Dec 212016
 

As a small child, Christmas held a special magic I’ve often wished I could experience once again. Mesmerized by the tinseled tree whose outstretched arms protected rewards for a good little boy’s year-long behavior, I anticipated for two weeks what marvelous treasures lay concealed by colored wrapping paper bound with glittering ribbons and bows. I imagined the most wonderful toys the Sears catalog depicted and described!

As I grew, I recognized those gifts for what they truly were – not toys, but sacrifices. I came from a poor family and gradually realized how much they gave up to demonstrate their love for me, doing without things they needed and wanted, preferring to shower me with happiness.

Their example of loving and caring and giving was the greatest gift they could have possibly provided, one that has lasted a lifetime. Do I long to feel that magic I felt as a child again? Yes. Every Christmas. Would I trade it for the feeling of now seeing my loved ones enjoy what I give to them? Never.

Giving is what Christmas is truly about, imitating the greatest gift and sacrifice ever made. The physical gifts we exchange merely symbolize that. My Christmas wish for you, then, is to be part of the ongoing magic, giving and receiving, providing and being provided for, sacrificing and, most of all, loving one another completely.    –RG

 

Nov 292016
 

World PeaceLast night I was given the honor of being asked to speak at the Porterville Peace Rally. These were my comments.

Good evening. My name is Rick Groves. Most of you don’t know me, and all of us are far too complex to nail down in a few words. So, by way of personal introduction, I’ll just say I’ve been known to teach a little and to preach a little. But mostly to just love people around me. And I love to tell stories. Time permitting, I hope to share one or two with you here tonight.

I want to thank the organizers of this Peace Rally for this lovely chance to share some words. I received a call from Kayleen Murello last Tuesday inviting me, and I was extremely surprised and quite honored she had taken the time to run me down. I cannot begin to express what a blessing it is to be included and awarded this wonderful opportunity.

Tonight, my friends, we’re having a Peace Rally. Peace is the freedom from disturbance. It is quiet and tranquility. It is harmony.

We all desire these things.

To say the world does not contain evil would be a false statement or hopelessly naïve. But to realize the world is comprised of a greater and far more powerful good is not simply reassurance. It is reality.

Good does not always triumph, but the lessons of history are that evil wins for only a short season. The undefeatable spirit of humanity always rises up and retakes the victory. And we will have victory.

To achieve victory takes two things: The brave action of a group coming together to stand and fight for what’s right, and the brave action of an individual standing alone to fight for what’s right.

Nothing worth accomplishing has ever been achieved without both. It takes cooperation and it takes leadership.

It’s been said the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. If we hold this as true, then its corollary is also true. Good people doing something are the only thing necessary for triumph over evil.

And so we come together tonight as good people taking action for a cause that is right.

And make no mistake, this involves all of us together. You cannot say this doesn’t affect you.

I promised a story, so here’s one of my favorites. You may have heard it before. If so, you’re about to hear it again.

There once was a mouse…

The mouse peeked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package. “What wonderful food might this contain?” the mouse wondered as his little nose sniffed the air. He was terrified to see it was a mousetrap!

Scurrying to the barnyard, seeing the chicken, the mouse screamed his warning, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head, and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can see this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I just cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse ran to the pig and told him, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse dashed to the cow and said, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m really sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So the mouse, head down, feeling dejected, returned to the house to face the farmer’s mousetrap….alone.

That very night, a sound echoed through the house – the single abrupt snap of a mousetrap capturing its prey.

The farmer’s wife, awakened by the noise, rushed through the darkness to see what was caught. In the deep shadows, she didn’t see the poisonous snake whose tail was wedged in the trap.

With a ferocious strike, the snake’s fangs injected venom into the soft flesh of the farmer’s wife’s leg. Awakened by her scream, the farmer rushed to her and killed the snake with a butcher knife. He called the doctor, who came right away and removed as much poison as he could and gave her medicine, but her fever would not go down.

