Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Life

So, are you gearing up for the New Year and thinking about what resolutions you should make? Or what you could do to make you a better you? Got a picture of the new and improved you in mind?

Be cautious.

I want to remind you that a really great man, one of this world’s best ever, failed dismally at doing what he thought he should and of keeping his promises and resolutions. Through his failure, Paul found something vitally important which he passed on to you and me, the first axiom of resolutions:

“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Rom 7:18b NIV)

Whoopee! Happy New Year! Now, I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I do mean to save you from something – the way of the flesh. The flesh suggests an interpretation of life (“You’re not doing well in life because you’re overweight.”) and a course for living (“No more carbs or chocolate, exercise for an hour every day and get a new wardrobe.”), which, if successfully followed, will seemingly make life work. Or, because things aren’t going your way (interpretation of life), you are frustrated and depressed. So, get drunk, take a drug, eat a gallon of ice cream, look at pornography, get raging mad and you’ll feel better (course for living).

What’s missing? The Holy Spirit! You and I are no longer flesh, but spirit. If we are induced to live as if we had not become spirit, as if we had not been born again, we will live by the flesh. And the end of that is futility.

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:12-14 NASU)

Want to live? Then for you, life is by the Spirit. Life isn’t first something to do, or something to be done, but something to receive.

Here’s what I suggest: start your day, not with a list of things to do, but with a question. “What does God say He has done to me?” “In God’s eyes, who have I become?” “According to God, how do I live in this day?” “Father, what do you think of me?” Questions like these will cause you to sow to the Spirit. What will happen?

1. God’s life will be released in you. What’s better than that?
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8 NASU) Your mind will be renewed, and you will be transformed (Rom 12:2).

2. You will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
(Gal 5:16 NASU)

3. You will know that there is not, nor will there ever be, one single moment of condemnation for you ever again. Following after the flesh will never allow that for you, but following after the Spirit will always keep that fact close.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:1-4 NASU, italics mine.)

Want a happy new life? A new look? A new way? Living by the Spirit will manifest the life of Christ in you, and He will fulfill every need in you, for you, and for the new you.

And in this New Year, you’ll be better off than you think.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

An Unconsidered Gift (No Longer Flesh Bags, Pt 5)

It is seriously Christmas at my house.

Every decoration Sarah and I have collected over the past fifteen years is where it should be, inside the house and out – we’re decked, and I love it.

Plus, you may know that we just received a rather large gift out here, two feet of snow! We’re snowed-in, but because we don’t really need to go anywhere, we’re sledding, building a snowman, throwing snowballs, watching Christmas movies, playing games, and making cookies – what a gift.

In concluding my series about the flesh, I want you to consider another angle on the Gift of Jesus, one indispensable for me and, I think, for you.

His gift of everything you want to be. It’s really His gift to you.

Think of some of the ways you want to be: more loving, more joyful, more faithful, more self-controlled, more patient, more kind, more gentle, more peaceful,…more better. Have you ever asked Him to make you more like one or two or all of those? Of course. But where did you look after you asked? At yourself? That’s what I’ve done, and when I didn’t see what I wanted to see, I stopped asking…and I stopped expecting.

Here’s my point: can you believe that all of the way you want to be, all of it, is the gift of Jesus?

Some of the best news of my life is that I don’t have to become anything more than I am right now, I’ve only to believe everything I want is in the gift of Jesus. It’s all there.

Want to be more loving? Follow your desire to know Jesus and He’ll give you His love for others. Want to be more joyful? Ask Him to be that way in you. Soon there will be no room for Grumpy Gus or Gloomy Glenda. Short on the faithfulness scale this year? Ask the Spirit to produce Jesus’ faithfulness in you. You’ll be amazed. Lacking in self-control? Talk with Jesus about how much you want Him to do that in you – He will. In other words, pay attention to receiving the Gift and He will pay attention to being in you everything you want.

Every way you want to be – He’s all that.

I know it sounds simple. But if you and I can grow in receiving from Jesus all that He is, if we can raise our expectation of what the Gift can do for us and in us, we’ll walk by the Spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

And for me, that’s it. That’s my hope – Jesus in me.

