Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Fountain

                                                        The Fountain

I've been going there for over thirty-five years, off and on, two or three times a year. I took my boys there when they were little. There were lots of parents doing the same thing Sunday afternoon. It is a bit of an oasis for me in a place I'd normally hate to be, but it provides a nice place to sit and observe. The large fountain at North Park Mall in Dallas is a great place to watch people and it draws kids like a magnet. I learned a lot Sunday.

More kids seem to walk around the circular wall of the fountain than when I took my little boys there. Maybe parents today don't worry about their kids falling in like I did. Maybe the kids today have better balance. Maybe parents don't stop their kids as much. Maybe all of that, maybe none of that is true but a lot of kids walked on top of the wall the fifty feet around the fountain. More kids lay on on their bellies on top of the wall and stick their hands in the water and splash now than back then. I didn't think that was allowed thirty plus years ago, I guess I was wrong. I've been going there all this time and didn't know the nozzles around the circumference of the fountain were adjustable and flexible. Sunday's kids were twisting and turning and having a ball. I let my kids sit and throw pennies in the fountain. Not many kids threw money in Sunday and none of them fell in walking around or leaning over and splashing in the fountain either.

The fountain is a great place just to people watch. You see more tats than thirty plus years ago. I wonder if you can get a tattoo at North Park now? You see more platform shoes, too. Women look so uncomfortable in those things and terribly off-balanced. I should have been worrying about the ladies in platform shoes tilting forward, losing balance and falling into the fountain instead of the kids. I observed one lady about 45 years of age trying to look 25. She was on her eight inch platforms, wearing designer jeans that were torn all over, a wrap-around puffy top with three or four large necklaces that clanked when she walked. I'd bet she had on over a thousand dollars with of clothes. It takes a lot of money to look that tacky. Lady Goo-Ga would be proud.

What really caught my eye was the ethnic diversity and the young parents and their children at the fountain. There were several languages I overheard Sunday. Kids were being told in Spainish, English, I think Ukrainian, Korean, and Texan what to do or not to do. There was a family from Guatemala there. I could tell by the accent that it was Guatemalian Spainish, that, and the tee shirts that said "Guatemala." Those kids had a great time splashing and twisting the nozzles. An Asian-American couple had two little girls walking the fountain wall. The first time around I feared they would fall in, the second time I just marveled at their balance-nary a bobble nor a slip. These kids were good and giggled a lot, their parents in typical Asian  fashion were a bit more reserved in their expressiveness, but you could tell they loved their girls. A Muslim couple, obvisously, a more moderate sect was at the fountain. She wore nice jeans, slight heels, and the traditional headdress. He was in jeans and an untucked dress shirt and a nice watch. Their little girl was about seven had the curliest, frizziest hair and loved splashing in the water. They spoke English with an accent and were playful and in a modest way affectionate. They touched arms, held hands a moment, leaned into each other. This threesome loved each other and the day. It was neat to watch them. A thoroughly modern couple brought their two little kids to the fountain. The mom's largess was obvious, she needed a bigger tank-top. Dad was in a sleeveless shirt and had tats from wrist to neck on one side. He had a head condition of some sorts I guess. Anyway, his cap wouldn't sit on his straight and angled off to the side. His three year old boy had lots of long hair and the most absolutley, wickedly cute smile I've ever seen. When he smiled his whole face and body laughed. He was all boy--splashing, jumping, running and looking to dad for approval or direction. This family was having a good day.

I really wanted to talk with these families. They dress differently than I. They let their kids do things I wouldn't let mine do (I was probably wrong). What were their hopes and dreams for these beautiful kids? What are the values they want them to possess? Are there any old, white guys they talk to in their life? There aren't any folks in my life like you but I wish there were. I want to know what you know about Jesus and I want you to know what He thinks about you. What could an old, white guy from another time and another world from theirs tell them? What do you say to tattooed people, platformed people, crooked-hat people, torn jeans people, Latin people, Asian people, Muslim people, young people and people trying to look young? I'd tell them maybe we aren't so different. We want to love and be loved. We want our kids happy and healthy and safe. We want them to do well and know how to make it this life. If we are brave or honest enough we want to know what is beyond this life.

What would I tell them about God? I'd tell them what I know about Him through Jesus--that they are loved; they are forgiven; they are accepted. These truths we all have in common and that makes us closer than the differences divide us. I'd tell them how I know these things--through the cross of Christ. And if we kept talking to and learning from and trusting each other, I'd one day tell them the words to a song, in a way recalling the fountain at which we met. The words tell of a different fountain that draws all men from all ages and all backgrounds because of our common need (forgiveness of sin) and God's uncommon love. I guess fountains do that.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains....

