Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

See you next year!

With love and thankfulness,


A Needed Neediness

We're almost to 2009!

As we turn the page on the calendar, I'm sure that life in the coming year will be at least somewhat like life in the previous; you and I will need God. In fact, not only are we wired to need Him, our days are set up for us to know and feel Him, even to be dazzled by Him. Truly, it's the highest hope I have for 2009. Fortunately, He planned long ago for you and me to know Him and feel Him and grow confident in Him as one of the great ways in which He will be glorified by us, too.

#2 in our count down of the Top 10 LifeNotes of 2008 is "A Needed Neediness." This one found a deep place in our LifeNote subscribers, probably because it explains and makes relevant the strange and sometimes bothersome way by which neediness comes to us all.

He's in it.

I hope He turns neediness into stunning joy and delight for you in 2009.


On this, our nation’s Independence Day, I am feeling anything but. And I’m not exactly sure if I like it or not.

I mean, so much of the American dream is to be self-sufficient and self-reliant—to stand independently upon one’s own feet. To have a life that has everything except need. We educate for it, we work for it, we strive for it, and we estimate others and ourselves against the standard of responsible independence.

I wonder how surprised we would be if, after asking someone the question, “How are you?” the smiling-faced answer was a very incorrect, “I’m really needy.” Isn’t it a little bit weird to put “smiling-faced” and “I’m really needy” together? I wonder how many of us would quickly respond in a manner that sought to help correct neediness. “Oh, I’m sorry. How can I help you get over that?”

Neediness is not a desired character trait. It’s not found on anyone’s resume.

But what if, after hearing that someone is needy we asked the question, “Is that good or bad?” or “What are you discovering in your neediness?” That’s the kind of question that might really help someone—help them find what their neediness is leading them to discover.

I have nearly always found that God works and is most obvious when our neediness overflows. When we can’t contain it. When we’re too tired to cover it up. It’s then that we’re relieved of the effort to project independence, an effort that has kept us from the incredible power of God Himself, now in us. We miss Him because the flesh induces us to work hard to be independent.

The apostle Paul knew all about it.

Because he hadn’t yet realized just how different the Christian life is from the non-Christian, Paul pleaded with God for a little deliverance. You know, a little bit of, “God, please make the circumstances better so I can do better for you.” Was that too much to ask? There he was, on assignment for God, and God wasn’t making the right moves. Paul believed that God was missing out on how to do things best, so he asked three times for a better way forward.

But God said simply, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9) Whenever it seems that God is saying that to me, there are two things I know: God’s doing something beyond what I realize, and my situation won’t be changing as soon as I would like.

The apostle Paul, my hero, went on to embrace a life of navigated weakness, which I equate with dependence upon God. He wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9b,10)

Paul got it, but I’m still getting it.

Through the sudden passing of my mother a week and a half ago, I have been ushered into a new way of believing in and experiencing God. I’m needy in an unfamiliar way. I assume that, in the rich soil of sorrow, He thinks I’m growing. However, I often think I’m just going through the motions, just getting stuff done, and sort of banging around in the darkness. Far from home, I’m in California and separated from my family because I’m working to help my health-challenged and trial-plagued dad prepare for the rest of his life. There’s not much about living that he likes. Can you blame him if he believes living ought to go better than it does?

He’s needy, too. How strange that we’re together, just the two of us.

We’re better off than we think.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beautifully Normal

Here's #3 on our list of Top Ten LifeNotes of 2008, "Beautifully Normal." My father was preceded in passing on to Jesus by mother, who, if life is a race to see Jesus, beat my father by a nose. By I doubt she's gloating about it. Well, maybe just a little.

"Beautifully Normal" is about life and mourning and how things play out from here. I hope you enjoy it.


While tapping my foot to some oldie-but-goodie tune in my head yesterday, I reached for my phone. Holding it in my hand, I was suddenly shrink-wrapped and frozen by a shocking realization: I can't call my dad. He won't answer. He's not there.

