God, the One who bedazzled the heavens and razzle-dazzled the earth, to meet us in such a way during our time in Scotland that we find ourselves awestruck by his goodness and generosity, his provision and presence. I’m praying for pixie dust. I want to leave here with a sense of wonderment as we encounter and experience things only God can do.” 
When have you ever prayed for pixie dust?  Maybe it is time for a heart check-up, a time to rediscover your childlike heart. 
Margaret is offering the book at a reduced price on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for $7.57.  The book would make an awesome Christmas gift (I have gifted many of Margaret’s books in the past).  This offer is only valid through the end of the day, December 25th. 
Join me as we all learn to live wonderstruck together! 



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Influenced by God, influenced by others? Part 1

Recently on Facebook the author Margaret Feinberg posed this question, “Does God influence your relationship with others or do others influence your relationship with God?”

It has been permeating my thoughts ever since I read the question over a month ago. I do not have the answer, maybe just more questions, or maybe just chaotic attempts at an answer. But when I consider “Why would the Creator of the world want to hang out with me?” I am filled with questions and chaotic attempts at an answer.

I am a very relational person. I love people! As I was growing up most of my teachers would comment on my report card that Rick loves to make friends. If there were 4 R’s in education (Reading wRiting, aRithmetic and Relationships) I would have gotten an “A” in relationships.

A year ago I took the Strength’s Finder Assessment test. This test helps determine the attributes and strengths of individuals in leadership. My top 5 strengths are Input, Connectedness, Positivity, Woo and Activator.

Here are some thoughts from the assessment regarding my strengths:

Input: You probably converse with others in your field about ideas, theories, or concepts to gather the latest thinking.

Connectedness: Because of your strengths, you might want people to seek your company or crave your friendship.

Positivity: Driven by your talents, you often find yourself bringing people into your circle of acquaintances, friends, or family.

Woo: Few things delight you as much as hearing a stranger say, “I really like you — and I’ve just met you!”

Activator: Because of your strengths, you generate enthusiasm so people become as eager as you are to transform an idea into something tangible.

As you can see from the list my leadership style is based around relationships, quality relationships that take others point of view into consideration. Relationships that encourages and trusts. And relationships that are fun and exciting. With relationships like this how can one not influence others in all aspects of their life and faith.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pilgrimage: Lent Journey, Day 1

I have not been to Israel. It is not that I have never wanted to go, or that I have never had the opportunity to go, I have just been unable to work out the details to make the trip a reality. Life is complicated. Trips are expensive. And did I mention that trips are expensive?

Recently I have been thinking about my desire to visit Israel that I added it to my “Bucket List.” I have many things on my “Bucket List” that I want to see and do. I won’t bore you here with the list, it grows sometimes by the hour. And as I have been thinking about this vacation trip to Israel I been thinking through this question:

Would a trip to Israel be a pilgrimage?

In ancient times it was a requirement to make a pilgrimage to the Temple three times a year. In Deuteronomy 16 we read about the Festival of the Passover (verses 1-8), the Festival of Weeks (verses 9-12) and Festival of Tabernacles (verses 10-15) and the requirement to be at the place God chose (I assume the Temple, verse 16).

It is recorded in Luke 2:41-52 that Jesus and his family made the pilgrimage to the Temple when he was younger. In this passage we are unsure of the age of Jesus but we get a demonstration of his wisdom and knowledge and his ability to reason. People started to notice him.

With the fall of the Temple in AD70 pilgrimages to Israel were no longer required. Today pilgrimages are made to the local synagogue to worship and celebrate what God has done.

So what about me, a Christian man? I am required to make a pilgrimage?

Many people make pilgrimages to Israel, the Temple Mount, the Wailing Wall and other historic sights. Others make a pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican City. Still others make a pilgrimage to the birth place or the resting place of Saints that have made an incredible contribution and personal sacrifice to Christianity. But no where in scriptures (from a Christian perspective) do I see a requirement to make a pilgrimage.

It is unfortunate.

Pilgrimage to me requires sacrifice. A pilgrimage is not a vacation or a sight seeing trip. There is no need for a tour guide on a pilgrimage. It is a time of worship and celebration and remembrance of what God has done and is doing. One of the requirements of pilgrimage was that you do not show up empty handed, everyone was to bring a gift proportional to size of God’s blessings on you.

