Tuesday, June 13, 2017

no small change

George King and I became friends when we both worked at Sears in high school.  He was from another town, his dad a Watchung detective, and very straight, read nerdy.  In an age of long hair and free love, if you could afford it, George had morals, short hair, and was at odds with much of his peer group.  But that was all to change when his parents divorced, and the father he worshipped left.  He grew a beard, became unkempt, not George at all, and money didn’t seem to matter any more.  Once a week he would empty all the change from his pockets, and throw it on the warehouse floor for us to grab, $3-4, sometimes more, half a nights pay 45 years ago.  We gave him the nick name Small Change, affectionately, as we needed the money, he needed the love.  But that too was about to change, as we found about he had been dating a girl who used to work there, and they were expecting.  Suddenly all the small change had become a big deal as a big change was entering his life.  External situations were now forcing him to make decisions he never thought he would have to make, and vowed not to be the type of father to his child that deserted him like his own did.  Big changes were in store for Small Change, now over 40 years later his son is twice as old as we were back then.  With a lot of big changes along the way....
All change had become a big change for Small Change, not all for the best.  But the Bible reveals over and over the big changes in those who encounter God via his spirit.  From Moses, to Noah, to Samson, how about Rahab the Harlot, and Jonah?  There was no small change in Job’s life, nor in Peter, 10 other apostles, or Paul.  There were big changes when they allowed the spirit to guide them, which didn’t mean all tough times would vanish, but that by being guided by the spirit, God would see then through.  From Adam and Eve’s decisions creating big change, to Jesus on the cross creating a bigger change, there are no small changes available to those in Christ.  But if we never knew or know the person, how do we know they have changed?  Only Jesus creates change from the inside reflected on the outside.  The changes are revealed as we are to be known as Christians by our love, bearing the fruit of the spirit.  Something we cannot do for ourselves, it is the spirit that provides the growth.  Don’t be misled by personalities, the true fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, meekness, and long suffering, reflected in us by the spirit dwelling within us.  The same spirit that changed the heart of Nicodemus changed Mary Magdalene, and Matthew.  The same spirit that called you is available to all, which is revealed by our actions and attitudes.  There is no small change when Jesus comes into a life.  Your choice is to be inspired by external events or internal ones?  Which one you choose will make a difference in your eternal.  It is true that Jesus loves us as we are, but just as true he doesn’t want to leave us that way.
If Jesus has made no change in your life, stop and ask God why.  You may find you are the one hindering growth, you are the one quenching the spirit.  But God is waiting and willing to change you, are you willing to let him?  Small Change never expected his life to change as it did, but he hung tough.  All the small change he had thrown away had now become big change as his needs changed.  Jesus meets our needs, both small and large.  If we let him.  Are you letting the external or the internal affect your eternal?  What are the things you value most in life?  You may find they are what is keeping you from walking in the spirit as God desires.  For he knows the plans he has for you, all good, but not without your will.  He will never violate your will, if you want the things of God, they are available.  If you deny him, he will honor your decision too.  Only God loves and respects your choices so much.  Settling for small change, are you ready for a big change?  Can you handle more blessings, more love, more Jesus?  Or are you like the coins George once threw away, no meaning, no value. 
Once again consider the changes in Paul, from blasphemer and persecutor to evangelist supreme.  Peter one night denying Christ to a little girl, a few weeks later addressing a crowd of 3000 with the gospel.  Abraham trusting God to find a substitute for his son on the altar, Jesus being the substitute for us on the cross.  Some trust in horses, some riches, some careers.  But God is blatant that it is “not by might, not by power, not by works lest we should boast,” but by the work of Jesus on the cross, who left us his spirit to guide us until heaven.  The death of Jesus changed the world, his resurrection affecting big change, for as he was resurrected, so shall we be.  See, not even death can hold us back!  So why not let Jesus into your life for a change? 
Remember those mentioned in scripture were no different than you and I.  They were faced with a decision, and chose God over the things of earth.  There is no small change for those in Jesus, get ready for greatness.  I’ll take the blessings, you can have the change.
love with compassion,

