Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Friendship With Our Friend

"I think, that in all of our attempts at service and discipleship, the best ingredient is friendship with our Friend. Without it, service and discipleship become qualities necessary for employment with God, dry and measurable, always under scrutiny by the Big Boss. Did you punch your time card today? Were you on time? Did you have a pleasing attitude? Did you whistle while you worked?

"Have you ever gotten tired of serving, serving, serving? What ended your fatigue? Wasn't it when you stopped and got off the job? Doesn't that tell you that there's something missing in your service? There is! It's friendship with God. While ultimately He is the Big Boss in the Big Office, He doesn't confine Himself to proper relationships commensurate to His status, shunning interaction with the lower subjects of his corporation. He's with you! Right there on the job, sharing in your labor, delighting in your style, making much of Himself by pointing at you in front of the angels. He enjoys you!

"I don't mean to demean service to God--it's just that many of us have been kept from the delight and honor of it because we're so concerned with how we're doing it and that we have to! Nowadays we commonly measure ourselves by the amount and quality of our service but rarely by the enjoyment of our friendship with our Friend.

"One of the most startling things I tell the people in ministry with me, be it Children's, Youth, Music, Women's, etc., is that they don't have to do it. 'Cathe, there's no one collecting your time card at the end of this week, you know.' If service to God has become a grinding drudgery, the antidote is not more service or less--it's a renewal of friendship with God. Discovering that we can enjoy His friendship on the job is what keeps us well in the job. When serving becomes more important than friendship with Him, the life and value go out of it, and you probably know what a power outage that is.

"Serving God is a high calling--friendship with God is not the cost but the fuel. Yet if we can be sold on the idea that service is the highest compliment to God and not love reciprocated and friendship enjoyed, then Satan can soon weary us and prevent the full stature of who and what we are from emerging. Something of the glory of God gets hidden.

"But what if we give ourselves to enjoying God and His friendship with us? Will we get much out of it? Will we still serve Him? Will it help us on the job and make a car payment? Yes! Sort of. Friends love each other and love works. More specifically, love invigorates and compels us; it motivates us and carries us into the day in order to see where it might rush out, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14. It's relatively effortless, like a perfect stream moving through you. And couldn't you use a little bit of that on the job? How about around home? Or in your relationships?

"Let me ask you this: if you spent a day dwelling upon and enjoying the love God has for you, would you expect to receive an infusion of power, some real 'Ooomph' for your day? Would you expect to be supplied, pushed, and driven by it and think that it would be the best thing for your day?

". . .When we fail and break down, it's not a failure of service or of proper discipleship, it's a failure of love. And God's love is at all times lavished upon us because of His grace to us in Christ. Knowing what He thinks of you, knowing why He approaches you in the manner He does (as a friend!) is all because of grace! Approaching Him as a friend will affect your life. In love you'll look and act like a servant and disciple of Christ. With appreciated grace in evidence--you'll look great."

(Excerpted from my book, Better Off Than You Think--God's Astounding Opinion of You; Chapter Ten; Friendship With Our Friend.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Headin' Home

Yes, I'm on my way home. I should be mugged by my family some time this evening--one of the best delights I know.

The trip has been fantastic (more about that tomorrow), and though weary, I'm a wonderful weary.

Thank you for your care and prayers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not A Morning Person

It's the weekend, so it's my opportunity to trot out my twisted humor and give it an airing. I feel so much better afterwards. I'm not exactly sure you will, but. . .

This short video could be titled several ways including, "When Opposites Marry," "It's Better Than Yelling At Her," "Chicken For Breakfast," or "Not A Morning Person."

You pick.

video

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pleasure For God


Do you think God loves it when we discover Him to be as good as He says He is? I do too.  So, take a look at the following:

Eph 1:5-10
"He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."

I used to picture the sins of the world, the sins done long ago, sins now being done, and those that will be done by everyone everywhere, as sort of heaped on Jesus nailed to the cross. There's the scene--Jesus bloodied and battered, with sins piled atop Him reaching skyward. What a terrible burden. What a sight.

However, a while back it dawned on me that all those sins, yours and mine, weren't just stacked up on Jesus, they became His. No, He didn't commit them, but He took ownership of them. And as was just, God punished Jesus with the punishment due each and every one of those sins--the punishment we would have borne had they still been our sins.

Think of them all! Or, just think of yours. Every single failure became His failure, every nasty deed you've done, every ugly thought you've had, every act born of jealousy or vengeance, each impure act or prideful thought, every deception you've ever offered became His. As though He had done it.

Immediately following Paul's description of our being made new creations through Christ, he writes a single sentence describing how that happened: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor 5:21, italics mine.) Not only have we had our sins forgiven, we've had them removed, as though we had never done them. And, we've been given the righteousness of Christ as our own. What a trade.

We have been entirely redeemed, made completely right with God! In Him (which is where you and I are), we are perfect sons and daughters, without stain or blemish, or any question as to our belonging in the family. C'mon, that's amazing!

It's God's amazing grace that He knowingly and delightedly lavished on us, "according to His good pleasure." What does God like? What gives Him pleasure? Lavishing His sons and daughters.

