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Archive for November, 2013

I got a simple text today: “Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Bill”

I don’t get to see Bill that often and our friendship is relatively new. Yet, that text made my quiet Thanksgiving morning a little less…quiet.

I hope to hear from my extended family over the course of the day and host some of those who live in the area for the big meal. So why was a little text so important? It’s because someone who didn’t have to took the time and did so anyway.

This may not be an epiphany, but wouldn’t it be cool if everyone with a cell phone took a cue from Bill and reached out to someone who might be on the fringe or lonely or grieving or hurting or whatever and simply texted, emailed or called? It would take less than a minute in some cases. But a few billion people doing this translates into a few billion minutes and a major wave of gratitude. 

This blog was inspired by Bill. It’s sort of my text to you. Pass it around. We have till midnight.

BELOW: A “K.I.S.S.” 

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Eternally Surprised

I am constantly amazed at people who can do things that I can’t imagine doing. When they move in their talents, they make it look easy. If I was to try the same thing, it would be as if I was scribbling over the Mona Lisa.

One such person is my sister-in-law. If you could speed up the camera of her life, Susan’s projects would look like those chefs on television who seem to “Abracadabra” their meals in five minutes – something I couldn’t do in a day.

Such was the case recently. Susan took it upon herself to honor her friend on the occasion of her 50th birthday with a surprise party. For starters, I don’t know how close to 100 people kept the secret, but I have to credit Susan with that as well. The look on Ann King’s shocked face could have been on one of those “for-everything-else-there’s-Master-Card commercials.” I literally thought the honoree was acting. No one could have been more surprised.

For another thing, I walked out onto the back patio and there were all these skirted tables poolside that conjured up some White House affair. The preparation leading up to the event included sixty bottles of wine rattling around in her trunk days before not to mention the taste tests at the caterer and the elaborate and comical way of getting the birthday girl back to her house.

But what struck me more than anything were the people. This was a community of friends brought together through the efforts of Susan and her friends in that same community. Both Ann and her husband Jeff’s little thank you speech to Susan and their friends could have been scripted; something you see in the movies. 

It got me thinking about the funeral I just attended. That’s right, I just bounced from a surprise party to a funeral. When someone is greeted by throngs of friends and relatives, that is one thing. But for those who believe Jesus’ words, they will be one day be surprised and welcomed by friends and family, ancestors and even perfect strangers, some of great notoriety such as St. Peter, Abraham, Moses, St. Paul and Jesus Himself. 

What most impressed me about Susan was the joy and anticipation in the planning of the party over the past several months. She lives for this kind of thing. Who knows, maybe wedding planning is in her future. Here are a few scriptural analogies that may give you a little idea of who Susan takes after and the surprise party He’s been planning for millennia.

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).” This scripture portrays an eager Jesus interceding that we will accept the invite to the big bash.

“Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself…Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” Revelation 19:7,9

What I witnessed at the party was such a clear precursor of heaven and all of the hugs, perpetually I might add, that await those who won’t be “surprised” by the invitation. 

BELOW: A PRECURSOR OF THE ETERNAL SURPRISE PARTY (Google the song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me on YouTube.)

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What faith really comes down to is believing that God is good. Maintaining that stance can be tantamount to hearing a bad report about someone that you know intimately. In their defense, you hear yourself proclaim, “No, I know that person and he wouldn’t do that!”

Unflinchingly believing in God’s inherent goodness has tremendous implications during times of trial, weariness, tragedy, physical maladies, financial challenges, confusion, separation, relational fractures and death. I’ll add a blank here for those difficulties that I’ve missed: _____________________. Go ahead. Fill it in. You’re not being sacrilegious. You’re not calling God a sadist.

In fact, it is in this context that God must be really good because He knows what we’re thinking and about that anger that we’re so desperately trying to contain. After all, it’s just not proper to be ticked off at God so we have to bury it.

There come times when each of us will have a question that is so nagging, it feels like the itch in the middle of our backs. It is like driving up a steep cliffside road with no turn-offs or u-turns and no viable prospects of putting the car in reverse.

So, the question arises: “Why is life so hard at times?”

Two men seemed to face this question in the most sublime and similar manner.

Abraham was told BY GOD to sacrifice his son. He wasn’t given a lot of details. To make matters worse, he was told BY GOD that that same son was the promise of his progeny forever. I would have said “Checkmate” on the question of God’s goodness.

