Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Exercise Bike

It sits upstairs. In the room that we’ve nicknamed “the blue room” sits our newest addition to the Richard household. It is the exercise bike that my mother-in-law gave to us. It’s big and heavy, and it didn’t get upstairs to the blue storage room easily, but it got up there. It’s a nice bike. It has a nice digital display that estimates calories burnt and the speed one is riding. Plus I like the nice fan effect from the blades on it. It even has the cross-country ski style handles to work the upper body. Finally, I have just what I need to get back into the shape I should be in.

So, why don’t I get up on that thing and exercise like I should? There it sits in the blue room, but I don’t grace its comfortable seat for any workouts. If it weren’t for my wife, it would be a huge dust collector. I have been given the equipment needed to exercise, but I don’t seem to be motivated enough to do it.

We do the same thing spiritually. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us. We have the Bible sitting on our nightstands and bookshelves. We have access to the Father through Jesus Christ. We have our praise and worship CDs, prayer journals, devotional books, online sermons, not to mention our churches. Most of all, we have the freedom to use these, yet they sit as unused as my exercise bike upstairs. I think that there is a spiritual problem at work here. It’s called laziness, and my first finger point is at myself.

Did you know that the Bible tells us that we should exercise spiritually? Really, it does. We’re saved by grace through faith, but to grow in our faith, we have to intentionally work at it. Just listen to Paul:

“But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” 1 Tim. 4:7-8

To exercise means to exert yourself, to strive. It means to vigorously work yourself into shape. If you want to lose weight, you have to really exercise. Spiritually speaking, we exercise when we spend time with God in prayer. We exercise when we take the time to have meaningful worship. We exercise when we put into practice the word of God, doing what it says, not just hearing it. We exercise when we get together with other believers and encourage one another.

Another problem is that we are constantly looking for shortcuts and easy ways to get in shape. How many weekend and late-night infomercials have you seen that advertise “quick and easy” ways to shed off the pounds? Ab-rollers and Ab-sliders may have some benefit, but not without the additional discipline necessary. There are no shortcuts to physical fitness, and there are no shortcuts to spiritual fitness, either. If you want to be strong in Christ, you have to get busy and exercise. Look, God uses Joyce Meyer books and CDs, but if that is all you do to strengthen up, you’ll won’t get yourself into the shape you need to be in.

Of course, we have to eat right, too. That is why it is so important to fill ourselves with God’s word. There is so much junk out there that we seek to fill our spirits with. From the shows we watch, to the books we read, to the music we listen to, we fill our hearts with the spiritual equivalent of pork rinds. Remember, garbage in, garbage out. When we take the word of God into our hearts, we are giving our spirits the proper nourishment to strengthen up.

So, do you have an unused exercise bike in your life? Are you sitting on equipment that you can use to get yourself into better shape spiritually? Are you as stationary as that bike? Then it’s time to get on the bike and “lay aside the weight” as it says in Hebrews 12:2.

God bless

Monday, August 28, 2006

He Speaks Your Language

Have you ever been faced with having to explain something to a person in a way that they can easily understand? I have, and it isn’t always as easy as some may think. One instance that stands out in my mind was when I was trying to teach the concept of sanctification, or being set apart for God’s holy purposes, to a Junior High Sunday School class. Now, that can be a tricky subject for anyone, let alone an 11 or 12 year old, to grasp firmly. At that age, kids still think in a concrete way. They can’t easily grasp an abstract thought like that. I remember seeing the blank stares of the kids when I brought the subject up. I could tell that I was going to have to really break it down for them to get their brains around it. Then, an idea suddenly appeared in my mind from out of nowhere. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my keys. Grabbing my car key, I held the whole keychain by that one key.

“Does everyone see this key I am holding? Who knows what this key is for? This is the key to my car. It is specifically made to open and start up my car. Try as I might, I can’t shove it into my front door. I can’t use it to start up another car. It is completely set apart to start up my car.”

That did the trick. I realized that to effectively communicate the concept of these kids, I had to bring it down to a level that they could understand. I had to meet them where they were at.

God does the same thing with humankind, too. Throughout scripture, we can see where God used analogy and object lessons to make sure that we understood what it was he was trying to say. From Jeremiah’s lesson of the potter and the clay (Jer. 18) to the day of Pentecost, God has met us where we are at. I am reminded of the ministry of Jesus Christ. He would do this, too. One time, he had a huge crowd of people around him, and they were hungry. Using only the small sack lunch of a little boy, he miraculously multiplied the bread and fish, so that everyone, about 5,000 men, plus uncounted women and children had enough to eat. That was upwards of probably 15,000 folks! The next day, that same crowd came looking for him, and he used the miracle meal to preach the Gospel to them (see John 6).

