The Vast and the Various

Blaze Prince… Big Red… Contender… O’Henry… White River… China Pearl… Cresthaven… all Peach varieties I have enjoyed this summer. And there are so many more.

End of season Big Red’s…peaches

As we hear in the opening chapter of Genesis: “The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit…”

This same panoply of taste and texture holds true for tomatoes, corn, apples (Bake a pie with “Kentish Fillbaskets” lately?). These are just a few items of produce, each with hundreds, thousands more varieties.

Not to mention toenail polish, which I wouldn’t, except in this season of open-toed shoes, my wife has been regaling me with the many varied shades of toenail polish available. Her current favorite is “Pompeii Purple.” One friend shares that she is committed to “Cha-Ching Cherry.”

Even mundane aspects of life speak to the magnificent variety all around us. God’s creation is vast and various, from the manifold bounty of gardens and vineyards to the seemingly endless palette of nail polish options.

Moving from the cosmetic to the cosmic, the universe gives an expansive, almost infinite testimony to the vast and various creation God speaks into being. Galaxies in incomprehensible number and configuration and variety surround us.

To borrow from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…”

God’s vast and various creative principle is on display in human beings, too, in our individual differences and our cultural distinctions. Just like galaxies, we are each unique, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

You and I are creatures appointed and equipped by God with “varieties of gifts… varieties of services… varieties of activities” (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

Through God’s abundant grace and providence, we are all blessed, in all our variety, to serve in God’s vast and various works.

Gotta Have Your Go-To’s

Fried zucchini sticks.

At a lunch for a departing colleague, our church staff was discussing favorite local restaurants. Someone commented, “Whenever I go there, the fried zucchini sticks are my go-to side item.”

We all have our go-to’s – perhaps a favorite menu item or that one item of clothing we go to the closet and pull out when we’re not sure what to wear. One lady shared with me that she has a go-to hair color, “as long as I can remember the dye number!”

But there are even more critical go-to’s. In a volatile and unpredictable business environment, companies and institutions usually have go-to strategies they rely on. Nearly all of us have folks in our lives to whom we always go to for advice, support, or honest feedback.

Not a day passes for most of us without going to our “go-to’s.”

Disciples of Jesus Christ, the body of believers, go to Scripture for a word from the living God. Most believers have Bible verses that we can call on for strength, as reminders of God’s promises and expectations, particularly when life is chaotic and unpredictable. God’s Word is filled with life-affirming, spirit-lifting go-to’s.

For generations, the 23rd Psalm has been a go-to word from God, reminding and reassuring us that we “pass through the valley of the shadow of death” on our way to a new, God-promised ife.

In the body of Christ, again and again, we go to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…,” as a short, powerful statement of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

One of my Scriptural go-to’s is Psalm 61:2:

… when my heart is faint… lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

higher

I go to this word when I am bogged down in the troubles, however minor or major, of the moment. I need reminding that faith provides a perspective that looks beyond the transient and looks toward the eternal. When I am low, I look to God’s Word for an uplift. Not a day passes that I do not need to go to “the rock that is higher than I.”

In our daily discipleship, we discover again and again that God’s Word has got a lot of go-to’s. Have you gone to the Word today?

Welcome

Would you let these stinky guys sleep in your guest beds?

Would you let these sweaty guys sleep in your guest beds?

This weekend, 15 adults from our church went to do mission work.  We went to help repair two different houses for families in need, and we expected, though none of us would have ever said so, to be thanked.  What we didn’t expect was to thank others so much.

As often happens on mission excursions, something unexpectedly negative happened that impacted our experience positively.   As the group was showering after work, the drain stopped working.  The toilets overflowed.  We plunged and snaked to no avail, and with 15 minutes notice, a family from the church was asked to take 11 wayward strangers into their home for the night.

Instead of stressed or worried about tidying up, our hosts were gracious and welcoming.  We were treated as honored guests and they seemed genuinely thankful that they could help out.  We, who came to serve, were served…. And that is just as God would have it.

 “ You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” –Leviticus 19:34

The Greek word in the bible “xenos” means stranger, but also guest and host.  It’s uncanny- in the stories of scripture and the realities of our day-to-day interactions, guests become hosts and hosts become guests, the helpers become the ones in need of help.  And as this beautiful role-muddling happens, our distinctions become less clear and it is our unity in Christ that begins to define us.  We stopped being a mission team who had come to help, and became Caroline and Chuck and Neal and Amelia, friends.

In each interaction with a “stranger” we all have the chance to remember and acknowledge that they, too, have been made in the image of God.  May we all learn to practice it as well as those our group met this weekend.

What Do You Assume?

judging-othersWhen you see a man with a cardboard sign standing at the top of a highway exit, what do you assume it will say?  What about when you see a lady wearing pearls and carrying a bag into the Goodwill store- what do you assume she is doing?  When you see someone who is overweight, what do you assume about his lifestyle?  How about when you see a family at worship whose children are wild and noisy- what do you assume about the discipline at home?

When I lived near New York and rode the subway more regularly, I used to dread hearing these words as I sat, confined on the train car, “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please?”  It wasn’t those words, so much as the ones that always seemed to follow: a sad but unverifiable story and then a plea for money.

I was reminded of this when a friend sent me this video last week.  I was also reminded how quick I am to judge.

[Click here to see Subway Panhandler Video Caroline’s talking about]

What do we assume about other people when we see them?  What judgments do we make internally, a million times a day?  Throughout scripture we are told not to judge, but it is a struggle.

 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Judgment comes so naturally; it is so easy, that it is hard to stop… but stop we must.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ, and so know better.  The Lord, who has every reason to judge us harshly has, instead, offered us everlasting life and unfathomable grace.  We, who have received so much, must live as people aware of our status- sinful yet forgiven- and fight our urge to judge.  When I judge someone, I’m working on letting it be a call to prayer.  “God, forgive me.  Open my eyes to what you see in a person, and not what I see.    Bless that person especially today.”  You’re welcome to join me in this.  How do you keep from judging?