For a moment I couldn't breathe, but warm saline filled my eyes and seemed to jump-start my mind and mouth. "How's my dad?" I stammered. "Jesus, how's my daddy?" While the Spirit filled me with rest and peace in the moment, still yesterday was more about missing my dad than celebrating him. So far I've had both.

As I begin again to write (you may have noticed a lack of communication lately), I'm sure the longings and loves connected to my father will well up from my heart and spill out on paper--well, cyber paper anyway. I hope you don't mind, because that's a lot of how writing is for me, a sort of lowering of the bucket into the well of my heart. What I find is really good, but there's effort and hope and fear and thirst involved, so the process is not always easy.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions, particularly during this season of my life. It's often difficult or awkward to be around people who are grieving or sad or longing because we want them to be, well, normal. But you probably know that that's the game no matter how you play it. Normal is a place you visit on the way to somewhere else.

My daughters are figuring it out, too.

After yesterday afternoon's frustrated phone incident, my family and I were lying around together doing something that didn't revolve around a funeral. What a change. What a relief. In full command of the remote control, I was flipping back and forth between the World Series and a movie I remember liking very much, Driving Miss Daisy. Naturally, my daughters didn't seem to value how important a 3-2 game in the eighth inning was, and I soon knuckled under to, "Da-a-aad! Can't we watch the movie?"

It wasn't long before I was driving Miss Daisy. The grumpy senior citizen (Jessica Tandy) chauffeured by the younger servant (Morgan Freeman) in the movie became my father and me. As their relationship progressed and deepened from boss and employee, superior and subordinate, to friendship and family, trust and reliance, so I saw that my relationship with my father had too. And the last scene got me. Abilities failing, the once rigid and standoffish elderly lady shows she has utterly accepted the servant when, warmly smiling, she allows him to feed her. He serves her with grace and kindness—he wants to—when he could easily be doing something else.

As I teared up, one of my daughters noticed and began making jokes to rescue her struggling father. With all the gentleness and care that were welling from my heart, I said, "It's okay. It's alright. I love my dad and he loves me, and this reminds me." She understood, and it was one of those great moments time will not erase.

In an otherwise abnormal life, it was beautifully normal.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Majesty of Friends

Over the years I've noticed that what we call our friends might change (my buddies, my boys, my home-ies, my peeps), but the importance of friends never changes. In fact, the importance of having people you know and trust and love within reach grows with each passing year.

Maybe that's why #4 in our count down of the Top 10 LifeNotes of 2008, "The Majesty of Friends," received such a strong response from our subscribers.

If you missed it, here it is again. And if you've already read it, perhaps by re-reading it you'll want to call or write a friend who might need a reminder of how vital he or she is to you. I hope you enjoy it.


Friends. I’m deeply thankful for friends.

The above picture was taken a couple of years ago and includes my parents (top right) and all their friends who could make it to the luncheon. Why did they get together? Because they’re friends.

I’ve had an incredible opportunity over the last several months to get to know many of my parents’ friends, some of whom have been linked together for more than 60 years. 60 years. I remember many of them from when I was a boy and addressed them by their formal names—Mr. Flynn, Mrs. Watson, Mr. Bayle. I don’t know when it became okay to use their first names—Jack, Ada and Emile—but somehow these senior friends of my mom and dad have brought this relatively young man near. And I’m dazzled by what I’ve found.

They knew my parents in a way I never did. They knew them in college—at parties, after tests, on weekends, on dates, and when they voted for the first time. My parents’ friends knew them when my dad got his first job as a cartoonist, and they knew them when he gave it up for something more certain. They knew them when my brothers and I were born, the last one, Evan, no doubt leading to some great comments since he came along nearly sixteen years after me. At the kidding of their friends, my mother used to say, “Well, the welcome mat was out all those years, it just took him a while to find the door.”

