Monday, June 27, 2016
For nearly two years, Mission Street Church met in a huge movie theater by the side of Highway 101 - just as you are driving through Camarillo (The Edwards Movie Theater). Each day, I literally drive by the old movie theater two or three times as I pass through town. Our church no longer meets in the Edwards because of cost increases in the movie industry (the theater in the end was costing $1,000 per week) but the theater landmark still holds a place in my heart as an emblem of God's work in my life, and the potential of God's work in the world. Whenever my two daughters see the Edwards theater from the car they yell out - "'There's the church!"
When Mission Street first began, I committed myself to pray for this new church, this new work of the Spirit, each time I passed the Edwards Theater. Using the example of Jack Hayford, who prayed over every chair in the church that he began many years ago, I prayed over the theater: "Dear Lord, please be with Mission Street Church - and build whatever you want to build here, In the Name of Jesus -Amen" (I said that three or four times a day). And so, the theater developed as a kind of "Pavlovian" or "BF Skinnerian" response mechanism for me. When I saw the theater, I prayed.
After Mission Street moved from the theater to the "Sessions @ The Loft" (art studio), I still had the habit of praying for the church, even though we didn't meet in the Edwards any more. Somehow I understood that that was what God wanted me to now do with the theater. To pray, to pray, to pray...every time I saw the Edwards. Now, I pray for lots of things whenever I pass the Edwards (world peace, Christianity, healing in a person's life, my kids, my wife, my congregants, other churches, my larger calling, my personal needs). The Edwards for me has become my Ebinezer. And so, this week, I want to encourage you to;
Build An Ebinezer
What is an Ebinezer? Ebinezer in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 4:1, 5:1), is the place where the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant (the Ark that held within it the 10 Commandments); "Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebinezar". There the Philistines conquered the Israelites. There was a degree of pain related to Ebinezer for the Israelites. It was where they lost.
Ebinezer was also the place where the Israelites, under Samuel, years later, defeated the Philistines. And so, the stones marked a place of victory. Ironically, the place holds a double purpose for the Israelites - it marks both defeat and it marks victory.
Real places of faith always occupy competing aspects of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, happiness and hardship - in all of our lives.
To help the Israelites remember that place, God told the Israelites to build a stone monument to help commemorate God's aid during a time of trouble, an "Ebinezer". "Ebenezer" literally means "Stone of Help". Whenever the Israelites saw that stone, that pillar, that monument, that small building, they were supposed to think of God and remember and thank and ask God for future provisions. There they would remember the good times and the hard times.
There is an old church hymn called, "Come Thou Font Every Blessing" in which there is a line in the middle of it that goes; "Here I Raise My Ebinezer". As a young kid, I used to wonder what that meant. Did God want me to read "A Christmas Carol" featuring "Ebinezer Scrooge"? What did it mean? Years later, I realized that an Ebinezer is a monument (usually stone) that reflects and marks God's work in our lives. It reflects the good times and the hard times. There we should remember God.
What is your Ebinezer? What is the monument in your life that marks both a time of challenge and a time of victory for God in your life? What is your, "Stone of Help".
I have a friend whose father passed away not too long ago. His father is now buried in a local cemetery not far from his home in the family plot. Like all father-son relationships, my friend struggled with aspects of his Dad's personality. He also benefited from many other aspects greatly. My friend goes to visit his father's grave every now and then. His Dad's grave stone is a kind of monument, a kind of marker, a kind of "Stone of Help" that reminds him of who he is, and who he can be, through God. He remembers and gives thanks and prays there.
What is your Ebinezer? What is your, "Stone of Help"?
Mine is an old movie theater along the side of Highway 101 that no longer houses the church I am helping to build - but it does house something much more important - my prayers, gratitude and hopes for the future in God.
Build An Ebinezer!
All For Now,
that we used to sing
Monday, June 20, 2016
On October 26, of last year, the late autumn sun was blazing down upon our back yard here in Oxnard, California. Halloween was just 5 days away, and because I had a busy work week ahead, this was my only chance to help the girls carve their pumpkins for the upcoming holiday on Oct. 31 (And yes, as children of Scots who love costume and flourish, we do celebrate Halloween in our household). As Sheena and Haley carved out the inside goo from their respective pumpkins, a clump of ooze clung to one of their hands. "Ooh, yuck Daddy, get it off!" "Just fling it in the garden," I said. "Just fling it in the garden....". Little did I know how portentous this advice would end up to be. Apparently, the pumpkin slime also carried with it at least one seed from the inside of the pumpkin. I know this because, as I write this post, a twenty foot plant, verdant with two basketball sized pumpkins now grows in our garden (pictured above). From this slimy seed has grown a huge plant. And this whole episode has got me thinking about:
The Power Of A Single Seed
The gospel of Jesus Christ is really in large part about this very dynamic. Of course, the Bible is rife with stories about seeds:
* "I have given you every herb bearing seed..." (Gen. 1:29)
* "He that sows sparingly will reap sparingly" (2 Corinthians 9:6)
* "I say to you that unless a seed of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it is useless" (John 12:24)
* "If you have the faith as small as a mustard seed, you can move this mountain" (Matt. 17:20)
* "Still other seed fell on good soil, and it came up" (Mark 4:8)
And all of these illustrations about seeds are significant and carry with them deeper meaning for their particular context. What is remarkable about my own story of the "pumpkin seed", and why I think that it is an emblem of the gospel of Christ is because:
A Seemingly Unwitting Action Produced Such a Huge Result
I am actually quite a terrible gardener. For most of my life I have tried unsuccessfully to grow many things (vegetables, flowers, trees). Either by benign neglect or over-attention I have managed to kill most of the plants that I have been in charge of. I have been equally unsuccessful in helping my daughters to grow plants. Our pumpkin plant was not meant to grow where it did, or as large as it did - and yet it grew.