We're better off than we think. . .and it's sure good to think about it. I think He likes it when we do.

A New Arrival

David Needham writes, “Though still 'in the flesh'—our bodies are not yet redeemed—we ‘have no confidence in the flesh.’ If individuals walk ‘according to the flesh,’ their ‘life’ is nothing other than the kind of existence they had before they knew Christ. But we have been born again. In fact, we have ‘crucified the flesh’ in the sense that it is truly dead to us as being our source for life. The old has passed away and the new has arrived." (Phil 3:3; Rom 8:4; Gal 5:24; 2 Cor 5:17)

One of my most favorite books is Needham's—Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?

To go get it and for more information, Click here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hero Boycott

A few years ago I was at a leadership seminar near Denver, Colorado. One of the leaders of the leaders was leading one of the sessions, when he said, "If you're going to lead your people, you've got to model for them. Modeling is so important! They've got to see you doing it before they will do it themselves. They need to copy you, and that's how leaders lead." (Did I use 'lead' enough for you?)

Raising my hand during Q&A, I asked, "If what you, the leader, is most concerned about is that people are watching your leadership style, so you'd better do it right so they can copy you, doesn't that make you very self-centered? And doesn't that simply induce people to copy you, rather than assist them toward transformation? Doesn't that make ministry about copying, rather than about the Spirit's ability to live in us and through us, making of us what He wants? The way I see it, that kind of leadership sets people up to be your groupies, not the people you serve so that they may grow in Christ. It seems to make the whole thing, well, fake; a put-on, rather than who we really are."

If one were to gage the acceptance of my remarks by the look on the leader's face and the discussion which followed, I failed utterly. Except with one youth leader, who shot me a look of, "My God! I agree!" Looking back, I'm not certain my line of reasoning was appropriate for the occasion. I might have been wrong to have brought it up. . .maybe. However, I was becoming weary of hearing how ministry is about copying the most successful, 'duplicatable', user-friendly method available, and about modeling and teaching others to do the same. After all, I reasoned, why would you need to know God for that? Further, wouldn't that cheat those around you from knowing Him, too? Yes, it would.

And it does.

Look, I don't mean to say that we shouldn't have mentors and heroes and leaders we admire and such. But if those leaders induce us to copy their style of ministry or their style of leadership, and that's the sum and substance of what we get from them—choose another. Leaders who tell you and show you how to know God and how to let Him do what He wants with you are the ones we must choose. That's what makes life genuine, and not an external put-on or a show-off. It's all about transformation, not imitation. The former is what God is now doing with you and me; it's what's now most natural and invigorating because it has to do with life—His life, real life for which you were designed.

Anything less is a distraction.

Just below is an excellent article along the same lines as the rant above. I think you'll benefit by the reading.



Leader's Insight: Hero Boycott
Why the big-name celebrity leaders are turning me off.
by Angie Ward, Leadership contributing editor

A few years ago I attended a large ministry conference that included breakout sessions featuring a variety of speakers and "experts" on all things related to ministry and leadership. At one point during the conference, I was waiting in the lobby when one of the speakers (we'll call him Mr. Jensen) walked by, surrounded by at least 25 groupies who hung on this man's every word, nodding their agreement. I actually like this man's writing and philosophy, but was struck by the groupie mentality. A friend who was with me observed, "You know, I like what Jensen says, but God save us from the Jensenites."

Sadly, I've seen that "Jensenites" are becoming the rule rather than the exception. I've heard dozens of pastors speak breathlessly and reverently about their ministerial and spiritual heroes, reading their books and their blogs, listening to their podcasts, following them at conferences, hoping just to get a glimpse of them or to touch their robe so they can receive some magical leadership or teaching power that will result in overwhelming ministry success and their own fame.

It's like comedian Steve Martin said long ago in a standup routine: "Repeat after me: 'I will be different. I will be unique.'"

It's no different today than it was in the first century, when Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that the Christ-followers there were dividing themselves over who they followed. "I follow Paul," said some, while others countered, "I follow Apollos."

Today it's the same story, just a different millennium: "I am of Hybels." "I am of Warren." "I am of Maxwell." "I am of Stanley." "I am of Moore." "I am of Groeschel." "I am of McLaren." "I am of Driscoll."

Others play the same game, but go back a few centuries, as if attaching yourself to an older (or dead) personality is somehow more spiritual: "I am of Calvin." "I am of Arminius." "I am of Augustine." Or impress others with their intellect: "I am of Irenaeus." "I am of Tertullian." "I am of Clement of Rome."

"Stop it!" Paul says, in essence, in 1 Corinthians 3:5. "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task."

I have nothing against any of the leaders I mentioned above. They are doing what God has called and gifted and assigned them to do, and they have all made a significant impact for the Kingdom. Many of them are worthy mentors and models. But they are also just servants, just like each of us who follows Christ. My problem is not with the celebrities, but with the groupies who have made them such.

These groupies try to become clones of their heroes, instead of becoming who God has made them and ministering in a uniquely personal way that no celebrity could ever attain. Instead of claiming their standing in Christ and asking what He wants of their leadership in their unique situation, they settle for a trinkety-bracelet approach to ministry: "What Would Hybels Do?"