Monday, June 12, 2017

Star Ledger mornings

I first met Mr. McHugh one afternoon at Brookside Park.  He was looking for boys aged 12 to take over a paper route, and I jumped a the chance.  One of my friends, Steve, was giving it up, and it would be in  his neighborhood, not mine, a foreign land 3 blocks away on Newark Avenue.  A long distance to go to start, it would eventually take me almost to Shackamaxon School where I was in sixth grade, but he agreed, and fro three years it was my source of employment, seven days a week, early each morning.  I was the paperboy for The Newark Star Ledger, and rain, snow, heat, or late ball games never kept me from my route.  It taught me a work ethic I kept my whole life, I was working smart instead of working hard, and making good money, enough to buy a car as a senior in high school, and then a motorcycle.  Suddenly all those early mornings seemed worth it once I got the prize.  But the real prize I got was a good work ethic, which later in life was shown to me, work smart instead of hard.  We all work hard, we all don’t work smart.  For instance...
The route had been run differently, I rearranged it to get rid of as many papers as quickly as I could to lighten my load.  But still get all the papers out on time.  The Sunday inserts and comics came on Saturday night, I had them ready to go when I got my papers the next morning.  And by adding a front basket, they actually made one for newspapers back then, to my rear baskets, and including the sack around my neck, I could deliver my whole route in one run, instead of two.  I was learning to work smart, to pack correctly, and that crossed over to motorcycle touring.  So many ask “how much do you take, where do you fit it all?”  The answer is simple, “four days.”  We pack for four days, do laundry as we go every 3-4, and keep the load light.  We know we will buy more shirts along the way, we even used to travel with just a tank bag.  I have gone on cross country trips with just a small duffle bag.  Work smart, ride smart.  Live smart.
I also learned Friday afternoons was the best time to collect, so immediately after school I was out and collecting.  The other route guys did it on Saturday, I wanted to play.  When applied to my work life, I  did all my work first, then had time to ride.  I never had to hurry back to finish homework, I was out playing, and later out riding.  Get it done, then leave, and forget about, which made for longer, more enjoyable rides.  Still does today.  I also took good care of my Schwinn Typhoon, and made enough money to buy one of the first Sting Rays, so I had my work bike and my play bike.  Working smart had allowed me two bikes, and time to ride them, I could collect on the Sting Ray!  While the Typhoon worked every morning.  An early lesson in MMD, Multiple Motorcycle Disorder, you can never have too many bikes, because the moods change.  So do the roads travelled.  So I worked smart, and rode smart.  Now about living smart....that is still in process. 
When God appeared to Abraham, he told him he had a new name.  El-Shaddai, God almighty, sufficient, and all competent, knowing what to do and how, and doing it.  We need the El-Shaddai side of God in our lives, or we go about life working hard, harder than we have to.  Some approach Jesus the same way, not knowing he is sufficient in all things, we only need Jesus, and nothing else.  Yet religion has taught us incorrectly, we need more study time, more church attendance, more Bible reading, more prayer time, and so on to be a better Christian.  No where in scripture do we find this to be true.  If God is truly El-Shaddai, all sufficient, does he need our help, can we make him love us more?  We are told to not serve two masters, yet we serve ourselves more than we care to admit.  Why we do things, how we do them, the attitude we do them with, reflects how we view God.  Are we wrapped up in legalism, embracing rules we cannot keep, adding stress to our lives, or do we trust the spirit?  We have dealt with God the father, the creator, Jesus his son, who died for us, but don’t embrace the spirit, the third part of the trinity.  We even call him it, when he is as much God as Jesus and his dad.  It is embracing the spirit that we begin to live smart, to see the wholeness of God.  God is holy, complete, needing nothing, that make him wholly and holy.  We aren’t but try to be.  When all we need is right there for us in the spirit. 
When we first come to Christ we see things will be different, but still lived as before.  It was the spirit working with and within you that made the changes.  You made decisions on feelings and desires, but soon found them changing, and doing the things of Christ.  Gently the spirit is telling you “do this or don’t do that,” exerting his lordship in your life.  Slowly and sometimes painfully cutting the ties that bound you in sin in your old life.  Greater is he who is in you, El-Shaddai, than the one who is in the world, yourself, or selfishness.  The quicker you learn and adapt Jesus to your life, you can drop your futile actions and begin the blessings.  Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  You get to choose, so why not choose the spirit and avoid the hassle?  Or is the pain and suffering in your life so much fun you don’t want to give it up?
So when we are given the command by God to walk blamelessly, he also gives us a way to do it.  We cannot on our own, only by his spirit, which he gives freely.  Our choice, then to obey, and finally trust him.  I used to throw fleeces as Gideon did when faced with a decision, until God asked me one day “why don’t you quit throwing fleeces and just trust me?”  God’s way is always best....Many things changed my life, I never thought one morning getting a paper route would be one of them.  God has today all scoped out for you, for your benefit.  To put it bluntly, man plans, and God laughs.  Or my experience, I screw up, and God forgives.  Like my life, after the route was done, there was always tomorrow, and it started all over again.  The news, like life goes on.  So does Jesus.  Read the book, trust the spirit, and enjoy all God has for you.  It may be as cool as a new bike, as rewarding as a job well done.  But in all things, give him the preeminence.  And watch as he adds all other things to you.  Life being the first.  Or you can be as Mr. Coleman’s paper boy learned while collecting.  Mr. Coleman took a handful of pennies and threw them in his yard, “this is where I find my paper...”  Stupid hurts, live smart, play smart, ride smart.  Hard work never killed anyone, are you willing to take the chance when you have the spirit to show you how?
love with compassion,

