Tuesday, October 17, 2017

more Vanna, less filling

A few years back when we switched cable companies again, we got a DVR with the latest deal.  It was great for recording shows and movies when we weren’t home or asleep, but then we stumbled onto something, recording shows while we were home,so we didn’t have to watch the commercials.  Like any seasoned channel surfer will tell you, we don’t like commercials, and we found a way around it.  Years ago in the dawn of TV, it was 26 minutes show and 4 minutes commercials.  Today some like TV land extend the 30 minute program by adding 6-8 minutes of commercials to popular shows, but Wheel of Fortune has done it slicker than others, and barely noticeable.  Until we started taping them, and found an interesting statistic, the show/commercial ratio was 50/50.  Half the show was commercials!  So we can now watch more Vanna, with less filling in half the time!  Talk about technology finally working for you!  An extreme case, but that led to others....
My wife has started only watching the first few minutes and the last few minutes of her HFTV shows.  She gets to see the end result without all the drama and petty bickering, along with all the “it’s going to cost more because although we are professionals, we didn’t know the house had asbestos, was built on an ancient burial ground, or the indoor pool was really a flooded basement.”  Talk about an open concept....30 minutes of show in six minutes.  They may be better than Vanna!
The NFL was once described as five seconds of action followed by 45 seconds of rest.  Agreed.  Baseball, worse than a soap opera, boring, tedious, at least no Tim McCarver this year to tell us all the things we don’t care about or want to know.  A highlight this year in the NFL, rather unexpectedly has been Tony Romo, playing the game while broadcasting.  He is a thinker, and gets you in the game.  Any bets he is too smart for most viewers?  If memory serves me right Joe Willie Namath did time on Monday Night Football, and gave tremendous insight, calling plays stupid and what to look for.  Again too smart for the norm, any way what does a Super Bowl winning QB know that a dipsy blond, hired to be stylish does?  Ever hear hee–hee in a huddle?  So what do Vanna and the NFL have in common?
Nothing.  One is entertaining, moves quickly, has quick witted quips, and is fun to watch.  And only lasts 15 minutes.  The other has 15 minute quarters. 
I once read where we make over 7000 decisions a day.  And the last one has a lot to say about the one we are about to make.  One bad play in a football game can cost you the game, one bad letter choice and Vanna still turns it, or smiles back waiting, but the decision has been made.  We need some kind of guidance, shepherding if you will like the Bible calls it, to help make the right decision.  In life we don’t get to replay a bad choice, or to fast forward through the parts we don’t like.  We have to spend every minute of life living it, just the thought tires me out.  And bad decisions only make it worse.  On Wheel of Fortune it is the choosing of a letter, the spin of the wheel.  In football the play called in the huddle and the execution.  With our decisions impacting others.....and theirs us.  We need someone we can depend on, and in Psalm 23 God tells us of the great shepherd.  Someone who has wisdom, who knows the trails and the trials to come, who knows where to rest and what to avoid.  And that someone is Jesus.  But how do we tap into his wisdom, is life more than a lucky guess?  Or a bad guess?
Unless we are willing to admit we don’t know, we won’t seek his way.  It starts with our decision, without him we are just guessing.  Then we need to obey.  What good is the play called in the huddle if everyone does what they want?  What good is Vanna if she turns the wrong letter?  “Well that one was easier....” you don’t want to learn the hard way that obedience is better than sacrifice.  But there are both quick and long term decisions, how to know what to do?  Jesus never hurried, yet was never late.  There is a difference between waiting and delaying.  Waiting is knowing what to do, and knowing the right time, like when to solve the puzzle.  Delaying is knowing what to do and not doing it, the moment passes, and suddenly it is fourth down, or your opponent solved the puzzle.  By being guided by the holy spirit we can know when, what, how, who, and why.  All without no TV timeout and commercial break.  If God calls the play, execute it.  If he chooses a letter, solve it.  All without commercial interruption.
Last year I went to a taping of Wheel of Fortune, you clap a lot.  It took almost three hours to make that 15 minute show.  Lots of activity going on on the set we don’t see on TV.  Life is like that too.  So we need someone who knows, who has everything under control.  Even we when we aren’t.  So seek Jesus today, take rest in him, skip the commercials, and enjoy the 15 minutes of fame every night guessing the puzzles.  With some insight, how does Vanna know which letter to turn?  Each square is marked, and a small light goes on to tell her.  No light, no letter.  And for the players, a board is next to it, telling what letters they have already chosen.  Just a few hints you don’t see on the show....which leaves me time to watch 77 Sunset Strip, which I taped yesterday.  Without the commercials of course.  Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb!  More Vanna and more Kookie all without leaving your seat.  And commercial free.  Maybe this technology thing isn’t so bad after all.
love with compassion,