I have a friend who goes to an Anglican church because, as she put it, "I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience." What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.

Believe it or not, ministry celebrities do not hold mystical powers or keys to success. All of them stumbled repeatedly in their journeys, and continue to struggle with the temptations common to every man and woman, except that now, they also have to deal with the trappings of celebrity and cult followings. Each was assigned by God to till the soil in one corner of the Kingdom and faithfully invest the talents entrusted to him or her. Are we doing the same? Or are we so busy mining tips for success in the latest book by our favorite author that we ignore our own calling?

Who do you follow? Is it Paul, or Apollos, or some other megachurch pastor or missional prophet? This may come as a surprise, but I believe that it is actually much easier to imitate your hero than to be yourself: to claim your own identity and calling; to wrestle with your own brokenness; and to struggle minute-by-minute with God to figure out what is the best way to lead in your context.

For just one season, forget the celebrities. Get in touch with God's unique design for your life and ministry. In the words of Fernando Ortega and Anne Graham Lotz: "Just give me Jesus."

Angie Ward is a church leader, ministry coach, forward thinker, ministry spouse, and follower of Jesus living and serving in Durham, North Carolina.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Have One Word—WOW

The following article comes from Christianity Today, and is of, well, staggering importance. Some of us will say "I told you so!" and some of us will gloat, but for me it simply clarifies anew a whole lot of my life and cry for the people of God.

They have become perfect and magnificent sons and daughters of God, have received everything for nothing, are suddenly the sacred, Spirit-filled vessels of God, and must know how to live from God's opinion of them--and that's stunning. If they don't know it as soon as possible after receiving Christ, every moment of delay dulls and deludes them from ever knowing it.

And that delay keeps them from living by the Holy Spirit, the only actual way for a son or daughter of God to live. If and as we offer them something other than that, we’ve likely crippled them. Maybe this will assist us toward the revival of the church I believe draws near.

So have a read. Strangely, I find it encouraging. I’ll post again tomorrow some of my comments and feelings and beliefs about it all.

Wow.


October 18, 2007
Willow Creek Repents?
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."

Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

(If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.)

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.

Old Home At last


It was quite a drive north today.

Officials opened the 5 freeway just before I left San Diego, so I decided to make the dash along the coast, rather than going inland. It proved a good decision.

While there was fire on and around Camp Pendleton that came right to the edge of the freeway (for about fifteen miles), the worst had just past. The first two photos show the well-known weigh station here, which also provides a headquarters for the California Highway Patrol. The fire had reached to the very doorstep of the facility, but had not burned it. You can see the fire had just begun to recede as I passed by.

So I'm settled in at my parents home where I grew up, my old home, now to enjoy several days of smoke and ash. Ah, memories. There are many fires in the L.A. area, as well, that will contribute to the smoke and ash, but do not endanger me in the least. . .Think of the smog!

Thank you for praying for me--I truly appreciate it.

Moving In So. Cal.


Just a brief update on the fires around Southern California, and my movements within them.

Here in San Diego, I have been dilly-dallying this morning, trying to determine my best route northward. Normally, it would be the 5 freeway, but that was closed at about 4:00 a.m. when several new fires began at the Camp Pendleton military base. Officials have been hoping to fully reopen the route, but fire has just now flared up again, delaying that for an unknown time.

The 15 freeway has opened, so that is really my only choice northward. While fire is on both sides of it, there is sufficient distance as to be safe. I will try to take some pictures of my trek, and will post them later, if successful.

The statistics thus far are terrible in terms of homes lost, acreage burned, structures destroyed, and people displaced, to say little about the economic loss, an impact which will have far-reaching effects on the people of California. Certainly, the effect will spread to the rest of our country, too, even the world. If California sneezes, the country catches a cold.

I would appreciate your prayers, as would the people of So. Cal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's Not Good


Well, it’s not getting any better yet.

Because a number of people have been unable to contact me due to the increased load on the cellular system, I will be updating here a couple-few times a day, until I’m out of danger.

In brief, the fires have not gotten really any closer to me—while they’re growing, it’s in the opposite direction. The sort of unspoken strain around here is what happens to the lifeblood and arteries of the city. Freeways and roads can be jammed, businesses shut down because employees cannot get to them, deliveries impossible, and buying and selling severely crimped. That will impact later, when bills cannot be paid because sales were not made. The effects of this will go on and on and on. . .

Here’s how it is at this point:

More than 350,000 homes have been evacuated in San Diego County.

More than 513,000 people have been evacuated to stadiums, churches and schools, stuffing and straining the resources of those areas.

Nearly 1,000,000 people have been evacuated statewide due to the fires in Southern California.

Fires have burned at least 373,000 acres, or 583 square miles—an area larger than New York City. Fully a quarter of the California coast is ablaze.

More than 1,300 buildings have been destroyed.

There are many who are depending upon our prayers.

Thank you for yours.

It's A Mess

(Photo provided by NASA of smoke in the San Diego area.)

While I am somewhat removed from the fires plaguing the San Diego area (to say nothing of those north of here), things are sure a mess of gloom and tragedy out here.