Because that’s where the Gift is in every Christian, we’re better off than we think.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 15, 2006

No Longer Flesh Bags, Pt. 4

(This is part four of a series, “No Longer Flesh Bags.” Below, we continue from last week…)

Luther Price wrote: “Be what you is, not what you ain’t; ‘cause if you ain’t what you is, you is what you ain’t.” In other words if you believe you are something (the flesh) when, in fact, you are not, the life you live will be a false one. You won’t live as you really are and have become because you’ll believe you’re something else; you’ll live as you ain’t.

This is why we must not implore Christians to surrender, but rather encourage them to believe. While it’s true that we have flesh, that isn’t us, not anymore, neither does the flesh surrender to God’s commands. Paul wrote that the fleshly mind “is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Rom 8:7-9 NAS, italics mine.) Now that you have been reborn and belong to God, “you are not in the flesh”! You’re no longer found there! You’re “in the Spirit”! And you’re of the Spirit!

This is why, falsely identifying ourselves, whenever we implore ourselves to surrender, we add fuel to the false fight! If I believe that part of me which seems stubborn and reluctant to offer itself to God is me, then I’ve believed the flesh is me and I’ll see to command its surrender. Yikes! No wonder we can never seem to do it.

“Now, look here, flesh – I’m serious! I’ve had it with you and your terrible rule in my life, so I’m ordering you to cease your efforts immediately. You must no longer produce all that lousy, ugly stuff you’ve long pumped into my life – no more of that! Further, you must submit to daily prayer and Bible reading and like it! You hear me?! Surrender! I mean it!”

Twisted in my belief, I will invariably be twisted in my efforts. The way out of the twist is to live by faith and rightly identify the monster. Paul said that if he sinned, it was not him sinning; who was it? The monster! The flesh, through Paul! That which Paul used to be, but was no longer, ever since he had been remade and given life.

The following describes our hope:

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
(Rom 8:11-14 NAS, italics mine.)

You’re no monster – you’re a son! And you have the Spirit of God, and you have life. Because this is so, you may now happily put to death the ugly and awful deeds of the flesh.

When sin is evident in my life it isn’t the evidence that I am still seriously sinister, nor is it what I truly want to do. Sin is now a fleshly compulsion through the mental and emotional faculties of my body to harken back to empty days of long ago by rejecting dependence upon God in order to do something else. Empty stumblings.

Now, what do we do with this? If I offend you, I’ll say something like, “I’m sorry I did that to you…” But, I’ll know from where it came. If I don’t apologize to you, owning the offense, I’m irresponsible and our relationship will be impaired. After all, the behavior came through me – I’m responsible. However, if I do not accurately identify the producer of the behavior, I’ll be blaming the wrong thing, most likely the devil or me, and I’ll be boxing the air.

But that’s not for you…not anymore. You’re better off than you think.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

No Longer Flesh Bags, Pt. 3

(What follows is part 3 of my series, “No Longer Flesh Bags.” I pick up with the last paragraph of part 2.)

With centuries of practice it is now common for men and women to live by the flesh and call it normal – it’s all they know because it’s all they have. But get alone with someone and they might admit that life isn’t at all satisfying and that it doesn’t work. You and I know it’s because, having been designed for something more, all they have is flesh. They’re left to walking “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God,…” (Eph 4:17,18 NAS)

No one can live like that.

Living without God’s life is impossible; it’s a caricature, a perversion and cruel joke of life. It’s the sad lot of Pinocchio, who, while walking and talking and interacting with the world around, had not life. That he one day realized it was the gift of an irresistible itch.

For us, Pinocchio’s itch is answered in Christ - thank God. Since Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life,” made His entrance into us, we’re not flesh bags anymore! "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6
NAS, italics mine.) Jesus has successfully made us spirit, new creations now filled with God, now filled with life! Remember? That’s why He came in the first place, “that you might have life.” (John 10:10; 1 John 5:12)

While I know who and what I was born - a pagan-natured flesh bag - I know who and what I have been born a second time – a godly-natured spirit, a son filled with life. Where at one time I was by nature an object of wrath (Eph 2:3), I have become by nature an exalted son! (Eph 2:6) What a miracle.

