This Story Makes Me Think of Cinderella

At our Free Store conversation on Friday morning we talked about Jesus' parable in Luke 17:7-9, "Who has a Servant Ploughing?"  In this story Jesus asks us to imagine a servant that has been out in the field all day.  The man comes back to the house in the evening.  Is it more likely that at the end of a hard day of work the master will say, "Sit down and let me get you dinner?" or that he will say, "Fix me dinner and then you can get something to eat?"

We started the conversation by talking about the importance of stories.  Someone said that parents tell their children stories as a way to teach them about life.  Another friend asked if we remembered having our parents read us bedtime stories at the end of the day.  Linda said, "I didn't get stories.  My parents were too busy workin."  George told us that he didn't get stories but remembered his mama saying, "Go to bed boy" which made us laugh.

As the conversation continued we talked about the likelihood that a master would fix dinner at the end of the day for a servant that came in from work.  George made us laugh when he said, "Prob'ly not.  But if so he got a good heart."  Sheila blurted out, "It ain't gonna happen."  She thought it was more likely that the master would say, "If there is something left over you get it."  She said the servant was probably thinking, "Don't eat it all" which made us laugh.

At this point we talked about the dynamics involved in a master-servant relationship.  Sheila said, "It's love-hate."  Rick said, "It's ace-deuce" which made us laugh.  This led us to talk about how many relationships are unequal in some respect.  Whether it's parent/child or boss/employee it seems that there is always someone that has the power and someone that doesn't.  Someone said, "I think Jesus is challenging these unequal relationships.  I think he is asking us to imagine a world were there are no inferiors and superiors, no higher and lower, where no one has power over another."

As the conversation progressed Sheila said, "It's not hard to be honest.  Sometimes it might be."  Although we weren't sure how this fit in someone else said, "What would have happened if the servant in the story had been honest and told the master he was tired and didn't want to make dinner?"  Terrence smiled and said, "He can't be honest."  Rick said that the master would have said, "You can go to bed just do it somewhere else" which made us laugh.  Another friend said, "It can be hard to be honest.  The reality is that we may not really want to hear the truth."  The question was then asked if we had ever had someone tell us something we knew was true but didn't want to hear.  Rick said, "One time two guys that worked for me sat on the mike in the work truck.  I had to listen to what an SOB I was for twenty minutes" which made us laugh.  Sheila said, "My ex-husband Carl and I had a long conversation before we divorced.  It was honest but it still hurt."

As the conversation moved to its conclusion the question was asked, "Why wouldn't a master thank a servant?"  Sheila said, "He's a butthole" which made us laugh.  She went on to say, "He has his own pride.  He doesn't want to change."  At this Linda jumped in and said, "This story makes me think of Cinderella.  It's a fairy tale but it sounds like a nightmare to me" which made us laugh even though we didn't quite know how it fit in.  She also said, "I wouldn't like it if they slaved me."  Someone said, "Relationships can be very rigid.  Parents will often just assume their kids have to do what they are told and won't say thank you to their kids.  Maybe if relationships were more equal there would be a better give and take."  Another friend said, "I remember mom spankin me but not thankin me" which made us laugh.  Sheila said, "My kids used to do stuff for me because I was so tired."  George said, "My stepdaughter brought me pancakes and eggs so I thanked her."  Terrence said, "I think this was pretty good.  It deals with secret issues of the heart.  We can keep a good relationship with others.  Just be active and speak out."


Life is Complicated but Beautiful

At our Wednesday morning Free Store conversation Carlos joined us to continue our journey through the book of Romans.  Amazingly Carlos actually showed up early for which he was properly teased.  In almost two years this is probably the first time that he was there before the scheduled starting time.  Someone said, "It's a miracle" which made us laugh.  Carlos took the ribbing in good humor and it added to what was a festive mood for the conversation.

The conversation was loosely based on Romans 8:16-28.  Our new friend Anita started it off by saying, "There is none of us better than the other.  We all have a journey.  I'm still battling my tumor but I'm excited and have a sense of hope."  Carlos said, "We all have emotions.  The important thing is to keep them moving.  Pass it on."  At this someone said, "Life is better when it's like a river rather than a reservoir.  If stuff just flows in and never flows through it gets stagnant."

As the conversation continued Carlos said, "I didn't have a relationship with my father.  It was crushed early."  He went on to say that our relationships with our parents could effect the way we understand God as a father.  We might struggle with what it means to be a child of God and an heir of the kingdom.  He said, "Hope teaches us that we're goin through this life for a purpose."  Carlos then told us about something a friend had said recently that he kept thinking about, "Life is as close as you're gonna get to hell."  He thought that was very encouraging and especially when "going through hard times."  He went on to say that without hope, "Life is as close as you're gonna get to heaven" which somehow didn't seem quite as encouraging.