Monday, October 16, 2017

access codes

My friend Abner’s dad owned a football team, the Plainfield Red Oaks.  A farm team for the Colts before they abandoned Baltimore, they consisted of guys too old to quit, like Big Carl who at 53 still was a menace to defensive linemen.  Some were just not good enough for the NFL, some had been and gone, and some just liked the fact of being part of a team.  A unique group of men, who loved football, and played the game as it was 50 years ago.  Real grass, games played in old stadiums with a local crowd cheering them on.  Local sports reporters who knew everyone by name and by their day jobs, and families, friends, and neighbors who cheered them on.  I got to see this all from the bench during the games, as I was Abner’s friend, and was welcomed because his dad was the owner.  We sat in on practice sessions, half time pep talks, and plays calling during the game.  At age 15 I knew more than most arm chair quarterbacks would ever know.  But I also saw the physical side of football, and these guys were playing a tough sport on a tough playing field.
Real grass, not some manicured carpet called Astroturf.  The referees controlled the game, unlike now when the game controls them.  Bad call, get over it, they made it and that was final.  Which led to some battles off the field that went on for years.  But the Red Oaks were good, as in very good, and hadn’t lost a game in years, traveling by bus to games to the wilds of Canarsie, Boonton, and Brooklyn and battling cold and injuries.  I learned how lineman would grab a handful of dirt and when the ball snapped throw it into the eyes of the opposing lineman.  How a runner could have a ton of bodies on top of him, each one inflicting more pain as they got off the pile.  I saw eyes gouged, cleat marks where they had stepped on or kicked the guy who was down, that was how it was played, not sanitized with full on hospitals, Gatorade, and TV time outs.  I saw many injuries, but one will always stand out in my mind.  A large lineman, Tim got a huge gash over his eye.  When the blood finally impeded his sight from running into his eye, they took him out, he held a towel against it, and at half time had it attended to.  Which consisted of 6-8 guys holding him down on the bench in the locker room, while the guy who was the trainer sewed him up, using no pain killers other than ice and a shot of liquor.  He stitched him up with a sewing needle and thread, the same kind my mother sewed with, he never whimpered, and played the entire second half.  Cut, bruised, and hurting, he kept playing.  In contrast to another guy Rudy who came limping off the field when he got his hand stepped on.  Yes, limping.....
But I had access to all this because I knew Abner and his father.  Without the relationship I would have been relegated to the stands and fan status.  But as it was, I saw the game from the inside, and learned to criticize more carefully based on that knowledge.  Through Jesus Christ we have access to God, a direct line that is never busy.  We don’t have to sit in the stands and watch, we can participate in life with him.  Yet religion, cults, traditions, and denominations keep us bay and away from all we can have from God.  Follow the pastor, follow the TV show, follow the celebrity who just got saved and suddenly knows it all.  Fill your head with teachings, attend the right church, get into the right small group, do all the things that society demands or expects of you as a Christian and you will be blessed.  But also very disappointed, as pleasing man will always fall short of pleasing God.  Watching a message on TV maybe educational, but when you have questions, need to pray, have a comment, or don’t get it, you going to ask the TV?  Yet many satellite churches are popping up this way, with the TV the pulpit, the pastor the star, and an audience with questions.  Impersonal, you may get more and better info from Facebook.  But yet they continue, neglecting the access God has provided them. 
Jesus made it personal, just like the guys playing on the Red Oaks.  We knew their names, their families, where they worked, and what they drove.  We saw the pain, the cuts and bruises, and how the game was played.  Not some sanitized version of Christianity portrayed as what it can do for you.  Am I far off, stop and think, look around, how much is about Jesus and making it personal?  In times of need, have you found access to Jesus via his spirit, or from a TV screen?  Do we muss and suffer all week until we can go up front after a service and get prayer when it is available right now one on one?  Does all your Bible reading consist of studying, and only what the teacher has taught?  When is the last time you just picked up your Bible and read it for pleasure?  And found what you needed, unaware of what you were looking for.  The spirit is ready to provide everything we need and now, in person.  He ahs given us everything we need for life and godliness.  He has given us his son, his most precious treasure, he played the game and died for us.  What version of the gospel have you been taught? 
Some sit in the stands or pews and only comment.  It’s time to get in the game and play it to win.  To see Jesus for real, to share him with others, and to live a life in him that he promises.  Look at his hands, see his smiling face, and bask in the warmth of his love.  TV can only be one dimensional, God’s love is a dimension all to itself, far beyond any physical realm.  Isn’t it time you got real?  Not reality TV, but the reality of Christ in your life?
The game will leave you many cuts and bruises, so will life.  It comes from being in the game of life, and we play to win.  Some wish to spectate and comment, some get in the game and see the real action.  A love of the game bonded these men together.  What bonds you to Jesus?  If you have to ask, you may have never played the game.....
love with compassion,