Friday, June 9, 2017

is it live or...?

Iron Butterfly was my first concert at age 14.  In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida and its classic drum solo left me enamored.  All in a high school gym for $3.50, such a deal.  When walking out with some more mature friends, I noted “they sounded just like on the record,” to which I was told, “that’s not why you go to concerts.  If you want to hear the record, buy it instead.” A lesson learned that had me look at live shows in a new light and appreciate them more.  And I have seen some good ones.  Avery Fischer Hall, and Springsteen opens with Born to Run, the album not released yet, no radio play either.  Enough energy by the time Chicago took the stage, who we went to see, we were worn out and left.  Another afternoon at the Garden State Arts Center for Gordon Lightfoot.  When a shower hit, we all rushed for cover, and he took a break.  After the rain stopped, he greeted us with “Hello New Jersey,” and broke into Rainy Day People, somehow bringing us all together. Amazing.  One night at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic it was The Four Seasons, where some 30 year old teen age women would yell “play Rag Doll,” after the first songs.  When the next song was over, we started chanting “Rag Doll, Rag Doll,” with most of the audience joining in, and sure enough, the next song was Rag Doll!  Another night at the same theatre, the Beach Boys had us jumping, when Dennis Wilson stepped out and took the mike, “this is for you Jersey,” and broke into his beautiful song, “you are so beautiful.”   Reminding me he wasn’t the only Wilson brother with a beautiful voice.  In a tent at Newark State College it was the Beach Boys again, and partying behind the tent with Mike Love, known as the biggest &^^%$# in rock and roll.  When he made eye contact with us later from the stage, and gave us a wave, I’ll defend him against that one.
But the night I still treasure was a few nights before Christmas as Madison Square Garden and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.  An incredible show, and the first encore was a wild version of Pictures at an Exhibition, with Keith’s baby grand raising and spinning while he played it.  WOW!  But then the music quit, it got dark, and when the lights came back up, the stage was filled with a red robed choir, led by Greg Lake on an acoustic guitar singing Silent Night.  And it started to snow.....that my friends is why you go to concerts!
But live albums can provide a musical version of a popular song, but made alive.  Frampton Comes Alive!  I had seen him three times, buy the album.  After 9/11 when The Who broke into “Won’t Get Fooled Again” at the Garden, how it energized us all.  If you are old enough to remember The Letterman, their album “And Live,” had a perfect melody of “Going Out of My Head,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” a new take on old songs.  Feel Bluesy for a moment, The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore, in particular “Stormy Monday,” the best version of the T Bone Walker hit for me.  Everyone played it, these guys lived it that night.  Add in The Band with The Last Waltz, Garth Hudson’s solo on “It Makes No Difference,” and you find being live it does.  But again another magic moment, the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park, 1981.  500,000 people, and Art quiets them with his solo of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, accompanied only by a piano.  You can hear a pin drop, it will give  you goose bumps.  Times half a million...