At this point Sheila said, "God is raising us, testing us."  We talked a bit about how testing is often painful because we don't see the point of the suffering that we are going through.  Our friend Brad said, "The glory can't be revealed if we don't suffer.  We have to learn to go against the grain of our desires and learn something about self-sacrifice."  At this Donald said, "Sometimes in my life I don't want to read the Bible.  My mom used to ask me to go to church and I didn't want to.  But God wants me to do it and I like to do what God wants."

As the conversation moved toward its conclusion another friend said, "I think that sometimes we have a false view of life.  We expect too much and think that if things don't go the way that we want when we want that there must be something wrong.  Maybe we feel like we have ruined things but that's not the case.  Life is complicated but beautiful."  At this Anita said, "That's therapeutic.  I have to remember that when my sister is cussin and giving me stress" which made us laugh.  She then said, "I'm a working construction project."  Carlos said, "Yes and it's amazing if you look at the difference between an eight year old and an adult how much growth takes place."  Anita said, "Since we are a work in progress maybe I should do today what I should have done yesterday.  Maybe I should start a new habit."


You Just Might Gain a Friend by Cancelling a Debt

At our Free Store conversation on Tuesday morning we talked about Jesus' parable in Luke 7:41-42, "A Creditor Had Two Debtors."  The gist of the story is that a man lends money to two other people.  One is a relatively small loan but the other is a much larger amount.  However, neither man could ultimately pay the loan back.  Surprisingly, the creditor cancels the debt.  Jesus then asks the question, "Which of the two will love the creditor more?"

We started the conversation by talking a bit about how much money was involved.  One guy owed fifty denarii and the other guy owed five hundred.  Rick said a denarius was a silver coin but didn't know exactly how much that would be in modern terms.  Someone else brought up that a denarius was a day's pay for a day laborer.  Another friend said, "We may not know exactly how much money is involved but there is a big difference between fifty and five hundred" which made us laugh.  Ultimately we estimated that one of the loans was the equivalent of two months pay and the other the equivalent of two years wages.

At this point we talked a bit about getting in debt and not being able to get out of it.  One of our friends said that he had over ten thousand dollars of debt in fines, child support, and back taxes.  Another friend said she had to declare bankruptcy because of hundreds of thousands of dollars debt.  She said that she got so far in debt because she had good credit and helped her family get loans.  Someone else said they owed about twenty thousand dollars in credit cards and car loans.  We talked a bit about the stress it places on us to be in debt and how this limits our freedom in many ways.  Sheila said that her parents "had a strong will and didn't want to be in debt."  Someone else brought up that we might eliminate some debt if we were just willing to delay our desire for immediate gratification and save for the things we really wanted.

As the conversation continued we talked a bit about the guy lending the money.  Someone said that in order to make loans he must have had a surplus.  This led us to talk about what we do with our money when we have a little extra.  Sheila said, "Maybe I want that big old hamburger" which made us laugh.  Donald said, "People think it's all about money.  You gotta survive.  I don't put my trust in money.  I put my trust in God.  You can't take nothin with you in the world.  That car will be sittin here when you go."

At this point someone brought up about how we often think that if we do something for someone else that they are then obligated to do something for us.  He said, "We are always calculating how much we owe people and what they owe us."  Rick said, "My general manager used to give five thousand dollars to each political party.  That way whoever won was in his back pocket" which made us laugh.  Marney said, "I'm in a situation like that right now.  It's between obligation versus wanting to help someone.  I'm wondering why they are helping me out.  What do they want in return?"  Sheila made us laugh when she blurted out, "You owe me" although we weren't sure who she was talking to.  Someone said, "The best relationships are mutual.  It's the give and take that ultimately makes it work between people.  If it's too one-sided things will break down at some point.  It's like an electric current.  If the circuit isn't closed the lights will go out."

As the conversation moved to its conclusion we talked about the significance of having a debt cancelled.  Someone brought up that the English used to have debtor's prisons for people that couldn't pay their loans.  Rick said, "It's called not paying child support now" which made us laugh.  Another friend told us about visiting a prison and seeing the picture of a woman that had been locked up there for failing to pay a small loan.  Someone else said, "You can get in trouble for writing bad checks" which made us laugh.  A new friend said, "We lent a family member $3,500 and only got back $600.  Sometimes family will do you the same way as strangers.  It puts a strain on the relationship."  Someone else said, "Maybe today we have the chance to cancel a debt that is owed to us, whether it's money or something else.  Maybe you could take the view that you just might gain a friend by cancelling a debt.  That relationship might be more valuable to us in the long run than what we could have gained by demanding payment.  At the end of the day your money isn't going to be there to wipe your ass or hold your hand when you are dying."  Marney said, "That's gross even though its true" which made us laugh.