Friday, October 13, 2017

in the land of Dixie

Plainfield, New Jersey was still a hot bed racially after the riots in 1967, and when I got my license.  Wes invited us down to see him where he tended bar there, his day job was on a receiving platform with me at Sears.  He was cool, black, and never said much, like the time I asked “did you need hand?” and he replied “I’d look awful funny with three hands wouldn’t I?”  We, our group of co-workers, and many at the time didn’t care what color you were, for instance we had Italians, Polish, an Iranian, two guys of Irish descent, and we made fun of each other.  We were friends, so when Wes invited us down, Brennan and I went, he was our friend.  Now this was an old time black bar as they were referred to, in a bad neighborhood, but since Wes was cool we figured no problem.  Until we got to the door, and a huge bouncer, think of the right side of an NFL line, asked “what you boys doin’ here?”  We explained we were friends of Wes, and how he invited us down...”  Without batting an eye, he looked us both straight in the eye and said “this bar ain’t for caucasians.”  And we knew for our own safety what he meant.  Later when confronting Wes, he told us “that’s cool...” and life went on.  And it did...
I love travelling in the south, the Land of Dixie.  Where according to the song “old times there are not forgotten.”  So we had booked a night at the Shack Up Inn, once the old Hopson Plantation, now a place for blues fans to meet, complete with a juke joint.  Where music matters, color don’t, and it starts when the first guy star playing, and ends when the last guy stops.  Audience optional.  In fact they told us as we arrived at 6pm, they had played until after 8 that morning and may not be opening that night.  Just outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi, birthplace of the blues, and the crossroads Clapton sang of, where Highways 61 and 49 intersect.  Where Abe’s has been serving BBQ for over 90 years, home to the Riverside Hotel, where we met Rat, whose Mother used to own it, and before that a black hospital, where Bessie Smith died after a white hospital rejected her after a car accident based on her color.  Rat gave us a tour and showed us her room. But we made friends there, and plan to go back, look it up, way cool places.  Historical, without getting hysterical.  But when first hitting town, we saw a Wendy’s, and in 100 degree heat with humidity to match, it sounded good.  So we ordered two, and were sitting enjoying them when Theresa commented “we’re the only white people here.”  Never much thought about it, as I answered “do you think anyone noticed?”  And we laughed, as people are people, and mostly friends and welcoming until you make them something else.  A personal tour later from Rat confirmed southern hospitality, we were welcomed for who we were, not what we were.  40 years later, after Plainfield, I still wish I was in the Land of Dixie.....where your tea is sweet and you don’t have to ask.  Cool...
Before the threat of lightning had us change our trip last summer, we were going to spend the day checking out New Ulm, Minnesota.  It looked cool, had a rich history, and a population of 15,000, large for the area.  When reading about it though, one thing stood out, the number of churches.  Lutheran churches.  Five of them, each with a different synod and take on Christianity.  Which left me wondering, if they can’t get along, what does that say about spiritual unity?  Their relationship with God?  Their love for each other?  Let alone those not in their fellowship?  If the body of Christ cannot get along, what makes you think the world would want to be like you?  When first saved 40 years ago, I was given a book to read by Juan Carlos Ortiz.  Call to Discipleship, and it told of how one man, going around to the denominations in his own South American country.  He believed Jesus Christ to be the way, and was met at first with a great reserve, so many denominations were steeped in tradition, and had gotten away form Christ.  At first rejected, he kept on led by the spirit, and soon hearts began to change, lives changed, and a revival followed.  In the spirit he could do what years of separation had wrought, and bring people together in Christ.  It was when he discovered the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and followed him that things began to change, he found that God was closer than he thought, and not mired in religion grew in grace.  For in Christ there is no difference, as we are all one family.  Spiritual things go way beyond color, tradition, religion, and denominational boundaries.  When we are truly one in the spirit with Jesus,we are one with him.  And he who is for us cannot be against us.
But we cannot do it on our own, it takes the spirit.  The holy spirit, as without him we are open to being led astray.  Just as Wes invited us and we weren’t welcomed, too many are searching but the mainline churches don’t want them.  Nor the spirit.  The taste of freedom found in him threatens their power base, and let the lost go elsewhere.  Church size doesn’t matter, as one church once bragged about seeing hundred saved at their Easter service, when I asked them to “name 5, 2, how about 1?” they came up empty.  It was a service, impersonal, with no call to discipleship.  If in fact the numbers were real, why didn’t the body grow in numbers?  Or in grace?  Is it personal with you and Jesus?  Your church?  If I walked in with my leathers on and carrying my helmet, would I be welcomed?  Some places I haven’t...
I look back at that day at Wendy’s as a lesson from God, where my color didn’t matter.  Nor if I rode, or where I was staying.  Rat instantly told us he knew we were staying at the Hopson, because we were cool and he had no reservation for us.  He is booked a year ahead.  What do people know about Jesus when they meet you?  Would you listen to their message, would they listen to yours?  We are all born into sin and need a savior, and only Jesus saves.  Like the song says “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”  So I wish to go back to the Hopson, the Shack Up Inn and visit The Riverside Hotel, even though Rat passed on a few years ago.  To go back to a day and time where nobody noticed, and the music played on even with no audience.  At the crossroads, the road to the cross, where we will meet Jesus.
By the way, Call to Discipleship was published by Logos, in of all places, Plainfield, New Jersey.  Looking back, maybe that bouncer at the door did us a favor.  May have saved my life.  Fortunately I heard the call a few years later, when Jesus saved my life and my discipleship began.  And continues still today.....I’ll drink to that, I just know it will be sweet without having to ask.
love with compassion,

