Friday, March 24, 2017

"we didn't need dialogue, we had faces."

In 1950 Hollywood stunned the world and itself too when it released the movie Sunset Boulevard.  An almost biographical look at itself, it took a cruel, but honest look at what had become of the stars of the early silent screen, in particular one Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson.  She is or was a star at one time, and is still locked in her glory days.  Time and the movies have passed her by, but she still lives as she did then, when some 20-25 years have passed.  She has been planning to make another movie, to show the new generation how it should be done, and is sadly misled when her old studio calls her and only is interested in her car.  She thinks they are calling....but perhaps the most telling line is when a reporter sees her, and says “hey, you’re Norma Desmond aren’t you?  You used to be big?”  And her reply is priceless, “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”  An incredible line from a star who never uttered one line in any of her films, for she was a star in the silent era.  Maybe saving her best and only line for last.  She was big in pictures, she just failed to see the big picture.
“Hey I know you, you used to go to church here,” I have been told.  Something about changing churches or taking a rest from religion inspires these words to those who haven’t.  Sometimes I want to say, “ God is big, it is religion that has made him small,” but know the lines will only fall short of having the effect I desire, as religion has made them small.  God moved on, and although he never changes, they didn’t either.  Jesus loves them as they are, he just didn’t want to leave them that way.  He saw the potential, they never saw him.  A story told in both the New and Old Testaments about Moses, who when he saw God on the mountain and received the Ten Commandments, he put a veil over his face.  It shone with the presence of God, and at first he didn’t want to scare the people.  But as time went on, and the glory faded, he still wore the mask, to hide it fading glow.  God hadn’t changed, he had.  Maybe he once wore it proudly, “I’ve been with God and you haven’t,” now he only had a faded memory, and like Norma, “hewas big, it’s the message that got small.”  For in the commandments God gave him were six rules on how to have relationships with man, and only four with God.  No salvation found in them, it was only later when Paul related the same story in Corinthians does he remind us that Jesus wrote his word on our hearts, not on tablets of stone.  Reminding us how hard hearted we are, and how only Jesus can soften that heart of stone.  He went on to say how Moses kept his mask on because he didn’t want to lose what he had, that personal moment with God.  Has your relationship with God been based on one moment, one event?  Or is it still in progress, growing every day?  Has Jesus gotten smaller, while you have gotten larger?  Is you religion larger than Jesus?  Can you even tell the difference?
Moses gave us the evidence, Paul made it more personal.  We all put up facades, sadly to other Christians, we don’t want to appear weak.  When a very young Christian, I had a headache and a pastor rebuked it out of me.  Only I still had it, he was sure it was gone, I was sure it wasn’t, but lied to please him.  Do we lie to others thinking it will make us look better, increase the drama of our testimony?  Has our relationship faded so much we never take off our mask?  Do we even know we still wear it?
Even though it is our testimony, without Jesus it is meaningless.  Joining a church, going forward at Billy Graham, or praying in an emotional moment may not be true salvation.  Only when Jesus softens our hearts, when we admit we are sinners and repent, when we acknowledge him as God, Lord and savior, are we born again.  Consider where you are in Jesus right now, is he still as big as the first time you met him?  Or has religion gotten bigger?  Do you care more about what people think or what God does?  Is your life just one big evangelical veil production, or do you know Jesus personally?  He is ready to forgive you and welcome you, or forgive you again and welcome you back.  Are you more concerned about your friends finding out how you have been living a lie, maybe not rejoicing when you repent or of the angels who do when a soul is saved?  Norma never got it, Moses had a clue, do you?
In the end Norma has lost all touch with reality.  And as the police come for her, she makes her final exit down the staircase jammed with reporters.  She is big again, she pauses to make an impromptu speech, one she has been rehearsing for years on the comeback, her comeback, and her last line is “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up.”  Are we ready for ours?  While we see only the outer man, God sees both, and looks on the heart.  Norma waited years for her comeback, yours can happen today.  Are you ready for your close up?  Ready to discard the mask between you and God?  God is light, the camera the spirit, all we need is some action.  You see, “Jesus still is big, it is religion that has become small.”  Has life become as Norma said, “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.”  God gave Moses words, Jesus is the word.  And Moses answered...
By the way, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won three.  Jesus nominates you for one, salvation.  The envelope please....
love with compassion,

