Just finished eating my way through Paris.

Good eating doesn’t require Paris; it does require a few other things.

Take crepes.

At the hotel we stayed at, they served them for breakfast, and I put blueberry jam on them. They were okay, not bad, but at the famous creperie on a small side-street nearby they served wonderfully crispy-soft sweet crepes wrapped around bacon, apples, a syrupy cinnamon sauce and ice cream. Just remembering them makes my cheeks water inside. They were fantasticified!

At this small, particular Brittany creperie — which has been making crepes since the 1930’s, when working class immigrants established the neighborhood — they also serve savory crepes wrapped around gently cooked onions, eggs and bacon.

You get the point.

Good food is not generic food; it is food crafted by the hands of experienced experts.

And this is the thing, and here we get quiet serious– gourmands, foodies and all you lovely taste-a-mongers — carefully choose where you get your eats. This matters. What you eat depends on where you eat.

We all know this. It’s just a good reminder.

In Paris this last week, we passed the Eiffel several times as we found our way to our museums and restaurants and parks. Didn’t stop.

Near the Eiffel, we found our way to Rue Cler, a small side street of cobbles– cars disallowed. We ate at a petite cafe. It was recommended to us by someone who knows food.

Superb meal!

I’ve nothing against the Eiffel, but this clarifies the application of the point at hand.

For the best eats, don’t eat at restaurants or food stands near landmarks, monuments or tourist traps. Most food made or sold near a place people check off on their vacation lists will consistently, persistently and inveterately serve bad food. They must. It’s the law.

We once ate at Niagara Falls. It was a food circus; there was not one good bite anywhere in sight of the falls, but twenty miles away, somewhat out in the country, we found a culinary school restaurant — and wow! — they knocked us out with their super-fresh veggies and perfectly seasoned meats. It seemed to our tastebuds that the young chefs had picked their delicious leaves and roots from the garden after we ordered. And so they did.

Here is the deal. For the most tasty food, pick your culinary delights from bistros and cafes on small streets, on side streets, where there are no hustlers, and pick the places that have small menus that specialize in a few things. You know this, somewhat intrinsically. To eat well you must get off the super-sized, food-rushed, food-beaten boulevards, away from big menus and big signs.

Go instead to the places the local foodies go. Find these locals. Eat with them.
You will know them when you find them sitting on some short side street, siting calmly together — virtually ambling through their food — luxuriating in taste, time and wine in small groups and families.

Of course when you find this new-old spot, you will check the reviews on your phone. As you have probably already noted, online restaurant ratings tend to run high, everywhere — really? — and that every food spot gets a few bad posts. But you can usually tell the good places to eat by the consistently very high ratings, and you will be able to note that the one mistake which was made on that one night was the exception — or it was just plain food-snob-induced grumpiness. At good places, you’ll find clear trends: lots of restrained raving, lots of return visits to the place, lots of local posting, lots of drooling over particular dishes — some noting of the crowded spaces or lines, a tendency to note that it is worth it.

One last bit of help, fairly obvious, but good to know, although I’m sure you do, intrinsically.

Don’t ever, ever eat at a restaurant that displays photographs of their food on the windows, on the menus or for that matter — just to make this perfectly and photogenically clear — anywhere. Never do it, don’t eat there, no matter how you grew up, or how cranky-dangerous-hungry you are. You know this. Don’t eat the pictures!

Okay, there are the basics.

Now for the disclaimers, now for the exceptions, now for the low-brow, common-sense, get-off-your high-horse-meat, “come on!” caveats.

Sometimes you just want fast food, with lots of salt or sugar or fat or calories. You just do. If so, do, and don’t hate yourself, and don’t make apologies. We all sometimes want bad food that tastes good.

Recently, I stopped at a fast food stop and got a chocolate shake in a paper cup. They are good there. My friends and I all know this. You can’t suck these shakes through a straw; you have to spoon them onto your tongue with the provided plastic — or better yet, with a French fry. I have more confessions. At another recent moment of totally-human, simple junk-food craving, I grabbed a cheap hamburger. It hit the spot. There were pictures on the windows of the fast-food stop. I was fine with it. It tasted good to me.