Everyone knows that chicken soup is the best treatment for a fever, so the farmer took his hatchet to the barnyard to collect the main ingredient.

But the poison continued to do its deadly work, and her sickness continued. Friends and neighbors sat with her round the clock and, to feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

Alas, the farmer’s wife did not recover – and on the third day, she died.

She was well-loved by all and her funeral drew so many people that the farmer slaughtered the cow to provide enough meat to feed them.

Meanwhile, the mouse with great sadness stared out from his crack in the wall. He had tried to warn them…

So the next time you hear that someone is facing a problem, and you don’t think it concerns you, remember this little story. When one of us is threatened, we’re all at risk. Together, we are all in this journey called life.

So keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to give support and encouragement. Never forget that each and every one of us is a vital thread in another person’s tapestry – our lives are woven together tightly for a reason.

You know, when I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.

I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation – and I could indeed have changed the world.

We change others only by changing ourselves and then demonstrating that change to inspire others. And when they are inspired, they become that group that stands together to change the world.

Aesop tells the fable of an old man on his deathbed summoning his children around him to give them some parting advice. He asked his oldest son to bring a bundle of sticks that were tied together.

“Break it,” he said.

The oldest son, also the strongest, strained and strained, but with his greatest effort couldn’t break the bundle.

The other sons also tried, but none of them could break it.

“Untie the sticks,” said the father, “and each of you take a single stick.”

When they had done so, he called out to them, “Now, break them!”

Each stick was easily broken.

“You see my meaning?” said their father. “Apart, you are fragile. But stand together, and you cannot be broken.”

We’ve hopefully enough time for one last story.

A squirrel perched on a branch talking to a dove that had landed there. “Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” he asked the bird.

“Why, nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the squirrel said.

“I once sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavy, not a raging blizzard – no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off under the weight of the snow.”

Having said that, the squirrel flitted away.

The dove thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

An old Texas Baptist minister from way back in the day named Joseph Fort Newton said, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” I’m going to challenge you here tonight to figure out how you can build a bridge and by so doing tear down a few walls. This refers back to my earlier comment about standing alone as a leader.

Are there any leaders in this group tonight?

If so, start leading.

Because, after all, like the little mouse tried to warn us, we’re all in this together.

And like Aesop’s tale of the dying father, together we are invincible.

And like the squirrel showed us, it may be your voice that makes a difference in this world.

So I encourage you tonight, stand together and love one another. Teach others around you by your demonstration how to love.

I have experienced personally what it feels like to be mistreated and to be on the receiving end of unfair discrimination. Long ago decided I will not tolerate intolerance, will speak and act against it.
I will stand with you and will not abide that others treat anyone with hatred or violence.

I know many in this community and this country who will pledge the same.

May I leave you with some wise words uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Thank you.

Jul 302013
 

dirty_dishesI hate washing dishes. Probably because I still associate it with punishment. When I was a kid growing up in Grandma’s house if I did something wrong, that was my penance — get my rebellious little behind into the kitchen, stand in front of the sink, and scrub. Somehow still today I think I must have committed some grievous sin every time I put a dish in the water.

Since it’s something I really don’t like (but because I really do enjoy cooking for my family, and cleaning simply goes with the territory) I’ve developed a system. I wash every dish, utensil, pot, and pan as I go. That way when I finish cooking and eating there’s not a single item left to clean. I seem better able to withstand the ordeal if I don’t have to suffer the punishment all at once.

You, however, may love to washes dishes. Some folks really enjoy it, so you may not relate to the dish washing thing. But I’ll assert there’s something in your life that you really don’t like doing. And I’ll also assert that you’ve done something wrong you’re being chastised for. That is, unless, unlike me, and instead like Jesus, you walk on water.

No one enjoys correction, but I realize now that when Grandma corrected me as a kid it was really for my own good, and she did it only because she loved me and wanted what was best for me. For example, playing with matches and lawnmower gas and nearly burning down the garage when I was eight was definitely not something to go unchallenged (a story for another time…).