Thursday, October 12, 2017

riding across Texas

There is no quick way to get across Texas.  It is big, even the shortest way across the Panhandle is 200 miles, and across the middle of it can take days.  Having ridden the Panhandle too many times, it is either the gateway to Oklahoma or the way out, we decided to ride across, and saw another side of Texas.  Now Texas is about attitude as well as about its size, and on one ride taking I-10 out of San Antonio, stopped for gas in Junction,Texas.  Speed limit 70 mph, we were riding along at a sedate 75, when we got pulled over by the local sheriff and revenue enhancer.  Seems we had fallen victim to the largest speed trap in the state, he wrote so fast while the 250 pound Local Leroy sat in his air conditioned Suburban, we didn’t have time to complain, and he was across four lanes and a median and writing another ticket before we had our helmets back on to leave.  Maybe I should have just thought of it as an expensive souvenir....quite the contrary to the manager in Hill country who gave us free dinner and offered to take the day off to show us the great roads there.  Guess who rides...
Later in that day we followed an S500 Mercedes Benz at 120 mph for over an hour, no cops in sight as his radar guided us, and when we both stopped for gas, only a tipping of hat and helmet acknowledged our riding/driving together.  Which got us into El Paso early, which is known for the world’s largest Harley dealer, and murder and crime.  We have an abundance of all three, so we kept going, to me El Paso means keep going, don’t stop.  You’ll be glad you didn’t.  But on another ride across US 70 farther north, we got to see real Texas, and why when they sing about the stars at night being big and bright, now we know. 
We had stopped for gas and food at the intersection with I-35, and were about to enter into a long ride of small towns.  When paying for gas, the girl behind the counter, warned us of speed traps in some small towns.  She not only knew the towns, but where they would hide, and who would be hiding in the car by name.  After our Junction experience we paid attention, and she was right down to who was in the cars.  Stopping at the DQ’s along the way for refreshment, you are reminded Texans drink Dr. Pepper, and love football, as each store in each town was like a pep rally on this Friday night.  I never watched the TV show Friday Night Lights, but I have been there and done that.  But later riding under star lit skies, it got dark, and for the last three hours into Lubbock, we had the most spectacular sky show of lightning I have ever seen.  Above the clouds, it reflected through and we saw the glory of God like no other ride.  Unbelievable to describe, he lit up the road for us, as we followed as the lightning guided us to our motel, and just as we pulled in, the rains came.  As we fell asleep that night to the rain and wind, we felt secure that God was watching and had everything under the heavens, and in the heavens under control.  Texas may be known as the Lone Star State, I can testify that star is named Jesus, and he rides nightly with those that believe. Reminding us that as much as the ride is often the destination, he holds a place for us in heaven awaiting our arrival.  The eyes of Texas may be upon you, but so is his love.
If we had based our Junction encounter on all of Texas, we would have missed out on the true flavor of the state.  Christians fall short the same way thinking church is as good as it gets, and too many associate the church as God.  When a poll was taken by one Stickerman years ago, he asked how people felt about the church.  It was blistering, “they don’t care, they only want our money, they are fun suckers, they are too religious,” and the list went on.  But when they were asked about Jesus, they replied “a good man, savior, Son of God, philosopher, healer, and prophet.” Their attitude changing drastically, confusing Jesus and the church.  All it may take is one bad experience, and who hasn’t had one at church to sour us on God.  While some are driven by teaching and fellowship, both needed, to many it is a social Sunday, and to some CEO’s, Christmas and Easter only.  But when we meet the real Jesus, we see who he is, and why he came, and we see why his eyes are always upon us, because he loves us, not waiting for us to fall so he can ridicule us, but to be there to pick us up, brush us off, and put us on the right path.  Men may mean well, but we are a poor substitute for knowing Jesus.  So don’t confuse the two, nor let yourself be deceived.
Our life is one long ride, almost like riding across Texas, and we only remember the traffic stops and the time wasted and the cost involved.  Some days are like El Paso, “I spent a week there one afternoon,” but most of life is like riding the back roads.  Being out among the people like Jesus was, seeing the blessings all around, and when the storms hit, seeing his glory as he protects you and keeps you safe, getting you to your destination, if only for the night.  When Jesus is interwoven in all aspects of you ride, you ride different.  You enjoy the ride more, you begin to see things through his eyes, and it is more personal. You not only see the stars, but know the one who put them in place.  You are guided by his spirit, reflected in his light, and his glory shines upon you and through you.  You see why some may comment like they did to Stickerman, but learn to love them anyway, because Jesus does and he loves you, just as you are.  And were.  He gathers us together in spiritual unity, not denominational, or by heritage, or what your license plate says. When we are one in the spirit, we are one with God the father, and the son.  We need all three....
So next time you are greeted as “y’all,” do you know the plural of y’all?  “All y’all,”  just like the trinity, we need the all y’all of God in our daily lives.  So to all y’all enjoy the ride, don’t hurry through Junction, and know he is more than a Friday night light.  His eyes are upon you all the live long day, and they remind me of the one I love, deep in the heart of Texas.  Remember the Alamo, but never forget Jesus.  Just in case Stickerman asks you....
love with compassion,