And again, when I was in Victoria, British Columbia last year, I waited in a long line for fried fish. I ate it sitting on a wharf from a styrofoam container with a plastic fork. Never tasted better fried fish! All the locals and all the food guides know that the line there is never short, and yet my neighbors, from all over the world — in the trendy, high-class city of Victoria  — often sup gratefully on their delicious fried halibut.

At the moment I’m on a ten hour airline flight. I was just served airplane food, a species of its own. I could not get out of my seat and look for a small menu on a small street. We didn’t have time to carry on food. It’s okay. I was hungry, and I was semi-grateful for the eats. The food came enclosed in thin plastic. I woofed it down with a plastic fork. It broke all the foodie rules. It wasn’t good. I needed a Tums shortly after finishing.

But — philosophically and existentially — this experience affords the opportunity for a much needed point. Many or most of the 800 million chronically undernourished people on this planet would have been joyful to have had it.

I keep that in mind. I like to bring that to mind often. I should. It is a sumptuous privilege just to be able to eat, even to have food, to have enough food, to have safe food, what a privilege, what a wonder.

I’ve said a little bit here, not really very much, about food. You knew the things I’ve reminded you of, and yet it’s fun and it’s yum to be reminded of the good within the good of the very good. I’ve enjoyed it, eating it, writing about it. I hope you have too!

Lastly, as I’ve said — fore-mostly and most-a-fortly — be grateful always, and thus and so thankful — for food.

And primarily, when you have the gravesque honor and happified privilegification of being allowed to choosify your good eats — “Ah, merci beaucoup!” — then these simple, humble hints may perhaps apply.

They came to me, five or so gentlemen in suits, across the square, one bringing his iPhone 5 and handing it to me, gesturing toward the men who were with him, “Would you please take our picture?”

I did. Twice, because the first picture wasn’t right; the pyramid of the Louvre wasn’t in the backdrop.

Then they were happy.

I asked them where they were from. They were from Iran. I told them I was from the US. Then I said, “You are welcome in my country.”

“And you are welcome in ours!” they replied.

I have the right.

I have the right to go out into the world, as I am apt to do, and welcome the world to myself. That doesn’t mean they can come. Many of them probably can’t. It just means that they know that someone from there, here welcomes them.

I am not naive — but neither do I live in fear. I am a citizen of the world. I choose to be. I have no permanent home — I know that, none of us do — I have no exclusive people. I am welcoming to myself, and I welcome everyone I can.

I am not a government. I respect government, I respect and understand law, I participate in government, but I am also myself, a being existing apart from government, cosmopolitan, international by nature, universal by soul.

Yesterday on Rue de Renne in Paris, I walked by an Eastern looking woman with a dirty paper cup, sitting on the sidewalk, begging. I thought about the nice shops I had just visited, about how much I am able to indulge myself. Then I went back to her, and I put a couple of Euros in her cup.

I am not telling anyone else what they should do, or feel. I am not saying I solved a problem with a couple of Euros, I am not feeling virtuous, I am just saying what I did, I am just being honest about what I want to do, what I feel urged to do, inside.

I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I am not a protect-and-defend conservative. I am a person trying to live my life as a follower of someone with a bigger vision than I have, to live by two great commands, one to love God, another to love others, to live by the radical spiritual reality that everyone is my neighbor, by the super-radical idea that I should do to others as I want them to do to me.

On my current stay in Paris, I have snapped pictures of the Iranians at the Louvre, I have eaten food with the French in Les Philosophes — a small crowded restaurant in Le Marais — I have gawked at art in the Museo de Orsay with the Japanese and the Chinese, I have peered up at the windows of San Chapelle with the Canadians, I have ridden the bus to Versailles with Muslims, and from the cathedrals with Nuns.

I know who I am. I love my country, I understand why it exists, I am very grateful to have grown up there, made a home, raised my children in peace, and I value it, and soon I will return to it, but I also love other countries, and I value them, and I value other cultures, and I value their people.

They are my people, all these people, and I know that. Deep inside I have an affinity with all creatures and with all people and with all plants and with all minerals, all stars and all galaxies too.

I love, I ache to love, I want to love more, to the edge of my familiarity — and past that.

I know that you do too.

I love you for that.