The Lord did it again on the day of Pentecost. Now, as one who is a Pentecostal Christian, I look at that day 2,000 years ago and think of it as a heritage. I see that this is where we Pentecostals base a good portion of our teaching and beliefs. This is where the teaching of what is called the “initial evidence” comes from. That is, that whenever someone is baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is outwardly shown and heard in that the receiver will speak in a language unknown to them. Every time you read of the Holy Spirit baptism in the book of Acts, you read that they “spoke with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance”. On the day of the initial outpouring, there were folks from all over the surrounding region in Jerusalem, celebrating the feast of Pentecost. When the 120 disciples were filled with the Spirit, they went out into the streets of the city and they were speaking in the native languages of those in town for the feast. The Bible says that they heard them “declaring the wonderful works of God” in their own languages. They were flabbergasted! But God “met them where they were at”. He could have had the disciples run out of the room and speak Hebrew. But would that have caught the attention of the people that day? No, they would just have seen 120 crazy people running around and shouting. God used the languages they spoke at home so that they could know without a doubt that God was behind this.

God knows how to “speak our language”. He will get his message across in a way that we can grasp. To a thirsty Samaritan woman at a well, Jesus spoke about living water that quenches thirst forever. To a crowd that was full on miracle bread, Jesus spoke about the True Bread from heaven, that is, himself. And to a weary fisherman-turned Christ-follower, he used a miracle catch to tell him that one day he would catch men like he caught those fish. A promise, by the way, that was realized on that great day of Pentecost, when Peter, the once weary fisherman, preached the first sermon of the infant Church of Christ and saw 3,000 people repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. (Not bad for a rookie preacher!) Interesting to note that Jesus didn’t talk to Peter about living water, or the woman at the well about bread from heaven- he knew what these individuals needed to hear.

Okay, here is the big send-off. Follow the example set by God himself. He reached out to you one day in a way that you could grasp. Now, to borrow a Bible phrase, “go and do thou likewise”. Go meet someone where they are at and make the Gospel real to them. How you do that depends on who you talk with-each person understands differently and has a different view on things. But, you will be following a long line of ministers that reached out to those around them and managed to effectively win them for Christ, such as the Apostle Paul. In fact, I will leave you today with Paul’s inspired words from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

God bless!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Astronomical Love

I remember hearing the story on the radio when it happened. It was in 2004, while President Bush was on the campaign trail. A man from Ohio named Lynn Faulkner had been given an extra ticket to attend the president’s campaign rally by his neighbor. So, he asked his teenage daughter Ashley if she would like to attend with him. The young woman accepted the offer, and the three of them, Ashley, her dad and the neighbor, Linda Prince, made their way to event.

They arrived early, so they could get a good seat near the front. After the president gave his speech, he began to work the line, shaking hands and greeting supporters. Mr. Faulkner got an autograph from President Bush, and as he moved on to the next person, the neighbor, Ms. Prince, said something to the Mr. Bush that changed everything.

“This girl lost her mother on 9/11.”

They said that president’s entire expression changed. In a second, the most powerful man in the free world wasn’t President Bush, he was a loving father. He stopped what he was doing and walked back to young Ashley, and, forgetting everything else, he embraced her.

“I know it’s hard”, Bush said to the young woman. “I’m okay” was her response, as she simply was held by him.

This was no publicity stunt. It wasn’t another photo op. In fact, the only picture taken that moment was taken by the girl’s dad. The press corps had been sent back to the bus to await Bush’s next stop. Of all the concerns that this president had, the war in Iraq, concerns in Afghanistan, an election to win, what mattered at that moment to the most powerful man in America was Ashley Faulkner, a young girl who had lost her mom to sick terrorists on that unforgettable day in 2001.

What a story. The President with all that was on his plate was concerned for a one young girl who had been affected by those perpetrators on September 11. What a fitting analogy for us as Christians. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm147:3-4:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.”

Think about what these 2 verses are saying. God is the all-powerful creator of the universe. From every star to the minutest molecule on Earth, nothing exists without Him. Look at what the 4th verse again. “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.” Have you ever looked at the sky on a clear night? How about with no light pollution to hamper your view? They sky is absolutely full of them. Why, in just the Milky Way galaxy alone, there are literally billions of stars! That is billions with a “B”! Not only does God know exactly how many there are, this passage actually says that He has given names to each one! I have a hard enough time getting the names of those in my own home straight! “Machaela, brush your teeth!” “I’m not Machaela, I’m Gabbie!” It is absolutely mind-boggling to think about His greatness and His infinite wisdom and power!

Yet, in all His wonder, in all His power, that very same passage tells us that he cares for us. He cares about our hurts. He understands our pain. He can identify with our struggles. As I said in my last post, he is a faithful High Priest that can sympathize with our struggles. And He not only knows our pains, He said that He would heal them. He binds up our wounds.

