Good Rain

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I remember snorkeling once as a teenager at a camp. It started out as a sunny day and then after an hour I looked at the sky and saw the storm was on me. I swam back to shore as quickly as I could before the rain got worse. I don’t know why I felt the urgency to rush back; I was already wet. I stood there on the shore and had one of those moments that spoke to me, saying, you’re soaked, why do you care if it’s raining? Laughing at it now, I also see that many times, as we go through life it starts out sunny and things change over time, and we wonder, wonder why it has gone dark and started to rain. Then when we realize that we need to adapt and respond to the changes of our surroundings. So, you’ve been working away for years; working away living life to wake up and see the changes that make you feel like you’ve been left behind. Just like me seeing the rain come, you may feel this false sense of urgency that may result in a quick solution to get back what you feel is right. The truth is you’re already wet.

When Abram was called by God to leave Ur, he was in a large city with occult practices and corruption. He was wet; his choice was to get out of the body of water and stand in the rain.

Genesis 12

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

The promised reward for standing in the rain are verses 2 – 4. At 75, Abram risked it all for a promise he would not realize, and yet it was worth it because in Ur, he was wet as well; might as well enjoy the rain.

Just a mile, mile and a half…

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Just a mile, mile and a half…

Anyone that hikes knows this canned response like a parent on a road trip. “How long till we get there?” and a parent answers, “a little longer.” A hiker asks how much further, a mile, mile and a half. Sometimes it’s fatigue that makes you want to be done, other times it’s anticipation, yet we always want to shorten the mundane or the struggle to get the reward. It is rewarding, though, to go where few go. When a faint trail crests that final hill, you look down on a beautiful valley suspending a high mountain lake, and the sun glistens off the water inviting you in. There is a similar depth to the depth we find in the simple disciplines of our faith that over time lead us to places few have been: places of depth, love, and trust.

 

Romans 11:33

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

 

One of the observations is the use of wisdom & knowledge- what you experienced and what you learned. Learning and seeking, silence and waiting, are at the heart of getting closer to God, and practicing over time leads to the day when you see something new and inspiring, a new revelation that brings life.

Grinding Gears

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Remember what it was like to drive a manual (stick shift) transmission for the first time? I was like many others; the car jerked and stalled, then I overcompensated and revved the engine too high. Finally, after a while, I got started, then into second gear. Finding the gear, I lost all momentum, and then dropped back down to first as the car lurched because I didn’t match the speed to the gear. Then starting over, getting through first into second, hitting third, now driving seemed normal and I was off – so it seemed, until I discovered that starting on a hill added a new level of challenge: the car rolled backward and I had to find the sticking point of the clutch to get the car started while not stalling it! After years now, the manual transmission is second nature really; I only notice when I’m in traffic. I even find myself bored and reaching for levers when I drive an automatic, and the ever-popular mistaking the brake for a clutch.

In life we see as we get older the challenges at first are quite big. The pressure of getting the stick shift mastered, while not breaking any speed laws or making mistakes, was quite the challenge. Then, you got comfortable and drove a stick while drinking coffee, listening to the radio, talking on the cell phone… the challenge became your new normal and you adapted. We see the same pattern develop in our walk with God. We respond out of love to some of the biggest challenges and think they are too much, then with time, they become the new normal and we realize we’ve grown. Growth is the one aspect of the human experience that people can control that people struggle with the most, due to its nature. Growing is change; to change we leave the familiar, and to leave the familiar hurts. Yet in time, the change is the new normal.

Lamentations 3:16He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. 29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope.

30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. 31 For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. 32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. 33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

The new level of growth is birthed through the day-to-day struggles that bring life, hope and depth to you. We learned to drive a stick for the freedom of driving. Today being able to drive a stick is kind of like a badge of honor. A lost art that says, “I’ve taken the time and struggle to learn.” To many, it’s not worth the struggle; just buy an automatic. The truth is you can drive an automatic if you know how to drive a stick, you can’t drive a stick if you know how to drive an automatic. The struggles we face as we go through them give us the tools, grace, knowledge and patience to deal with the next one to come. The automatic transmission of our faith is simple complacency. It lulls us into a sense of “I’ve done enough, been through enough, and seen enough”- perhaps you have. The goal as it says in this passage: it is not what you have been through; it is what is at the end. It’s hope and God’s presence- that, my friend, is worth it.

Heart again...