It's good to fall in this fountain,
Zech 13:1

Thursday, March 22, 2012


What's 48' long, weighs 2500 lbs, is 4 feet tall and eats large crocodiles whole? It's the Titanoboa from a New York City subway station. Well, the full size replica is in a New York commuter hub anyway. Scientists from University of Florida, Nebraska, and Colombia discovered the constrictor while excavating an abandoned coal mine in Colombia. (Gee, I wonder why the mine was abandoned?) Actually, they discovered the bones of the reptiles and didn't realize what they had until they got the bones back to the labs. One of the researchers said it was sort of like seeing a mouse skull the size of a rhino. Turns out the Titanoboa, as it has been named, lived in the Paleocene era about 65 million years ago. The Smithsonian will have the full size replica on display to promote its television show in April. Had I been living 65 million years ago in Colombia, I would be very old now, and I guarantee you that I would never have been eaten alive by one of these things had I stumbled across one looking for my pre-Colombian golf ball in the jungle. I would not have been eaten alive because the sight of it would have caused me to die on the spot.

I'm kinda glad we don't have snakes the size of school buses anymore, although I'm sure they could keep the rat and crocodile population down around here. We face huge predators of our own making these days. Questions, doubts, addictions, fears, greed, narcissism, arrogance, materialism and a host of other sin-predators are eating us alive today. Why? Probably lots of reasons but one fundamental reason has to be that our faith has remained in the Paleocene era. We've got these present day sin-predators but our God is too small to deal with them, or so we think, or in many cases, don't think.

Rather than turning in large masses to faith in Christ and submitting to His Lordship, our society has in stead questioned God and His very existence. We question God about His nature: Is He distant or close? Is God vindictive or merciful? Does He care? Does He know my name?  Why doesn't He say something if He's there?
We question God about His motivation: Why doesn't He act? Does He want to help? Does He live to judge us or love us? What's in it for God and for me?
We question God about His timing: why did He let the light change at that moment? Why did the train come when my dad's car stalled on the track? Why did my folks find jobs after the foreclosure? Why did Alzheimer strike so soon after Mom retired? Why is He taking so long?
We question God about His methods: Why did He leave him there of all places? Why doesn't He just provide them with some money? Why do they have to go through so much pain?  Well, if God won't take care of it then I will!

The snakes feed on our fears, pride, and doubts then grow while our faith is squeezed. So what do we do?
Keep asking the questions, God can handle them. Keep traveling with God in faith remembering that travels sometimes have valleys, even valleys of doubt. Keep looking to Jesus for the very best,  most complete understanding of what God is like (nature), what inspires Him (motivation), how and when He acts (timing), and the way He works all things together for good for those who love Him (methods).

Our nation, our churches and we ourselves are in need of spiritual renewal. An awakening from God's Spirit alone can  do the things we need done in our hearts, our homes,  and our nation. People are looking to politics, Hollywood, Vegas, sports, food, booze and drugs. And that just feeds the snake.
Remember Jesus' words from Matthew 7, ''Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "

What happened to the Titanoboa 65 million years ago? One guess among many is that their food supply dried up. Sin-predators will starve when fed on a diet of God's promises. By the way, God always knocks (Rev. 3:20), He doesn't sliver.

What are you  feeding your fears and doubts today?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

High-Low View

It is somewhat frustrating, especially after thirty plus years of preaching, that many folks still have questions, doubts, disillusions, inadequate, and uninformed views of God. It is even more disheartening that after being a Christian for over forty years, studying for and in the ministry for thirty-nine, and preaching to myself those thirty plus years of sermons, that I am one of those folks.

I've discovered a lot about God from other people's questions and wonderments as well as my own. I've learned a lot a big theological words to more adequately "explain" God, most of which I've forgotten. The more I think I know, the more the knowledge acquired points to greater knowledge yet discovered. But I now have a few simple categories I use for my own questions, struggles, and wrestlings and  I use these to try and answer those questions and wreslings which come from others. It is really too simple, but it helps me get started.

Questions about God, His timing, His nature, His purpose, and the presence of evil and suffering in the world aren't always easily gotten hold of. The questions and concerns about God also lead to the same kinds of questions about mankind. So I start with the doubt, the question, the concern, oh , who am I kidding.... I start with the pain, the insult, the loss, the lack (especially of quick help), and the seeming lack of justice and cry out to God: where are You? why did You let...? when are You going to .... Then I look at my categories of assessment which are:  High-High; High-Low; Low-High; then Low-Low.