Thursday, March 23, 2017

the lot on the end of Princeton Avenue

Down at the end of Princeton Avenue sat an old lot.  It was barren with no trees, but no one ever played on it, as it was source for junk and garbage to be thrown.  Not a dump, but people passing by on South Avenue would throw things from their cars, and some yard clippings had been dumped there over the years.  A lot that really had no purpose, but to us a place to go and collect deposit bottles.  While looking for them to go buy candy, we would come across girlie magazines, old newspapers claiming UFO’s are watching us, and stuff just discarded because it had no place in our homes.  Which didn’t matter to us, as we were after the bottles, two cents for small ones, and a nickel for the big ones.  An hour of searching on a good day may gain us enough for 25-30 cents, then pulling the wagon up to Crestwood Cupboard to redeem them.  We learned they didn’t take beer bottles, which smelled funny anyway, dirty ones were rejected, and only Coke, Pepsi, and 7-Up were accepted.  No cans in the day, as the only exposure we had to cans was a new Pepsi machine next to the Coke one still dispensing bottles.  Even though the Pepsi can was 12 ounces, it was 15 cents, a nickel more than the 10 ounce Coke, even with the two cent deposit, which we never paid as we drank the Coke in the parking lot while reading about Archie’s latest love affair.  Finances, life, and love was simple, trash got picked up and kids got paid for it.  Today we call it recycling, back then it was a source to enrich your allowance.  And go hunting...
We often wondered how anyone could throw away anything of value like deposit bottles, but we were glad they did.  But as the one way bottles and cans got popular our secondary source of income vanished.  No one recycled yet, cans were metal, bottles were glass and broke easily, and had no redemption value.  A much different story today as bottles and cans are charged with a recycling fee, a tax, and then recycled, some times as a source for the homeless.  Seems we have gone full circle, from a deposit on a returnable, to throwaway, then tax it, and someone will seek it out and recycle it, for money of course.  But in all cases, we start out with a full bottle, its contents are drained, it is discarded, and then cashed in.  From cash to trash to cash, only the names on the bottles have changed.
We are much like these bottles, as when we come to the Lord we are filled with his spirit.  We are redeemed just like the bottles of old and valuable again.  Like the deposit made when purchased, Jesus deposited his spirit within us when he purchased, saved us.  We went from no value to redeemed, and suddenly had value again.  But unlike the old deposit bottles that were cleaned and refilled, recycling today can take a bottle and make it into a chair.  It can be reduced to raw material and made into whatever the factory demands of it, the package may be redeemed, but not to be reused for its original purpose.  Our original purpose was we were created to have fellowship with a loving father, God our creator.  He redeemed us via Jesus, fills us with his spirit, so we can be used for the original purpose, to worship him, have fellowship, and be loved.  Then to love others as he has loved us.  He takes these earthen vessels, cracked pots as he calls us, and redeems us, we are truly new in Christ.  And immediately filled with his spirit.  We all get the same spirit upon salvation, yet some only get renewed weekly, or when empty, when God wants us to be full and filled continually.  We were created as insufficient on our own, and he fills us as needed, he is sufficient.  Continually.  Just as some get thirsty and dehydrated because they wait too long, our spirit cries out for his continually to be filled.  And only Jesus can fill us up and keep doing it over and over.  Once a week church, sporadic praying and Bible reading, and trying to do it by yourself will not and cannot do it, the one who put his label on you has the rights and the way to keep you filled. We need Jesus, and yet some receive him and live like they are the empty lot on Princeton Avenue, rooting through the trash just to get by.  When we were once the throw away life and he redeemed us.
And while others try to satisfy this Godly urge with worldly things, only Jesus will satisfy.  Be filled with the spirit he says, do not be drunk on wine, or the things of the world.  It is up to us to choose what fills our worldly container, God or the things of the world.  Being a Christian doesn’t absolve you from the temptation, Jesus doesn’t force his will on anyone, it is our choice.  He bought you, paid the deposit price, and filled it with his spirit.  Are you mixing it with other things diluting him in your life?  Does your label claim Christian yet hold a rotting product within?  The spirit comes from within, and there is plenty for any and all situations.
Religion may recycle you with ideas, standards, beliefs, and doctrines.  Only Jesus makes you new again.  He warns about putting new wine in old wineskins, a fresh product must be put into a sterilized package.  His spirit only dwells in those made new in him, born again.  Drink today of anything else and you will thirst again.  But drink of the spirit, and do it continually and never thirst.  Stay filled up.  Too many lives end up like the old bottles on the lot on the end of Princeton Avenue, broken and worthless.  With no value to anyone.  Jesus sees us different.  Only he can provide the constant filling of the inner strength we need.  Or you may be the lot that needs cleaning up.  Start today, before you cannot.  Rules and laws keep many from Jesus today, just try reading a Bible in school, yet it may be safe to say more praying goes on before a test than at any other time.  You cannot stop the spirit, or quench it, it quenches your thirst.  Many things may drive you to drink, only take in something that doesn’t let you lose control.  And when that someone is Jesus, we have his spirit, which is where power and strength come from. 
As kids we were searching for something to redeem, we were seeking a redeemer and didn’t know it, the spirit even the calling us to Christ.  Don’t ignore the call any longer, no need to thirst.  Save your money for the important things like chips and pretzels.  Knowing you have something to wash it all down with.  Coke may add life, I rather trust in the words of Jesus, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”—John 6:35 NKJV. 
love with compassion,

