Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mom's Obituary

Maryjane Woodrow Harris, age 81, passed away on June 22, 2008 in Pasadena, California after a brief hospitalization. Born March 3, 1927 in Los Angeles, she graduated from the University of Southern California in 1949. While at USC she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, was elected Helen of Troy, and was a member of both the Amazon Honorary Society and Mortar Board.

In May of 1950, Maryjane married John W. Harris, her life-long love. John and MJ first lived in Hastings Ranch, California, where they began a family. In 1957 they moved to San Marino. There she became a dedicated member of The San Marino Republican Club and a strong supporter of countrywide Republican politics. She was greatly admired for her wit and courage in speaking out on important and sometimes controversial political issues. She won the Betsy Ross Award for Outstanding Woman Republican. Until her passing, MJ was sought out for her opinion regarding politics, parenting and life as a Christian.

Maryjane’s family and four boys were always her greatest joy. She was deeply involved in most all of their organized activities, including a longtime member of the PTA, a Cub Scout leader, a team mother for their various sports teams, a boy’s bible study group leader, the president of their fraternity Mother’s Club, and much more. And since her youngest son (Evan) arrived nearly sixteen years after her first three (John, Ralph and Brent), MJ did most of it twice! During nearly forty years of their education, she was tireless and spectacular in her support.

Maryjane was beautiful in every way and had an impeccable sense of style. She was a kind and gracious lady who enjoyed longtime friendships with many people from many parts of the world. Virtually everyone she met more than once soon counted her as a close friend because she was unrelenting in her encouragement and support for them.

To have known Maryjane was to know encouragement and love.

Maryjane is survived by John Jr., her husband of 58 years; her son John, 3rd (Sheri) of Springdale, Arkansas; twin sons Ralph (Sarah) of Longmont, Colorado, and Brent (Pat) of Spokane, Washington; and son Evan (Leela) of San Diego, California. John and Maryjane have 9 grand children.

A memorial service will be on Friday, June 27 at 10:00 am, at Bethany Church. 21 North Olive St., Alhambra, CA.

Monday, June 23, 2008

In Good Company

Having sustained severe injuries due to a fall on Friday, my mother passed on to God yesterday afternoon at 3:20. As we talked with our girls, we cried and rejoiced that “grammy” was not only reveling in the love and delight of God, but that she could see all of the angels and meet Moses, David, Rahab, Samson and Paul, as well as her own mother. She's in good company, and she has only just begun.

Emma said, “You know how I see Grammy? I see her in a sparkling silver dress that’s too short, and she’s dancing with Jesus. And He has on platform shoes.”

We prayed for my dad, who has health issues of his own. He is to receive a pace-maker today, which we hope will add vigor to his days.

I will travel today to Los Angeles, and Sarah and the girls will follow on Thursday. The service for my mother will be on Friday.

We appreciate your love and welcome your prayers.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Clean-Up Day

Yesterday was a clean-up day for me.

Amidst the confusion of the day (Do we need a new vacuum cleaner? Which one? How much? How much longer will our car keep working? What should we do for summer?), a call came from my brother in San Diego:

“Mom and dad have together fallen down the stairs at home. Dad seems relatively okay, but mom’s injuries are severe. She is not expected to live.”

And just like that, I was liberated from the incessant and intoxicating drumbeat of this world.

What remains is what’s really true: God is at all times working in the invisible realm, and He is best found by looking there.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Cor 4:18)

Even now He is working out everything according to the purpose of His plan. Not one thing is missing, not one thing has He failed to do--and not in anything will He fail, particularly regarding my parents.

Today I am trusting Him and sowing to the Spirit in an uncommon way, and because He lives in me, I am reaping eternal life—exactly as He promised. He knows exactly what’s happening and, because He also lives in my mom and dad, He is keeping me to faith in Him about them.

I would appreciate your prayers.


Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm So Right With God

…And it’s not my fault.

This morning the Spirit reminded me of what Jesus’ death and resurrection means regarding my condition with God—my constant condition with God. I’m well-off.

There is so much that seeks to identify me as unfit, ill-prepared and deteriorating—I haven’t been exercising, there’s a nasty break-out on my face, my hair is graying and leaving, and much more. It all tempts me to believe my condition is what I see and experience. But none of it has anything to do with what God did for me in Christ. And that’s what actually has meaning and counts. Forever.

