Friday, July 27, 2007

Compassion In Disappointment

(I find this to be timely and hope you enjoy it. Written in August of ’04.)

We’ve just returned from a brief weekend camping trip, which proved to be a lesson in at least two things:

1) Don’t go camping on the weekend. Insensitive dolts were playing rock ‘n roll and whooping it up at 3:00 a.m., just like they did when I was growing up and camping in Southern California. When I approached to ask them to knock it all off, they seem startled that I was bothered. I felt old.

2) God is more compassionate than I thought.


Fishing in a nearby stream and fully enjoying myself, I heard a different sort of question from the Spirit, one I’d never heard before: “Son, if in the next moment you were to join me in heaven, what would you expect?”

Because I didn’t want to be interrupted during such an intense and focus-demanding time—fly fishing—I quickly shuffled the thought to a far off place, and got back to the more important business of fooling trout. However, the same thought returned two more times to my inner monitor before I finally dignified it.

Thinking about what I would truly expect upon my arrival in heaven, a curious realization crept across my mind. On the faces of those gathered in welcome, I would expect to see a hint of disappointment.

Yes, I know about the rich welcome awaiting the faithful upon arrival home—“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness.” But I was startled to realize that I didn’t think I’d be getting that rousing reception. Or, at least, not that rousing.

I don’t always do so well in this life. I regularly get stuff wrong, needlessly offend people, or fail to be the man I am in Christ. Whether I know it immediately or find out about it later, failure weighs me down. You, too? And then I begin thinking about all the work I have to do to make things better, make me better. I’ve proven, however, that I’m not very good at saving myself.

Anyway, in my mind I heard something like this, “I know how difficult it is in the world, I know how very awful it can be. Do you think I have no compassion for you, my righteous son? Do you think I don’t know of your anguish and valiant struggle between flesh and spirit? I am so pleased in your triumphs and rejoice in your success! I love how you are and how you do. Fear not your homecoming—it will be triumphant.”

There on the stream I choked up and laughed a laugh of relief and renewed hope. “He’s really compassionate!” I thought, “He really understands and delights in the smallest success, valuing it far more than the ugliest defeat, wiped clean as He looks upon me with joy and delight. He really loves me in the mess…”

I had a great afternoon. Throughout it I was overwhelmed by the compassion He has for me (and for you) right now in this life, in every trial, in every struggle.

And, yes, I caught a bunch of trout. You can ask my wife and girls if you don’t believe me. Really.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,…” (2 Cor 1:3 NIV)

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Need Mr. Smiley

Stopped at an intersection recently, I glanced at a bumper on the left and there it was—Mr. Smiley Face. I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have seen that yellow button: on a bumper, on a shirt, on a wall, on a sign, and now it accompanies emails as an animated “emoticon.”

Smiley is everywhere.

This Smiley was accompanied by that common phrase, “Smile, God loves you!” And I thought, “How cute, how corny.” But in the next moment it occurred to me that I should think about it.

God loves me. God loves me. God loves me. And in a moment I was completely and wonderfully overwhelmed. For the next few minutes I had revival in my car. I hadn’t been aware that I needed it, but God sure was.

I fancy myself to be one of the gurus on God’s love, a major player in telling the church and the world how well off we are because God loves. And I had somehow forgotten that God loves me. He doesn’t put up with me, He doesn’t consider me a bother, He’s not disturbed when I barge into His throne room—He loves me.

God loves me.

That’s the biggest influence of my life, and it would only make sense that that knowledge is one of the primary targets of the devil. Think what comes from knowing God’s love—obedience, love for others, a variety of godly works, a true perspective of the world and its inhabitants, and hope—authentic hope.

As far as I’m concerned, I live from the knowledge of God’s love for me. You too?

Smile, God loves you!

Friday, July 13, 2007

God's Special Pack of Dogs?

Some people think of themselves as though they were a stubborn and resistant piece of cement and that God could hardly wait to break them. “Jesus! Do whatever it takes to break Ralph Harris; he’s just so hard hearted. I can’t use Him until he’s broken!”

“Yes, Father, I see what you mean. I’ll work up a plan and get the angels on it right away. He’s a tough one, but we’ll get it done.”

Those who think this way often explain the circumstances of their days along these lines, as though the One who had rescued them was now the One resisting them. Rubbish. Everyone born again by the Spirit has been born of a new nature, and has everything in keeping with the terrific new creation they have become. At the core of their being they will never again be unyielding pavement, nor will they have a rebellious spirit, nor will they need to be broken. If believers believe that they have a rock for a heart, then they will interpret most every hardship or difficulty in their day as God working to bust them a good one, getting their attention and securing their allegiance. “Knock that off, son! Or I’ll really give it to you next time!”

Sometimes I give my dog a boot to her backside, sending her a message, but she’s a dog and we do not speak the same language, nor do we have the same nature, nor do I live in her! I may get the behavior I want (and the lowered head and tail between the legs, as well), but so what? Do I get any glory for what I’ve done? Any worship or praise? Is she glad and thankful for the boot? No! She just wants to do whatever it takes to avoid it in the future. Is that how God treats us – like His special pack of dogs?

That’s a dog’s life, but it’s not mine and it’s not yours!