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

homesick for the road

After over 11,000 miles in 37 days and 31 states, it was time to go home.  I knew it, we knew it, but yet the desire to push on was still there.  But you know when it is time, and somehow the last 100 miles either take longer, or are the shortest ones of the ride.  Depending upon your outlook.  There is always one last stop, one last Coke and Tootsie Roll before the last few miles, and a time to reflect.  The world has changed, or is it really you that has changed, as your locality is now bordered by oceans instead of county lines.  Time zones and long days now are winding down, and tonight you will be sleeping in your own bed again.  Taking a shower in your own shower, watching TV with channels you know.  Many things will have remained as you left them, but your outlook is different.  Often times while stopping I have noted while looking at whatever I am riding, it is just the two of us, or three of us, and my bike has become an old friend.  We know each other well.  But in a few hours the cover will go back over her after a wash and service until the next ride calls.  Bikes cannot talk, or is it we cannot hear them, but a relationship has been formed, one that every time I go into the garage I remember. 
After long trips I do long to get home, it is more than just tonight’s destination, it is home.  A time to get back to normal, whatever that may be.  To enjoy not eating out, to go through boxes of mail, reintroduce yourself to the dog and cat, and sit back and reflect.  Looking for words to explain what you have just done.  Some will think you are crazy, some be jealous, some just compare it to their two weeks going from airport to motel to outlet centers, thinking “people are the same everywhere.  Why would anyone want to travel by motorcycle?”  They come back worn out, you come back rested, tired yet with the desire to go another day.  You had an experience, they had two weeks.  Of long lines, airplane and airport hassles, generic motels, and meals in the coffee shop.  You saw America, and the stories you tell will be much different, a testimony to both man and machine, roads and meals, weather and dealing with it.  And you cannot wait to get back on the road and do it all over again, just on different roads.  You saw so much, only to discover how much there is left to see.  Places that you will return to see just where that other road goes, the study of maps starts again, and even though some roads are only one inch on the map, they go on forever when riding them.  Homesick for the road....with only one cure....let’s ride!
Being home and wishing to be on the road remind me of the battle between the flesh and the spirit.  I love being home, but I have been given a desire to tour, and God meets it.  I get caught between the two worlds wanting to be both places, and forget to enjoy where I am today.  I have dreams and goals like anyone else, but when spirit inspired, many times I have to add “give me patience to them.”  I’m ready, the bike is ready, the road calls, but God says wait.  The hardest answer to prayer we get.  And in waiting reveals why, a lesson to remember until the next time I become inpatient.  While there is always some well meaning Christian there to remind me God has a plan for your life.”  He does, I know.  But what if you don’t know God and are told that?
Dealing with people on the edge, those who have been in jail, in hospitals, in the military, or under strict discipline, telling them God has a plan for them is like more orders, less freedom.  Great, everyone else tells me what to do, now God is too.  We mean well, but the message doesn’t come across.  Maybe my friend Frank put it best to me, “God has given you the desire of your heart, and it is him.  He has given you a passion to ride, and is now providing it.”  God’s plan for you, his purpose is for you to know Jesus and be saved.  To find the freedom lacking in religion or the things of the world.  To find peace and live free, no matter the situation.  And that freedom is only found in Christ.  Where the only rule is love, and where we have the spirit to guide us.  To comfort us, and intervene when we ask.  We get to make the choice, for true love demands a choice.  You cannot legislate love, and God is true love.  In him I can reflect back and worship him for what he has done in my life, and find encouragement and a desire to go on.  To ride farther, to find new roads, to enjoy new blessings.  To have more of Jesus in my life with no bounds. 
What do you and Jesus talk about?  As a friend, do you share your ideas and rides with him?  On one afternoon alone with him, I told him about a trip I had taken, and he listened intently, he wanted to know more, to listen as I told him how much fun I had.  He listened, and our relationship grew....he was with me the whole ride, and it was like two riders sharing thoughts and memories of the ride. He saw things I missed, and reminded me of things I had forgotten.  Personally.  That’s the kind of passion he has given me.  The desire to leave and to come home, but never alone.  Always with him.
Sometimes I feel guilty because I desire heaven so much, but I am enjoying the time here so much.  He reminds me of on earth as it is in heaven, and how this is part of his plan for me.  I’ll go home when it is his time, not mine.  So until then, I will continue to ride, to spend time with him, living today, safe and secure that I am in his plan.  And that if I stray, he is the way back too.  And that soon he will be taking me home forever, and soon is always sooner than expected. 
The anticipation of heaven, and the last 100 miles to home have nothing in common, yet everything in common.  This morning I find myself homesick for the road, and Jesus is that road.  A direction, not just a destination.  More than words on a page or lines on a map, he is the freedom we seek in riding.  That’s his plan for us, to know him and live life abundantly.  Overflowing in him....I wish to be with him in heaven, yet as Paul says I will continue to stay for your pleasure and joy of faith.  Wherever the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  Maybe a Coke and Tootsie Roll are in order....a hundred miles from here.  But never far from Jesus. 
love with compassion,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Oklahoma and Joe