Friend, God sees that pain that plagues your heart. From finances to family issues, divorce to death, He sees, He cares, He acts.

What is your struggle? What is your pain? Reader, you have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Sure, He is powerful enough to suspend stars in space, but close enough to wipe the tears running down your cheek right now.

Won’t you come to him today?

God bless!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It Behooved Him

As I was reading the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, in the Bible this morning, I came across the 17th and 18th verses that say:

"Wherefore, it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor (help) them that are tempted." Heb. 2:17,18

So, what does this all mean? The book of Hebrews was written to Christians that were facing very hard trials. They were considering a return to Judaism because of the pain that the name of Jesus was seemingly bring on them. This letter was written to encourage them to stay the course and keep on living for Jesus. The writer wanted them to know that Jesus understood what they were going through. This chapter tells us that Jesus took on a human body, and became a man. What it is saying was that not only did Jesus become a man to die for our sins on the cross, but that he felt compelled to do so. That old word, "behoove", carries the meaning of owing something. And why did Christ feel compelled, that as other translations say, he had to die for us? We are his creation. In fact, the Bible says that he was made like his brothers, referring to us as mankind.

Perhaps an analogy is appropriate here. I have an older brother. He is about 2 years older. Now, he did typical older brother things, like pick on me and stuff. He knew, like an older brother should, how to get under my skin. There were many times that we must have given our mom a migraine from our constant bickering. But, inspite of all that, there was a bond there that remains till this day, and will always be there. As much as he knew how to bug me, he was my biggest defender. I remember one time, when I was little, I threw a GI Joe into the street (don't ask me why!). One of the neighborhood kids saw it and declared the old "finders keepers, losers weepers" claim. My brother knew it was mine, and he promptly set out to get it back. He and the other kid duked it out in the street and he won back my beloved action figure.

Another time, when I was in middle school, he came to my aid again. There was a huge crowd of skateboarders walking and skating through the area around the house. We were playing some hockey with a couple friends out back, when someone in the crowd started messing with a friend. Well, they started to fight right in my yard! I stepped in to break it up, and one of the guys friends raised his skateboard at me as if he was going to hit me with it. My brother ran up behind him when he saw that, grabbed the skateboard out of his hand, throwing it into the street. He then grabbed the kid by the back of his shirt, swung him around and tossed him. The kid sheepishly retrieved his skateboard and rejoined the crowd.

Why did my brother come to my aid like that? Simply put, it behooved him to help his little brother. He felt a sense of responsibility to take up for me. We are family. That is what Hebrews is saying about the Lord Jesus. It behooved him to take up for us, and, as this chapter says, to "destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (vs. 14). You see, God loves us as his creation. Isn't that what John 3:16 says? "For God so loved the world...". Christ loved us too much to just let us go about in sin with no hope. He became a man and died in our place on that cross.

What's more, because he became a human being, he got to taste firsthand what we struggle with, what tempts us. The 18th verse says that he himself has been tempted, and he is able to help us who are tempted. Hebrews 4:15 says it like this:

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin." (NIV)

What this means is that Jesus knows our struggles and temptations. He knows what we go through, and it behooves him to take up for us. He will give us the grace we need to overcome that temptation that seeks to destroy us. That is why we are told to "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

So, whatever you are going through right now, rememeber that Jesus is your elder brother. He is able to take up for you, and more than that, he will. He did not bring you this far just to leave you. Won't you let him pour his grace into your life today?

God bless!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Well, today is August 22. That means that it is Pennesha's birthday. For those who don't know, Pennesha is the beautiful woman in the picture next me, at her graduation this past April. She is 31 today. Also, today marks 8 years of marriage for us, as well! Time goes by so fast. It seems like just last week when we stood in front of Pastor Stewart and recited our vows. That was back in 1998.

Hey, Pennesha, sweetie! Here's to many more years! I love you!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do I Look Like My Father?

I hear often from both my mom and my wife how much my oldest child, Machaela, looks like me. So, to demonstrate of likeness, I put some photos of us on today. The little guy holding the toy screwdriver is a very young me, circa 1978. I was about 3 years old. Machaela is in the other picture holding the newest addition to the Richard family, Jayden Michael. So, you be the judge. Does she look like her father?

I was reading last night in 2 Samuel 6, where David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, to set it up in the tabernacle where it belonged. The Ark had been away for years, at first taken by the Philistines, but after God had stricken them with tumors, which in Hebrew means hemorrhoids, they got rid of it. (Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?) Now, years later, King Saul dead, and David installed as the new king of Israel, he decided to bring the Ark back.