My parents’ friends argued and worried together during the Cuban missile crisis and the Kennedy assassinations, during the Johnson-Nixon-hippies-protests-Vietnam War era, and fretted during the so-called gas shortages of the Jimmy Carter years. Politics was the fuel of many conversations I overheard my parents have with their friends. They argued and debated over which type of emphasis the government should take for the best of America, liberal or conservative. As you can imagine, those debates have blazed hot all over again during the last dozen years or so. Man, they could really fight. You might think they would have ditched a friendship or two over the years. Nope.

And over all of those years, my parents’ friends showed up at my baseball games and 8th grade graduation, taught and watched over me at Boy Scout camping trips, chaperoned me at proms and dances, celebrated my entrance to USC, threw parties for my fiancé, sent baby gifts for my daughters, and bought copies of my book. So much of what I remember had my parent’s friends in it. No matter their differences and who was in the White House, they were always there.

And they were there at each of my parents’ memorials, dabbing at their eyes and beaming at my parents’ sons. I can’t tell you how many times some of them told me, “Your parents were so proud of you.” or, “How your mom/dad would have appreciated what you boys have done and said at today’s memorial.” And I heard at least ten times, “You boys are really something special, you know.” Coming from them, “you boys” felt like the most honorable title in the world.

My parents’ friends are magnificent.

So today I'm thinking about my friends. From California to Croatia and back again, my friends are the best part of what I have in this life. Yes, Jesus is my friend, too—my best friend—but getting together with one of the Steves, hanging out with Pete, laughing with Don or Ken or Peter, working out theology with Roger or Mickey or Rick, driving through the countryside with Laurie and Retha, emailing with Mike or Blake or Denise or Carla, or just chatting with Jeff or Gene or Susan or Anthony or Trish by phone, friends mean more to me today than they ever have.

While there are lots I haven't mentioned (like Janet and Beth and Cathe and Len and Jenn and Ryan and Feike and Laura and Lori and-and-and), my friends have my respect and admiration and thanks. And like my parents' friends, they've been through a thing or two with me, and have remained steadfast and faithful, even though I've sometimes taken them for granted. See? They're friends. I love them deeply and plan to keep them close and forever.

I wonder what my daughters will say many years from now. Wait—no, I don’t.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Valentine's Galore!

How are you?

If I were to come up with a description of God's favorite thing to do with me to just one main thing, His really-big-deal and goal with Ralph Harris, it would be to express His love to me. I don't think there is anything He likes more than that. And I've noticed that everything needed in my life is wrapped-up in knowing God's love for me--my security, my confidence, my hope, my health, my assurance, and more. I'm glad beyond description that God's love and my knowing it is the essential ingredient to life.

It is, then, no surprise to me that this LifeNote, #5 in our count down to the Top 10 LifeNotes of 2008, struck a chord with you, too. "Valentines Galore" was read and re-read by tons of people and forwarded to friends and family, and I received lots and lots of thankful comments as well.

If you missed it, here it is again. I hope you enjoy it.


I've got some history with love. How about you?

Sometime back in the murky years of elementary school, there crept a dawning realization that I liked it when girls liked me. While this warming glow was later to become something of a desirable and blazing fireball, all I knew at first was that it felt good. And I wasn't dumb about it—I took note of what girls liked. When I was funny, they liked it. When I was caring, they liked it. When I threw a touchdown pass, they liked it. When I looked good, they liked it. It wasn't long before I had a storehouse of knowledge concerning what girls liked. Pretty useful, I thought.

Through the ensuing years of wanting to be liked, I brought out of my storehouse whatever I thought was best for the situation. I wanted this girl or that girl to see me at my best, so I offered a bit of caring here, some physical prowess there, and perhaps a witty phrase or two to seal the deal. She sees me + she likes me = Valentines galore.


What did I do when I wanted God's love? Pretty much the same thing. I wanted Him to see me doing the things He liked—reading the Bible, witnessing, tithing, caring, not sinning, etc.—so He would like me. I worked my equation: God sees me + God likes me = Valentines galore. It works with women, so it must work with God. It's the way of love.