Our friend Joe in Oklahoma understands the biker brotherhood.  He is also one of the few people I would ride anywhere with, and have ridden across country with him three times.  He is someone we love and trust, but Joe also knows good places to eat, which when combined with the other two really sets him apart.  So when riding through Oklahoma, we always try to hook up with him, if he is around, as he is an over the road trucker.  And even if the meals may not appear gourmet quality, the company and fellowship always is.
On our last Torches Across America ride, the four of us were riding Route 66 between Tulsa and Troy, Illinois, trying to bypass both the rain and the boredom of I-44.  We pulled into an old cinder block building, that he had passed by many times, and said it looked good, which meant the lot was big enough to park his rig.  So in we walked, after dodging the numerous potholes in the once gravel lot,  and walking in with our rain gear on, all activity in the room stopped.  But when the waitress, aka the hostess called us Sweetie, we knew we would be OK.  All locals except for us, she knew their order before they sat down, with us it was different, and all the eyes were on us.  And soon we were engaging them in conversations, listening to their stories, and invited to sit with them.  We heard their war stories, were shown pictures of their grandkids, and we all left as friends.  Invited back with a “hope you have a safe trip, and stop in next time you are in Oklahoma.”  I never have, but when I go by the place smile and wave, even though I cannot remember its name.  As I recall, it may not have had one....but thanks to Joe we made new friends and memories.
In 2011 when the tornados hit Joplin, Missouri, Andrew and I decided to go out and volunteer to help.  Which took us through Tulsa, where we hooked up with Joe and had a late lunch.  Knowing the kind of old diners I like to eat in, he had been spying one for awhile, on old, old Route 66 downtown.  A old rail car, he had never eaten there, but knew we would like it, so in we went.  Again greeted with a “Hi Sweetie,” we knew we were in good hands, and between the chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, we were full.  He had been telling the waitress how we were from San Diego, and going out to help in Joplin, when two big pieces of pie showed up, on the house.  Already full, we never would have ordered them, but ate them as one bite and they had you.  But when going to pay, the two women working that afternoon met us at the register, and waved off our money.  They bought our meals, they were touched by our compassion for those in Joplin, and wanted to help us out.  Even refusing to take a tip....another place I cannot remember the name, but will always remember the meal, and another road food find by Joe.  There have been others, these two meals stand out, more for the company than the food, and if Oklahoma, if they call you Sweetie, you know you are in good hands.  Just tell them Joe sent you....