Passover is approaching and today marks day one of the Lenten season. Today I start my personal, spiritual pilgrimage, what gift do I bring?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

How to Deal With Sin

One of the many books I am currently reading on my Kindle, is “The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community” by Tony Jones. In the book Tony refers to Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

I have taught through this passage numerous times. It seemed straight forward and obvious how to handle my sinning brother: go talk to him man to man, one on one, mano y mano. Set the deadbeat straight by exposing him to his sin. There is an air of protection to the sinner. His sin was not shared with the community (church). The hope is that if his sin was exposed he would stop and correct his behavior.

If my Christian brother refused to listen to me, the passage instructs me to bring others from our community. This instruction comes from the Old Testament with the idea that the testimony of witness requires more than one person’s word. If two or three affirm the brother’s sin, maybe then he will change his ways. No where does it require these “others” to be in church leadership, but I do believe that these “others” are from the community (church).

If the brother still refuses to change his sinful nature, his sin was to be told to the community (church). Not as we would read in the Gossip Magazines, not as we hear on TMZ, not as we might over hear at school or on break at work, but as a way to inform the community of their sinful brother’s error. It is corrective, the community is to also be a witness to help correct this brother.

But what happens when the brother still does not change his sinful ways?

treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector

What does that mean? For me it was instruction to kick sinful brothers and sisters out of the youth group. It seemed clear that if I tried everything to get those foul mouthed, smokers and partiers to stop their sinful ways by following Matthew 18 I had no choice but to kick the kid out. And isn’t this is the same method followed by churches?

But Tony Jones says that the Ancient Didache Community, an early first century Christian group, would say this is the wrong conclusion.

Let us look at the example of Jesus, who seemed to hang out with sinners and tax collectors:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 5:29-30

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Matthew 11:19

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:31

From the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. Luke 15:1

Wild! Jesus never instructs us to kick out the sinful brother, rather these are the people we should be embracing. Matthew 18:17 is not a clause in our Statement of Faith that allows us to avoid that sinning, cussing, smoking, and drinking womanizer. These are the people we should love with all our heart and energy.

If you continue reading in the same chapter of Matthew, we see Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?”

Jesus’ wise instruction follows!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Day 8 of the 30 Challenge to Write

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions,
so they be each honest and natural in their hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's Challenge

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

Five years ago I was working fulltime for a church in Corona as the youth pastor and associate pastor. At the time I felt like the culmination of lots of hard work and prayer was being blessed. I had worked hard to build credibility. I had worked at a large church with an enormous youth group giving me the experience to grow a youth group. I went to seminary and received a Masters in Christian Education with an emphasis in youth ministry. After three years of ministry with this youth group in Corona, we were experiencing numerical and spiritual growth. Every year more and more junior high and high school students and their parents called our church home. It was a very exciting time!

Four years ago that vocation was no longer a reality.

What would I say to myself 5 years ago?

Stay true to who you are. Do not cut corners. Give yourself fully to the work you have been called to. Never stop!

Be prepared for change, just because things are going great does not mean that rugs can’t be pulled out from underneath you.

Don’t give up, even though it hurts when unexpected change happens. It is not the end of the world. Good things can still, and probably will, happen.

I am loved. Do not lose track of those people who love you.

Be prepared to set new goals and reevaluate your old goals.

Expect the unexpected. You might end up doing something unexpected.

Work hard. Keep your eyes open.

What would I say to myself 5 years from now?

I think in retrospect of everything I have learned these past 4 years I would tell myself the same things I told myself 5 years ago. We are placed in situations that we may have absolutely no control of. But that does not mean that we cease to exist because the situations are ugly and hurtful. But we have a control on how we dust ourselves off.

We decide to work hard and keep our eyes open to new opportunities around us. Something unexpected can happen and we need to be ready to embrace the unexpected. We need to check our goals, because goals are what motivate us into action. We will always be loved. And when change happens, and it will, we are not going to give up. It is not the end of world, rather as we know from our past experiences, it is time for another new beginning.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Literal Adam and Eve?

I am a monthly subscriber to Christianity Today magazine. I enjoy the magazine, it is a critical magazine at times and makes some unpopular statements. This month Christianity Today’s cover story “The Search for the Historic Adam” written by Richard N. Ostling, is one of those articles. Christianity Today also offers their own response to this article. Now I am not going to comment on the article here but I will present some questions that come to mind if we discover there was not a literal Adam and Eve of the Genesis narrative we grew up knowing and believing.