You and I know that while I still have a monster (flesh), and can walk in the manner of a monster (by the flesh), I am not a monster! I have an enemy, but I am not an enemy of God; the enemy is not me. God has a problem, but it is not me. I am not God’s problem anymore. Without making excuse for sin (more about that next time) if I believe I am the problem, if I believe I am the reason for my stumbling, for my sinning against God and against you, I am deceived. (And the natural course of deception is that I’m off course but don’t know it.) I’ll usually make war on sin, which, in my thinking, usually means I make war on myself. If I think “I’m bad,” or “I’m the problem,” then where does my attention and where do my efforts go? Right at me…or the “me” I think I am. And that forces me into a double life.

Luther Price wrote: “Be what you is, not what you ain’t; ‘cause if you ain’t what you is, you is what you ain’t.” In other words if you believe you are something (the flesh) when, in fact, you are not, the life you live will be a false one. You won’t live as you really are and have become because you’ll believe you’re something else; you’ll live as you ain’t.

And that’s a mess. But you’re no mess. You’re better off than you think.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

No Longer Flesh Bags, Pt. 2

(This is part 2 of a series I began last week, “No Longer Flesh Bags.” Because we endure terrible struggles and behavior, I am writing to help you identify where they come from, why they’re there, and what to do about them. I hope you’re helped. – Ralph)

(From last week…)
Before we received our new selves and became spirit, before we became new creations, all we could do was flail away at life, mere flesh-bags without any life. That’s how we lived – no choice because we had nothing else.

How did that happen?

From that terrible day when Adam and Eve passed through the gates of the paradise that was Eden and began their lives in a comparative wasteland, man has become well acquainted with flesh. Having been born into a dependent, life-giving relationship with God, Adam and Eve were blessed with many of the qualities and characteristics which made up the “image of God” (Gen 1:26-28). With the life of God as his life, man was to steward the garden surroundings as God would.

But when Adam chose to do things differently, independently, he and his wife were banished to a quasi life of independence from God, an existence without real life.

God is life – He gets it from nowhere else. Everything He does erupts with life. When Adam and Eve were severed from life, they were left to do what they could with what they had left – mortal flesh. In a sense, they were left on their own, which is how they tragically became “like God,” with only the life (if it could be called life) they could muster by themselves.

Those first steps on the other side of the gate were the initial stumblings of empty mankind. The sudden realization of what they lost has echoed throughout history, inducing every relative of Adam and Eve to make something of life without life, to make a fallen existence work.

That’s the flesh. Still bearing Gods’ image, man has what David Needham (Birthright) calls an "unbendable bent" to fail at making life work because he has nothing with which to pull it off. No matter how good a working man or woman looks, regardless of what they do for their kids and their community or how well they plan for their retirement, they are without life; they are dust, mere bags of flesh.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
(Gen 3:19 NIV)

Regardless of what it does, neither dust nor flesh can make any boast before God (1 Cor 1:25, 29; Isaiah 55:9). As an example, think of Solomon. Now there’s a man who did it all and had it all. Plus, since he had more brains than anybody else, he could figure out what more he could do, or what more he could have better than us all. And what did he conclude? Futile.

1 I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless.
2 "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?"
3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly-- my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well-- the delights of the heart of man.
9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
(Eccl 2:1-11;17 NIV)

Without life, without God, Solomon’s days were empty, not of activity, but of meaning and satisfaction. As it is with most of us, it took him a while to make sure. In the end, Solomon was miserable, and apart from God, we are, too.

Quoting the Psalmist, Paul writes of the wretched state of man:

10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12 NIV)

“Worthless.” “Not even one.” Ouch. It’s not easy to admit, is it?

Try posting “You And I Are Worthless” as a bumper sticker on your car (or maybe on your neighbors’) and see what happens! With centuries of practice it is now common for men and women to live by the flesh and call it normal – it’s all they know because it’s all they have. But get alone with someone and they might admit that life isn’t at all satisfying and that it doesn’t work. You and I know it’s because, having been designed for something more, all they have is flesh. They’re left to walking “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God,…” (Eph 4:17,18 NAS)

No one can live like that.

(To be continued…)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

No Longer Flesh Bags

I am saddened.

Whatever Ted Haggard did (Senior Pastor of New Life Church, and President of the National Association of Evangelicals), and he has admitted to sexual immorality, I can tell you what happened.

His flesh got the best of him.