“So is it live or Memorex?” an old ad asked.  A question Christians need to ask themselves.  Is it Jesus or religion?  Are you alive in Christ or just listening to the album?  A living God makes a difference, a spirit filled one adds life.  How many do you know, maybe yourself, who are fed up with the same old routine of church?  The music never misses a note, the pastor starts and ends on cue, and on time, but you leave empty.  Something seems to be missing, I can hear the same thing on the radio, why go?  So some stop going, finding their whole Christian experience was more about church and doctrine than about Jesus.  There is a freedom found when we make the step from theology and into a Christian experience.  When the spirit moves, and it does in churches too, but when the religious aspect is put to sleep, rather than putting you to sleep.  When the spirit moves on your heart, and you want more than just an hour out of the 164 you are given each week.  For like a live show, you can be taught by an expert in the things of the spirit, even be one yourself, but you may have never experienced Jesus first hand.  You have an education, but no application, sound familiar?  What is your Christian experience based on, teaching or applying it?  There will come a time when the spirit stirs you, where you want more, where you give in to it,and go deeper than words, teaching, or just reading the Bible can take you.  Some go to Israel to walk where Jesus walked, but fail to walk with him everyday.  They have the logos, the whole Bible, but neglect the rhema, the verses given personally by the spirit just for you.  Where you start listening to God, and following his lead, and see and experience a depth in Jesus you may not have even heard about, one too precious for words.  That’s the holy spirit, the live version of Christianity!
Now don’t jump ship from going to church, but ask God to reveal more of himself to you.  You want to hear a solo sung just to you, a song made for you.  That song is Jesus, you add the tune, he provides the music.  You can jam on a few words, and he’ll create a concert in you.  Watch as scripture comes alive, as you get depth and understanding far beyond teaching, and gain an insight few do, because they deny the spirit access to their will.  They have the tickets, they just don’t go to the concert.  They bought the album, and figure the show will be the same.  Their walk is a recording of doctrine of teaching and discipline, while you see the show!  Jesus in the Bible, or Jesus brought to life in concert.  What a show!  And I go there!
The promise of Jesus is life and life abundantly.  A spiritual life overflowing with joy, seeing the savior personally, walking with him, listening to his voice.  Knowing the great shepherd will not misguide you.  If you want the live version of Jesus, let him know now, and  open your heart to what the spirit is saying.  Listening is the key, then obeying, which brings trust.  We all have the same measure of faith, but not of trust.  Funny how in a crowded theatre you think the singer is singing just to you, why not let the spirit sing to you personally? 
When self or religion start to threaten, Jesus has a solo for you.  You need go no further than him.  Front row seats, back stage passes available.  Don’t miss the show, just because you bought the record.  Jesus Christ, is he alive or a teaching?  For like the song says, He’s just too good to be true.  And he can’t keep his eyes off of you.  Jesus, the live version of Christianity, better than a double album, and you can sing along!
love with compassion,