Think of it.

Concerning Jesus, Paul writes, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) Did it work or didn’t it?! It did! The Father treated Jesus as though He actually committed my sins, making Him to be sin for me (2 Cor 5:21), so that in Him I “might become the righteousness of God.” Whoa. And in Him, I have been made justified with God—as though I had never, ever sinned, and had always done everything exactly right. Jesus has given me His perfect righteousness for my own. What a possession! What a gift!

Because of all He has done, I have peace with God. I don't have peace with God because of what I do—always do I have peace with God because of what He did already. I may not feel that peace, given the ebb and flow of my day, but it has been secured and given to me, nevertheless, forever. That’s the incredible grace in which I now stand (Romans 5:1,2). Okay, in which I now leap! As Paul writes, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2b) Because of what He has done through Christ, He gets a lot of glory in me.

And there’s more.

I’ve been entirely reconciled to God. No errors, no mistakes, no faults, no blame—made perfectly right by Him with Him for Him. (I know that’s a messy sentence, but so what.) “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:11) My condition with God is forever right. That doesn’t say anything about my feelings and thoughts and behavior, which change like the wind, but it says everything about what matters most and what endures—the forever me. A born again, son of God.

Way to go, God! As a friend of mine says to God, “You rock!”

And because He does, so do I. So do you!

Today, I’m living by faith in what He thinks about me. As Wilford Brimley says, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Can't I Shake My Sins?

Here’s a short, interesting article that I think has a very productive angle about persistent sin. While it may not have a step-by-step method, it takes the focus off the act and puts it upon God, who may be doing something bigger, something through the persistent sin.

Frankly, I’m delighted to read an article in which the author doesn’t simply trot out the usual response to our struggle with persistent sin. The usual, “Here are 5 steps to knock it off,” approach frustrates me and, I believe, usually leads the church into still more sin.

Further, those who fail to employ the steps or who speak against them as ineffective, usually become branded with a sort of, “Stay away from this guy” mark. Frustrated and trapped, the branded ones fade out of view.

So I’m glad for this article and the author who took the risk of writing it. I suspect that in his circle there will be flak directed his way.

Concerning Christians, I have dealt at length with the nature and avenue of sin, as well as how to live by faith in Christ so that the Spirit may produce His victory over sin in us in chapters 5, 7 and 8 of my book, Better Off Than You Think.

Click on the link at the end of this snippet to read the article, and then come back here to make a comment or two.

Why Can't I Shake My Sins?
A surprising answer to a stubborn problem.
by Kevin A. Miller

A man came to see me. It was the beginning of Lent, the original "40 Days of Purposeful Repentance."
"Pastor," he said, "I want to confess my sins." And in tears, he spoke honestly and openly about the sin in his life—nothing illegal, most known only to him, yet serious, and he wanted to turn away from it. We talked and prayed together, and he left.
Forty days later, he came back.
"How are you doing?" I asked.
"I haven't made much progress," he admitted, his eyes unable to meet mine.
In his agony was a question I've often asked: "Why does sin so stubbornly remain in our lives?" He and I both want to change more than we have and more than we do.

(To read the rest of this article, click here.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ah, The Flesh.

It's the weekend--time for a little fun.

Want to see the flesh in action, even from an early age? See how this guy attempts to "motivate" and "encourage" someone else to get what he wants. Click on the short video below to see it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Struttin' His Stuff

So just how practical is the fact that God has given to you the perfect righteousness of Jesus? Do you feel particularly secure because you have the spot-on perfect right doing of Jesus as your own?

I think it’s common that many of us value it very little. We sort of keep it in the closet or locked up in a safe deposit box for when we really need it, like after we’ve taken a dive into sin. It doesn’t do us much good on a regular basis, but we’re glad we’ve got it. And that’s too bad. Here’s why: we’re not living by faith.

As I walk around in the day pondering the incredible fact that I have the righteousness of Jesus as my own, I realize a power in my life—the power of the gospel. A couple of verses will help.