And I also now see a connection that I never made. Washing was a shadow of what was really taking place in my life — we’re all dirty dishes, but when we accept Christ He washes us to make us clean.

If we are born-again Christians and truly children of God we will go through times of washing and correction — and we will go through them often. The Holy Spirit is helping us take off the old ways and put on the new ones. The flesh dies hard, but we should actually welcome God’s discipline showing us the errors we are making.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
– Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
– Hebrews 12:10-11 ESV

The problem comes in when we rebel against this and still want to do things our own way instead of dealing with reality. The devil will try to use this tactic against us when possible. He tells us that it’s okay, it’s not that bad, and that our dishes really aren’t that dirty.

But they’re filthy compared to God’s standard of perfection. Our dishes always need washing. But thankfully the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ washes the dish of our spirit, and that precious gift of grace has cleansed us and continues to clean us in wonderful ways the devil is powerless to soil.

However, although we are forgiven in spirit when we accept Jesus, our flesh must still be trained to submit to holiness. Justification happens in an instant, but sanctification is a work that continues, just like keeping the dishes clean, for the rest of our lives.

If we’re not careful, and we ignore the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit and instead heed the shouts of our flesh and of the enemy, sin can stack up in our lives just the same as dirty dishes can fill the sink and counter.

And then we have a mess on our hands.

If you don’t see the dirty dishes in your own life, ask the Holy Spirit to remove the scales and open your spiritual eyes because I assure you they are there for each of us. Just like the dishes in the sink, you and I can either wash them (or more correctly submit to allowing Jesus to wash them) or ignore them. But pretending they’re not there doesn’t make them go away.

Sins, like dirty dishes, are much easier to deal with one at a time. And like dirty dishes, they tend to stack up and overrun your life if you don’t keep on top of them by confessing and repenting every day, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us, convict us, correct us, and shape us into the destined image of Christ we are to become.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, Jesus and I have some dishes to wash….

 

Apr 242013
 

candleMy Grandpa and Grandma who raised me picked me up after the last day of eighth grade in 1973 to leave on a two-week vacation to Oklahoma and Arkansas to visit relatives I’d never met but heard a lot of stories about. The polar white ’66 Mercury Colony Park station wagon was loaded for an exciting road trip, and I couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin. They had promised to stop at a lot of really neat places along the way, and I was anxious to see the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Giant Meteor Crater (I was a NASA nut), Carlsbad Caverns, and Fort Courage (the “home” of F Troop, one of my favorite TV shows at the time). Armed with my black & white Polaroid Swinger instant print camera and three packs of film plus a box of AG-1 flash bulbs I had purchased by saving up my $5 a week allowance, I was ready to travel and document the journey with self-developing pictures.

As we traversed mile after mile of the seemingly unending now-historical Route 66 (which wasn’t nearly as much fun as anticipated in my imagination) I started seeing signs for a cavern I’d never heard of. It didn’t take much convincing to get Grandpa to take the detour to Peach Springs, Arizona, since Grandma was a real travel-bug and always open for unanticipated amusement. Plus they spoiled me a lot.

But rather than the grand entrance to a colossal cave I had expected from the name, we paid the admission and along with the rest of a small group of tourists squeezed into a slightly larger than normal elevator inside a visitor’s center. Two hundred and ten feet below the surface the doors opened into the world-famous — at least according to the signs — Grand Canyon Caverns. After a short walk along a roped-off walkway though a smaller cave we entered a large cavern about the size of two football fields. It was incredible to see such a huge expanse so far underground.

And there were interesting things there. For one, I had never seen so much food. Barrels and boxes were stacked three and four layers high in 1963 during the Cuban Missile Crisis by our US government with the thought that the cavern would be a perfect fallout shelter. There was enough food, water, and toilet paper to sustain 2,000 people for two weeks. It’s still in good shape and is still stored there today. Further ahead on the trail was a mummified bobcat, allegedly dying there in 1850. Still in pretty good shape, considering….but definitely not the most attractive feature of the cavern.