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

a strange land called Freedom

While working at The Pantry a few years back, where we allowed the homeless and needy a chance to come in and shop for clothes for free, an older man, older than the years he had, approached me. Telling me it was his first time in, he asked how it worked, and I explained it simply, pick out to one outfit, see me if you need more, and see me on the way out.  Go through the clothes, shoes, and toiletries and get what you need. It is all free and sanitized.   Which was met with a blank expression, and he humbly, rather humiliated, told me he had just been released from prison after 35 years.  Since he was 18 all he knew was jail, and was a bit scared.  So I offered him a seat and we talked.  He went on to tell me it was scary on the outside, and after 35 years the San Diego he knew as a teen had changed.  He had never had his own place, never had a checking account, never filled out an application, and all his needs had been met by the CDCC.   He didn’t know how to shop for clothes, he knew little about money, or how to buy things, he had $200 from the system, which sounded like a lot until he got out and saw how expensive things were.  He was scared, lonely, a stranger in a strange land called Freedom, and wasn’t sure if he could cope.   When I asked him “how could I help, what do you need?” his answer was short, and honest.  “I don’t know.”  There have been few times when I felt so helpless, and maybe hopeless.  I knew people who got things done, I was one, but nothing prepared me or him for his situation.  After helping him, I gave him some info on who to see at the San Diego Rescue Mission, but he was clean and probably wouldn’t be admitted, I hoped they knew of a place for ex-cons to get help.  I didn’t, and all the scripture well meaning Christians offered me later would not have helped.  He was scared, lonely, and without a friend.  For a brief moment in time I was his protector, and his friend. I never saw him again, and talking with some others who had been in similiar situations told me “he’ll go back in, it is his home.  It is where he feels safe.”  That may have been the solution for him, it left me feeling empty and hopeless.  Prison as home the answer?
But when explained it made sense, sorta.  He had food, sorta, a place to sleep, health care, clothes, and friends.  Sounds like a good deal on paper, but real life tells me different, as my friends behind jail will back me up on.  Here was a man who when offered freedom after 35 years felt imprisoned, and couldn’t handle nor accept his new freedom. I kept thinking “that’s not how it is supposed to be,” but that’s is how it is.  Fortunately my thoughts kept going back to grace, and mercy.  How the law points out our sin, but has no forgiveness in it.  When Moses was given the 10 Commandments, he was given a set of rules to live by, but that offered no salvation.  It takes grace, only found in Jesus Christ to be saved.  True, this man had broken the law and paid for it, but it offered no mercy, no grace, and left him without hope.  In a world that has none to offer...
Again last night I was faced with the harshness of life, when a young mother with child saw me and remembered me from Bible Study.  She wondered if she could attend, she was homeless, her legs bruised purple, her 3 year old sleeping on what had been a shopping cart, and dirty.  Finishing a hot dog, probably found in the trash.  When I told her sure, she told me she may not be welcomed, she had stayed at Dustin Arms before with a family they had trouble with, her included.  I assured her we would get it worked out, and soon saw Nick helping her up the stairs.  Nick has a heart for people like her, mostly for kids, and when I left, he had found a place for her for the night there.  He took care of one night, now it was her tomorrows we had to deal with, rather she has to deal with.  There are woman’s shelters for her and kids, I hope she follows through.  But for one night, she was given rest and a safe place.  Something to remember when I put out prayer requests for items, we are more fortunate and blessed than most.  Something that Jesus said about doing for the least of them was doing unto him......
Talking with another man, a Messianic Jew, he is saved, he was upset that he had worked, serving and feeding the homeless on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, which should have been a day of rest.  Yet he came home worn out and tired, feeling blessed, then remembered what day it was, and felt remorse.  He wanted to honor his God, but felt he hadn’t because he didn’t keep the law.  My words to him were “you’re not under the law any more, you are under grace.”  And he perked up.  If only we could live like we truly were under grace, how we could love and forgive, help those in need, and not have to be responsible to anyone but God, how when guided by his spirit we see a side of him that the law cannot supply, nor can the world.  We all need a little more grace, some a lot more, but do we show it when we are given the chance?  While so many young kids go around with WWJD bracelets being trendy, do they have to ask what Jesus would do?  Should we have to ask?  If he has truly written his word on our hearts as he says, it should become a part of you.  Not a lesson to memorize, but a life to live in freedom.  We can only get mercy after we screw up, and only find grace in Jesus Christ.  Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  An action word, but for some only a philosophy, or a religious teaching.  Jesus offers us freedom, grace which cannot be earned.  Do you think maybe we can pass it on just a little?  He asked his disciples “could you not tarry one more hour?”  As you rush off to church or Bible study......
Today we all will face someone who needs a bit more of Jesus in their life.  You may be the one called to be that messenger, to stop and listen, to offer love and guidance.  To be the scriptures, to represent Jesus and not religion.  To sow seeds of love. Or you could be the one in need, which puts it all in a much different perspective.  Tonight when you pray “now I lay me down to sleep,”  be thankful for the bed you are on, the sheets pulled up and the comfortable pillow.  Freedom isn’t free and it comes with responsibility.  Jesus died for it so we can have it.  To love your brother as you love God.  How you love others will tell us a lot about how you love God, and who Jesus is in your life.  I rather be humbled than humiliated.  Grace changes everything, has it changed you?  Don’t be the last one to find out.....
love with compassion,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