I stood in the Georges Pompidou in Paris today, fifth floor, modern art exhibition.

Loved it!

Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Kupka, Warhol, Pollock — all there and much more, lurking in the galleries, going nonrepresentational on me, splattered, shattered and re-mattered.

As I looked them over and through, I thought about how modern art has re-imaged our world. It has lifted our mental bed covers, peeped us beneath the surface of our lives and looked us into the strange, improvisatory forms and shapes of things sleeping in our psyches.

The exhibition in the Pompidou is so different from what is in the Louvre where we find the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the raft of the Medusa, the winged bulls.

As I stroll-gawked through the Pompidou exhibit, I thought about how modern art, over time, grew increasingly abstract — and increasingly inclusive. It was the impressionists who started this.

Monet begat Picasso.

With modern art, art became form, and everything became art.

Subjects became increasingly unrecognizable. Form and content merged and became colored lines, circles, curves, arrows, triangles, boxes, parallels, randoms.

Modern art threw reality in our faces — geometricized, essentialized, energized.

I love it, well some of it.

I’ve heard some people don’t

An elitist explanation for this would be that they simply don’t understand it.

I don’t think so. I think we all understand it all too well, and this is actually what disturbs us and either drives us away from it our pulls us into it.

Reality, stopped down to it’s essentials, frightens us, stuff like atoms, electrons, lines, dots, emotions, instincts, body parts, chaos, non-rational reality, the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff that we are made of.

Modern art hasn’t made a life of it’s own; it is our life, and is unnerving, too real, too ugly, too beautiful and so we turn away from it, just as we do from reality.

Consider Kandinsky. His paintings are life untethered, parts and pieces, horizontals and verticals, color contrasts, essential spiritualities, floating through the flotsam and jetsam of sentience.

Perhaps a Kandinsky is more like a Venus de Milo than we suspect. Modern art is life — with the arms knocked off.

I’m for embracing it, all of it — what flies and what floats, what is rational, what is not, what is recognizable and also what lurks just below that but is that.

To appreciate modern art, any art, one must come out of denial and into acceptance.

It’s that simple.

It’s about you; it’s about accepting youself.

You can never really have enough of what you don’t really want.

Yesterday we lollygagged and casu-shuffled through Louis IV’s chateau at Versailles. It was exhausting, just trying to see part of it, just trying to comprehend that kind of over-the-top-of-the-top, squared-off pile of stone, wood and velvet luxurification. 

Did Louis really want all that — that many rooms, that many stairs, that many painted ceilings, that many mirrors, that long of a garden, that many people to back up his that-many indulgences — 10,000? 
He may have. Apparently he convinced himself and many others to pretend that he was sunshine. 
But maybe, just maybe — not sure — Louis just wanted to be loved, wanted the sanguine apricity of the court, and it was his mother who duped him in to thinking that he wanted to be obeyed, over-indulged and glorified.

Wow, glorified? How would you live with yourself, fragile and human — yet Mars, and Apollo? 
Those who cultivate worship, or even settle for mere obsequiousness may really — beyond their overly-conditioned and underly-personalized level of ankle-deep consciousness — actually be craving for even just a splash of radiant sincerity. 

Yeah. 

But the opposite may be true too. 

You may never really be able to have enough of what you really want either, even if it is simple, basic, early-morning, in-your-heart kind of stuff. It’s raining in Paris. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, no sunshine, lots of love, from my wife, my friends, my people back home. I really wanted a good coffee this morning. I got it, as ordered, an extra shot in my latte. It’s epidemic with me, with all of us. We want more caffeine — and more love. We all do, we always do. 

But at some point the caffeine stops adding energy, the checked-off world destinations stop adding cultural texture, and the love stops adding value — because we already have value.  More? Want it or not — perhaps it just adds to our anxiety. 

 

Disappointment, it’s an ointment — or it’s not.

I know. I’ve been disappointed once — well more than once.

I think other people have too, a few of them.

I saw a girl the other day who had on too much makeup. I happened to know she’s disappointed, and interestingly it was the makeup made me think of that. Her husband cheated on her a few years back, they divorced, she’s still looking for loyal love. She’s trying hard.