(Excerpted from my book, “Better Off Than You Think,” this comes from chapter 13—The End of Pretending. The point of the chapter is that frustration, suffering and hardship happen to us not because God is displeased or because the Devil has broken through to harass us, but so God Himself may be found in us and do something through us. Frustration, suffering and hardship keep us from pretending we can do anything apart from God, and keep us to knowing Him and finding Him within us…and that’s life.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Harley Davidson Way of Life

I think I’m like a Harley Davidson. Every time I hear one go past (I don’t have to actually see it to know it’s near) I wonder how it makes any progress sounding the way it does. And sometimes I wonder the same thing about me.

When I was a boy of about thirteen, I was happily riding in our family car piloted by my mother when I heard an awfully loud sputtering and popping come alongside—it was awful. I slowly glanced in the direction of the cacophony and saw what I assumed was a man atop the strangest looking motorcycle I had ever seen. Although he was right next to our car (I could barely make out his eyes and nose peering out from a sea of hair), the front tire on his bike was, I promise, forty-three feet away. It might have been less, but thinking back, it might have been more…I don’t know.

Anyway, it seemed he was having trouble keeping the engine going because he kept revving it up, only to have it almost die. Roooooooom, rooooooom—sputter, cough, gag—rooooooom, rooooooom—sputter, cough, gag. And I thought, “He’s going to go somewhere on that awful thing? No way.”

Then the signal light turned green.

After a final sputter, cough and gag, that slovenly beast propelled the leather clad fur ball like a missile down the road and out of sight. Stunned, I asked my mother, “What was that?” “I don’t know,” she replied, “but I sure don’t like it.”

I had been introduced to Harley Davidson, and to this day I don’t know how those things get anywhere. I have always believed that a smoothly running engine is the one you want—you can rely on it to get you where you want to go. If the engine is sputtering, there is something wrong and it’s time to worry. Who doesn’t know that? You had better get it to the mechanic or call that friend who likes poking around in engines because until you get it working smoothly, you’re in trouble. Isn’t life like that, too?

Not really.

From that first encounter with a Harley to the one I heard rumbling and stumbling past yesterday, Harley Davidson has taught me a lot about living. In between the zooms there’s a whole lot of sputtering—and that’s normal.

There is so much in the New Testament about growing up in what Jesus has made of us—sons of God, foreigners in this world, ambassadors of Christ—that growing pains must be a part. Who actually believes immediately after receiving Christ that we have become as foreign to this world as Jesus? That the change made to us through faith has made us genuine new creations? That we cannot ever again live the way we once did, but can and must now live by the Spirit? The challenge isn’t first to live and behave better, the challenge is to believe better. It’s normal that we sputter and cough to believe such incredible facts!

We all see and experience so much that tells us we’re not what God says we are. We fail to pray (cough), we fail to tell someone the gospel (gag), a hoped-for job advancement fails to come about (sputter), and we feel like we’re about to stall. While that kind of stuff might change our minds about ourselves, it doesn’t influence God, who knows what He has made of us and carries on accordingly. When I get stuck thinking I’m just a no good sputterer, the Holy Spirit works to rev me up because there’s some place to go. Miraculously, I’m going to get there. As a friend recently said, living is “steady growth by jerks.”

Until that day when we fully believe what God believes about us and about the way forward, it’s the Harley way for us—sputter, cough and gag—rooooom, rooooom. And that’s okay.

Sometimes we get to zoom.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Heavenly Creature

Many of us have heard or read the apostle Paul’s directive, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

Have you ever thought that Paul meant we’re just supposed to read our Bibles? Read ‘em more, read ‘em better, because then we’ll know what to do? We make a costly mistake if we believe and approach this transforming act as one that will result primarily in a smart mind, a head crammed full of wisdom and what to do.

In his outstanding book, “Birthright,” David Needham writes, “…the renewal of our minds is far more than simply exercising brain power. A crucial ‘how’ of holiness is inseparable from knowing the truth of God’s Word, but it must be more than simply quantitative information. It must involve a participant, relational type of knowledge, which in the Bible is inseparable from the power of its Author. Instead of simply telling us to ‘memorize the Bible,’ Paul prayed,

‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…’” (Eph 1:17-19 NIV, italics mine.)

What do I do? Well, no longer do I make it my point to commit scripture to memory in order than I might not offend God, in order that I might not make Him mad or disappointed in me because of my actions. Sometimes I do memorize a verse or two, but I don’t read the Bible so I can be a “good Christian,” with ample spiritual brownie points growing in my heavenly file. I memorize and think about certain passages and verses so that in my day, whether beginning, middle or end, I’m thinking about Him. Reflecting upon what He has done for me and what He has made of me, does something miraculous—the real me, the newly created son of God me stands up and is noticeable. I can tell.

In short, I’m transformed, and I know it. The lie of my earthly citizenship and belonging is removed, and there I am, a heavenly creature. The decoy attractions of this world appear as the ludicrous seductions they are, and true delight and freedom invigorate me.

And things are as they should be.

Needham writes, “Remember, God did not save us simply to use us. He did not save us to get such and such quantity of holiness produced. He saved us for love…”

He loves you wildly…and that’s transforming.