the week they widened Hetfield Avenue

As a young boy, and a older boy, I was and still am fascinated by road building construction equipment.  D-8 Cats, dump trucks, paving machines, and rolls offs, just the smell of the dirt and grease gets me going.  And so it was at a young age in our neighborhood, the week they widened Hetfield Avenue.  A major road in a small town, speed limit 30, it was the busy street that all the suburban streets were crossed by.  Hetfield and.... would tell a new kid where you lived, and at age 7 we thought we knew it all pretty well.  Then they started the widening of Hetfield, and our whole world changed, for the better.  At first we watched as men with jack hammers tore up the old and pot holed pavement.  Someday we would go to work doing that as well.  The next day it was the graders, smoothing out and removing the debris from the jack hammers, as big diesel dump trucks hauled it away.  With one called Big Mike making it all personal.  We watched as the backhoes came in and dug long lines of holes for the new sewers, and the gas company laid lines, I can still smell the odor as they worked fervently to connect the pipes.  By Wednesday they were done and all covered up, and one final grading to finish before the blacktop was laid.  We had watched the transformation of Hetfield Avenue before our very eyes, each day a new challenge for what we wanted to do someday, from jack hammers to  back hoes to driving dump trucks.  Each night my Tonka fleet came out as I repaved my bedroom, making all the noises without the smells of Hetfield.  Now the toy trucks made sense to me, I had seen them in real life in action. 
But Friday was the day we remember best, as the hot asphalt was laid, the string of dump trucks lined up to be next to dump their load in the paver, that somehow smoothed it all out, and then the steam rollers, making it flat.  We watched each step with fascination, down to the men who tamped down the sides to finish the job.  The smell of fresh asphalt hung around forever it seemed, and Hetfield was not scheduled to be open to traffic until Monday morning, us kids on our Schwinns and Rollfasts were the only traffic.  Something about big trucks and tractors that still appeals to me today, but something has changed, and it may not be my age or perception.  Maybe it is no more Tonka trucks to play with and emulate the road building, maybe it was the newness of it all, or the friends I did it with.  A lot of maybes, but the mental images still remain, I can still smell the natural gas as they laid the pipes, and the sweet smell of fresh asphalt....and I still want to drive a dump truck of my own.
Things and people all seem larger than life when you are a kid.  Seeing things for the first time, seeing your friend’s parents out in the yard being a family, or watching as they widened Hetfield Avenue, at youth we are an open book with blank pages.  We had no cameras back then, no cell phones, so we had to take photos in our memory banks.  Which may fade over the years, but the impressions are just as fresh.  After a trip Theresa hooks up her camera or cell phone to the computer and we watch them, enjoying the rides, and taking us back.  But when a recent ride with my son ended, I have no phone and took very few pictures, but picked up brochures and momentos along the way.  While I sat looking through my pile of folders, he looked at his trip on his i-phone, all reduced to a 3x5 image.  I had pages to turn in full size, some with ketchup from meals, things to read and handle.  We had been the same places, yet with different memories to share.  One not better than the other, a different point of view.  Much like my parents who were upset that Hetfield Avenue was closed and they had to detour, for us it was a rush watching the trucks and smelling the tar.  I choose the kid’s view anytime, and everytime...
It took a group of men, a team to pave Hetfield, each one with their job to do, and the next step could not start until they were finished.  On schedule, one done, the next one begins, and soon the road is done.  Martha and Mary were sisters who had Jesus over for dinner.  While Martha fussed with the food, and got upset with her sister for not helping, some things never change, Mary washed the feet of Jesus with an expensive perfume.  Two needs independent of each other, no cooking no food so no meal, but Jesus needed a rest, and Mary provided it.  And in ministering to Jesus, found rest for herself.  Spending time with Jesus instead of rushing around, one job not more important than the other, but one attitude that was blessed, and one not.  We all need to rest, particularly those who labor, I bet those workmen slept well at night after working jack hammers and back hoes all day. But rest can be more than sleep, or a good meal as Martha found out, it is spending time with Jesus, just hanging out.  To see Jesus at rest is a different view than most of us see, he always seemed to be about his father’s work, and even when he went up on the mountain to rest, only a few lines of scripture record it.  It was a private time, and Mary got to see what rest really was, and who provide it.  Most of us would side with Martha as we brood over having no one help, but Jesus saw both needs and met them.  Martha learned about the things that are really important,Mary enjoyed her rest.  A few feet from kitchen to living room may have divided them, but the distance was much further spiritually.
Mary saw what Jesus needed, and met it.  So did Martha, but on different levels.  Just like we do.  We need rest, some physical, some emotional, but all spiritual.  And it will only be found in Jesus.  Youmay get your eight hours, but are you resting, or just asleep?  Those of us who work with our minds need a rest from thinking, just as the workmen needed a physical rest from their labors. The need for rest comes in many degrees, but is only found in Jesus.  The meal will be eaten, the road dug up and paved, then on to the next job.  There will always be meals and roads to prepare, but little time to spend with our Lord.  A quiet time with no phones ringing, no TV, and maybe the sound of a good motor under you as you ride.  Jesus offers us rest where we are, not based on who we are.  How many of our best memories are of a peaceful day spent with the Lord?  Nothing fancy, no church or even a Bible to read, just you and Jesus.  A personal day, like Mary had, but Martha missed out on.  How many miss the blessings of Mary when we could be just as blessed in our job?
I’m sure the men who widened Hetfield Avenue looked back at what they had accomplished and were proud of their work.  Martha was probably a better cook, or Mary would have been in the kitchen instead.  Looking back at our trip photos, it becomes personal, and I can smell the air, see the signs and what doesn’t show up in the photo is still in my memory.  And it brings me rest to see how much fun I was having, and probably spending time with Jesus while doing it.  Jesus wants to draw us nearer to him, some through rides, some through meals, some just hanging out with him.  No one better than the other, looking back gives us the chance to see how it was, and  how it could have been.  Martha and Mary were both there, just as Christopher and I took the same ride.  And saw it through different views.  As a kid I was excited as they paved Hetfield, my parents were glad when it was done.  To them an inconvenience, to me and adventure.  May your walk in Christ be both, and see how with Jesus life is worth looking back on, and also looking ahead to. 
And someday, I will have that dump truck of my own....the difference between men and boys the price of their toys, and the memories of them.
love with compassion,