And the flesh gets the best of us whenever any of the following is true:
· we begin to believe fleshly desires come from our selves
· we begin to believe fleshly behaviors come from our selves
· we begin to focus upon obedience and good works, rather than upon knowing Jesus
· we begin to fight ourselves
· we stop living by the Spirit as the spirits we have become.

I have written and spoken about this before, but it bears repeating: the awful thoughts and desires, as well as the sinful behaviors of your life do not come from you, but from the flesh. And you are not the flesh.

The “flesh” (a word the NIV unfortunately translates “sinful nature”) is mortal man on his own, separate from the life of God, and bent upon living independent from Him, a condition and trait that you and I inherited from Adam. It pushes us to have an opinion different from His and to follow it, the flesh presses us to do anything apart from what He would counsel us to do, and it induces us to look anywhere but to Him for the power to live in our day. The flesh can make us look good (Paul writes about how great he looked while under its’ influence in Phil 3), and it can make us look bad (he also wrote to the Galatians about the ugly fruit of the flesh, which included sexual immorality, envy, rage, etc.). The problem isn’t only what we do, it’s that we do it without the power and life of God. So, either way, looking good or looking bad, it’s flesh.

Before we received our new selves and became spirit, before we became new creations, all we could do was flail away at life, mere flesh-bags without any life. That’s how we lived – no choice because we had nothing else.

How did that happen?

(To be continued…)

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Provoking Weekend

A few nights ago during our home church meeting I apologized to Sarah because I’ve been leaving her alone.

Now, I’m around her for much of the day (excepting our work schedules), and whether it’s preparing a meal together and eating it, watching a first season episode of the television show 24 (we’re catching up), hanging with our daughters, or lazing about the house, we’re together a lot and we talk about a lot.

Yet it has lately become a rare moment when I ask or talk specifically with her about Jesus and His life with her; what He might be communicating, what He might want to do for her, what He might be asking of her, or how she is growing in believing and trusting in Him. You know – “What’s happening with God who loves and chose you?” I live with this terrific woman of whom the world is not worthy, who has been made into the righteous daughter of God, and I don’t talk with her about how she is and how she is doing?! How crazy is that?

And I’m sure there is little in her day other than me which accurately reflects back to her or honors who she is. And I don’t think there are many occasions in which someone says, “Wow! Here comes Sarah, holy daughter of God. Since Jesus lives in you, Sarah, what do you think about such and such? What is your opinion of this situation and what should we do?” Much of her day seems set up not to stimulate and draw her out, but to stifle and frustrate her.

So, I’m on course again to provoke my wife. I know that word provoke has a negative connotation to it, but I mean it in the best, most helpful sense. I want to help her to think about God and who He is and what He did already for her, and what He has made of her, and what He might be doing right now. That kind of stuff. I know it sometimes feels a bit like a needle, but we need to prick each other now and then to get rid of the puffy fluff-and-stuff which sometimes captures our attention and covers our hearts.

Here’s what I recommend: have a provoking weekend. Ask Jesus to fill you with the Spirit, and then call someone and provoke ‘em. “Hey, Will. What does God think of you right now?” “Julie, has God given you everything for nothing in Christ, or do you have to earn things?” “Cynthia, where is God right now and is He happy about that? Why?” “Greg, are God’s promises for you conditional, or are they already ‘Yes’ in Christ?”

Or simply hang out with people and ask the Spirit to share with you His thoughts and feelings about those around you. Listening and feeling for Him, you’ll be provoked and clued in. And you might have something to say as a result.

You’ll benefit those around you and find you’re better off than you think.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Incredibles

One of my family’s favorite films is “The Incredibles.” We love the characters (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, Helen Parr/Elastigirl, Violet and Dash) with their unique powers and personalities, as well as how each one grows in his or her respective gifts. Each was born incredible and each has to grow into it.

If you’ve seen it, you recall that early on in the movie the Incredibles were really struggling because, under pressure, they had chosen to live unlike they actually were. No lifting cars, no running through walls, no stretching an arm twenty feet to catch a cat falling out of a tree, and no rescuing people in distress. They were so different than everyone else, but, feeling the pressure of that uniqueness, they attempted to fit in and blend in and to find happiness and fulfillment in the act. They believed they could do it.

No chance.