The Kingdom of God happens in the same way. With the flick of a wrist, an enrollment in a class, a decision to pay off debt, a "yes I will marry you", a tag-along to a Sunday school class, many many lives have been changed forever.
A Child Did the Flinging
Something tells me Jesus would have loved this story of the pumpkin seed. For one thing, He loved/loves children. He loved their random energy, their impetuous ideas, their innocent games, their animated excitement over pumpkin goo. The Jesus that I know would have loved that what a child thought was, "goo" as actually the beginning of a great living thing. I can almost hear Jesus telling this parable:
"The kingdom of God is like a child carving out a pumpkin and getting slimy goo all over her fingers and flinging it into a field, only to find eight months later that the goo that was rejected turned into a huge blooming plant."
The goo that was rejected - became the corner plant of a whole new world!
The Kingdom Grows Where It Will
When I said that the pumpkin goo was flung unwittingly into the garden, I wasn't being exactly accurate. As you can see from the picture, the seed was flung just along the side of the cement edge of the porch. No hole was dug, no water was poured on it, no fertilizer was strewn on top of it, no care whatsoever was given to the bourgeoning plant. Just a single seed being flung by a child on a hot autumn day. It really is testament to;
The Power of A Single Seed!
All For Now,
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Monday, June 6, 2016
It is no exaggeration to say that I have probably made around 1,000 salads in the past two years. The truth is, the way that some people work on the "Great American Novel", I am working on the "Great American Salad". I have been working to perfect the best salad on the face of the earth. I love a really good salad, and because they are healthy and light I love to eat them. Being filled up with salad does not make you feel sluggish the way being filled up with a steak dinner can. The process some evenings can take me up to two hours to perfect the perfect salad. Here are some of some of the tricks I have learned on the road to salad perfection:
These are best made by taking dryish bread (preferably sourdough), and tossing large chunks of it in olive oil, garlic, basil, seasoning, some kind of hard cheese (Parmesan, Aged Gouda...). Then, bake it at 350 for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Finely Diced Ingredients
I don't know where I learned that the smaller the ingredient, the more of it you can get into your mouth. Lots of small bits of lettuce, pickled beets, cucumbers, carrots and bacon, taste better in your mouth than large chunks of just one thing. In high end restaurants this has become known as "chop salad". Salt and pepper to taste.
Washing All Ingredients Thoroughly
This would seem to go without saying, but lettuce, and other vegetables just taste a lot better if they have been washed totally and thoroughly. They are also, not to mention, much more healthy this way....
Plating Salad Nicely On A Glass Plate
My mother gave me some rather inexpensive clear glass plates several years ago, and they are my favorite for plating salad.
And so my evenings have gone. One salad after another. One collection of vegetables, type of lettuce, temperature of ingredient (there is nothing better than really cold lettuce, sometimes I put mine in the freezer until just before serving), and variety of cheese. The one thing that has eluded me, though, in my quest for salad greatness has been the salad dressing. And, of course, the salad dressing hands down one of the most important factors in making a great salad.
Typically, I have begun each salad dressing by taking an empty salad bowl and just randomly throwing in some kind of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper, Dijon, and any other sundry ingredient. But the dressings have never been quite right. Sometimes they are too light, other times they are too acidic. Sometimes there is too much dressing other times there is too little. Too vinegary, too salty, too peppery, too spicy...too strong! But then I discovered an incredible thing, which is actually the main (and slightly belabored) focus on my blog post this morning. I discovered a...
After about two years of making salads from scratch and spending long hours on them, trying to concoct the perfect salad totally on my own, I decided to try something bold and out of the box. I decided to try and consult a recipe for making a dressing. And so, as a child of my technical generation, I went to my I-Phone and Googled, "How to make a great Balsamic Salad Dressing":
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic minced
salt and pepper to taste
Presto, the perfect dressing! After two years of trying it completely on my own, what I discovered is the power of consulting a source that is more knowledgable than me (imagine that). What I learned is the benefit of getting the input of chefs and experts (many of whom likely gained Micheline Stars by making salads), chefs and experts who have made even more salads than I have. What I uncovered is the power of a:
I was thinking that many people live their lives by the same method that I have made my salads. They try to figure them out (to make their own salads), all by themselves. Some people spend much more time than two years and 1,000 tries in living their own codes, ideas, concepts, and precepts. Many people spend an entire lifetime trying things out on their own. Like me, often people say, "I know I can figure it out on my own. Just give me a few more tries." But like me, many people find that though their own "way" is often pretty good, it is never exactly just right. In my own case, it is definitely a degree of ego - I will figure it out by myself - that has prevented me from true excellence in the kitchen.
But there is, of course, an ultimate recipe book from our lives. It is not the "Joy of Cooking" but it is the Bible. The Bible is the story of God's intervention, direction, nurture and guidance of millions of people throughout the history of the world over thousands of years living. As the book of Proverbs says, "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." (Proverbs 30:5).
If you are in need of an answer today, or have been trying to live life by figuring out things totally on your own, check out God's Recipe Book - the Bible. And then, feel free to...."salt and pepper to taste".
All For Now,