Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plunging The Potty

So I’m a servant. Hmm…

Through the years we’ve given that word a nice looking cloak to disguise its original meaning of “slave.”

Hmm. I’m starting to get that.

I’m usually pretty comfortable with the idea of being a servant. I’ve waited on people a lot over the years and done plenty of things that I could easily categorize as servant-like. And I’ve regularly been aware of being Jesus’ servant, as well, consciously offering myself to Him for whatever He would like to do or say. I pretty much get the whole servant thing. “Whatever your idea is, Jesus, I’m here for you.”

But slave?

I’m learning that I don’t have that one down. A toilet in my dad's home stopped up, with most all of the lovely little offerings you can imagine jostling for position. (A bit too graphic, I suspect.) Somehow my dad failed to notice. However, I figured he was laying a trap for me, so I didn’t say anything immediately. Finally, when I could take it no longer, I said, “Dad, your toilet is stopped up.” “Oh. Well,” he replied, “I’ll get the plunger.” And I’m thinking good idea, dad. Returning from his hunt, he had a glad expression on his face, and, handing it proudly to me, said, “Here you go.”

And that is one of many small snapshots of life these days with my dad. From handing me a roll of toilet paper (don’t worry, I’m done with that topic now) and telling me to take it upstairs, to telling me to clear the table and do the dishes, having me chauffeur him around town, fetch dinner, or clean up a mess, I’ve found the pleasure of being a servant severely challenged.

It’s probably about time.

I think of being a servant as an activity I choose, not one forced upon me. And that’s where the word has lost its meaning and intent—I’m wrong. So, I’ve done a bit of inner processing today, and sort of re-calibrated my thinking of why I’m taking care of my dad after my mother’s passing. No matter what my dad thinks is the reason for my being with him and serving him (it’s the family thing to do, I owe it to him, etc.), I’m doing it unto the Lord. That doesn’t mean I just work like a, well, slave, and make no complaint, it means that I am regularly thinking about Him and sowing to the Spirit as I work. As I do, I reap the benefit of life in Christ—the power of the Spirit shows up in me (Gal 6:8).

It might be that I strangely enjoy being ordered around like the son-slave dad always wanted, or, feeling the indignity of working over someone else’s potty (oops, I was supposed to be done with that), the Spirit makes me aware that He is with me, feeling everything I feel. And that makes plunging the potty worth it.

But you can forget about inviting me over to do it for you in your house. This slave has drawn the line…for now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fairly Good At Planning

This morning the Spirit has been sort of walking me through what He thinks of me. I always like that.

In the midst of my “tornado trust” experiences, I am His workmanship. I don’t have to become His workmanship, or try to make something of myself that I think would be best for the day or best for Him. He has made me what He has planned for, and my confidence is in Him.

I am what I am because of Him, and He’s happy with that.

I might as well be, too.

How about you? Do you think He’s been off the job with you? Failed to make you what He thinks is just right? Forgot to plan for you?

No chance. He never fails to do all for which He has planned. And He’s fairly good at planning.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Indian Food & God

Since moving to Colorado eight years ago, I’ve grudgingly accepted that Indian restaurant cuisine does not and will not have the zest and zip of the food found in Southern California. While the menu items have the same names, it’s tamer here. No matter what we add or do to take it up a notch and give it some real vitality, it never quite gets there. It’s fine, it’s good, but it remains less a delight than it should be.

That’s how my deeper, heavenly appetite is, too. Even though I like what I get by doing the Spirit-led things that fill me up—like reading and praying and singing and obeying and sharing—there are times I just want to go there. I want to be satisfied like that. I think I know at least something of how it will be, so I sometimes long for it. Life is sometimes really dissatisfying because I know how it could be—like Colorado Indian food.

And I think God is setting me up.

This morning I’m particularly glad that God is more determined to truly and deeply satisfy me than I am. Frankly, I might settle for less, but He won't let me.