Or so I thought.

Before I could trot out one dazzling speck of Valentine worthiness from my storehouse, God, who sees me at every moment, loved me for no reason I could see. Ever since we first got together when I was twenty-four, He has been dazzling me. Really, it's the most valuable part of my life—God's love for me. And I have never been able to motivate Him to love me. He has never once conveyed to me that He loves me now more than He once did. Not one time has He ever told me that His love for me is deeper, better, seasoned, more fun, more reliable, or more secure. I haven't done a thing to bring about anything any better. Maybe that will be my claim to fame. "Ralph knew God loved him like crazy, without doing anything to deserve it."

If you asked my wife, Sarah, why she loved me, she would give you reasons—some good ones. She would say, "I love Ralph because. . ." If you asked God why He loved me, His response would be nothing like Sarah's. There would be no because. That's something that has confounded and fascinated and drawn me to Him ever since He first wooed me to Himself.

God is love! (1 John 4:8) God's love doesn't ebb and flow, rise and fall, motivated by the subject or the moment—God is love. And have you noticed? He's wild and reckless with it! When you consider who He loves, don't you come to the same conclusion? He doesn't keep His love only for the loveable—not for a moment! He lavishes His deep and lasting affection upon the best and worst of us—without regard. And, try as we might, nothing can ever separate us from His love. Say it with me—nothing. God shot my equation all to hell. Really. He did it for love.

And now? A new equation: God's love + God's grace = Valentines galore!

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:4-9)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

God In A Mess

I'm spending a few days with all of my family (and all of my brothers and all of their families) at my parent's home near Los Angeles. It's going to be more than a ton of fun, and there will be plenty of memories and feelings and longings to go along with it. We all grew up here and my parents lived in this home for 50 years. It's our way of honoring them and of bidding "farewell" to the community, a place we love and remember well.

And speaking of memories, do you remember the LifeNote, "God In A Mess"? It's #6 in our count down of the Top 10 LifeNotes of 2008. I wrote it at a time when I was far from my best, but during which God, who has no ups or downs, rescued me in one of the many wonderful ways He does.

I hope you enjoy it.


Yesterday was a pretty lousy day. It wasn’t because lousy things happened or because good things failed to come to pass. It was because I was fairly lousy in it. If I could have taken me out of it, everything would have been fine. No, that’s not actually in keeping with my theology, but it’s how I felt.

Grumpy. Sullen. Reclusive. A don’t bug me kind of day because I was already really bugged.

Now I know all about what I could have and should have done, like sow to the Spirit (and reap eternal life), take a walk (and get refreshed), call a friend (who could tell me the gospel and build me up), turn on some good music and pray. There are surely dozens and dozens of ways by which I could have altered me in my day, but I didn’t do any of them. My didn’t want to overwhelmed my ought to. Does that ever happen to you?

Fortunately for me, Jesus has not stopped being my Shepherd. He didn’t lead me out of bondage and sin and a faulty nature only to leave me alone in freedom, righteousness and holiness. “Sorry, Ralph. It’s all up to you now.” That’s not how He works. He’s made me His house, and I’m really glad He gets to moving the furniture around and banging the cabinets a bit in order to get my attention and do something for me.

Somewhere last night around, oh, 8:15, my thoughts locked-on to Romans 8:1-2—

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Okay, so those are two of the greatest verses in the Bible, along with 14,392 others. But what a couple of verses! Still, my thinking didn’t linger for long on the there is now no condemnation part of those verses. Instead, my thinker began to reflect on what Paul wrote before those two verses. If I had been writing the book of Romans, I like to think that I would have preceded Romans 8:1-2 with a brilliant and sequential treatise on Jesus’ substitutionary death, inclusive resurrection and stunning gift of righteousness. And then I’d deliver a new chapter beginning with that incredible word, “Therefore.”