Monday, October 9, 2017

it is a poor business that makes only money

My friend Ted owned Sack and Save, the largest single grocery store in the western states.  He built it from an idea he had, and it became a showplace for him.  He made lots of money, lots of friends, and the admiration of his peers, who when meeting him for the first time wanted to know how he did it.  His margins were lower, yet he made more money.  He enjoyed the power and influence he had on the market, and also being the center of attention.  For him it was more than making money, it had become his whole life, his stage on which he appeared daily, and people paid to see him, over and over again.  But calling on him one day, I was told he was in his office.  I knew he had a small office upstairs, but never used it, all 50,000 square feet of store was his office, so I knew something was up.  I found him clearing out his desk, and smiled ,as it was a ceremonious action.  He had sold the store, and wanted to get his stuff, as he said.  He had bragged how he never would sell the store, but he always had a ridiculous price in mind, and someone offered it and Ted took it.  The deal done, it was about to be no longer his store, and he already knew he had made the wrong decision.  He wasn’t sure how his life would change, the store fed his ego and his social status, it seemed he never really worked, he was always out among the people, and through him I met many movers and shakers.  But his store was now  history, he had achieved his dream, and then sold it out.   For dollars on the penny.
BA Moto sits in an old non-descript industrial section of Signal Hill.  There our friend Nathan and his friends conduct life and business the old school way, their lifestyle, customer base, and shop all portraying the 1950’s, except is is real and not a fa├žade.  They have the clubhouse room, an office, and the shop, where I used to worry how they were making it, but the business grew and is still growing.  A labor of love, a vocation that lets them be on vacation, and meet many others who ride.  You probably don’t know Nathan, but he is on an ad for Allstate insurance doing a burnout, which got him the gig of riding an Indian, not his style, to all 50 state capitols to push for better motorcycle awareness.  A paying gig, a dream ride for most of us, an 11,000 paid summer ride, but that was sadly interrupted by his father’s death.  Nathan was very close to Jigs, and took in all the BA boys as his own.  There were times I was a second father to Nathan, but a very distant second, Jigs was it.  So when he died it had a profound impact on Nate, and his family, extended, too.  We had talked on the phone, but when stopping by the shop a few months after, I was ushered over to a circa 1953 BSA single motor, clean and shiny, sitting on table next to Nathan’s stall.  In it were Jigs’ ashes, I couldn’t think of a better or more appropriate place, and he was next to Nathan everyday at BA Moto.  To some just an old BSA motor, to Nathan and us a tribute to his dad, something not for sale at any price.  If only Ted had met Nathan, before he sold his dream.  There are values and there are valuables, sometimes we never know the difference before it is too late.
Henry Ford once wrote “it is a poor business that makes only money.”  Of course at the time he was regarded as the last billionaire, but it was his love of his cars that drove him, the money came along as he succeeded.  While others were in it to make money, the object of free enterprise, Henry knew that the profits would come if the product was right.  In Jesus Christ, we have a product like no other, that made promises like no other, and was able to deliver them like no other.  Reading through the gospels it is amazing to me how he took things down to a simple level, and how we can make them so complicated.  How he focused on love and ministry, that when mixed with forgiveness gave us another chance, and then to salvation, and our resurrection someday, just like had promised.  