Have you ever thought that the reason life is less satisfying the older you get is because it’s supposed to be? That God is really and actually sanctifying you as a heaven-belonging son or daughter of His? If, in fact, we’re spirit-born sons of God and seated in heavenly places already, it would appear, well, logical that God would prove it to us by getting us ready to come home—and to really enjoy it when we arrive. And maybe to recognize it. I suspect that when I cross over from this fleeting and temporal life to eternal life, I will utter a lot of ahhs, and oohs, and mmms, don’t you? I think my appetite for life is occasionally dissatisfied with what I can find in this world because it’s being prepared for a never-ending feast.

And I don’t think it will be entirely new delights served at the feast, but simply a lot more flavorful and satisfying…and more quantity—way more.

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt. 12:34)

Friday, July 18, 2008

How To Be Invisible

The following excerpt from an old favorite book (The Normal Christian Life) reminded me of a vital and practical Biblical truth in my life—“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 3:3,4)

Watchman Nee writes:
The object of temptation is always to get us to do something. During the first three months of the Japanese war in China we lost a great many tanks, and so were unable to deal with the Japanese armor, until the following scheme was devised. A single shot would be fired at a Japanese tank by one of our snipers in ambush. After a considerable lapse of time the first shot would be followed by a second; then after a further silence, by another shot; until the tank driver, eager to locate the source of the disturbance, would pop his head out to look around. The next shot, carefully aimed, would put an end to him.

As long as he remained under cover he was perfectly safe. The whole scheme was devised to bring him out into the open. In just the same way, Satan’s temptations are not designed primarily to make us do something particularly sinful, but merely to cause us to act in our own energy; and as soon as we step out of our hiding place to do something on that basis, he has gained the victory over us. But if we do not move, if we do not come out of the cover of Christ into the realm of the flesh, then he cannot get us.

The divine way of victory does not therefore permit our doing anything at all—anything, that is to say, outside of Christ. This is because as soon as we move we run into danger, for our natural inclinations carry us in the wrong direction. Where, then, are we to look for help? Turn now to Galatians 5:17: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” This tells us where the real tussle takes place. The fight with the flesh is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s, “for these are contrary the one to the other,” and it is he, not we, who meets and deals with it. What is the result? “That ye may not do the things that ye would.”

I think we have often failed to grasp the full import of that last clause. Let us consider it for a moment. What “would we do” naturally? We would move off on some course of action dictated by our own instincts and apart from the will of God. The effect, therefore of our refusal to come out of cover and act out from ourselves is that the Holy Spirit is free to do his work—free, that is, to meet and deal with the flesh in us, so that in fact we do not do what we naturally would do. Instead of going off on a plan and course of our own, we find our satisfaction in his perfect plan. Hence the command is a positive one: “Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). If we live in the Spirit, if we walk by faith in the risen Christ, we can truly “stand aside” while the Spirit gains new victories over the flesh every day. He has been given to us to take charge of this business. Our victory lies in hiding in Christ, and in counting in simple trust upon his Holy Spirit within us to overcome our fleshly lusts with his own new desires. The cross has been given to procure salvation for us; the Spirit has been given to produce salvation in us. Christ risen and ascended is the basis of our salvation; Christ in our hearts by the Spirit is its power.

(Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life; Tyndale)

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Life In Pictures

Sadly, yet triumphantly, my mother, Maryjane, passed on to be face to face, arm in arm with Jesus on Friday, June 20. I have posted a slide-show retrospective of her incredible life on our family web site,

If you would like to see it and have a fast internet connection (DSL or cable), we recommend you click In Memory of Maryjane Harris (high res). While it might take as much as 5-7 minutes to load, the quality is best. If your internet speed is slower or if you’re in a bit of a hurry, click on In Memory of Maryjane Harris (low res), which should load in about a minute. We think you will enjoy an expansive look at an amazing and godly woman.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Thank YOU