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Cor 1:30)

See? It was always God’s intention that you would be given the righteousness, holiness and redemption of Jesus Himself. How cool is that?! Before all of creation, God is on parade through you. You’re struttin’ His stuff. You’re lookin’ good.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

We shouldn’t think that the gospel, the power of God, is His power only to get people in the door of heaven, the gospel of initial salvation. In this verse, “salvation” means the on-going soundness or stability of the believer, Jew and Gentile alike. I’m not saying that the gospel isn’t for getting people saved when they believe it—it is. But it is also the vital treatment regimen or the prescription of God for the health of His patients. It’s God’s wellness program.

Take God’s gift to you in Christ out of the lock box and try it on. Take a look at yourself in the mirror and see how it feels as you walk about. I think it will change your day because you’ll be living by faith in it. I think you’ll like that, and so will He.

You’re struttin’ His stuff.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Well, How About That?

Now this is cool.

Just today I received a surprise delivery on my doorstep--my book in the Indonesian language! My publisher told me several months ago that an Indonesian Christian book publisher had purchased the rights to it, but he said, "It might take a couple of years before we see anything."

Maybe not.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Lie That Twists

(Someone wrote to me with the following comments, which she agreed to let me post. My response follows.)

Hey Ralph,

Did you see this urban legend about the new dollar not having "In God We Trust" on it? It is a false accusation, as the Snopes website chronicles, but the initial email still gets me rolling my eyes. If you read below the mass email, it says if we don't have "In God We Trust" on our money, then "God will turn his face from us." What is that?! It seems insidious at so many levels. It is those kind of comments that not only manipulate Christians into feeling their salvation is based on their own militancy, but it also makes non Christians think, "There goes those right wing extreme fundamental Christians again."

I suppose a Bible reader could argue that our money is actually "Cesars" and we should not expect it to have God's name on it, and someone with a bit of humor might wonder if God isn't just a little insulted to be associated so closely to our cultures most worshipped god of all - money.

What do you think?

(My response is below.)
Brilliant! Much of western Christianity (and a type being sold in Russia and in Asia) asserts that to get what you want, you have to get God to give it up. Think what one could put in the "here's how" part of the equation! So, at the foundation is a terrible error, one that motivates everything else: we don't believe that God has given us absolutely everything for entirely nothing in Christ. We're seduced into believing we have to earn more than the everything we've already been given, and that twists Christians into militant and vigilant, nervous and anxious images of God.

I think that lie, that God is withholding something desirable from us, is the same one the serpent seduced Eve with in the Garden. God is reluctant to give, God is withholding something good from you, but if you'll just do this, you can get it. . .and, heck, He may even want you to get it after all. Does that make sense? So, from that day to this, you can see that lie--God is withholding something good from you--running through history, and running through our bookstores and churches today, twisting us now as it did then.

When I see its' effects, it makes me angry, too. However, I am mostly angry at the liar, the one who sold the lie the first time and who sells it today. It's robbing us and mutating us into rich beggars around God's throne. Think of it. Think of the affront to God that is. It makes elder brothers out of us, slaving away out in the fields away from Dad, working and working for what we already have. And if we work for what we already have, we never get it. And if we're busy in the field working--after all, it's most important--then we don't get to be with dad very much.

A favorite author of mine, Malcolm Smith, put it something like this: "If I walked up to one of you seated here today and told you, "Sit down, man, sit down!" you would either think I was weird in my command, or you'd be miserable trying to be what you already are." That's how it is when we tell Christians how to earn the anointing or get God's promises or favor or national blessing. Everything is entirely ours in Christ already! Strive no more! It's His gift to us. (Except for that little national blessing thingy. I don't think God looks to give us such a thing. But then, that's just my opinion.)

That's the magnificent gospel! And that's the target of the devil. I'm delighted that you're not buying the lie, perhaps even more so because you're seeing the ugly twist.

Well done.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

C.S. Lewis Remembers

Here's a short remembrance by C.S. Lewis on how it was that he came to receive Jesus--precisely what Lewis did not want to happen.

It speaks of the unrelenting grace of God, something I also knew on the day of my newbirth. While Lewis was attempting to disprove God's existence when overwhelmed by Him, I wasn't doing anything toward God. I was, if you will, minding my own business when He made me His business. In other words, I found myself instantly convinced about God by God. I believed because He saw to it.