But Paul doesn’t even come close to doing that. Romans 7 is mostly a load of lament about what a loser he is and how he is assured of failing in his own fleshly strength. The things he wanted to do because He believed God, he couldn’t. The things he didn’t want to do because He believed God, he did! And he concludes chapter seven and sets the table for “there is now no condemnation” by a faith-building summary, I’m a wretch and a slave. How does all that go together?!

If yesterday was any indicator, it’s brilliant. I didn’t do anything right! In fact I did everything wrong—I was living out the wretch and a slave thing. Yet the Spirit attracted my thoughts and set me free from an otherwise day of death. It’s who He is, it’s what He does, and I was delighted at how much better I felt. “I’m a lot like Paul,” I thought, “trying to make myself happen and work well apart from the Spirit.” I laughed, and the wretch and slave vanished. I didn’t like him anyway.

Although I’ve been made a son of God, having now His nature in me, I’ve still got a lot going on that’s not in line with that. Looking over the years of my life, I’m a mess of contradictions.

Thank God, He isn’t.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My Mountain Spring

Full of Christmas? I hope so.

Counting down the Top 10 LifeNotes of 200
Top Ten8, we're at #7, which made the list from the month of May.

Here's "My Mountain Spring." In my opinion it's one of the most explanatory and helpful ones of the year. I hope it helps you.

Merry day after Christmas!


At our home church and in some of my Face To Face groups, we’ve been talking about prayer.

When I say, “Let’s talk about prayer.” the faces of most either remain glued in place to hide what’s going on inside, droop with a sort of “Won’t this be fun” look, or their faces slightly flinch and turn away. I wonder if they would look any different if instead I said, “Let’s talk about tooth decay.”

Oh, boy.

Most of us have a fairly long history with prayer. Somewhere back in the early years of our Christian life, we learned about it. In fact, for many, prayer education was like getting old enough to learn math or Spanish or history. The teacher, passionate and faithful to his craft, told us how indispensable the subject was—Pay attention! You’ll need this. To varying degrees, we were interested at least for a while, but when we found something more interesting or fun or beneficial, off we went in pursuit, leaving our recent education parked on the shelf in favor of something more useful or invigorating.

I don’t have much use for geometry these days, I use Spanish only to increase my chances of getting what I order at local Mexican restaurants, and I don’t really care about who rounded the Cape first, Sir Francis Drake, Jacob Le Maire, or Al Gore. None of it gives me much of a thrill or lights my passion. I had to learn, but given the choice, I’d rather watch a good movie, go fly-fishing, or eat a really great burrito. See what I mean? I learned so I could do or get something else—free time and food.

For a lot of us, that’s what prayer was—something we learned to do in order to get something else. That something else might have included a better day, a better job, a better outcome, a better future, or a better wife, but in any case, praying wasn’t the thing, getting something because of it was the thing. (By the way, lots of us have virtually stopped praying because we’ve found prayer doesn’t often give us the something else we wanted. Prayer has become more about disappointment than fulfillment, so how many of us who have been around awhile really want to do it?) How many of us ever gathered a group together and said excitedly, “Hey, everyone! Let’s spend the next couple of hours in prayer!”

Oops. I have.

Before I learned how to strategize my life by praying the right way, I got to know God in prayer. I found that God was like my own personal fountain of youth—Ponce de Leon was on the right track, he just looked in the wrong place. God showed Himself to be like a spring of water that I could visit anytime simply by taking a few steps away from the dry flatlands of the visible and temporary world, toward the rich and satisfying peaks of the invisible and eternal. My best expression before prayer was, “I simply want to be with you!” In other words, “I thirst.”

If God is, in fact, like a spring of life, a fountain of revival, then all I have to offer Him is my thirst. That I can do. The best way to glorify my Mountain Spring is to get to it as often as possible and to drink to the full, to drink to satisfaction. It would be foolish to drag water from the flatlands up to the spring, there to pour it in, hoping to make something more of it, hoping to make it go somewhere else or look different. Or maybe we could get a bucket brigade going to make a really impressive watering hole, set up some floodlights to illuminate it, and add-on some related attractions to get people up the hill.