They grew terribly bored and frustrated since they were stifling themselves, choosing to live a lie. Mom and dad, brother and sister fought among themselves at home, yet kept up their false appearance (“We’re doing fine!”) before everyone else. They could make that choice only so long.

Strong and persistent inner urgings in keeping with their supernatural identity urged them to live in the truth of who they were, no matter the consequences. When they finally threw off the lie of pretending, they grew and started doing incredible things…and they grew happy through the consequences.

I suppose I am not the first to liken you to one of The Incredibles. But perhaps it’s time to take another look at who you are so you can live as you are.

Right now God thinks pretty highly of you. Because you believed in Jesus, and because He included you in His crucifixion and resurrection (Romans 6), God dealt with the former you (crucified) and birthed the new you, a true son of His, righteous and holy, blameless and anointed, gifted and graced, as alien in this world as Jesus Himself, recognized throughout the heavens. (John 17:16) As Jesus lived in this world, so do you, in close relationship with God with whom you’ve become intimately compatible. You’re the best. You’re incredible.

But what if being incredible is a hassle? Or what if for some reason you become disillusioned regarding your incredibleness, and sort of let it go by the way side? What if most everyone around you isn’t like you, so you start becoming like them? Wouldn’t it be tempting to just do as well as you can amongst everyone else, and kind of leave all that super-human stuff at home? Let it out on the weekend? You could be okay, couldn’t you?

No chance. Bored, frustrated and stifled, you’d wear out trying to resist those strong and persistent inner urgings.

If, like everyone at one time or another in the family of Incredibles, you’ve become bored and frustrated, having allowed yourself to be cloaked in the mediocrity of this world in order to fit in, it’s time to grow. And happiness comes through growing in who you are – your birth cannot be ignored!

As it was in the film, I suspect it will be with you. Events will conspire to bring out the real, incredible you; God will see to it. You will be needed, someone will cry out, a situation will demand the real you, and you won’t be able to act in keeping with this world any longer.

Those around you will see an Incredible, and the glory of God will be evident in you.

More and more you’ll begin to feel and satisfy those true inner urgings, and, in keeping with who you are, you’ll do incredible things. You’ll know God, you’ll believe God and you’ll follow Him into His glory. After all, it’s not your fault that God has made you what you are – an incredible.

You really are better off than you think.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Living In The Lab

Well, I gave up the title of my book yesterday.

At 8:00 a.m. the Executive Director, Editor and the Marketing Director got me into a conference call in order to discuss the title, Better Off Than We Think (God’s Ridiculous Opinion Of You & How To Live From It). While I was immediately uncomfortable, the three of them were wonderful…I don’t know what I would have done if they had not been.

I have never felt as though someone was playing with my guts, but for a time during their call, I did. My book is not about some event or situation relatively unrelated to me – I didn’t write it because I thought it was a good topic with a good chance of getting published. My book is all about what I have personally found in my life with God. It’s about my struggles, it’s about my failures, and it’s about finding God and falling for Him, finding His grace and power as a result of all that. While it is very Biblical, it is also deeply personal.

I have often thought of myself as God’s laboratory, or perhaps His distillery where He heats and mixes together intolerable ingredients and produces something of delight for people. My life seems like a test tube or a boiling kettle – hope you like what comes out of it.

Anyway, that describes a good deal of the angle of my book. So when the publishing group begins talking of changing the title, I’ve gone through fire already to come up with it and they don’t like it?! Ouch. Burn me again.

Since they were “in my guts,” at one point I got on a roll, my passions for God and His people welling-up in a zealous sermonette. Realizing I was “into it” a bit too far, I apologized: “Oh, I’m sorry. I just get so wound up about this…I get a little crazy.” Immediately, the three of them silenced me, saying things like, “Oh, you don’t have to apologize – we love this! This is why your book is on our publishing list. We think everyone has to know this, too! No apology needed…”

And I realized, “They’re for me. They support me and want to give me away to as many as they can.” And quickly I felt what my daughter Emma said so profoundly not long ago: “I like people who like me.”

The rest of our conversation was invigorating and fun.

So, here’s what we’ve got - Better Off Than You Think (God’s Astounding Opinion Of You). They all agreed that the original title was just too long, and, while I wrestled for a time, in the end I agreed...I trust them. I’m so glad to be able to say that. Perhaps, as I believed early on, God really has brought us together.

