Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Handouts

Well, today marked a new chapter in America's history with the inauguration of Barack Obama as President. While I am no fan of President Obama, I will pray for him, as the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders. That said, I can't support the man's policies. I am a conservative, both socially and fiscally, and I find the new president is simply too far left.

But, it is interesting to note that Starbucks today was giving out a free tall coffee (that's a small one in english), to celebrate the obviously historical event, since President Obama is now the first African-American to hold the office. So, in the spirit of liberal handouts, I ventured out to Starbucks and got a free Inauguration Day coffee.

Hey, I may not agree with his policies, but who am I to turn down free coffee?

God bless!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Ask anyone I know to describe who I am to you, and you'd get a smorgas-borg of attributes that make me me. One thing most would say is that I am an avid lover of fine coffee. Any of you out in cyberland that have been regular readers of mine know it to be true. I hardly ever will turn down a fresh, hot cup of coffee. Mind you, I'm not talking about Folgers or Maxwell House here. I need a good cup of joe, like Starbucks, Panera, or the pure Kona from the little Hawaiian coffee joint across the street from the church. There is something about the robust flavor of hot, black coffee I can't get past. It isn't the caffeine. There is just something about the taste of coffee.

It's made me think deeper into my coffee desires. One day, as I was looking into the cost of Kona beans from online distributors, I stumbled onto something I never really thought about. People out there actually order unroasted, or "green" beans. They actually take the time to roast their own coffee! Wow, that there is a real fan of coffee. I've had fresh java before, but not that fresh. The last time I ordered coffee online was from a place called Munn's World Coffee. You order online, and the good folks there at Munn's roast the beans you selected and UPS them to you in a couple days time. That's much fresher than even Starbucks. I found, though, that people actually use hot air popcorn poppers to roast green beans.

That wonderful cup of coffee you enjoy each morning had to go through a process to get poured into a cup. The beans were selected, the cherry had to be removed. There was a washing and a drying process. Then the beans had to face the heat. Some had to face longer, hotter periods of time, depending on the roast level.

I see real similarities with us Christ-followers. We too have to endure a life of process. Today, in the final segment of the Purpose '09 Pastor's Conference, my pastor's son, Tony Stewart, pastor of University Church of God in Tampa, preached about the processes God takes us through as He prepares us for new seasons in life. At the altar, as I played the guitar, and as we worshiped, I suddenly felt emotion welling up. I couldn't help but reflect on my own process I've endured for a while now. I'm not new to trials. Not by a long shot. But usually my trials consisted of financial things. I struggled to pay bills, I struggled to buy groceries. We are still having some trouble, but compared to where we've been, we are doing good in that arena. Our struggles lately have revolved around a place to call our own.

When we were living some 20 miles away, with nowhere to go, we found an eviction notice on the front door, giving us 24 hours to be out. Turns out the owner we rented from didn't pay his mortgage. God made a way, and we got a month extra. Then we dealt with the hard reality of finding a place to move to. Once we found it, we signed the lease, moved in, and found out 2 days later that the house was foreclosed on. The landlord forgot to mention that little tidbit of information. So, then began our saga again. Just when we thought we could settle down for a year at least, we are finding ourselves having to rent the U-Haul again and move. Today, what hit me was that I was indeed going through the process. Like the coffee beans, I felt the heat. But, I am certain that when all is said and done, I'll look back and see that God had His hand on me, and was making me into the man He needs me to be. I won't lie, friends. I am hurting. It never feels good to endure the flames. But I trust that when God is done, I'll come out better than ever.

I put the guitar down in that moment, and walked to the side of the platform toward the stairs to pray at the altar. That's when my pastor and his son yelled "Jeff!" I walked over, and they began to surround me and pray. They were pouring strength and encouragement into me. I needed that. I was in the process, and was feeling quite empty.

Our walk with God is progressive friends. He doesn't just push some button in heaven, and instantly change us. Listen to what the Bible tells us:

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom. 5:3-4

That, friends, is describing the process. It hurts. We would love for it to stop. But it's a necessary part of growing in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, as you endure your process today, take comfort in knowing that God's hand is on you, and He is shaping you in the person He has called you to be.

God bless!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dream Job

This morning, as I opened up my Firefox browser when I got to work, I saw a very interesting tidbit of info that popped up on the Yahoo newswire. How'd you like to earn six figures for lounging around a tropical Australian paradise for six months?

This is a real job being offered to the right applicant. If chosen, you get to spend six months, starting July 1st, beach bumming, snorkeling the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, among a few "mionor tasks" on Hamilton Island, in the south Pacific. The person is expected to blog about the experience on the island, keep photo diaries, and post video updates. They put you (and family, if applicable) up in a three bedroom beach home, complete with a pool and a golf cart. And that six-figure income? $150,000 Australian, about $105,000 in US cash!

What would make the state of Queensland go to this extreme to promote tourism? They say that in these rough economic times, traditional tourism advertising doesn't always cut it. They are "thinking outside the box" by going this route.