…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:5 ESV

You may have experienced physical darkness. But my hunch is most of you haven’t. You may believe you have, but I’ll contend you’ve probably only experienced dimness. It’s not really dark when you close your eyes. A room with the lamps turned off isn’t dark. A moonless midnight with a clouded sky covering all the stars a hundred miles from the nearest house is not dark — it’s merely dim.

If you want to know what darkness really is, descend twenty-one stories under the earth where sunlight cannot penetrate and have the tour guide extinguish all artificial sources of luminescence for a full minute.

When the lights went out, the people around me giggled nervously and made joking comments to lighten their discomfort. This was not the natural surrounding for humans, and their uneasiness was clear. We were created to live under the sun, and I certainly shared in their distress.

At first your eyes still perceive the light within, and colored blotches swirl in your line of sight. But it quickly fades into deepening shades of gray, becoming darkness, and then descending into blackness. Pitch blackness. A blackness that feels like it’s not only enveloping you, but consuming you. A blackness that pushes against you, attempting to move you, yet you stay frozen in place, afraid, unable to see any part of your body, unable to navigate except by touch, so you remain still, knowing in such a strange place you would be immediately lost.

This is darkness. Utter darkness.

It is not a thing in itself. No more than a hole dug in the earth is a thing in itself. Just as the hole is the absence of soil, so is darkness the absence of light. Evil is not a thing in itself, it is the absence of good.

There are those who question how a God who is good, who created all things, could have created evil? The answer is that everything God created was indeed all good (Genesis 1:31). God is not the creator or originator of evil, but God did give us each a choice. Otherwise, humanity and angels would be forced into predefined roles and would not be the free-willed beings God intended. We can choose the light of His goodness, or we can choose the absence of His goodness and thus fall into an evil darkness — the darkness of being removed from the light. This is what Satan and his fallen angels chose. It is what we can also choose by rejecting God.

The guide lit a single candle.

It hurt my eyes for an instant because is was so bright. The entire cavern was illuminated by this single point of light, and I could see relief move across the faces around me. All shared in the splendor of this so small a light that completely banished the darkness. While darkness tried to hide and lurk in the corners, behind stalagmites and stalactites, when the light touched it, darkness was immediately and completely removed.

I was touched deeply by this moment. Even though I did not yet grasp its spiritual significance, I wanted to record and never forget it. I lifted my camera, which had been readied for immediate use.

FLASH!!!

Needless to say, it got everyone’s attention.

It was brighter than a lighting strike in the cavern, filling every shadow, every crevice, every crack for an instant. Then darkness tried to creep back in.

But the light of the single candle remained and commanded the darkness.

Today, God spoke to me from the past, in the light of His goodness and wisdom and love.

Like the tour guide did with the candle, when we simply choose to let God’s light into our lives His goodness floods forth, commanding and banishing the darkness, replacing evil with warmth, love, kindness, blessing, and salvation. Darkness tries to hide, but indeed trembles at His voice.

God lives beyond time. It’s incomplete to say that He knows the future. Instead, He lives in the past, present, and future all at once, unbound by the flow of moments as we are. “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) was the name to be given when Moses asked. And consider, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). He is ever-present at all times, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful.

Today I remembered this when He spoke to me through a demonstration that was given to me four decades ago in a vast underground cavern that was appropriately named Chapel of the Ages.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 ESV

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Aug 072012
 

TreasureChestWhen we think of buried treasure, our mind most often conjures pictures of finding precious metals or jewels that have lain in wait below the ground for a wonderful discovery that makes our life richer. We dream of the pleasures we can buy with the value of such a lucky find, and we imagine the luxuries and indulgences we can afford for our enjoyment.

But not all treasures are brought forth from an underground hiding place. Sometimes it’s just the reverse. Instead, we deposit a priceless treasure below the ground, out of the reach of ourselves and others, and never again do we gain the benefits we could otherwise enjoy.

