People’s Park Pizza

July 24, 2013

My stomach was turning in knots as I approached, knowing the disappointment that my words would cause.  Jerry has been coming to our church for the last year and has been a model of faithfulness and hard work.  Whenever there is a spill that needs cleaning, chairs needing to be moved, or a garden project to be done, Jerry is the most willing and able of us all.

On this morning I had to break the news to Jerry that he couldn’t come with us to family camp.  It was a decision that was painful to make.  You see, Jerry is alcoholic and homeless and is given to fits of rage with a nasty habit of stealing things.  His behavior around the opposite sex is also questionable.  Family camp is not the place for Jerry at this time in his life.

But I didn’t want to tell him this.  I desperately want Jerry and all the other homeless to know that they are dearly loved and are a part of the family of God.  They are also important members of our faith community.  How was I to tell him that he was loved but yet not allowed to be with us for a fun weekend at the lake?

After consulting several friends and asking for lots of prayer, I went searching for Jerry on the morning we were supposed to leave.  I saw Ralphie-Boy and asked if he had seen Jerry.  “Yes.  He’s waiting for you.  He’s been talking about camp all week.”

My only thought? “Great. Just great.”  I walked over to the park where Jerry was supposed to be at but there was no sign of Jerry.  I walked back to Ralphie-Boy and the others.

“Hey Pastor Dave.  If you aren’t going to be here this weekend, then are we having tacos?” asked Mike.

“No.  We will all be gone.  There won’t be any tacos this Sunday.”

The disappointment was palpable.

“Hey Pastor Dave.  I have an idea”, said Ralphie-Boy.  “What if I buy some pizzas and we have People’s Park Pizza on Sunday?”

“That’s a great idea!” I said.

“Would it be alright if I said a prayer?  I really like it when we pray” asked Ralphie-Boy.

“Of course!” I exclaimed.  I pressed a few bucks into his hand, walked away and a smile came across my face.  It held there for about 3 seconds, until I saw Jerry walking directly toward me.  I steeled my will and determination and came to meet him, but he beat me to the punch.

“Hey Pastor Dave, I have been doing some thinking.  I am not going to go camping at the lake.  I know how hot it gets up there and I get really cranky when it’s hot.  I won’t be any fun at all.”

“Well, Jerry, that’s probably the right call.”

“So are we going to have tacos on Sunday if you all are camping?”

“No, but Ralphie-Boy is organizing People’s Park Pizza for Sunday.  Do you think you could help him out?”

“That’s a great idea.  Do you think I could read a Scripture?  Could you help pick out a Scripture for me to read when we begin?”

I said once again, “Of course!”

As I walked away, the smile came back to my face even bigger and wider than it had been before.  A prayer was said, the 23rd Psalm was read, and the community meal in Isla Vista took place once again under the banner of Jesus Christ.

Noah and I are reading the book, “Hinds Feet on High Places” together. It is a wonderful allegory of the Christian life which follows the story of “Much-Afraid” as she journeys to the HIgh Places to be with the “Great Shepherd”. In chapter one, Much-Afraid asks the Great Shepherd to plant the seed of His Love in her heart. He happily obliges her and proceeds to reach inside his own bosom to resource this “seed”. When he withdraws his hand and opens his palm, the seed is in the shape of a sharp thorn. He explains to Much-Afraid that His Love and Pain always go together.
While this metaphor will initially strike us in a disconcerting way (Jesus’ love brings pain?!?!!), the life of Christ verifies its truthfulness. Jesus lived a fully-formed human existence with all of the emotional highs and lows we experience and more. His earthly existence culminated on the cross where his love was most fully manifested. It was only through the pain of the cross that the love of God was displayed in its fullest sense. Pain and Love go together.
The early Christians gave witness to this as well. Tertullian was one of the early church fathers and a very influential theologian, writer, and Christian apologist. In fact, he was the first to use the word “Trinity” in describing the Three-Personed God we worship. To provincial governors of the Roman Empire, he wrote, “We (Christians) are like the grass, which grows the more luxuriantly the oftener it is mown. The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity. Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example?… For who can behold it, and not inquire into the nature of that faith which inspires such supernatural courage? Who can inquire into that faith, and not embrace it, and not desire himself to undergo the same sufferings in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fulness of divine favour?”
Please understand that I am not advocating masochism. I rejoice that we live in a day and age and place where we are not persecuted (or executed) for our faith. Thank you Jesus! But let us not eschew pain in our Christian life or be deceived into believing that it is not from God. It is often the only way we will experience significant growth in our faith…through trial and tribulation. It was from such a trial UNTO DEATH that our Lord Jesus displayed his Love in the fullest way and the witnesses of that UNQUENCHABLE LIFE displayed through sacrificial and painful love opened ETERNITY and launched the greatest evangelistic fervour of history.
Sufferings equate to Divine Favour. Pain opens new vistas of Love. And the Truth of our Christian faith is broadcast to the world!

Dreams Infused with Wisdom

August 23, 2012

Like all people, I dream a lot. And like all people, my dreams are a mix of self-serving ones and those with a redeeming quality or design that would clearly benefit others. I have been doing a lot of soul searching regarding dreams for LLG and myself. In many cases, they coincide and collaborate for good ends. Other times, my dreams are revealed as fearful or selfish and they don’t have any eternal value. I believe we can still call them dreams, but they aren’t “divine” by any stretch.
So how should I go about discerning the difference between the good and bad ones when it isn’t immediately obvious what category they fall into? The book of Ecclesiastes has been a great help. Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom from a King who realized the result of his achieved dreams. This is one of the unique qualities of the book. And it is something that most of us never get to (so it is good that we can at least read about it). For we dream a myriad of different things all the time, but most never become reality. Yet for the author of Ecclesiastes, they did!
The book of Ecclesiastes is particularly helpful because it is a reality check. It asks, “Are you thinking that money, fame, power, possessions, status, etc. will bring you happiness?!?!?! Because you are flat wrong! Don’t go there! It will end in frustration and will squeeze the life of God out of you.” (That’s the Dave Goss paraphrase)
Here’s a summary of the wisdom gained and taught in the book of Ecclesiastes from the NIV Study Bible…
1. Accept the human state as it is shaped by God’s appointments and enjoy the life you have been given as fully as you can.
2. Don’t trouble yourself with unrealistic goals–know the measure of human capabilities.
3. Be prudent in all your ways–follow wisdom’s leading.
4. “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13), beginning already in your youth before the fleeting days of your life’s enjoyments are gone and the “days of trouble” (12:1) come when the infirmities of advanced age vex you and hinder you from tasting, seeing and feeling the good things of life.
To sum up, Ecclesiastes provides instruction on how to live meaningfully, purposefully and joyfully within the theocratic arrangement–primarily by placing God at the center of one’s life, work and activities, by contentedly accepting one’s divinely appointed lot in life, and by reverently trusting in and obeying the Creator-King.
Grab a hold of God’s wisdom and pursue God’s divine dreams for your life. Only then will you find the peace, contentment, joy, and happiness you seek.