To not get what we want is one thing, to not get what we need another. It messes with us.  There are varying shades of this.

I had a friend who wanted to follow as successful military career with a career teaching history. I was excited for him. But shockingly he died of cancer in his late thirties even before he could start school.

I was unnerved by this. When I think of it it still flummoxes me; this dangerous force majeure, this ghastly, meaningless jape, this lovely dream gone lost —  for him, his beautiful young wife, his small children. Wow!

I think of parents who have lost a child. The unthinkable. They will never fully recover, always remember, always grieve, never be the same again.

Life fails us. In many ways. We don’t earn as much money as we thought we would. Our career isn’t as successful as we wanted it to be. Our signifiant other is not as supportive as we want her or him to be. Our children have difficulty getting established. The dinner we order at the restaurant is too salty. Our retirement accounts underperform. Our business burns down.

Living with reality, living with realities that aren’t what we wish — unfortunately that is normal, common, prevalent.

But here is the deal, or one of the deals. Disappointment can shape us, make us, not break us. Not everything goes well, that doesn’t mean we aren’t somewhat okay, aren’t moving ahead, aren’t blessed in some other way, haven’t had some of the successes we have indeed had.

Two thoughts.

Disappointed?

Then sit with your feelings, hold your disappointment like you would a child, don’t deny that it hurts. It won’t kill you to just experience it, to feel it. It may do you good. If you feel it, you know what the rest of the human race feels, and you know what reality feels like.

Saying things like, “I don’t care,” or “It doesn’t matter,” aren’t very healthy or helpful. You do care or you wouldn’t be disappointed — and caring is a good thing. And really, what you wanted that didn’t happen may have mattered, a lot! Don’t shame yourself for feeling disappointed.

One of my therapist friends told me recently, “You get disappointed because you care so much, you hope for so much, you are such a visionary. It’s true. Great dreamers have great disappointments, but they also live with so much hope, so much expectancy, so much positivity, so much vision that does come true.

Secondly, to live effectively with disappointment — especially seeing that the researchers tells us we are wired for negativity — we may have to work at not letting the blues become our only reality.

When one thing is hard then it is good to notice that very often something else in our lives is easy. Right now my body is suffering various and sundry chronic pains. But my work — it’s going quite well.

And when we have loss, often we experience — even in the same time frame — some gains. In fact every loss may contain a hidden gain. The loss of one stage of life ushers in another, the loss of one thing leads to the next thing for us that wouldn’t have been possible without the loss of the first thing.

A painful family death may be followed by the making a good new friend. The loss of a great job may be followed by a job that is even better, or has a needed difference in it. What is dashed — it may even lead to the cash, of some variety. The loss of a career, or of our health, or of a loved one maybe be followed by the deepening of our souls.

Disappointment — it’s life, and it is an decidedly acceptable emotion. It’s okay to feel it, and to let it go, and also to keep moving toward a different, newly acceptable future.

I know.

You do too.

“What’s left?” I asked my friend Tim McConnell as we sat eating lunch at Roberto’s in Del Mar today. “What else do you want out of life?”

He paused, then said, “To be meaningfully connected to people.”

I like it.

I agree with Tim, and would like connection even more if I wasn’t also hard wired to adore places, plants and planetaries — plus various, sundry and other unspoken pleaseries and delightifications.

My friend Tim has it right, however, and nicely dialed in: To be with people — that’s the good stuff.

Last Saturday night I attended the wedding of two friends  — Violet Mendez and Mathew Opdycke — in the REFINERY Church courtyard.

After the ceremony — which was full of laughter and love —  the inner patio of the church was transformed as it filled with people laughing, drinking, eating, dancing and celebrating this new couple’s relationship.

In the warm, spring evening air we were suddenly living large, whooping it up with two beautifully connected young people who had just made one of the ultimate connectivity choices —  to get married, to fuse lives, to become union, unit and united force.

Several years ago, I hired the building of the stage that Matthew and Violet married on last Saturday night. I remember designing the stage, pouring over the plans, negotiating with the contractor, making it happen.  I knew it would become something good, but little did I know how good.

I didn’t anticipate something this gently gorgeous — the two lovers, my good friends, these two adorable aspirants — these two moving together, heads close, giggling, twirling  bonding there. As they danced — and we all watched in hushed reverence — the stage became sacred space for love.