This is what happened on June 22nd. A rare jewel was hidden below the earth where we can no longer marvel at her beauty, or partake of the bounty of her generous gifts. On this day we laid to rest a 25-year-old precious woman of God who left us before we could fully appreciate this priceless treasure.

To say that such an early death was God’s plan is a lie. God knew, of course, for God knows all things. He knows the end of a thing from its beginning. But this was not God’s will. His will from the beginning was that we would live forever in paradise. That was His plan in creating a garden that was perfect, without sin, and without death. No, to lose a young woman so early, is not His will. But it is instead the result of living in a fallen world where physical death, sickness, disease, poverty, war, famine, pestilence, floods, and fire are real and present every day of our all-too-short lives.

I cried as I realized I would never again – at least not during this lifetime – speak with her, hear her sing in the choir, watch her playfully interact with the children during vacation bible school, or embrace her with a warm and heartfelt hug. During her funeral service, in the memory of my mind’s eye, I could see her excitedly swaying and clapping, singing songs of joy to worship our King. Now she has indeed traded her sorrows and laid them down for the joy of the Lord. As I write this, she is no doubt joined with the angels around the throne of grace, singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, while she awaits that glorious day of the second coming when she will be given her perfected body that will never again feel the sting of death.

So do I feel sorry for her? No. She is in a wonderful place.

But I do feel sorry for those of us left behind, especially for her parents who are dealing with the loss of a child and the painfully cold void her departure has left in their lives. In the life of a Christian, grief about death is not for the deceased, but it is for the survivors. Did not Paul tell us not to grieve as do the heathen without hope? He was not telling us to not grieve at all, but he was simply admonishing us to grieve in a different way. If we indeed believe that we are heaven-bound after this life is complete, why would we not be filled with joy that one of our own has already made the journey? We do rejoice for them, but it is for us who stay behind that we feel sorrow.

I’ve thought about her many, many times since that day. And remembering her fills my mind with such a variety of thoughts – far more than I can cover in a single article – so I will focus on this one key concept.

The greatest treasures the world have ever known lie buried in our cemeteries.

How many lives could have been touched? How many discoveries could have been made? How many songs could have been sung? How many books written? How many diseases cured? How many sermons could have been preached? How many lives could have been saved or made so much more worth living had those deceased treasures accomplished all they had been capable of accomplishing? Many indeed did, but the majority did not.

So I ask you, dear friend. What gifts has our heavenly Father bestowed upon you? What callings has He placed on your life? What dreams has He given to you? Unless Jesus returns first, you and I have a date with the grave that is approaching closer and closer each day. It’s uncomfortable to realize this, but it’s the way our time here on this planet will end. The price for this wonderful gift of life we have been given will ultimately be paid for with a death to complete the transaction. And what we do here on earth will decide the reward we receive in heaven. It has been said that life is our gift from God. What we do with it is our gift to God. Are you giving Him a worthy gift? I hope so but, at least in my case, I fear I am not.

The army says to be all that you can be; God says to be all He’s called us to be. Are you everything God says you are? Are you obedient to the tasks He has given you to do? Are you fully developing the gifts He has given you? If not, when will you? If you are waiting, when will you start and what are you waiting for? Will you have time to finish before the clock stops ticking?

A lovely young woman has left this earthy realm, and her shell has become buried treasure below the earth. We cannot possibly know if she fully accomplished all she was sent here to do. Whether she did or whether she did not, her race is over and her reward is forever settled in heaven, to be determined when the seals are broken and the King of Kings reads from the Book of Life and from the Book of Deeds. But in one personally important way, her work here continues. She is an incredible inspiration to me, giving an urgency to do more than I’ve ever done before. I pray this inspires you to do the same.

Tabetha, I thank you for the life you lived and for allowing me to share a small part of it. I, like many others, love you and miss you so very much.

You are a precious buried treasure…