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We are faced with another heart-wrenching event: the tragic loss of life in Florida. The hardest thing is that all the usual suspects are weighing in- less guns/more guns! How about psychotropic drugs? How about the societal issues of bullying, broken families & lack of discipline or love? They are the usual suspects, aren’t they? I just have one question: what about us? When can we own up to the idea that genuinely loving the marginalized and broken is the only true counter measure? Reaching into the lives of broken people with healing and grace, we would be ministering before the tragedy. We often see the signs- bad behavior, fits of anger, violence, mind-altering medications, and rage over mistreatment- it is almost on the scope of a Quinten Terantino movie. One attribute stands above them all: soul-crushing loneliness is the greatest common denominator to all the shooters.

We read the Psalms and see the heart of a man trying to reconcile the broken world and the response of God to His people.

Psalm 68 encourages us:

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

6 God sets the lonely in families,

he leads out the prisoners with singing;

but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

7 When you, God, went out before your people,

when you marched through the wilderness,

8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,

before God, the One of Sinai,

before God, the God of Israel.

9 You gave abundant showers, O God;

you refreshed your weary inheritance.

10 Your people settled in it,

and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.

We are the distributors and ambassadors of this love and grace. We are the arms and feet to these verses. We are starting a series on Sundays called ChurchworX – it’s about how the church works. We work in community and extend the presence of God through our immediate circles of relationship. If ever our society has needed a touch of grace- it’s now.

Thoughts on Lent

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Lent is here…

I grew up Roman Catholic, and there was nothing quite like Lent. At first, I did what every self-respecting Catholic does: I tried to do enough to seem spiritual without really sacrificing a lot. How did it work for me? Not so well- it was about the appearance, not the content of my soul. Then I became a Protestant, and in that freedom, many have heard me say, “I gave up Lent for Lent.” I was so spiritual in my freedom. Yet, in my youthful guise of freedom that let me take my appearance of being spiritual to a whole new level, I drifted further and further from the meaning of Lent: the beautiful, deeply telling meaning of a practice celebrated by generations of Christians over centuries. Those that celebrate Lent, (and yes, I am choosing to say celebrate!) know that for forty days we sacrifice something of significance to physically express the significance of God in our lives. Lent parallels the fast of Jesus in preparation as we too prepare for Easter- remembering to celebrate the conquest over sin and death. Lent has more than just the end though; it is the very journey to get there that brings value and depth.

1 Peter 4:13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.

The journey of self-denial is the beauty of Lent. In this sacrifice, we partner with Jesus, as in the trials, to understand the depth of heartache and emotion to rejoice to see the glory of God revealed. Lent, my friends, is a celebration- it is the coming out party of God’s glory. Till next week!

Shalom

I am poor...

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Leading in to this week's message on The Least of These, I was struck by really thinking through what it means to be poor, To keep it short I've been forced to look inward, because, I too am "poor in spirit". In reading lately I’ve been struck by Henri Nouwen’s observation:
"...the Christian … is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

Being called to irrelevance is to set aside our identity and everything we measure success by- nothing to notice, nothing to grab your attention. It is uncomfortable to do, emptying ourselves of the thinking we’ve long used to define our self worth. We’re fearful of feeling ‘poor in spirit’ and of being vulnerable, yet we all are and it's the place of soul that God values; our most pliable selves. Facing our own poverty though, does not mean we’re valueless. On the contrary, theologian Johannes Baptist Metz asserts, “the unending nature of our poverty…is our only innate treasure.” This treasure, is the humble heart that accepting our spiritual poverty, physical limitations, or emotional end of the rope, connects us to the larger community of the poor, the needy, the heartbroken, and the people that lives outside the margins of our relationships.

I always was...

Now and not yet

It's interesting to find the very core of what I have believed and practiced for years on a headline of an article. The article featured titled The Rise of Reformed Charismatics instantly caught my eye,  (link) and as I read I was honestly a little irritated. Why you ask??? Why shouldn't I be excited to be justified in my theology? Well not really, in many ways it's like getting excited about the discovery of breakfast or you have the super power of brushing your teeth. Cynical as it sounds my first impression was- "well duh, it's what the bible has said all along".

I am a Vineyard pastor because of the unavoidable biblical truth that God is a supernatural being, and in His very existence, the super natural is expressed. I am also a Vineyard pastor because the emotion and drama of the super natural is shepherded, and flesh is disciplined to bring the purity of God and His work alone - no hype, no drama, and yet no timid shying away made true by biblical constructs. We call that the radical middle, where word and spirit come together in an place of discipline and passion to express and experience love.

So upon the discovery of this article, and yes, it affirmed so much of what I know is true, I was in all truth relieved. Glad in so many ways that the battle lines are coming down and a radical middle of all that the Word has to offer and all that the Spirit has to offer can dwell in the hearts and minds of people; hopefully to lead us to place of power and purpose. Stay tuned and listen to next weeks message for more on this. If you can't make it on Sunday then listen to it on this site.