Then later that same evening, on the same pavered stage we all danced, wedding party and guests, mutual celebrants, romping in the church courtyard, shaking sacred booty in the holy place, moving as one to the music — alive, happy, connected.

I love places — planned, planted, planet-making places — but like Tim, I love people more. To hold a lover’s hand and walk together through a park, to sit in the evening on a couch and read to a child, to kiss your grandma’s cheek, to sing with your friends, to lift a glass with mutual revelers, to dance with anyone — this is the good within the good of the unremittingly good.

Yesterday we celebrated my daughter Roz’s thirty-second birthday. I thought it might be painful. It wasn’t. I thought it might remind me of her losses — the lifelong loss of normalcy, of ability and of opportunity that have fallen to her and our family because of her developmental disabilities. It didn’t.

The party conjured no sad feelings; it brought up no regrets. Instead it was a delightful affair with a delightful group of her long-time friends, all who have disabilities, all who are amazing, fun, loving people.

Eleven of Roz’s friends came, and when each new one entered the house they were greeted by the rest with warmth, enthusiasm and great affection. It was markedly different  than parties where everyone is “normal.” This party was more demonstrative; they were more excited to see each other and it was more fun. They pointed more, laughed more and definitely hugged each other more than you see at most such events.

They ate pizza, gobbled brownies, scooped ice cream and opened presents together — a circle of friends, around the table, then on the floor,  practically levitated by kindness up into the living room air. One of the girls read Roz’s cards to her. It was a touching moment, one friend caring for another without even a pause for judgment or for surprise or analysis. Not being able to read is no big deal to this group, most of them can’t, it doesn’t matter, they don’t judge.

What is a good life? Is it being smart? Does one have to be beautiful? Is wealth required? Must one rise above the others, control the room, star on the stage?

Nope.

One must simply love and be loved.

We tumble from one stage of life to another. A while back I tripped and fell on my face on the lawn. No damage. But I’m not referring to that kind of falling.

Recently, one of my brothers retired, because of cancer. He lost his career, his work friends, his staff, his vocational identity. I’m thinking of that.

He is tumbling.

I’m thinking about how we are all blown along by the maturing process, by our own developing — our progressing or our deteriorating — our bio-chronological tumbling, our head-over-heals bounding down the aging hill.

Me too, tumbling, through the ages.

In contrast to my brother and I, one of my daughters was recently accepted in a Phd program. But this is also a tumble, a roll, a bounce into a new level of professionalism, responsibility — and debt. She will choose to do this or not — she probably will — but looking back she will see that she didn’t, just choose. Her skills, her economic status, her parents modeling, the opportunities afford her by race, nationality and era — much of what she is experiencing lies far beyond her control.

I’m not saying we don’t choose some stuff. I’m just saying that we grow up, have opportunity — or don’t — and end up doing things –or not anymore — and it’s a bit of a mystery how and why it all goes down, as it does, so fast, so hard, so soft, to us, so uncontrolled.

My mom will soon go into assisted living in her retirement community. My mom is literally being tumbled by age and dementia into another reality. The move apart from my dad will be very difficult for her, and my dad. My father mused the other day, “How did we get here? It’s gone so fast.”

“How in the heck did we get here, all of us?”

What upheaval, what shifting tectonic plate, what smoking super volcano, what giant, crashing meteor, what mass extinction in the past, what new species lasting to the present created our story? What forces operating on us have rendered our racked, rifted, royal, rattled, ragged reality?

We are tumble weeds.

We live on and within the tumble dry cycle.

We uproot like trees in rain storms and tumble into the next street, the next house, the next new era, the next iteration of our maturity, our vivacity, our decline. And in the end, we will tumble, trip and fall into our graves.

I’m apprehending this: We choose less than we think.

And yet, in this, even in this reality turbulence, I find my North Star, my ever fixed point, my sheltered home and my final bed to rest in.

God is not missing. There are many forces operating, but God is present too, and he has our backs.

In Him, in powerful God, with the powerful name of Jesus the King — within his love and care and compassion — we live and move and have our tumbled, bumbled, humbled being.