There are 14 fires burning.

Over 300,000 people have been evacuated.

374 square miles have already burned.

Nearly 700 homes are gone, 128 in one community alone.

Wind gusts of 70 mph have been reported, driving the fire at a crazy pace.

Traffic congestion is terrible, city services are stretched terribly thin, and businesses are scrambling both to meet demands and keep their doors open. It's pretty upside down around here.

Would you pray for us? While I will be leaving tomorrow for the L.A. area to speak to groups and churches (which promises to be an adventurous drive), I'll be watching and praying with you.

Thank you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

We're All Searching For Treasure


A friend, referring to the sermons she liked at her church, said, “They are so practical; he just tells us what to do. They’re not about all that mystical stuff…” And I longed for her. She wasn’t becoming more and more fascinated with Jesus, finding her greatest delight in Him, she was fixated upon herself…and that’s simply not nearly enough.

Brennan Manning writes, “The paltriness of our lives is largely due to our fascination with the trinkets and trophies of the unreal world that is passing away…When we are not profoundly affected by the treasure in our grasp, apathy and mediocrity are inevitable. If passion is not to degenerate into nostalgia or sentimentality, it must renew itself at its source. The treasure is Jesus Christ. He is the Kingdom within.”

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias comments, “When that great joy surpassing all measure seizes a man, it carries him away, penetrates his inmost being, subjugates his mind. All else seems valueless compared to that surpassing worth. No price is too great to pay. The unreserved surrender of what is most valuable becomes a matter of course. The decisive thing in the parable is not what the man gives up, but his reason for doing so – the overwhelming experience of their discovery. Thus it is with the kingdom of God. The effect of the joyful news is overpowering; it fills the heart with gladness; it changes the whole direction of one’s life and produces the most wholehearted self-sacrifice.”

You know, we're all looking for treasure. It's just that only One actually satisfies and keeps on satisfying.

Fiery San Diego

(This view of the San Diego fires was posted at about 11:00 a.m., PST.)

I'm safe.

Because many of you have been inquiring as to my safety, here in fiery San Diego, I thought I would post some news and a picture of where I am in relation to the fires. While the media, which always wants your attention, subtly implies that all of San Diego is on fire, that's absurd. I am many, many miles away from any danger. Yes, it's smoky around here, but life goes on.

The weekend retreat was fantastic. More about that later.

Thank you for praying for me,

Ralph

Sunday, October 21, 2007

When Big Isn't

(It's the weeeeeeekend--time for some fun. I got this sad-but-maybe-sorta-kinda-true article from Larknews. To visit that site, click here. And remember; it's not true, just sorta-kinda-maybe. You know--satirical. Larknews is a sort of Christian 'Mad Magazine,' or a cousin of The Wittenburg Door.)

Mini-church acts mega

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — On Sunday morning at Horizon Christian Fellowship, a 15-member worship band cranks out praise songs and the pastor preaches with the aid of stadium lighting and jumbo-size screens. But the church, which is only eight months old, has an average attendance of just 28.

"If we build it, we believe they will come," says pastor Rick Allen, 26, a recent Bible college graduate.

Ninety percent of the people who attend the church participate in the service somehow, either in short dramas, humorous video clips or in traditional roles like ushering. This means that at times there is virtually no audience."We sit and listen in shifts," says one woman who is the lighting tech, third camera operator, head greeter and fifth grade Sunday school teacher. Instead of starting a church in some "depressing little storefront," Allen says he decided to rent the biggest space he could find. "It reflects our confidence in where we’re headed," he says.

But even at peak usage, the warehouse-style facility dwarfs the Sunday morning crowd. Large, empty corridors and ghostly Sunday school rooms sit unused. With the sermon and music being piped through the facility, it feels like an abandoned shopping mall.

In the massive nursery area, five kids have their pick of toys in a sprawling play room. The high-tech child care includes video surveillance and child-specific beepers, but few actual children. "Attendance is down right now," says the nursery attendant, who is also the church secretary, missions trips coordinator and assistant to the youth pastor. "Usually we have eight kids, but the Hensons are out of town."

Allen expresses "a little frustration" that he hasn’t yet attracted the congregation he wants. Some in town say the size discrepancy makes the church feel "creepy." But Allen says his market research has identified the perfect place for a mega-church where the population was underserved. He remains confident that it will fill up.

"God honors faith," he says. "He won’t leave this place empty." •

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oops

I missed my flight.

In the dash to depart yesterday, every little thing that could delay me by 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there, happened. A lot.

When I offered my luggage at the check-in counter, the representative said, “It’s too late to check your bag. You’ll have to carry it on.” Of course.

So, the security people graciously removed toothpaste, hair gel and astringent from my bag, encouraging me with, “You know, sir, you can’t take this on the plane. You should have known that.” I said something like, “I did know that, but I didn’t know I would have to take my bag through security. I thought I could check it and didn’t plan for this to happen.” “Nevertheless, sir. There are signs posted. . .”

Thank you so much, Mr. Security Man.

Anyway, I missed my flight by less than two minutes, watching it pull away from the boarding thingy. What a sight. I’ve never missed a flight.