That is unrelenting grace. And I am forever grateful.

Here's the link to the article on Steve Addison's blog - click here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Comments & Questions

Sometime you might feel like posting a comment or a question. You may do that simply by clicking on the Comments link found at the conclusion of each post. After posting your comment or question, simply choose an identity to your liking (Anonymous is perhaps quickest), and click Publish Your Comment. You're done. Depending upon what you've written, I'll respond.

To get an idea of what goes on, I am including a recent comment and response below that was posted on the Devotionally Single article. (Scroll down for that article.)

Anonymous said...

I am currently single. I'm not sure if I want to remain that way or not. Some people are always giving me advice and counsel. It seems that they generally try to place me in one role or the other. It puts me on the defensive and always leaves me feeling hurt and confused. It leaves me feeling as if there's something wrong with me. It's such a personal thing... I like to pray about it. Jesus is the only one I can talk to who doesn't make me feel pressured. He seems to be okay with my indecision. We take it one moment at a time.

Ralph said...

I like what you're saying here, especially that Jesus "seems to be okay with my indecision." I loved that!

I didn't marry until I was 35, and was all over the emotional map in the adult years leading up to it. Sometimes I was content, and sometimes I was not. Without exception, contentment was due to my love affair with God. I was on the staff of a large church with (it seemed) a million eligibles, so I migrated from contentment and peace to frustration and desire. I got to know Jesus in marvelous ways because of my dilemma!

I was a pastor, so there were more than a few who viewed me as slightly deficient or not quite solid. If, in conversation, I brought up what the New Testament says about being single as opposed to being married (it's rather pro-single!), those who were married would look sort of knowingly at me and maybe wink. I suspected that they discounted the Bible in preference to a model that seemed better--a married model.

It was one more way I learned to prefer Jesus Himself and His opinion of me over anything else. Sounds like you're finding that, too.

Keep it!


Making Disciples?

Sometimes I come across an excellent article. It might make a point in keeping with what I believe, or it might take a position with which I disagree. In either case, if it's well written and if I can get permission, I'll post it here.

I like this one.

It's written by two friends of mine, Barry and Linda Felis. You can access their web site by clicking here. The article follows below.

Making Disciples?

How is a disciple made? As I look back on our lives, Linda & I never really were discipled by other people. We would meet with people once a week for a couple of hours, follow different leaders, listen to and try new formulas and methods, and call that discipleship. The reality is, is that it was the Holy Spirit who caused any real change to take place in us. Let me explain what I mean:

A disciple is someone who applies their energies to learn a special discipline under a master teacher. There is no other way to be a disciple. There must be a pupil who is taught, and there must be a teacher who teaches. The disciple lives with the teacher, eats and drinks with the teacher, travels around with the teacher, observes the teacher during the course of the day and night, asks a lot of questions and listens intently to the answers. This is the Eastern way of making disciples, and it is the way the Lord Jesus discipled the Twelve. Disciples sit under the teacher - literally at His feet - and hang on His every word. It is not sitting with a person for an hour or two a week and thinking that is discipleship.

What is our idea of discipleship today? I hear some Christians say, "I have been sitting under the ministry of brother or sister so-and-so for a long time now." May I offer a word of caution at this point? Be careful of whom you "sit under" for you will become just like them, and you will never advance beyond them. Write it down, you will never advance beyond them. This is where so many of us have missed it. We are still looking for man - flesh and blood - to affirm and tell us what to do. Who tells the mentor what to do? His mentor? And who tells the mentor’s mentor what to do? The so-called disciple takes on the same characteristics as his mentor. Taken to the extreme it can become pretty ridiculous.

When our children Shad & Amber were small we told them what to do and what not to do. They were not able to make their own decisions because they had not yet matured enough to do so. When they became adults they were able to make adult decisions, learning from their good and bad choices. Unfortunately, many Christians today never mature to the point of making their own decisions. They must have a pastor or church leader to tell them what to do. Rather than mature saints, they remain spiritual babies.

When I was a senior pastor, many times people with problems and decisions to make, would asked me what to do. I would ask them, "What has the Lord told you to do?” They would get frustrated with that answer, because I would just point them to the Spirit of God in them for their answers. Many of them left the church to find some other pastor who would be more than happy to tell them what to do. May God bless them in their decision making.