Life is a series of choices about what we value.

What do you value? What about me? I like the advice in Matthew 6:19

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a challenging, powerful teaching. It is a good word about our hearts

In Matthew 6, Jesus is challenging you and me with a provocative question, “Where is your heart?”

Jesus says our heart is where our treasures is.

This week Tasia, my office manger and I worked on the REFINERY Church youth center. We bought wood, and paint, and furniture.

We assembled a big black farm table and bench we bought for the youth. We carried out trash. We nailed some decorative wood on the walls. On Friday, we swept the floor, so the youth could have an nice environment for their Sunday group.

You could say, what we bought and worked on is the stuff that rots. The room and it’s furniture will age over time. The youth will sit on that new table, stand on that table, jump on that table. They will break the windows with game balls.  They will trash that room!

But remodeling the youth center isn’t about the stuff, it is about valuing young people, loving our youth, creating a safe attractive space for them, about attracting more of them to church so they can know God.

That matters. They matter. That they have a good place to meet matters.

They are the treasure that we use our treasure for. This is what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6. Keep straight on what the treasure is. Treasure the true treasure, not the lesser treasure.

If we treasure only temporary stuff that rots, stuff that people steal, stuff that goes up and down in value — cars, clothes, food, houses, money, although those aren’t bad — if we put them in the center of our hearts, then our hearts will be filled with insecurity.

The recent great recession, 2007 to 2009, showed us how insecure our earthly treasure is.

But If we treasures stuff that which lasts on into heaven — eternal stuff like young people, all people, Christian community, virtue, beauty, love, God himself — then our hearts will be secure, for these things were made to last.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.

God has put eternity in us. God has set a desire for what lasts in us. Our souls are eternal, our hearts are eternal, the kingdom of God is eternal. The Bible is clear on this, go for the gold Christians. Pursue what lasts!

Question. Hard question. One Christians have always struggled with.

Does God hate stuff? Is God anti-material? Does God hate earth? Does only heaven have value?

No, no, no. That is not what Jesus is saying here.

The church fathers, our best theologians, the famous historic church councils, the best Christian thinkers have always answered:God loves his creation, God loves nature, God loves earth — in fact heaven will be a new earth. God loves humans, and God loves buildings that his people can be safe in, live in and worship in.

God himself oversaw the building of the beautiful Jewish temple.

In fact I think our need and longing for a place to worship, and a safe place to live is our longing for heaven. It is the old Gnostic heresy that God hates evil flesh and evil material things and that only heaven and spirit are good. That is heresy. It is false.

The whole book of Matthew is about Jesus healing bodies, feeding crowds, loving humans, honoring the temple, teaching with examples from creation.

NT Wright puts it well, “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it.”

The beautiful thing of this world, nature, flowers, bodies, the beautiful accomplishments of human beings, art, music, literature, dance, our God loves and revels in these things and they are part of the kingdom of God and they will be a part of heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t directing us to be weirdly anti-material and super-spiritual, he is directing us to wrap our hearts around kingdom values, around what is most important:

People, not money
God, not stuff
The body of Christ, not our separated individual lives.

Jesus us saying, “I really care about your hearts. I want them to choose the best things. Matthew 6:19 is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well  spring of life.”

In my family, when it comes to technology we use Apple products.

Once, my daughter’s Apple device was stolen by a participant in her day program. But we had turned on the app Find My IPhone on the device. So we saw where the IPod went.

It was in Santee. At a shopping mall. Then a house. We contacted the director of her program. He knew the student who lived in Santee. The director called the mom. Surprise! Your son has a stolen iPod. Busted!

The iPod was guarded and protected by it’s finding app and it’s GPS system.

In a similar way, guard your heart. Turn on the GPS in your heart. Watch where your heart goes. Protect it,  don’t let it get stolen away by temporary things, by keeping it focused on that which lasts.

Jesus was so serious about this, he came at it again in Matthew 6:22

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is very confrontational here, very strong. The over-valuing of the kingdom of the world can darken our eyes, and darken our hearts, master and rule us.

Money can rule us. And keep us insecure.

How do we avoid this?

How to keep I keep my eye healthy? How do I serve the right master? How do I guard my heart?

Three simple ways.