All through the run, I kept sowing to the Spirit, who reassured me with words such as, “You’ll make it. . .You’ll get there. . .” So you can imagine my thoughts and feelings when I didn’t make my flight.

Well, the airline agents didn’t know what to do with me. I told them my need of getting to L.A. for a seminar, and that I was the seminar. They worked for about 15 minutes to give me the best they could, even though that would cost me, oh, about $150, give or take a little. And then, one of those moments. In behind the counter stepped another lady who muttered something to the agent, who then said, “You know, we’ll just book you on another airlines’ flight that leaves in 40 minutes. . .and it won’t cost you a thing. You’ll get where you need to go.”

And so I did.

He really had told me, “You’ll make it. . .You’ll get there.”

Ahh.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To The Highlands


Here in Colorado it’s hunting season, and the critters are fleeing to the safety of the highlands. They’ve hidden there before. High up in the rocky crags and tangled forests, they are as far out of reach as they can get, making themselves the smallest target possible. In the highlands their chances of survival are greatly increased. When a storm pushes them lower, they’re far more at risk.

Do you ever feel targeted?

I think one of the enemy’s most tried and true tactics against the magnificent sons and daughters of God is to push—really push. When he is successful in moving us, the targets on our backs become huge and it’s open season for the guns of hell. You and I cannot help but feel it. Here’s what I mean.

To the targeted Colossians, Paul wrote: “22But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel…” (Colossians 1:22,23)

Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you and I have been given His perfect righteousness and holiness (1 Cor 1:30), and it has become our own. It’s a staggering gift, worthy of touting far and wide-- "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Cor 1:31) Well, yeah!

Nothing can take His gift away from you, nothing can change the beauty of what it means for you—you’re in Christ, holy and faultless as you read this. That’s just a little bit good, isn’t it?

However, the goal of the devil is to move you away from knowing your gifted condition. He attempts to seduce you away from thinking about your security and confidence in Christ by firing accusations at you: “Look at you! Look what you’ve done—you’re no good at all.” “You haven’t read or prayed nearly enough—God’s not going to answer your prayers.” “You’ve done so many bad things that your life is destined to amount to nothing.”

Ever hear stuff like that? Of course! The Accuser himself has access to your thoughts through the flesh. King Jimmy has it right—“…the carnal mind is enmity against God.” (Rom 8:7 KJV) So what’s the devil trying to do? MOVE YOU! He’s trying to get you to move away “from the hope held out in the gospel…” Why? Because then you won’t be free from his accusations!

They’ll tear you apart!

Once you’ve been changed by God your condition with Him (holy and without blemish) can never be changed, but your susceptibility to Satan’s accusations can be changed. That’s the “if you continue in your faith” part of verse 23. Remaining “free from accusation” depends upon your movement.

When Satan can get you moved away from what God has already made of you through Christ, his accusations will find their target—you. Your hope, your joy and your demeanor will all sag because you’ve been hit, and Satan will keep on hitting. But when you run to the highlands, when you fix your thoughts and heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, (and in Him, you are, too!), then his horrid accusations will not find you—you’ll be living by faith. Since God birthed you all over again, that’s how you live!

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4)

You know, all of heaven sees you. They see the real, actual son-of-God you. To those in heaven you look perfect—and they’re right. Take heaven’s view, and head to the highlands.

Marveling In Montana


What an incredible time I had in Montana. Wish you could have been there.

This home church/group was a particularly brilliant batch of sons and daughters of God, and together we were delighted by Him. There were so many moments when it was as if the Spirit drew back the worldly curtain hiding the glory of God in His people—and we marveled. Can you imagine?

We knew each other as we have become—the righteous, holy and faultless sons and daughters of God—more so than as we behave or look. They were Montana people, but they were born of heaven and they knew. Now that’s something.

We talked for hours together about what it took for God to make us new creations, how to live in light of that fact, how we’ve been prevented from living by faith in God, and how to live on purpose in the freedom He has given us. In essence, the Montana-ites knew what God thought of them, were a bit dazzled by it (nothing wrong with that!), and yearned to live by faith in God’s opinion of them. We talked a lot about how to do that in our everyday lives, as well. We’re set up for it.


It was quite a trip. More, please!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It’s Impossible—Right?

I can't help it, okay? I'm a baseball fan--it's my father's fault. He ushered my brothers and me to countless Dodgers games through the years, forcing us toward this lifelong fascination.

Well, having moved to the Rockies, we adopted the Rockies as our second team. As soon as Dodger Blue succumbed (we threw dirt on their coffin sometime in early September, as I recall), we donned purple and black.

For almost three weeks now I've been muttering, "Can they be stopped?!" I don't think so! Hooray! Go Rockies!

(Below is an article from ESPN.com--an excellent read.)

Rockies pull off the impossible, advance to World Series
By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com


AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

DENVER -- This didn't just happen. Did it?

That couldn't have been Coors Field, shaking so hard Monday night that it must have knocked all the snow off the nearest Rocky Mountain tops.

That couldn't have been the Colorado Rockies, dancing beneath the fireworks, pulling on those National League Champions T-shirts, the only National League team still standing in the second week of October.