It was a festive event. There was rejoicing and praise to God. David began to dance and whirl around as he praised God. But, there always has to be a party-pooper, doesn't there? This was no exception. Her name was Michal, his wife and Saul's daughter. Well, Michal, in all her royal snootiness, took serious issue with the way that David had behaved himself. Here was David, coming home to bless his family, and he is met with a snarl that would make a rottweiler whimper. "How glorious the king of Israel looked today! He exposed himself to the servant girls like any indecent person might do!" (2 Sam. 6:20) What could explain Michal's horrible attitude in the face of such a joyful occasion? Simply put, she looked like her father.

Now, I don't mean a physical resemblance like my daughter to me. They shared the same heart. They suffered from the same attitude illness. And why not? This young lady had grown up on knee of one the worst kings in the nation's history.

So, do we look like our Father? As Christians, we have a Father in heaven. So, how do we know if we look like him? God is a Spirit, and we can't look on him. But Jesus could be looked upon. He could be touched, he could be known. One day, one of his disciples, Philip, asked Jesus to show them the heavenly Father. This was his answer:

"Jesus answered: Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" John 14:9

You see, Jesus looked like his Father. He put all the glorious attributes of a holy God into human skin so we could see just what the Father is like. And because Jesus shows us what the Father God is like, we can now, through the work of the Spirit of God in us, look like Him too!

So, do I look like my Father?

Am I merciful?

Am I loving?

Am I gracious?

Do I find joy in what God finds joy in?

Do the things that grieve God grieve me, too?

Does a sin-sick world compel me to lay aside my comfort so I can pull some out of sin's grip?

Do I look like my Father?

So, friends, look to Jesus, and let him make you like your Father! God bless!

Friday, August 11, 2006


Wow, today I turned 3000 hits on my blog. I am blessed to have so many people that come and read what I have to say. I have met some very good friends though this blog thing, and been able to be a blessing to you all through my little piece of the information superhighway.

So, thank you all for allowing me to minister to you. I truly love and appreciate you, and the friendships that I have made. So, nothing to deep this Friday, just a heartfelt gratitude to the Lord Jesus and to all who faithfully read the Soundingboard.

God bless!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ahhh, The Smell of Starbucks!

I am a lover of good coffee. I’ll drink almost any coffee, as long as it doesn’t come out of a vending machine. There is just something gross about getting my coffee out of the same spout that hot chocolate, mocha, cappuccino and tea come from. It can pollute the otherwise wonderful taste of a good cup of coffee.

Last month, I celebrated 31 years of life on this planet. My parents had us over to have a birthday dinner complete with a Dairy Queen ice cream cake (my favorite cake!), and some apple crisp, by special request of my daughter, Machaela (she just loves Grandma’s apple crisp). After the dessert, I got to open my presents. Oh, how I love my birthday! One of the gifts I got from mom and Don was a 40 ounce bag of Starbucks House Blend whole bean coffee, and a very nice coffee grinder. Knowing my love of coffee, they knew just what to get me. That evening, once we got back home, I immediately set up the grinder, and reached for the big bag of heaven we call Starbucks. I remember opening the bag up, and being greeted by a wonderful rush of aroma! There is just something about opening that bag up the first time that is great. All that vacuumed-sealed smell comes rushing out and the smell envelopes the whole kitchen.

You know, it’s kind of an analogy of the Christian life. As I sat here this morning drinking a coffee, I recalled that day, and the fresh aroma of those whole beans. It reminded me of a passage in the Bible, told actually in 3 of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and John. It was just days before Jesus would be whipped beyond recognition and nailed to a cross. While sitting in a house with his disciples, and his friend Lazarus, who he had just raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, something odd happened. Let’s read it:

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Mark 14:3 NIV

The Gospel of John tells us that it was Mary who brought this alabaster box and poured it on Jesus. I won’t get into all the discussion that goes on about this passage. I want to focus on one thing only-the box. You see, she had to break it to get the scent of the perfume out. I believe that God wants us to be like that box. He wants us to be broken, not in the sense that we must need to be fixed, but opened up for the aroma of his life in us to flow out to those around.

You see, life has a way of dishing out hard times and struggles. It can deal out painful blows like the loss of an innocent child, or cancer. Yet, the promise of God is that he will somehow work all things out for good to those who love him. You can come through your storm stronger than when you entered it. And when you come out stronger, with a stronger faith, it is like an aroma that others around you can smell. God has used the struggles of this life to “break” you, and his work in your heart is evident. Trials can either make you better or bitter. Let God use them, and you will be better!

You know, for those beans to be of use to us, they had to face the heat. They had to be roasted. So, friends, submit yourselves to the heat that you face, and let God break you. He will use that beautiful scent of Christ in your life to touch those around you. God bless!