Prayer is offering to God my thirst for Him. The way to please the Mountain Spring, the way to please God is to come to Him to get and not to give, to drink and not to water. Every time I approach the Spring it is because I have found its’ water to be everything I need—that’s how God is glorified by me. I believe He is who He says He is, and my efforts related to wanting Him and finding Him is how the spring of living water now in me issues forth as His display through me. He has planned for that.

So, whatever it is that makes me thirsty—frustration, chaos, futility, lust, covetousness, hopelessness, envy, weakness, arrogance, pride, anger, unbelief, or gas prices—I want to be quicker and quicker to head for water. And since He now lives in me, since the Spring is so close, I can silently turn my thoughts toward Him in the confident hope that satisfaction and water await. Anything(!) that surfaces my need is the avenue toward the Spring. My satisfaction and His glory through meeting the need are the result. You and I are set up for this.

So if prayer is about drinking, have one on me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Salt & Leeches

(At #8 in our Top 10 list!)

Have you ever seen The African Queen? Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it’s a film classic, one I’ve seen lots of times if you count seeing it in bits and pieces.

A part I’ll never forget—probably because it’s so gross—is when Charlie (Bogart) pulls the boat through acrid swamp water, clogged with muck and reeds and algae and bugs and crocodiles. The worst part of it? Leeches. I hate ‘em. Because Charlie and Rose (Hepburn) are riveted upon their destination, the slimy, blood sucking critters latch on to him without his knowing. When Charlie climbs back into the boat for a break, there they are, in all their awful sycophant glory. Horrors. I hate leeches.

Ever ready, Rose applies salt to the bloodsuckers, which don’t take kindly to it at all, and regretfully drop off. (Side note: the film could have been better if, like snails, the leeches had gone all bubbly from the salt. Opportunity missed? I think so.) Rose and Charlie knew that if they were to proceed toward their goal of freedom, they had to momentarily break their focus and deal with the life-sapping leeches.

Yesterday I noticed there were some leeches hanging on me.

Simply, what was leading me through my day was not Jesus, but a crude, almost unrecognizable form of legalism. This time of year produces a bumper crop of standards and behaviors by which to measure oneself—and I was. I wasn’t entirely into Christmas joy and all that, so my family couldn’t be, either. I hadn’t done enough to secure Emma’s gerbil, Despereaux, so he was killed. I wasn’t properly shepherding my girls, reading to them and praying with them. I wasn’t encouraging my wife enough. I hadn’t written or called or emailed enough people, and God knows how tragic that is(!). Sheesh.

Do you see it? In each case there was a perfect “A” I could get on the report card of my day, and in the fleshly estimation of that perceived goal, I fell short. I didn’t bother to check with God. After all, wasn’t it true?! I mean, look at the evidence! So why check?

Leeches. I had ‘em all over me.

So last night, almost in a ritualistic way, I climbed out of the routine boat of my day, and said a few fairly meaningless words to God. “Hey, Lord. How’s your day? Ready for Christmas?” or something like that. And perhaps because I didn’t come to Him carrying my deserved condemnation, but my weary carcass only, He began to lift and free me of worldly estimations. For the 905,000 time I remembered—God is my life and peace and freedom and rest and joy and love. I do not live well by what I do (which is not to say it’s unimportant), but by who I know. When what I’m doing is influenced and fed by that (life by the Spirit), it’s all good.

Damn the leeches.