Set the Course

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How do we begin? We know what we want but how do we get there? What's the first step?

We all know what this internal conversation is like- we have it all the time. Yet the truth of the inner monologue if you really listen to what you're saying to yourself is I'm afraid. Afraid of the unfamiliar and uncontrolled. We know the goal with it's benefits and rewards. We can understand the risk, and the loos but we have to answer the question is the benefit worth the risk?

In many ways the answer depends on what you want to gain from it. Do you simply desire material gain? Then you run the numbers and ask what you're willing to lose. If you looking to deepen your soul then the struggle and the ability to grow by overcoming are now a value that is put in the benefit column to weigh the decision and make the risk more worth while.

Hebrews 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In this passage the author set's the course for our lives. First we see that others have risked and are looking to us to carry on the adventure. Second, throw your heart into it by throwing away all that doesn't matter. You can tell when someone gets a new passion in their lives; the old things fade away. Third, run the marathon! Get ready for the long game, long consistent obedience in the same direction. Fourth - fix your eyes, like a laser in focus on Jesus, the everything of our faith, and consider how he endured all for love's sake.

When we see the goal personal transformation (yes- change) isn't about what we get but what we become the whole equation changes - yes it's higher risk, and harder work, with bigger eternal payouts.

So Risk! Throw your heart in it! Run and focus, the grace for the day will come!

Shalom,

The Year that was...

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The Year that was...

We get sentimental this time of year don't we. Looking back through the year and thinking about what did or didn't happen. Sometimes that is a sad thing when we think of the loss or struggle we went though, life has it's sting - doesn't it. Yet during this reflection, it is a time to really take stock in all the good that came, and "firsts" that this year brought. My kids playing sports, the Dodgers in the World Series, I'll never celebrate my child's 9th birthday again - they're all in double digits. The point is the joy is there with whatever struggle may accompany it, They come hand in hand till our days are done. To me the best reminder is to think of firsts, the good, the joy that life has. So I choose to not lose hope, and not let the struggle overwhelm me - so is the encouragement of Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations below:

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Lamentations 3:19 Says...

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

Matter of Heart

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Not a month has passed and another tragedy has occurred. I am overwhelmed by the noise of the world’s solutions. It’s such a loud noise; based around all the wrong things. Never the heart of the matter, just issues and agendas. You see Sutherland Springs is why Jesus came, why he understands, and why we need him more today.

He came to bring comfort to those who mourn and remind us that this world is not our home but a way station where we work out our salvation with fear and trembling and move in to a place of grace, and peace. We want understanding of the evil, but that only God knows, and is broken with the heartache of those who weep. He came to give us a promise and a hope for a future free from this present evil, and a promise and hope to overcome the world.

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He understands and knows that though the evil is dark, that he is enough for now, and the light does triumph over darkness. No one knows more the pain of suffering and loss through an act of injustice than He does. If fact, his suffering, was not for the sake of understanding, it was for our sake, the salvation of all mankind.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize . . . but one who in every respect has been tested as we are. (Hebrews 4:15)

We need him more today. The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. This may be the point of understanding we need… Would any of these tragedies, the multiple church shootings, the terror attack on New York bike lane, 9/11, Oklahoma City, Cain’s murder, have a different outcome if an encounter with Jesus is in the life of these individuals? You may stop someone from buying a gun, but a foul heart will use a knife, a car, a rock. How do we change hearts? Only God can heal hatred and rage. Jesus more than ever is the solution.

I’d like to close with this thought from John Piper. “The God who draws near to Sutherland Springs is the suffering, sympathetic God-man, Jesus Christ. No one else can feel what he has felt. No one else can love like he can love. No one else can heal like he can heal. No one else can save like he can save”

Peace be near you,

Rick

Freedom

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While we were getting ready to go trick or treating there is an amazing event that happened. Five hundred years ago on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the doors of Wittenberg University. Cited as The Ninety-Five Theses or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences are a list of propositions for an academic disputation written in 1517 by Martin Luther, professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, that started the Reformation, a schism in the Catholic Church which profoundly changed Europe. The intended debate among scholars never happened; instead, it was the beginning pf the Protestant Reformation. The issue revolved around the idea of indulgences, the practice of purchasing "passes" to get to heaven or reducing your time in purgatory. The principles of grace were at the core of this debate, and Luther, rested on the texts in Romans to defend these five ideas known as the five Solas.

 

Solo Fide - to be made right with God by Faith alone.

 

Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone is God's authoritative word.