Thursday, June 8, 2017

in the midst of a storm-that magic moment

I’m not sure who or when Classic Music was named.  We were too busy listening to it to think to the future, the future was right now, right where we happened to be at that moment.  The early seventies brought us Oldies, from the 50’s, even WCBS-FM identified itself as an Oldies Station.  We went to see band like The Four Seasons, who were the house band at Frank Coppola’s Garage Room, Jay and the Americans, what a voice Jay Black had.  I cannot count how many Beach Boy concerts I have been too, but one thing all these groups had in common, I saw them after they had been stars, and had faded away. In an ever changing music world where talent didn’t matter, just sell records, they had survived, even though on life support.  Today we call them Classic, and entire stations are devoted to them.  And as they are all in their seventies if still alive, it is the music I remember, but seeing them live brings life to it, and them. 
Union Catholic High School had The Who, The Association, and Iron Butterfly in their high school gym.  I saw the drum solo  In- a- Gadda-Da-Vida live!  For $3.50 because I wasn’t a student there.  If you never heard Chick Corea and Return to Forever, I saw them in a college coffee shop jamming. Where Stanly Clarke gave a session on how to play the Fender bass.  But one night will always stand out, in a blizzard at Seton Hall University, where only about 30 of us nuts enough to be out in the weather saw The Byrds.  Post David Crosby, but still with McGuinn and Skip Batten, they were scheduled to play in an old auditorium that held a few hundred, and was empty due to the storm.  But played they did anyway, really a jam session for a couple of hours, intermixing with the audience, playing requests, jamming alone, and then others joining in.  What to them may have been a paid rehearsal, contract date to be fulfilled, to us was maybe the best concert ever.  And from Alice Cooper to a new Band called The Eagles, to Peter Frampton, to ELP, YES, and others, I had seen some pretty good bands, back before they obtained Classic status.  I may be old, but I saw them when they were new.  But that one night I will always remember, even putting a little leg kick in Chestnut Mare for me, by request.  When was the last time you saw any such band in such a venue?  A drummer sitting on the edge of the stage, drumming on the wooden stage floor?  Acoustic guitars without electronic boost?  And voices sans mics....in the midst of a storm?
It seems only the faithful and devoted or the crazy showed up that night.  To some that might have been considered righteous, showing up in faith, for later we learned the show had been cancelled, from the radio.  But I was there, the band was there and played.  Such faith, such music.  Such was Abraham, as he was credited as being righteous and faithful because he trusted God.  We don’t know how many events between God and Abraham took place where Abraham was faithful, only those recorded in scripture.  Was it when God told him to go?  When he promised him to have infinite descendants?  Was it when being told to sacrifice Isaac?  Was it when he put Isaac on the altar, about to plunge the knife into his own son?  Was it when he believed God’s promise of him?  Here we focus all our attention on Abraham, and can go crazy trying to emulate his faith.  How many times did your mother say “why can’t you be more like so and so?”  How many times do we wish to have faith like Abraham?  But are you willing to go to the lengths he did to believe?  Is it your faith, the promise, or the one who will deliver the promise?  Is it faith in Abraham, God, or ourselves? 
if Abraham had only looked at the world, his difficulties, or his own selfishness, his decisions would have been much different.  Go to Sodom, by pass the altar, hide Isaac, or even quit trying to have him.  But he looked to God, where he saw his deliverer, not his problems.  Last night a lady called telling me how God answered her prayers.  Bragging on the power of prayer, not fully knowing it was the one who answered that gave prayer the power.  That it is the spirit who she called out to and answered.  It was not time to correct her but to encourage her more in Jesus, from whom all blessings flow. 
How many instances has God given you to be counted as faithful and righteous?  Abraham was excited about a promised son to come, how excited are we about the son who has already come?  Can we cease from just asking God and thanking him, changing our relationship as we see his promises fulfilled fully in Christ?  Can we dare to let that first act of faith that led us to Jesus become part of our daily routine?  Can we called faithful because we just trust Jesus?  Will we be found righteous not by our church friends, but by God in heaven because we are faithful to him?  Abraham believed and his actions proved it.  What do your actions prove about Jesus?  Your lack of faith?
Today many classic Christians fill pews, they have been saved so long their relationship has just becom a ritual, another concert date on the calendar.  One night in a blizzard, The Byrds showed up because of a contractual agreement.  The rest of us showed us to hear the music.  We both showed devotion, which one showed faith?  We expected them to show, I wonder if what they expected?  In the end, it was a night to remember, a personal show with music from the heart, playing requests.  Sounds like a good night with God, where he shows up and we don’t know what to expect, he makes it personal, and hears our prayers and answers them.  A show like none other, playing right now, in hearts everywhere.  That’s love, that’s faithfulness on his part.  His righteousness, his sending his son while we were yet sinners.  Saving us a seat up front, and meeting the band.  All on a winter night on a dead quiet college campus, on an old stage.  What a venue.  Not what we expected, but so much more.  That’s faithfulness, letting God give us so much more than we expect.  Letting Jesus rule in our hearts.  And then telling others what he has done.  Just think, your act of faith may point someone to the one who can answer!  What an encore that will be!  All because you trusted God....you may have been at Woodstock, I was at Seton Hall.  Like Jesus, there is nothing like being there.
love with compassion,