The only problem is that they never learned to go directly to the source of life for the answers they were seeking. As far as I know, they are still depending on flesh and blood to show them the way. That can be dangerous. True discipleship is sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ and learning His ways. The Bible teaches us that we have no need of any man to teach us, for the Anointing (Christ) will teach us all things and will lead us into all truth.

My point is simply this: True discipleship is receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, sitting at His feet and learning directly from Him through His word, prayer and fellowship with other believers. God the Holy Spirit is well able to disciple you. John 14:26 says it this way, "But Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." Something to think about the next time your challenged to go make disciples.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Shack

Well, the Totem Pole Theory proves true once again. You're familiar with that, aren't you? The higher you successfully climb up the pole of life, the more your butt shows. So it is for William Young and his book, The Shack. He is high enough now to be noticed (the book is a top seller), and they're shooting at his backside.

It's quite a book.

While I am but half-way through it, Young's book is stirring a storm, as it should. The idea of grace and grace alone, that we receive absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, has always rankled more than a few. That it does so today is no surprise, and, I suppose, it's a good thing in that this book will draw still more attention because of the storm. In my view, virtually none of the incredible doctrines of the Bible are without controversy. We get stirred-up, don't we?

That's not the only reason the book is controversial. Young pictures God's grace to us in a very unusual way, one that confronts and captivates at the same time. It's a stretching exercise--and a good one. Lots of people I know really like the book, including my wife. Some, who also love my book, are giving the two of them together to their friends and relatives. They tell me that the two books are saying essentially the same thing--we're really well-off with God through Christ--but in a different, complimentary manner.

I suggest you buckle-up, buy a copy and read it yourself.

For an excellent commentary, I recommend Steve McVey's blog. You can go there by clicking here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Never Again Merely Men

While I found plenty of memorable moments in the newest Narnia film, Prince Caspian, there was one that was particularly so.

In the first Narnia film, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, bears were on Aslan’s side and were supportive and friendly toward the just-introduced kings and queens of Narnia—Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy. Fifteen hundred years have passed between that film and this, and the royalty of Narnia were just discovering how different and ugly things were when Lucy comes upon a bear.

Naturally, she assumes a kinship with the beast. However, the bear, intending to kill Lucy, charges her only to be stopped by the arrow of a Narnian dwarf. Shocked, Lucy asks, “What’s happened to the animals?” to which the dwarf replies, “Treat them like mere animals long enough and they’ll forget who they are.”

I think the same thing happens to us—the sons and daughters of God. Oftentimes our enemy, the world and our flesh, seek to hinder us not by rejecting us overtly and outright, but by slowly and persistently inducing us to abide by their methods, one day to believe we are little different than those of this world. Eat this and you’ll be healthy, drive that and you’ll be wise, treat people like this and you’ll be kind, spend money and you’ll help the economy, save and you’ll be prepared for retirement, etc., etc., etc. None of it is necessarily sinful, but all of it can be subversive and become dominant.

Pretty soon, Aslan becomes the answer to our prayers only in the sense that He meets our earthly needs and wants. Prayer becomes not an adventure in Narnia with the King, but an exercise in securing food, shelter, position and comfort. And because Aslan promises to see to those things in the way that He wants without our asking, when the way that we want goes unmatched, it’s not long before we cease our adventures with Aslan. How easy it is to become engrossed in the things of this world, instead of the things of our homeland.

He promised to meet our needs. Well, He hasn’t, so what’s the good of him? We’ll have to get things done on our own, the thinking goes. To borrow on the dwarf’s response to Lucy, “Treat them like mere men long enough and they’ll forget who they are.”

The apostle Paul chided the Corinthians for just this thinking and behavior: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3, italics mine.)

You and I will never again be merely men or merely women, as the case may be. If you’re familiar with the C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, then you know that virtually all of the books are about the growing awareness of the kings and queens of Narnia—that they are, in fact, kings and queens already. Everyone in Narnia recognizes them; some in awe and delight, some with fear and dread. The more the kings and queens believe it, the more their behavior is affected, to the delight of Aslan.

That takes some doing, doesn’t it?