This can't be the Rockies -- the Rockies -- heading for their first World Series in franchise history. Can it?

If you watch enough baseball games and follow enough pennant races, you come to think after a while that you have a grasp of what's possible and what isn't. And let's be candid here:

This isn't possible.

But on another magical autumn evening a mile above sea level, the impossible turned possible. The Colorado Rockies are going to the World Series. Just don't ask how.

"I'll be honest," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, after the 6-4 win over Arizona that sealed a four-game sweep and propelled these Rockies to their first World Series. "We haven't sat back once and said, 'How'd this happen?' We're just enjoying it."

And you know what? It's better that way. It's safer that way. It's more fun that way. Because there are no good answers. So just don't ask.

Don't ask how a team on life support can suddenly start winning and winning and winning some more -- until it looks up a month later, amidst the dripping Domaine St. Michelle, to find it has just won 21 of its last 22 games.

Don't ask how a team that was a mere four games over .500 on Sept. 15 could make it here from where this team came from.

From nine games under .500 (18-27) in May.

From six games out in the wild-card race in September.

From 4½ games back in that wild-card race with only nine games to play.


Harry How/Getty Images

From two games behind with two games to play, and having to watch that Padres team they were trying to catch get within one strike of clinching.

From two runs behind in the 13th inning of the 163rd game of the year, a game they never should have had a chance to play in the first place.

Has any team ever overcome all of that to play in a World Series? Not a chance.

So what we have here is one of the most historic, most astonishing, most compelling stories in baseball history. We're not sure the other three time zones have comprehended that yet. But now's your chance, because this team is not done playing yet.

"It's a far-fetched story," said Ryan Spilborghs, the backup outfielder who is such a huge clubhouse presence on this team. "It sounds like the kind of bedtime story you'd tell your 5-year-old son when he wants to hear a fairy tale. But if you told that story to the guys in this clubhouse, you know what? They'd believe you. And there'd be no doubt in anybody's mind that that was a true story.

"This group of guys has always believed we could win. So if you'd told me we'd win 21 out of 22 games with this group of guys, I'd say, 'Yeah. I believe it.'"

Clearly, they had to believe, or they couldn't have done this, right?

Couldn't have become the fifth team in the last 70 years to go 21-1 in any stretch of any season.

Couldn't have become the first team to do that in the middle of one of these mad charges to, and through, October.

Couldn't have become the second team in history (along with just the 1976 Big Red Machine) to sweep its first two postseason series in any given October.

Couldn't have become the fifth team of all time to make it from last place one year to the World Series the next.

Couldn't have become the sixth team in history to fall nine games under .500 and still climb out of that canyon to make it to the World Series.

And, finally, couldn't have become the first team ever to find itself two games out of a playoff spot with two games to play and somehow survive to scramble into the World Series.

That didn't really happen. Did it? That wasn't really possible. Was it?

"You know, it's easy to say now because it happened," laughed reliever LaTroy Hawkins. "So it is possible. But would I have thought of that before it happened? No."

But then again, how could anyone have thought of it? That was a whole month ago, before all the madness began.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Before Todd Helton's dramatic walk-off bomb off Takashi Saito. Before Josh Fogg turned into The Dragon Slayer. Before Matt Holliday's slide. Before Kaz Matsui's slam. Before Yorvit Torrealba turned into David Ortiz.

And then, finally, before this night -- the night their journey carried them to the top of the only mountain peak around that no Coloradan had ever climbed before.

For a while there, it almost looked as if this night might be different from all the other nights. On this night, the Rockies actually (gulp) trailed for an entire inning.

But for a whole nutty month now, somebody has always stepped forward, to grab onto the moment and turn it into another one of those here-they-go-again evenings. And sure enough, on this night, it was Seth Smith's turn.

Until now, he was probably better-known to some folks as Eli Manning's backup quarterback at Mississippi. He didn't even join this team until Sept. 16, when the Rockies brought him in from Colorado Springs. And he never started a single game -- not one. But would they be here without him? Heck, no. Wouldn't. Couldn't.

In his 12 at-bats since he arrived, all Seth Smith has done is hit .583 -- .636 as a pinch-hitter. So when game-breaking time arrived Monday -- with two on and two out in the fourth inning, Clint Hurdle pointed in his direction.

And of course, Seth Smith got it done. With an ugly little inside-out, opposite-field bloop shot that plunked two feet inside the left-field line. But this was no beauty pageant. This was a game-turning two-run double in your box scores and your history books.

If anyone ever asks him later about this mighty blast, Smith promised he would tell the truth and nothing but the truth _ that it "slammed off the wall." Or something like that.

But this was just the latest, wildest chapter in the crazed, stranger-than-fiction story of the Rockies. Game 2 was saved by a pitcher with no big-league saves (Ryan Speier). So why wouldn't Game 4 be altered irrevocably by a fellow whose first two career major-league RBIs came in the game that sent his team to the World Series?