I gotta say, I like what they are doing. (What's that? Is that the call of God to go to Hamilton and spend six months doing missionary work?) The reason I like it isn't because I want to go, but I see merit in the "outside the box" approach the Queensland govenment is taking. They recognize that the way it has always been done simply isn't cutting it anymore. They see the need to try something different, something imaginative. It actually reminds of what I believe is the Biblical ministry model.

When Jesus came, He did't come in the robed, pious and pompous fashion of the religious leaders of that day. They were masters of the status quo. Jesus was the Master Innovator. The Pharisees and other leaders of Judaism did ministry and religious activity from memory. Jesus did ministry from innovation. The Pharisees looked behind them to what once happened. Jesus looked ahead to what lied down the road. The Jews of the day would meet weekly in a synagoge, and listen to what God did in the past. And, think it's good and right to praise God for His blessings and for what He's done. But if all we do is talk about what He's done, and fail to see thta there are things that He wants to do now, we are missing something vital. Jesus, in contrast, surrounded Himself with disciples that didn't just listen to a sermon and go home. They listened, and then He sent them out do His work. He had a plan for things yet to come.

I am reminded about what I read from the pen (keyboard, more accurately!) of a young church planter in Detroit. On his blog, he wrote of the need to do ministry from imagination, not from memory. Times have changed, and while the message is timeless, methods aren't. In these times, we need to think outside the box. Economic times are tough. Worldviews are changing. Technologies are evolving. We need to recognize the change and capitalize on it.

I don't know just how. I'm not sure how it will look. But when I see young men and women out there in the world breaking boxes of perception, and yes, even tradition, I'm inspired.

God bless!

Friday, January 02, 2009

It's a New Year

Well, it's here. We've just watched the ball drop in Times Square, and welcomed in 2009. We had a fun time in the Richard home, watching TV, eating popcorn, and playing Uno (Hannah Montana version-yay.) As we sat there passing the evening, 2 of our 4 kids fell asleep. Our 5-year old son Timmy went out like a light, and at 2 minutes to midnight, Machaela (our 9-year old) couldn't wake him, even rolling him across the floor! Gabbie, our almost 7-year old, also crashed, but we woke her in time for our New Year's tradition of a Welch's Sparkling Juice toast. She got one sip, said in a grouchy tone, "Happy New Year", and fell asleep.

This is also the starting block for resolutions. Millions of people the world over today are setting goals for everything from weight loss and eating better, to better money management. These are noble goals, too. The thing is, all to often, our resolutions end up in the dust bin of another year, a tribute to the things we set out to do, but let go by the wayside. Heck, I'm sure that many have forgotten their resolutions before the Times Square cleaning crews have even swept up the confetti!

I have to admit, I've never been one to come up with a list of resolutions. It's not that I don't have anything to change, I just attempt my changes midyear. But the whole "New Year's Resolution" thing speaks to me. For some reason, the whole idea of making a change in one's life reminds me of the Lord Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. Before that fateful day, the Lord was simply making his living as a carpenter. Maybe He built tables and houses. But that was his occupation. Till He knew it was time, that is. That is when he went down to the river where John the Baptist was baptizing people. They were doing it because they were being called to repentance. Yet, Jesus had no sins to repent of. Still, he came to the river and was baptized. Why, one would ask.

Baptism wasn't unheard of then. In fact, if a non-Jewish person wished to convert, it was required that they be baptized. History says that 7 days after a Gentile's circumcision, and a series of interrogations, the new convert was baptized in a pool of flowing water. Symbolically, it showed that the person laid aside their pagan roots and was a son of Israel. Really, it marked a new beginning for that person.

I think that is one reason the the Lord took the plunge. It was the start of a new chapter in the Messiah's life. He wasn't a carpenter any longer. Now He was launching out in His divine role as the Christ, as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. The old carpenter had passed away, and the new Savior had a task to do.

The Jordan seems to be a place of new beginnings. Some centuries before, when the Israelites were about to leave the wildness wandering, they were stopped by the Jordan River. Normally a small river, at this time it overflowed its banks. It was wide, close to a mile. God told Joshua to have the priests, who were carrying the Ark, to dip their feet in river. When they did, God miraculously parted the waters! The priests walked out halfway, and Israel crossed over on a dried up riverbed. Joshua did something interesting. He took 12 stones, and he set them up in the dry riverbed as a memorial. I have to ask why. Once the river began its flow, the memorial would be unseen. The Bible doesn't go into detail, but I think Joshua had in mind a new beginning. The old complaining spirit was gone, and the new spirit of conquest had come. They were no longer bitter people ranting about the desert, but faith-filled people confident in their God. The Jordan marked their new beginning.

We have various Jordan times in our lives. I think we can view January 1st as one of them. It's a time to start fresh and embark on a life that blesses God. Not that I want to pull out old fads and ideas, but I think it's a time for us to get more "Jabezed" with our lives-praying and desiring and reaching for more for the glory of God!

God bless!