 

Sola Gratia - By Grace alone can mankind be saved.

 

Solas Christus - Salvation can come through Christ alone.

 

Soli Deo Gloria - We give glory to God alone.

 

Imagine the bravery it took to post these ideas for all to see knowing you were going against a worldwide system that not only your lively hood depended on but your life as well. One frumpy monk stood against the system to bring freedom to the commoners of the day. He changed the face of Christianity by simply following the convictions he found in scripture. He's a hero to me! I think of the courage it took to live against the current of his day and model the life of Jesus. The conviction to face death threats, intellectual opposition, mocking, and be stripped of credentials and continue to write teach and love people. Hopefully this little reminder will inspire you too we have a lot to live for.

This present Evil

 People carrying an injured concert goer to safety.

People carrying an injured concert goer to safety.

When these tragedies strike the question, we ask always is why. We delve into the life of the murderer and try to figure out for our own sake why this happened. Why do people ever commit such acts of darkness? How can we avoid such acts that miss the mark and intent of God's design? At that point of God’s intervention, we lose our ability to choose and follow God as a human and become puppets. The better question to ask is what? What is God doing in the responses to this? Mercy, grace, and compassion, and so we respond, in kind.

Further the next question is how to prevent it... shootings require a shooter, and the origins start in there. That person's soul, it's soul wounds, and it's delusions that are a product of the lack of God's presence, love, mercy, and grace. People don't get to those places of evil in a void, they are deeply broken. Never will this be an excuse or justification for this horrible act; but perhaps it may serve as an explanation to the depth of need people have for a savior.

The best we can do now is stand against divisiveness and bring unity, to our immediate circle of friends and pray for all involved that night. We cry Mercy for all.

Seasoned Words

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If you ever wonder what's going on in the heart of a person... listen. Listen to their words and the way the words are said and in a little while you'll learn.

Luke 6:45

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Good people do good things, they say good things, and they think good thoughts because they focus on the good. Their hearts are abundantly good and that flows out to others.

What's in our hearts is always talking. Do you ever listen to your own heart? Do you speak words of anger, depression, hate, discouragement or despair? You’re only leaking! Yes- indeed, what's in your heart is leaking out. Listen & look to your words to see what is in you then change it. Yes, you can change it by looking to God to fill your heart.

 

Change of seasons

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Most of my adult life I have lived in a place of seasons. What I mean by that is winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and back to winter. I like the change and the opportunity change brings. Though seasonal change has it's bumps, like changing the windshield wipers, cleaning gutters, weed pulling, and raking leaves, the good far outweighs the bad. We are going through one of those seasons now too. A season where we are looking to follow our Lord into a cycle, a time to plant and sow into the souls of people and a time of harvest and growth.

Ecc. 3:1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

We all agree with that it's the awkwardness of changing into a new cycle that again will change into a another. See there is nothing static in growth. When you say you want to grow... well, you just said yes to change. That my friend is good. As we walk in to the next chapter of our adventure at the Vineyard I am inviting you to take stock of the wonders that God has done in our past and ask this; more Lord. We want to see lives changed, the sick healed, and the lost found. All to the glory of our loving Savior. Take a minute and meditate on this.

Isaia 49:19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

In Christ's Adventure,

Rick

Feeling tired...

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Galatians 6:9

9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

This is the season that seems to bring more to do, and less time to do it in. It's like we pay the price for the fun of summer! The weeks before fall starts, the work around the house has a sense of urgency because winter is around the corner. So it seems our souls get weary too with the urgency of school settling in, upcoming holidays, and the busyness of that season creates an urgency and we just get tired, thinking about how tired we get. The key here in the Apostle Paul's writing it to stop the cycle that makes you weary. You do that by practicing a cycle of rest. Asking yourself,,, how's you soul? Recharging with prayer is a good place to start, in fact try this - pray without asking for anything, just talk about how good God is to you and what he has done. I'll bet your heart will feel different after that.

Back to the Future...

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It's been four years... Since I served a church day in and day out capacity. After 9 years in the fly fishing industry, and 24 in ministry, I have learned there are some startling similarities. Fish & people are incredible and unpredictable. These last few months have been an incredible adventure, highs and lows, and the one thing that shines through is the idea that this is right, and is what God wants. As we look to this church, its new chapter, there are things here that will never be different; the family of love and support, its heart for the presence of God, and yet there is a new chapter before us. Since God is in it, well it is somewhat unpredictable, best described as - uncontrollable.

In this blog you will read and hear sermons, articles and thoughts that are at the core of our church. Please enjoy the journey!

In Christ's Adventure,

Rick