You and I have been made free in Christ—stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. . .you, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;. . .(Gal 5:1, 13) The “yoke of slavery” or the indulgence of the flesh threatening the Galatians wasn’t drunkenness or cheating or lust, it was life by measurements, life by standards on the way to getting the “A” on life’s report card. Trouble was, they already had it! But Satan had induced them to believe that life by checklist was better than life by knowing and trusting Christ—God for us and God with us and God in us. As long as they believed they weren’t yet free, weren’t yet good enough, hadn’t yet done enough, or hadn’t received absolutely everything from God for entirely nothing, living was a mucky, leech filled swamp.

If that’s where you are, get some salt—you’ve got leeches.

Do almost anything toward God, with Him in mind (cook a meal, sing a song, read a verse, tie your shoe), and see what He does for you—the inside you. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He loves being that for you, since He made you a perfect place for Himself.

Take a moment and stop pulling so hard. You are His boat—He’ll do the pulling. And He’ll mix salt with your leeches.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hitchin' A Ride

(#9 on our Top 10 list!)

You might think this guy is expressing his opinion to heaven—maybe of heaven. But I don’t think so. Not today.

I think he’s attempting to hitch a ride to heaven. Get on outta here. Go somewhere he belongs and fits in.

Ever have a longing like that? Absolutely. Of course.

Over one hundred times the Bible speaks of a person or of a group as “aliens” in the land, strangers from another place. Always they had been born somewhere else, and had migrated to a place where they stood out. Life was usually not easy for the foreigner.

However, the New Testament uses the word “alien” in a new way—in a more extreme manner. All those who by faith have shared in the cross and resurrection of Jesus have become as foreign to this world as Jesus Himself. Think of that.

Speaking of those given to Him by the Father, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:16) Paul writes that because we have been made sons of God, we are no longer foreigners to Him, but “members of His household.” (Ephesians 2:18-20) How cool is that? However, that little switch means we’ve left our membership with the natural human race and become part of the supernatural race of the Spirit-born. With God and the angels, we’re family.

But on this earth, Aliens R Us.

That means you and I are going to feel like it. No matter how much we attempt to fit in and live well with the locals and their customs, by nature we no longer do. So, we’ll have days where we just don’t do well, where everything we do seems to fail, no matter our motivation, no matter our skills. And those are the days when who we have become isn’t any fun because it doesn’t work in this world. Those are the days when we’ll feel every bit the alien—the misfit.

But not with heaven.

If you’ve been feeling frustrated with yourself and your day to day life, consider that you’re being identified—rejected by the world, welcomed by the heavens. Look to your birthplace; your newest, most recent birthplace. God is weaning you off what no longer is like you, and the world is confirming His opinion of you.

While it’s not yet time to hitch a ride into heaven, you do fit in with the family found there. Might as well start living like one now.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Top 10 of 2008!

How are you?

Top TenWith Christmas just two days away (hooray!), we're also closing in on 2009. So, in honor of 2008, we're going to count down the top 10 blop posts of the year. These posts were the most read and most commented on by you, the honorable readers of this blog, and the subscribers to LifeNotes from LifeCourse.

Every day for the next ten days I'll post one of the Top 10, with #1 revealed on January 1, 2009. I hope you enjoy our count down!

Just below you'll find #10 on our list, "Letter To My Daughter."

And thank you for your love and care. You've meant so much to me this year, and particularly of late.

Merry Christmas!


The following is a letter I gave to my daughter, Emma. She read it alone this morning, and then sat on my lap while we read through it together. Emma is as alien in this world as I am, and is not at all spared from its' attempt to deceive her into thinking she is far less than what God has made of her. It throws mud at her, so to speak, and it happens a lot at school. For once, she did poorly on a test and it really stunned her--she wept and cried, "I stink!" I share this with you in the hope it will assist you in your day-to-day life. This world is not worthy of you, but perhaps the image you have of yourself has been muddied.
- Ralph

Muddy GirlTo my Emma:

You had a difficult day yesterday, and I wanted to write you a note about it.

I have two thoughts: I was sad--I hurt with you. I know what it feels like to be measured or challenged, and to not do well. It feels like somebody just pointed out that you're dumb or not talented enough or not as good as you should be, and that's painful.