These stand for a high view of God and a high view of man; a high view of God and low view of man; a low view of God and and high view of man; a low view of God and low view of man. These categories are in themselves inadequate, especially when taken to extremes, but helpful to me. As you can probably surmise, the low view of God coupled with a low view of man can be disastrous, even depressing. If God is so disinclined to help and has no power to help (low view) and man has no purpose or plan for his existence and is just a lowly worm of a sinner, then hope is gone and there is not much to live for. A low view of God and a high view of man can lead to control freaks and narcissitic egotists. After all, God is so weak or uninvolved that those who are so gifted can help Him along.  A high view of God coupled with a low view of man makes a person feel that God is out to get him and that he can never please God. This, too takes away hope, incentive and causes one to hide from God in various ways. A high view of God and of man's place in God's kingdom can be much healthier but even this one can put God so "high" (immanence) that only mystics can catch a glimpse of Him occasionally. Such an austere God, who needs?

So what do we need? How about an adequate view, a true view, a revealed view of God. Our inadequate views of God say more about ourselves than they say about God. Views and conceptions of God derived from our pain, our circumstances, our fears and our doubts will always lead to more pain, more poor choices in tough circumstances and more fear and doubt. In his classic, Your God is Too Small, J. B.Phillips points out a number of inadequate mis-understandings of God that humans hold to. The resident policeman-God is going to get you if you mess up; the grand old man-a heavenly doting grandfather who gives us stuff; a managing director, a meek and mild kindly old gent; a God-in-the-box- one that has been tamed and stuffed in our church's programs and by-laws. Phillips has half a dozen more inadequate views.  I highly recommend the book, but where do we find the truth about God?

There is hope. There is only one way a Grand, Holy, Spiritual God could be known--that is that He wants to be known and reveals Himself to His creation. God has revealed Himself in Jesus. There on the pages of scripture is the portrait, the picture, the embodiment of a Holy, Perfect, Loving, Caring, Compassionate God who redeems fallen sinners, who rights wrongs, who executes justice, who elevates, who lowers, who knows our frame, that we are but dust but turns dust into resurrection bodies and opens not just the doors to heaven, but His very heart to those who want to know Him.

In this God there is hope. There is Peace. There is Joy. There is Love. There is Life because there in the manger, in the carpenter shop, by the sea of Galilee, on the Cross is Jesus. As a matter of fact, the only place you won't find this God, is in the grave.
What is your view of God this day? Is this a day you need your reservations or his Revealation in Christ?

Colossians 1: 9-20,
(okay, now go back and read the scripture!)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Healing Touch

                                                        A Healing touch

It surprises no one even vaguely familiar with Jesus that He touches people- all kinds of people-even people some folks  thought he shouldn't be touching. He touched lepers in Mark 1 and Luke 5. He touched disabled and diseased people all the time, demon possessed ones, even a couple of dead ones (Luke 7&8). In the Jewish traditions this would make him "unclean" for a time. No news there unless you are sick, demon  possessed, dead or will ever face these problems. Then it is good to know.

But did you ever notice who touched Jesus? Who is it that desired to touch Jesus? A couple of examples come to mind from Luke's gospel. In Luke 7 a "sinful" woman shows up at a dinner hosted by a Pharisee named Simon. That was nice of him to ask Jesus to supper. As it happens, a woman of ill repute, often guessed to be a whore, shows up while the dinner guests are reclining to eat (they ate around a "u" shaped low table,  in a prone position, propped up on their left hand, reaching over to a common serving area) and begins to wash Jesus' feet with tears and anoint them with perfume. The Pharisee was incensed (pardon the pun, I couldn't help it). So Jesus schools the self-righteous host on humanity, humility, love and forgiveness. But the heroine in this story is this sinful woman. She crosses social, religious, and gender barriers to get to Jesus and touch Him. She touched Him.

A chapter later, in Luke 8:40-48, on the way to perform one miracle, another miracle happens. A lady with a bleeding disorder, probably gynecological in nature, reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus' garment as He walks by. Rabbis in Jesus' day wore a shaw of sorts that was hemmed around with tassels. When the rabbi would lift up his hands to pray or cover his head to pray the folds of the shaw and the tassels formed a view reminescent of a bird's wings being spread. A Jewish belief was that the expected Messiah had "healing in His wings." (Malachi 4:2) So when this woman wanted to touch the hem of Jesus' garment she was acknowledging her belief that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah and that He could heal her. Jesus did and commended her faith. But notice: she wanted to touch Him.

All kinds of people need to be touched by the grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy of God. It is the church's calling and joy to reach out as the hands and feet of Jesus and touch the lost, hurting, sick, and marginalized in our world. But who wants to touch us? And why don't more want to touch the body of Christ, His church?
Maybe it never occured to them they could or should.  Maybe they see too many walls, barriers to cross. These brave women from Luke 7&;8 cross a lot of barriers to get to Jesus. They saw something in Him that made them believe it was worth the cost and they took the gamble. I still believe that when people see something of Jesus in His church they will want to touch us. I still believe there are barriers of race, gender, economics, and fear that those in the church can tear down. Take a look and take a crowbar. But answer this question:

Who is touching you?