Prayer: Motivated by fear, or quiet relationship with God? (by Anna O'Connell)

This last Saturday morning at the Free Store, we opened our discussion by reading Matthew 6:5-13.  Jesus talks to his disciples about how they should pray, pointing out the importance of making prayer a private act versus something one does in order to appear holy or close to God.

As we began talking about this message, someone mentioned that Jesus' referral to hypocrites who "love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corner to be seen" reminded him of a man he saw standing in front of a Chik-fil-A.  The man had a speaker system and was preaching to passers-by that they should repent.  We all agreed that this kind of tactic is annoying and bothersome, and ultimately repels people instead of inviting them to have a relationship with God.

The conversation continued when someone else pointed out that often times people repent out of fear and miss the idea that turning to God is about a daily relationship with Him.  Someone in the group pointed out that God is loving and caring, and not the vengeful figure portrayed by fire and brimstone preachers.  Someone else pointed out that sometimes, unfortunately, fear can be a strong motivator.  But fear is what keeps us from having a personal relationship with God.

Another friend then pointed out that sometimes fear can actually be more of a healthy respect for authority.  We respect that God controls everything, and because Jesus was sacrificed for our sins we no longer have to be afraid of God's wrath.  We can experience God's love for us on a daily basis, and one of the ways we can continue to develop our relationship with Him is to pray, quietly and sometimes privately.


You Are More Important Than You Know and More Gifted Than You Can Imagine

Our friend George Dunn joined us to lead the Free Store conversation on Thursday morning.  He started by saying, "If you wanna know what people are like you gotta hang out with them a while, like in the back seat of my car on the drive in this morning."  We laughed as we imagined our rotund ogrish friend hunched over the wheel belching out threats at offending drivers.

George started the conversation by saying, "The more I live in America the more ashamed I become.  We spend more money on pets than we do helping people in need."  He went on to say that he didn't think that "blaming Wall Street" would do much good because the real problem is "greedy human beings" and there is no law that can fix that.  George said that something happened to people that God never intended.  He referred to the line by Mr. Smith in the movie The Matrix, "You human beings are a disease."  He went on to say, "We have enough bombs in the USA to destroy the world one hundred times."  At this someone said, "I've always thought it is ironic that the military has guided missiles called 'smart bombs.'  It doesn't take much intelligence to solve a problem with violence."

As the conversation proceeded George said, "We are all gifted people.  If nothing else we all have the gift of life.  It's not about having more but about what you do with the gift you already have."  He then told us about his friend John.  "John was a poor veterinarian that cared for animals whether the farmers had money to pay him or not.  He appeared to be a nobody on the outside.  He had problems with the IRS.  He almost lost his home to foreclosure.  He had marriage problems because his wife thought he was a failure because he never made much money.  But over five hundred people attended John's funeral and many shared emotional stories of his influence in their lives.  His life mattered even though he wasn't recognized by the world.  He flew under the radar."  George went on to say, "Jesus didn't own a home.  He didn't travel very far from where he grew up.  He was betrayed by a friend, tortured and killed as a blasphemer.  On the outside his life looked like a failure.  And yet his influence can't be measured."  We laughed when he said, "I bet if Joel Osteen had come into town even Jesus' disciples would have gone to his seminars."

At this point George said, "Don't ever think you are insignificant.  I know a guy in NY who decided to voluntarily live a life of poverty.  When I asked him 'Why?' he said, 'Money is not a blessing to me.'  George went on to say, "We have to define success for ourselves.  No matter how much you have, start with that.  You have enough love for everybody that you let in your little circle."  We talked a bit about how sometimes we are afraid to take risks and give what we have or try what we want.  Someone said, "I once bought a stock for $72 a share.  It immediately dropped to $11 and then the company went bankrupt" which made us laugh.  Another friend said, "Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Mt. Everest.  When asked if he knew in advance if he would be successful he said, 'If you know the outcome in advance why bother?'

As the conversation moved to a conclusion George said, "You are important to God.  You are more important than you know and more gifted than you can imagine.  The world may never recognize you but God will."  At this another friend said, "You was right about that scared thing.  I was scared to get a job.  But then I started sellin Speak Up magazine.  I told my friend 'I'm goin down to the police station to sell these.'  She told me that I'd get in trouble.  But I went anyway and they were glad I was doin it."