We all have Joes in our lives, friends who we only see every few years, but stay close with. Friends you don’t have to talk or text everyday, your relationship goes deeper and is beyond words.  We miss Joe sometimes, but know our lifestyles can go in different directions, so when we meet, it is special.  A man wiser than me once noted “if you hang around a barber shop long enough eventually you will get a hair cut.”  And Oklahoma because of Joe has grown on me.  Great roads make great rides, but are best shared with friends and loved ones, and over a meal is second to riding.  I think Jesus would agree, as he spent his whole life on the road.  He was born on the road, remember his parents were travelling.  Paul met him on the Damascus road.  Philip met the eunuch in the spirit along the road.  Jesus rode the colt into Jerusalem on the road, was crucified along the road, and was seen by over 500 after his crucifixion, not in church, but on the road.  He was out where the people were, taking the gospel to them, making it real.  He sent his disciples out two by two, where, on the road, where the gospel was recorded.  Food was also important to him, as he fed the 5000 twice, but made it more personal one night on shore with Peter, preparing him for ministry when he told him three times “feed my sheep.”  And if you recall, it was a picnic lunch that Jesus used to show Peter it was OK to eat all things, letting him know the gospel was not just for Jews, but Gentiles also.  Food and Jesus go hand in hand, so do Jesus and the road.  So when I tell people Jesus, riding,and road food, it don’t get any better, a trinity of thoughts refer me to the trinity of God the father, Jesus his son, and the holy spirit.  How many meals have become great ones just because Jesus was along?
But yet we skip meals with him, maybe only pray occasionally, visit church twice a year, and read our Bible occasionally, if we can find it.  But I find the more time spent with him, I become more like him.  Just like hanging out in a barber shop, I soon want a haircut, I want to look nicer, to smell nicer, and be more like him.  Slowly realizing it is the spirit working on me inside that changes me on the outside.  He does all the work, I make the choices to change or not.
Looking back the meals ate with Joe, the food was nothing special.  It was the memories, the friends and the time spent.  And even if I could, I would never go back to them, it would not be the same.  Jesus sets these times apart as special.  How much time do you spend with him?  Is it special?  Is it the food or the company?  Remember the 5000 thought it was about the food, and would get hungry again.  Do we hunger after Jesus the same way?  Full one day, empty the next, but caught up in a religious cycle?  When we are hungry we want to eat, now.  When we are spiritually hungry, we want Jesus, now.  And he is available, now.  Over the years on many rides in many states with many different people, I have had many meals.  Jesus somehow has come up in the conversation, and no one has ever gotten up and left before they were done eating.  Don’t preach with your mouth full, but share him as he becomes a part of you.  Where it becomes natural, and with his supernatural love, the meal will somehow taste better.  Even if not in Oklahoma.  Jesus and road food....
Maybe it is as simple as taking communion, “do this in remembrance of me.”  Maybe that is why we ask the blessing before we eat, we remember him, and anticipate more memories to come.  Oklahoma is calling this summer, I can smell Swadley’s already, another Joe favorite.  Lucille’s lunch special will not go uneaten.  And I know Jesus is along for the ride.  We hope to see Joe, maybe ride a few miles and eat a meal together, such are the times friends look forward to and back on.  On the road to freedom, on the road with Jesus....”what’ll you have Sweetie?”
love with compassion,