Yet, Abraham pulled off one of the greatest Houdini-like theological moves in history. He was so sure that God was good that he came to a remarkable conclusion. It must have went like this: “If God is good, I must obey him and kill my son. Then, because God is good, He must keep His word. He must then bring Isaac back to life in order for my offspring to be born through Isaac.” 

Wow! I would have probably sulked. I would have gotten steaming mad. I probably would have disobeyed.

There was another man who was literally pinned against this same situation. On the cross, Jesus cried out about being “forsaken.” Yet in the midst of that excruciating agony, we know that He didn’t ask the Roman soldiers to take Him down nor recant to the Jewish leaders watching the crucifixion or ask His Dad for a bail out. He was sure that God would fulfill His promise. He faced death with such conviction about the goodness of God because He knew the face of God.

 

“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.’ Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. Hebrews 11:17-19a

 

 

 

 

 

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What if you knew the exact date of your own funeral?

If you’re a list maker, you might make up a “Bucket List” of things to DO. But what about a bucket list of things to say, improving our manner of relating or ways to become more like the God we will meet when that list is totally checked off?

For believers in Jesus, this is an important “Check Point” for scripture says, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” Ephesians 5:1

I’m going to put relationships at the top and the first one is going to be me and God. I figure that He is holy, perfect, pure, without any need for excuses, loving, merciful, accepting. In order to be in good relationship with Him, I must be all of those as well. Is this heresy? Let me hedge a bit. The Good Book says that when we see Him, we’ll be just like Him. (1 John 3:2) This doesn’t magically happen. It’s a promise to all of those who make Jesus their Lord and Savior, receiving His forgiveness and moving past salvation to a daily walk that transforms us into His likeness.

One of the top ways God delivers funeral-ees into heaven in the above-promised state is through contrition. Contrition’s cornerstone is honesty:

The LORD is near unto all those that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

So, this is the best way to prepare for our funerals. To be right with God, daily confess your sins to Him and others. Receive that immediate forgiveness, and as Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.”

You may have 1000’s of days before your funeral. YOU MAY NOT. Only God knows. And only God knows this daily, moment by moment “act of contrition” that will keep you walking right past your own coffin into the promise of being like Him.

It will be a new day…forever.

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Vini’s father and my father-in-law, Nick, went to be with the Lord whom he loved and served so faithfully during his eight decades of life. The redoubtable, confident and handsome Italian loved his bride of 57 years, Theresa, and his children, grandchildren and extended family. How they all loved him back was evidenced during his prolonged illness.

Even St. Peter’s Rehabilitation Center & Nursing Home, where he spent the last seven years, became more “homey” as a result of the “fam” that he drew. It was safe to say that the committed staff and visitors all became part of his family as well – especially on those special occasions when Theresa would make sure the workers got to taste Cavaleri cooking from the chafing dishes she would bring.

Nick was a proud United States veteran of the Korean War and a patriot who erected large flagpoles behind his business as a testament to his love of city and country.

He was born in Italy and was the founder of the quintessential family restaurant where the quality of the ingredients and the skill of his familial staff were matched only by the meal portions that mirrored the generosity of the owner. Whether he was buying a pair of boots for a needy employee or personally delivering some turkeys to those without or bringing prepared meals to a friend dying of cancer, Nick’s benevolence became as legendary as his sauce.

Cavaleri’s Restaurant became the destination of many of the capital district’s power brokers who might happen to sit beside the “family-next-door.” Whether prince or pauper, all came not only to taste Nick’s authentic Italian specialties, but to be included in some of the innate Cavaleri love. It was common that customers considered themselves part of the family. The lore, tall tales, excitement, pace and, of course, Nick’s table-side reading of his poetry, all combined to make Cavaleri’s neighborhood restaurant the real-deal “Cheers” of the capital city of New York State.

Menu items, specialties and recipes still dominate conversations whenever people bump into one of the Cavaleri clan. Yet, patrons didn’t only come to the restaurant for food. They came to sit in Nick’s personal dining room that just happened to be called a restaurant. Carrying over from Calabria the accents of his hospitable Italian heritage, Nick succeeded in more than business. The busy, weary, hungry faithful flocked to the family’s flavors of fellowship. Now, Nick gets to sit down at Jesus’ table where he will easily recognize the characteristics of The Host that he so acutely personified.

BELOW: WITH HIS BELOVED TEENAGE BRIDE, COATING A CHICKEN CUTLET, “WE’RE IN THE ARMY NOW,” AND THE “GOOD-LOOKIN’ ITALIAN”

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