After My Mama's Death Everything Exploded and Fell Apart

At our Free Store conversation on Wednesday morning Carlos led us in a discussion of Romans 8:16-28.  The conversation revolved around the ideas of power and hope.  Carlos began by saying, "We really don't have any power of our own.  God wills us to live and that is the source of life and of any power we have."  We talked a bit about the importance of using the power that we do have in the right way.  At this Donald jumped in and said, "I know a lot of homeless people.  We sit around and play cards and I read the bible to em."

As the conversation progressed Carlos said, "The most powerful thing I've ever done is to confess, to admit I'm wrong and admit I'm powerless.  We're used to people coming at each other and being defensive.  Last night I confessed to a friend and it really helped us work through something very difficult."  Carlos went on to say, "I think power is a funny word. I think power is neutral.  There is the power of electricity that can be used for the electric chair and to power the lights in grandma's house."

At this point in the conversation Carlos said, "Somehow recognizing that we don't have power is a very powerful thing in itself.  If you think you have cancer, or if you think you're losing your mind, then just accept it and look to God for help.  Admitting we're at the bottom we can get help quicker."

As the conversation moved to a conclusion the question was asked, "What are you hoping for?"  Donald said, "That we all trust in God.  We all part of God's people.  Whites and blacks are all in this together."  David said, "Mine is to have a relationship with my five year old son.  After my mama's death everything exploded and fell apart.  My sister was raped at nine years old by mama's boyfriend but she forgave mama before she died.  But then she displaced her anger on me and my brother.  So I just hope we can all work things out."  Carlos said, "I have a friend that's an alcoholic.  I hope my friend quits drinking today."  Sheila said, "I hope my pain goes away and stays away."


Maybe the Dinosaurs Won't Be There

Our friend Gary joined us for the Tuesday morning Free Store conversation and said, "I like to think about heaven when it seems more like the other here."  He said that he wanted to look at a few texts in the bible that talk about heaven and started with 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.  Gary said that although some things are beyond our imagination and understanding that we can at least know some things about the future life.  Jack said, "It's not concrete but it's a concept."  Gary said, "It's hard to put into words."

Gary started off by saying that the bible talks about three heavens.  He told us that in Genesis 1:20 heaven refers to the sky, the environment of birds, butterflies, and clouds.  Gary said that Psalm 19:1-6 expands the idea of heaven to include the universe, the environment of the sun, moon, and planets.  He then said that 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 refers to heaven as paradise, a place of "inexplicable things" which is the common meaning of heaven for most people that believe in it.  At this point Marney said with a quizzical expression, "I'm kind of confused now because I've never heard about three heavens" which made us laugh.

After assuring Marney that he didn't mean to confuse anyone Gary pointed us to Revelation 21:1-5 which he referred to as that "cool, scary book that talks about stuff coming at the end of time."  He pointed out that God will ultimately make a new heaven and a new earth.  At this Jack said, "Now let me ask a question.  Is this not a fourth heaven?"  Someone else said, "We're pretty deep into speculation at this point" which made us laugh.

As the conversation progressed the question came up about animals going to heaven.  Rick made us laugh when he said, "All dogs go to  heaven."  Gary thought that based on some texts in the bible that animals would be in heaven but maybe not the exact ones we know here on earth.  Jack said, "Maybe the dinosaurs won't be there" which made us laugh.  He also brought up that there is a text in the bible that talks about wolves lying next to lambs but that the scene is often painted as lions and lambs.  Gary said, "Artists tend to use their imaginations."

At this point Gary brought up the text in Matthew 22:29-30 that says that people will be like the angels and will not marry in heaven.  Marney seemed disappointed and said, "That's complicated."  This led to a bit of a discussion about sex in heaven.  Somoene said, "If there was no sex then it couldn't be heaven" which made us laugh.  Our friend Liz thought that maybe our desires would be so completely fufilled that we wouldn't need the things that complete our lives here on earth.

As the conversation proceeded Gary brought up the text in Phillipians 2:3 that talks about glorious new bodies.  He said, "Our bodies will be similar and yet different, composed of new atoms."  At this Jack said, "Why wouldn't God use the same atoms?"  Gary said, "Because I don't want him to" which made us laugh.  Marney said, "I sort of imagine myself flitting around like a fairy dancing to the music of the flute."  Another friend said, "It would have to be an electric guitar for me."  Rick said, "Maybe a little AC/DC" which made us laugh.  Someone said, "Maybe heaven is unique for each individual."

As the conversation moved toward a conclusion somehow we got into a bit of a discussion about colors and weather in  heaven.  Jack thought that we would all have olive colored skin and that there would be no variation in temperatures in heaven.  Someone else said, "That heaven sounds a bit bland and boring.  I like some diversity.  Maybe we have the genetic potential for all shades of colors to develop over time."  Although the conversation raised more questions than it answered we all nodded in agreement when Gary said, "It's gonna be better than we can imagine."