"You know the funny thing?" said Smith, who joined the immortal Blake Doyle (1978) as the only players in history to drive in the first runs of their careers in a postseason game. "I didn't even realize it when I was on second base. Then I ended up scoring, and when I got back to the dugout, somebody said, 'Hey, we got that ball for you.' And I was like, 'Why?' They said, 'It was your first RBI.' And I said, 'Oh.' But in a game like this, you don't worry about that."

Minutes later, there was even less to worry about. That was because Matt Holliday crunched a 452-foot three-run homer that flipped the scoreboard to 6-1, set off an eruption of fountains and fireworks, and launched a party that may not end for a week.

OK, eventually, it got a little dicey. OK, eventually, Arizona carved that lead to two runs in the eighth. OK, eventually, a Chris Young double got the tying run to the plate in the ninth.

But then Stephen Drew took a mind-boggling swing at a 3-and-0 pitch from closer Manny Corpas and popped it up for out No. 2. And then Eric Byrnes tapped the soft ground ball to the left side that might well become the most replayed final out in Rockies history.

At first, it seemed as if the third baseman, Jamey Carroll, was going to slurp it up. But in the corner of his eye, Carroll saw the human Oreck, Tulowitzki, darting toward the hole and realized whose ball this had to be.

"He's made that play 100 times," Carroll said. "I felt him back there. I knew he was back there. As soon as I let it go by, I didn't even give it a second thought. I looked straight at first base."

"I wanted that ball hit to me," Tulowitzki said. "I always wanted to make the last out of a World Series. But an NLCS works, too."

What he really wanted, though -- what they all wanted -- was for the final out to wind up in the glove of Helton, their Lion King, the guy who had suffered through 11 frustrating seasons and nearly 1,600 games on the way up this mountain peak.

"When that ball was hit to 'Tulo,' I knew," Helton said. "I knew where that throw was going -- right at my chest."

And when that ball arrived, and his team was heading for the World Series, Helton said he could feel all those years of frustration -- culminating in these four consuming heart-thumping weeks of pressure-packed miracle-making -- just disappear. Poof. Just like that.

"I'm not an emotional guy," Helto would say later, his eyes glazing, his voice cracking. "But this is emotional. I think it was just being in the game, and being so focused and so intense and wrapped up in the game. And then just the release, when it's over ... wow.

"That," said Todd Helton, "is a drug you can't buy in stores."

He was wearing his NL Champions shirt, soaking in more than the moment. But what a moment.

"I've never even seen a National League championship trophy," he said. "So when I saw that -- 'National League champions' -- and realized we were going to the World Series, that just sounds so good coming off the tongue it's ridiculous."

Oh, it was ridiculous, all right. A month ago -- just a month -- it was an idea that was literally ridiculous.

But 22 games and 21 wins later, here they are, the Colorado Rockies, World Series bound.

C'mon. That didn't really happen. Did it?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bad Headlines, Pt 2

(Yeah--it's the weekend. See yesterday's heading for more information.)

BAD HEADLINES, part 2
Double Meanings From Around The World

~ Farmer Bill Dies in House
~ Nation's Head Seeks Arms
~ Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
~ Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
~ Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
~ Stud Tires Out
~ Eye Drops off Shelf
~ Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
~ Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66
~ Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
~ Two Ships Collide, One Dies
~ Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
~ Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
~ Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
~ Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
~ New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
~ Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
~ Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
~ Ban On Soliciting Dead in Trotwood
~ Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
~ Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing
~ Air Head Fired
~ Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
~ Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
~ Include your Children when Baking Cookies

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Off To Montana

I leave today to spend the weekend speaking and ministering to some great people in Whitefish, Montana. I'm really excited and expecting a terrific time with the Spirit in evidence amongst us. There's not a lot better than that.

I'll post about how it all goes in the days ahead.

Would you pray for me and my family?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Don't Cut Out The Middle Man

Crowding the top of my most-favorite verses in the Bible is Galatians 5:16—

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

When once we know that the flesh is not us but something in us, something against us, then what we want is to live free from its’ grip and influence. This verse carries that promise. Do this and you won’t do that.

A key couple of verses showing how to walk by the Spirit are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:13,14)

Perhaps the most practical, even useful aspect of God’s grace to us in Christ is that He lives in those who have received Him. He’s not just around us, He’s in us, and would love to be found. For sin to not be my master, for me to not “carry out the desire of the flesh,” I offer myself to the Holy Spirit who now lives in me. Surprisingly(!), I have found Him entirely capable! He does not ever succumb to the desires of the flesh, but always produces what He is like in me. That’s how the fruit of the Spirit is found in and through me to the glory of God.

Do I always offer myself to the Spirit perfectly? No. I am regularly duped into living by doing what’s right, or by avoiding what’s wrong, or by making good decisions and being a responsible individual, none of which is life by the Spirit, all of which cut out the Middle Man—God within me. I have a long history of life by the flesh, so even though I’ve found life by the Spirit the awesome wonder it is, I still fall back upon old patterns. . .but not as much as I used to. The sequence of Romans 6:13,14 is effectively, Don’t offer yourself to sin, don’t offer yourself to life without God. Rather offer yourself to the Holy Spirit who lives in you. And then, offer the parts of your body to Him as His to use.

God in you and in me is the Holy Spirit. He is The Middle man, who makes life happen in you and me.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How Real Men Go Fishing

It's the weekend, so you know what that means.