God working on my behalf and for His glory…Hmm. Imagine that.

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:4)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

At Your Expense

(Move your cursor over a picture and a brief explanation will appear.)

We recently returned from a short family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Because I have been going there since 1965, it holds tons of great memories for me and is my favorite place in the world. I love the mountains and virtually everything one can do in them, like ride horses, hike, camp, canoe, and, with thanks to my father, fly fish – it’s my thing.

God often speaks profoundly to me when I’m fishing. (Which is not to say that whatever He speaks to me at other times is not all that deep!) If you were to ask my wife, Sarah, about it, she would say, “Ohhhhhh, yes! God talks to Ralph and does amazing things when he goes fishing. It sounds like an excuse to get out of the house, doesn’t it? But it isn’t…”

While what He speaks to me is always wonderfully meaningful and eternally relevant, it has also meant fantastic fishing. You can imagine how open and excited I am to go. “Well, honey, I need to spend some focused time with God – think I’d better go fishing.”

Geared up and ready to go, I was standing on the banks of the Buffalo River when I said, “Lord, Jesus, I again ask for you to give Brent (my twin brother) the best fishing day ever. That it would be completely fantastic and beyond his expectations, and that he would be utterly delighted with you.” And this is what I heard:

“What if it is at your expense?”

I didn’t move. Buying some time and hoping I might hear something else, something more exciting, I said (profoundly), “What?” And I heard the same question. “What if it is at your expense?” Pausing to think clearly, I said aloud, “Well, Lord, that would be okay with me…that would be fine …yes, Lord…alright then…his best day.”

I took a deep breath and waded into the stream, my stream, my river, my memory-packed, whopper-filled, river of joy…and proceeded to catch maybe five trout where I would have caught five times that. As a matter of fact, that’s about what Brent caught. Maybe a few more. As we walked the many miles of the river together, all day long my pools were vacant, his were full, my fish were smart, his were stupid, my fish were average, his were outstanding, my attitude ebbed and flowed from content to frustrated, and his hit 10 on the happy scale and never moved.

There was even a time when, because I was walking on the opposite side of the river, I couldn’t fish what should have been my pool. Instead, I sat high up on a bluff overlooking the stretch (of my pool) and, spotting several large and stupid trout, directed him where to cast. “Oh, yeah!” he shouted. “Got him! Ooooooh, it’s a big one!”

For eight hours I was supremely aware of God’s work and pleasure in my life and Brent’s. And I’m still thinking about it.

There’s a lot for me to learn about God’s will and purpose and pleasure, and where I fit with Him in that. I had been looking forward to that day on the river with Brent for months, and my picture of God’s blessing for us meant that nothing much was required of me. Walk along, cast a fly, hook and land a whopper, hold it up for admiration and glory, and release it while praising God. Simple. Hallelujah - what a day.

But in my ongoing desire to know God, there are many things He wants to share with me, not just so I will know what life is like, but so I can know Him in the midst of life. He wanted to bless Brent and He wanted to bless me. That meant fish and joy for Brent and that meant knowing God in a new way for me. And I forget that He has made me a lot like Himself, so it’s no wonder He includes me in what He is doing, even at my expense. He has some history with that sort of thing.

One more thing. As darkness fell upon us that day on the river, Brent announced, “You know, this has been the best day of fishing I have ever had.”

I hope to go fishing again before winter sets in…I’ll let you know how it works out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Spirit has wonderfully reminded me this morning that I am to see first to the Treasure I have, not to the treasure I seek. If I get it reversed, the stunning Treasure I have becomes less than the treasure it is.

God has given Himself as my treasure, making the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh horribly apparent. The Spirit works with me to find and enjoy Treasure, service and works and life the natural byproduct. Treasure treasured frees me from this world, its’ offerings grotesquely short, and I am graced to speak of and to offer Him to people who do not know Treasure nor satisfaction.

When my heart is dragged toward the treasures of this world and life, it does not go willingly. My new heart finds no delight, no grace, and nothing from which to draw life – it is incompatible. It is only when I return to my Treasure and to delighting in Him that my heart is revived and made happy…and everything works.

2 Cor 4:6-7 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (NIV)

Matt 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)