What happens to our faith, and Christianity in general, without Adam and Eve?

What happens to the theology of Paul?

If early man was part of an evolutionary process, are we really created in the image of God?

How hard do we fight to retain a literal Adam and Eve? Should we?

Day 7 of the 30 Challenge to Write

Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's challenge:

What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue?

These past days have reminded me that I desire to be a good communicator. Communication is done in so many different mediums. There are oral communicators that speak and individuals that communicate through the written word.

I have a desire to communicate well.

These individuals use stories and narratives to communicate history. These individuals use poetry to communicate beauty and art. These individuals use truth ,fact and fiction to communicate morality. These individuals can motivate others to action. These individuals can give warnings of things to come. These individuals use humor, irony and tragedy.

I have a desire to communicate well.

It is my desire to continue to communicate through these 30 days using many of the styles and methods I have listed above. I desire to refine the craft and improve my consistently challenging myself to write deeper thoughts, to write clear and concise thoughts without a ton of words.

I have a desire to communicate well.

I look forward to feedback. My hope is that this feedback will drive to do better. That this feedback will push me to look further inside myself to discover the hidden communicator I feel I can be.

I have a desire to communicate well.

Hungry for God, Chapter 3

Every day I take a shower. It is not an option, I must take a shower. Even when I worked for a camp, almost hundred miles and an hour car ride down a very windy mountain road to the nearest big town, I took a shower--everyday.

If I do not wash my hair for even one day, I am uneasy about my oily hair, and I feel that I smell foul.

I cannot imagine missing a day. A month would be beyond my dreams, rather it would be a nightmare!

My dealings with the poor and the homeless have been limited, safe and at a distance. I have brought junior high kids to the inner city and skid road to experience and see the tragedies of people living less than 20 miles from our comfortable and big homes where we all take nice hot showers, everyday.

I have taken church groups to other poor parts of Orange County to offer a hot meal, once a month. Only once a month. It was always a struggle to get individuals and families to sign up to serve. Prior to serving the hot, and simple meal, the group would stop at Carl’s Jr. for a burger and fries. My goal was to get the groups going to eat alongside the individuals they were serving. Make connections and make relationships, get to know the individuals you are serving. They have lives and stories.

It never happened.

I believe the reason my goal never came to fruition was because of an unwillingness to face the reality that this individual I am talking to could be me. An unwillingness to face the uncomfortable and to be with someone who has gone without a shower for days or months. An unwillingness to face the uncomfortable and to face that undesirable stench that comes off someone unclean.

I pray that my eyes would be opened and that I would sense a different smell, a more desirable smell...

Margaret shares a story in chapter 3 about Jim Cymbala praying with a homeless man, up close and personal, in spite of the filth and smell coming off this homeless man. It took a God sized prompting, “Jim, if you and your wife have any value to me, if you have any purpose in my work--it has to do with this odor. This is the smell of the world I died for.”

This is the smell of the world I died for…

This is the smell of the world I died for…

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Day 6 of the 30 Day Challenge to Write

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

A couple weeks ago a group of people followed a “prophet’s” message that judgment day was approaching. On that day the real believers would be called up, or raptured to heaven. As the weeks and days drew closer, many of these followers could be seen standing on street corners with signs and banners warning others to repent.

So this assignment was something I considered as I observed the actions of these followers. I had heard that many of these followers quit their jobs and sold all their possessions. Their belief was that anything less would demonstrate a lack of faith in the prediction of judgment day, which translated into a lack of faith in God.

What would I do if I believed that judgment day was really approaching?

As a Christian I do not believe that God would call us away from our calling, even if He made it known The End was quickly approaching. Because is it really The End?

Revelation 21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

When The End happens we discover that it really is The Beginning, again. We will live in a city, and city life requires jobs, professions and vocations. It requires moms, dads and children. It requires schools, teachers and students. And it will require grocers selling healthy foods to the people. People will continue to work. And this is not a new thing. In the first Beginning, Adam and Eve were given tasks in the Garden, it wasn’t a free ride. So maybe the oldest, and maybe noblest, profession is being a gardener. Think of that the next time you see your gardener mowing your lawn.

So what does that mean to me? God calls each of us to do and be. Many of us feel that our jobs, professions and vocations are callings given to us by God. I do! How I could stop doing what God has called me to do?