Here's a short video I think you'll enjoy. See you tomorrow...

video

Friday, October 05, 2007

3 Christian Essentials In Georgia


My trip to Georgia was terrific for all the right reasons. Because there are sons and daughters of God there who are growing in the knowledge of God and His incredible grace to them in Christ, a lot of preparation work had been done to make the trip most beneficial.

Translation: I spoke eight times in six days to people hungry for the life of God.

On Sunday morning, I met with the good people of Midtown Church. There I raised what I think are three essential questions: 1. Where is God? 2. How can I find Him? 3. How can I let Him do what He wants?

The stunning reality is that for those who have received Christ, God is now within! He has made a home in you.

Together we looked at the following passages:

1 Cor 3:16-17 “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

Heading out into your day, have you ever thought, "Well, here I go--God's sacred mobile home."? No? Well, you are. At least, He thinks you are. Do you agree with him? It might be a good idea.

Luke 17:20-21 “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you.’”

Col 1:27 “To them (to the saints, to the select) God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Italics mine.)

When God convinces those who have received Him that they have actually received Him, their eyes are opened…and they’ll begin to look for Him who lives within. Most often we look for God over there, but not so much for God in here. But we can.

Time to have a look, don’t you think?

2. How can I find Him?

For this we looked to Galatians 5:16-25, where Paul writes of the struggle within—the conflict between the Holy Spirit and the flesh. Until the believer makes a believing choice to sow to the Holy Spirit, now within him, the flesh will produce its’ awful brand of behavior. The flesh, that part of us which offers a way of living, the result of which means living without the life of God, influences or produces behavior through us—unholy sexual activity, hatred, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, drunkenness, and more—it will be obvious when we’ve been sowing toward it. The most obvious thing will be that we won’t be knowing or feeling or hearing or sensing God, who now lives within.

When once we believe God is now within us, we’ll want to give Him something to do—take Him off inner unemployment! By sowing toward Him, especially when feeling His conflict with the flesh, we will know Him—we’ll feel His work go on in us. How will that look? How will that feel? It’s everything you want, only it’s His to bring about: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:23,23)

After believing that He is now within you, sowing toward Him—“I feel your conflict with the flesh, Holy Spirit. What do you think? What do you feel? Is there anything you’d like me to know? Say? Do?”—will bring about His life, the life you’re supposed to know and experience. This is what the kingdom of God is about, the Kingdom Jesus said would be “within you.” It is! (Luke 17:21) What He chooses to manifest or produce in you is up to Him—it can be challenging to leave it to Him. If He produces peace when you’d rather have something intelligent and powerful to say, remember—it’s God! Believing that He is acting within you, be satisfied with what He produces. After all, you’ll be finding and knowing God.

The flesh effectively says, “Manage yourself…and you’ll get what you want.” However, no you won’t—not really—you won’t know God! And knowing Him is way better. So, feel the conflict and pay attention to it. Know why it’s there (the Holy Spirit and the flesh are in competition), and offer yourself (sow) to the Spirit. If we sow to the flesh from the flesh we’ll reap destruction, but if we sow to the Spirit from the Spirit we’ll reap eternal life! (Gal 6:8)

We've been made for life.

Romans 8:12-17 “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature (flesh), to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature (flesh), you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Italics mine.)

3. How can I let Him do what He wants?

Paul knew that it’s all in the offering.

Rom 6:13, 14 “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

How do I do that? How do I offer myself to Him? Well, first believe that He is now within you. You’re not just offering yourself to God out there, but you’re offering yourself to God in here! To believe that He lives in you is a tremendous point of faith—it’s great, and He loves it.

Here’s what I do.

In my day, throughout my day, during virtually anything, I pause. I take a faith-filled pause to feel Him, know Him, hear Him. I might quickly think something like, “I know where you are, God…I want to find you in me…and I want to let you do whatever you want in me. What are your thoughts? Your feelings? I offer my hands and eyes to you for whatever you desire, even if it isn't to use them.” Throughout those thoughts toward God, I pause to listen and feel and think. By that I get to know Him.

This removes the burden of having to tailor myself at every moment, whatever the circumstance I’m in. If I don’t have to come up with the just-right thing to say, the just-right thing to do, the just-right way to look in order to get what I want, the pressure is off me and I’m free to know God.

Surprisingly, I do know Him, just as He said I would.

(Much of this message was culled from material also found in my book, Better Off Than You Think—God’s Astounding Opinion of You. Click here for more information, or go to our ministry web site at http://lifecourse.org, and click on “Ralph’s Book.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Headin' For The Rockies


I can't fathom how delightful it has been here in the south. Georgia has been beautiful, the people tremendously warm, sincere and inviting--I cannot say enough about them--but I'll try.

Tomorrow I'll begin posting a summary of my time here in the Atlanta area. I'll take a kind of jog through the days and people and speaking topics, as well as what I believe were the responses and hopes of these wonderful people. And I'll tell you a bit of what happened in me as I walked among them--it was quite a thrill.

Thank you for your prayers, thank you for your hope, and thank you for your support. It's a wonderful thing we've got going, isn't it.