1. Put the most important things first.

Put God first, not money.

Put people first, not things.

I like things. I have things. But to keep myself balanced, every month I give money to support a missionary, every month I pay for children’s education in TJ, every month I pay for my parents food at their rest home, every month I give generously to my church.

I tend toward being materialistic, but I purposefully counter this by choosing to use a significant portion of my money for eternal things.

2. To guard your heart, invest in the kingdom.

Invest in people. Invest in friends, invest in youth, and children and old people too.Place the value of relationships higher than the value of material things.

Use your time to stop and talk to people. Build up your relationships at church.Use your house or apartment for hospitality.Use your personal skills to volunteer.

Invest in your kids. Invest in family. Spend more time with them that with stuff. If you are a leader in the church, mentor someone, apprentice someone, disciple someone. Build into the life of a younger person

3. Finally, thirdly, go beyond using money for God. Use your skills for God.

N. T. Wright again gets at this perfectly, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself— that will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Here is how we have good hearts. Here is how we have secure hearts.

We remain clear on what the treasure is.

We put up-and-down things second, and we put lasting, eternal things first.

What?

I rounded the corner and stopped — tuffs of building insulation were blowing throughout the Refinery Church’s beautiful new wedding venue courtyard like little bits of yellow cotton candy, or maybe baby’s breath blown off the blushing bride’s veil.

My mind couldn’t make sense of it for a moment — as always happens when reality goes sideways — and I found myself looking at what I never expected to be looking at.

There is that pause —the stunned sentience before the implacable incomprehensible — the blank brain, then the neurons go to work, chug, chug, chug, and “Ahhhh! — I know what happened.”

Only a week before we had pulled a whole truck load of roof insulation out of the youth center, piled it alongside of the classroom building, and the coming rain storm — with its sweet, gusty, moist breath — had blown it around the corner, blown it into pieces along the backside of the building and was now coating our beautiful green lawn with it.

Yikes! Building insulation everywhere — you don’t want it!

I spent the next hour — as the wind picked up even more — chasing down insulation, stuffing it in the trash dumpsters, running back for more, and pining the rest of the pile down with some mobile fences. Little pieces covered my coat. I could feel my skin begin to itch. It wasn’t clear who was winning. A brawl with a crazed mob of building insulation in a winter storm — I was King Lear on the heath, all was lost, or not. Who would have thought?

But, that is how it has been. Over the last seven years we have brawled with the REFINERY Church buildings — all fifty plus rooms, in our effort to restore the site. The place has been blown apart by the winds of change, by the winds of the Holy Spirit of God himself, and we have put it back together again — better!

Bang, bang, bang — we have pounded the littered, dirty, broken, neglected status out of the church. We have beaten the ugly out of God’s house! Everything used to be blue, dirty blue carpet, filthy dirty blue pews, dirty blue walls, dirty gray tile floors, dirty blue dirt. Blue was once good. Then it wasn’t. Everything has it’s time. We banished blue — just in time.

With a divine passion for the gorgeous exquisite, with a burning and holy love for the consecrated excellent, with an adoration of the holy appealing, with a incurable addiction to the sacrosanct handsome, with beauty burning down our brains we have run down the supernatural good.

Our new courtyard, our new children’s play yard, our new landscaping (flowers and more flowers!), our new attractive name, our new sign, our new canopies, our new offices, new youth center, our new lights (everywhere — decorative lights and LED lights!), our new stucco, our new pavers, our new paint (fresh color, color, color), our new pews (not blue), our old-new oak floors, our new artwork, our new curtains, our new couches, even our new water-saving toilets.

Our new staff, our new leadership team, our new finance team, our new decor team, our new counseling ministry, our new Lifegroup team, our new children’s team, our new youth group team, our new food ministry, our new support group ministry, our new community outreach programs and then this — our new beautiful and generous and diverse congregation with its upcoming weddings and its on-the-way new babies!

New — for God — it’s good!

Zeal for your house has consumed me!

May zeal for God’s house consume you too!

I urge you — coming alongside of us — to brawl for God’s house to be beautiful! Chase down the good. Do whatever it takes.

God wants it, and in truth, it is God who does it.

How fun is that?

Really fun!