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)