Yet others would pop up, and still do today, promising a better way, demanding more from us and less from God, but falling short of Jesus’ promises.  Salvation is a gift that cannot be earned nor can be bought.  It is free, because no one could afford the heavenly price, so Jesus had to come from heaven to earth and pay it.  Jesus was all about his father’s work, that of saving us and reuniting us to him, yet today’s churches are so involved with money they are a big business.  For all the activities they need a budget, so in tithes, offerings, various youth group sales, and begging, yes begging, you know what I mean, they feed the need for money, while sacrificing their calling.  It is a poor church that makes only money, and ministries that only focus on themselves do nothing.  Jesus said “give unto to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.”  Are we really seeking what and who needs to be ministered to and how?  Or do we set up programs hoping they will come?  Do we sit inside our church all safe and clean, while the world rots away just outside, because we fail to go out and become involved?  True ministry is meeting needs, how can you see if you are not out where the action is?  How can you tell your testimony if not out among the lost?  It is the sick who need a doctor, maybe Jesus had it right.  But the sick are in the churches, while he is out on the street.  But by his spirit, we can all be healed, it is a participation event, one to one and personal.  Not a TV screen based sermon with no one to question, it is getting out among the people, to those in hospitals, jails, homebound, and as we go we will see lives changed by Christ.  Not by us, we are to plant, or water, let the spirit provide the growth, the change.  An intangible that will leave tangible results, maybe if we just asked God what he wanted to do, our meeting times would be shorter and our ministries greater.  Ministries, not miniseries.  As too much of church has become, to be continued next week....
The difference between Ted and Nathan came down to experience.  And relationship.  They both experienced their dreams, Nathan continues to honor his father in his work.  Ted sold out, and lost his dream, rather cashed it in.  What is God leading you to do?  What is the dream he is showing you for your life?  Is it all about you, are you willing to work and submit to God, to make a commitment?  We are under a new covenant, an open contract with no ending date, as eternity has no end.  Businesses will come and go, so will people, only Jesus will remain, and we can to him, because he came to us.  Stop pursuing old traditional types of church, let God minister to both our heads and hearts, and see our relationship with him have a deep, personal effect.  A business that may not make money, but will see souls and lives changed in Christ.  God desires we become his friends, not just his fans.  Can we be honest and say the same?
What is more important, the financial, the emotional, or the spiritual impact?  In Jesus you can have all three, seeking him first, then HE adds all the rest.  Never hear that in business class, or maybe even church.  The disciples gave it all based on what they had seen Jesus do.  How you see him will impact how you know him, and serve him.  Jesus went out among the people, he taught in the sanctuary.  It is a poor church that only teaches but doesn’t go out and apply it.  Jesus did, and that made all the difference.  Ted sold his shrine and had to leave the building.  Nathan honors his dad everyday taking him with him.  Do we take Jesus with us?  The church is starting to leave the building, it is bored and complacent.  The spirit is calling and is strong. We are weak, but his strength made perfect in our weakness.  Good advice only found in the Bible, but only works if taken.  Maybe Norma Desmond was right, “I am big, it was the pictures that got small.”  But maybe Ronald Reagan said it best, when asked why he left the Democratic party, his answer “I didn’t leave the party, the party left me.”  If you know Jesus, you will know the difference.....
love with compassion,