(Well, I've just returned home from California, and I'm a mixed bag of thoughts and emotions. . .and just a little bit exhausted. I spent about a week with my brothers and their families bidding farewell to my mother, and another week caring for my ailing dad. Perhaps the theme of my time might have been, "love in trauma." But that sounds too much like a country song. In any case, I'll be writing about it right here next week, as well as in the next LifeNote.
Until then, I'll be joining my three girls for several days of camping in the nearby Rockies. Frankly, I hope to catch my breath and stretch a little, and I can't think of many places I'd rather do that. Thanks for your love and care. -Ralph)

Recently I was thanking God for putting up with me, for forgiving me, for loving me, and for working with me in a tumultuous and difficult time. I was amazed with God and I said, "Thank you, Father," over and over again. When once I paused, this is what He said to me: "Thank you." What? Thank me? I asked. "Yes. Thank you for enduring. You believe, and it shows."

It was so good to hear. Has He ever conveyed anything like that to you?

He knows how difficult it all is, He knows the struggles you and I face and sometimes flounder in, He knows the awful thoughts and desires that plague us, sometimes bringing us under their control - He knows! And He loves us and never condemns us. In the midst of everything, He knows who we actually are - the ones born a second time, holy and blameless, perfect in righteousness, secure in Christ—so He knows how to handle us. And He knows how torturous life sometimes is. We're not at all of this world, and because we're not, He knows that we live these days in a torture chamber. That we approach Him during or after such awful stuff is a great sign to Him—we believe He's approachable! We believe He is Shepherd and not Dictator, Healer and not Breaker.

And He's thankful we endure, look to Him, get up again and go on.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4:15-16 NIV)

Amongst ten million incredible things about God, His grace for us means that there is never a moment of condemnation from Him. God's grace never creates doubt or debt—His grace rescues and restores. That's how it is because that's how He is. And He's thankful that we believe Him.

We're better off than we think.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Unprocessed & Undercooked

Frankly, I’m beat.

It has been a week of stunning and staggering news, scrambled chaos, sad greetings, funny moments and tearful goodbyes. And a whole lot of decision-making and hard work.

I didn’t take the college class, “How to bury your parents,” so I’m in the school of hard knocks. That’s probably good in that I’m forced to give all of my attention to what’s right in front of me—no prepared speeches, no template behavior, no long-practiced posturing. There are no veterans around here—only clumsy neophytes.

Everything I do or say feels unprocessed and undercooked. Organic never felt quite this raw.

The funeral for my mother was, well, wonderful. It was a deep and meaningful hour and a half, where many people poured forth their admiration and longing for my mother, while others sort of squirted-out their thoughts and feelings. “I, um, ah, don’t know exactly what to say or feel. I just loved. . .I just, um. . .well, you know—your mother.” We’d clasp hands or hug, and knowingly nod our heads in unison, like we couldn’t have said it any better.

My dad’s not doing well. Not only is he living with the trauma of the sudden and tragic loss of my mother, but also his health is a mess. In between routinely popping pills he removes from what looks like miniature candy bins, he has been blacking out, falling and hurting himself. We had the paramedics out this afternoon because we didn’t know if he’d had a stroke, or if he’d doubled-up on his sleep medication—which is what we found. My father was a zombie, and it unnerved us all.

No one here feels permitted to relax or stand down because the fight to make life okay seems to have just begun. Maybe it feels like we’re losing right now, and most of our forces just left the field. My three brothers (one who has been laid-up for the last couple of days with a terrible back problem) and their families left yesterday, so I’m not certain how the vacuum will feel today. Peaceful and easier to see what’s needed, or harassed and vulnerable?

I’ve found that my personal battle is to remember to sow toward the Spirit, instead of following the panicked pleadings of the flesh. It feels like I’m in one of those “life comes at you fast” commercials. If I don’t regularly pause and offer myself to God or think about Him or load an uplifting tune on my inner iPod, I get worn out. And Colorado feels so far away.

While this certainly seems hopeless, I’m not at all. It simply feels like I’m fighting a new battle with very old and inadequate weapons. I don’t have my footing yet. I’ll get there, but not yet.

Would you pray?