But it's a lie. And it's a really bad lie, too.

Emma, my Beauty, God has made you spot-on perfect--just right. He has made you exactly the way He has planned for the life He has planned for you--no mistakes. You match up perfectly. However, neither the tests at school nor the tests of relationships or of sports will always show you how perfectly designed and made you are. Sometimes they will, but sometimes they won't. Yesterday they didn't. But nothing has really changed--you're still just right. Ask God--He'll tell you.

The lie the devil works with and wants us to believe, Emma, is that how we do in life is how we are--even who we are. So, if most everyone likes us and we get good grades and we do well in sports, well, then, we must be good. How wonderful. But, if there are people who actually dislike us, if we occasionally get bad grades, and if we're not good at every sport, well, then, we must be bad. But is that true? No. Neither example is true.

None of that stuff has anything to do with who we really are. But, if the devil is successful in getting us to believe the lie that how we do reveals who we are, then we will live and strive to be good and do good in the eyes of people as our highest goal. That will make us slaves to what people think, and we'll have to always perform just right for them. And that will prevent us from ever knowing who we really are according to God because we'll be busy being somebody we think is good.

Satan's lie will own us.

But not you. What God thinks about you is accurate. Remember what He thinks? You have become His daughter in the deepest sense--He has even made you like Himself. You feel His feelings, you have His thoughts, you know His desires. Incredible! You are a holy girl, a royal daughter of His--no one in this world is actually any better than you, Emma.

I know that you have confusing thoughts and experiences and feelings about who you are. Nuts! That happens a lot to me, too, and I don't like it. But that's why you and I go back to the Truth--and that's Jesus. What He did for you and me on the cross, what He did for us in His resurrection, and what He did for you and me in choosing us makes us incredible. No kidding!

So when we don't do well in some sort of worldly test, it does not tell us who we are. We get who we are from God. Now, if you believe God made you to be a mathematician or a baseball player, there's some work you can do. But you don't do the work so you can become either of those things, you would do it because you believe that's who you are and what you're to do. If God convinces you that you're going to be a rancher(!), then believe it and work at it with all your heart! And you can figure that baseball won't be very important to a rancher. You might play at it, but you might not be the best at it. Would that matter? No. Not if God made you a rancher. Might people laugh at the way you throw a ball or swing a bat? Yeah, maybe. But that's okay, since you're not a baseball player. See? You know God, and He tells you who you are.

My second thought: I was very proud of you yesterday--even more today. Here's why: you went through something like what Jesus went through and you're okay. When Jesus was nailed to the cross and then hung up for all to see, you know that He was dying for our sins. But something else was happening too, and it was awful--terrible. Jesus was being misidentified and rejected by a lot of people all around Him, people He really loved. Some of those people thought He was a deceiver, a liar, and others thought He was misguided or stupid to do what He was doing. "What an idiot!" they might have said. And yet He willingly did it for them, too.

Imagine the pressure Jesus must have faced from all those people. "Just tell us you're not the Messiah, and we'll let you go!" "We'll stop hurting you if you'll simply say you're only a man, and not God!" "Think of your parents and the embarrassment and pain you're putting them through--give up this foolishness!" But Jesus knew who He was. Because He did, He went willingly to the cross. He wanted to! He endured that pain because He knew who He was and what would happen after the cross. Lots of people misidentified Him and pleaded with Him to be someone else, someone different, but He couldn't do it because He knew.

He knew about you too, Emma.

Before either of us was born, He chose us, knowing that would mean that we would have incredible gifts and talents and thoughts and feelings and joys because we would be sons and daughters of God. And he knew that we would sometimes be terribly misidentified and mistreated. In fact, Jesus told us to figure that sometimes our life would be like being nailed to a cross and rejected, just as He was. Might as well expect it. If the world mistook and mistreated Jesus, it will do the same to us. Yesterday, it did it to you. I hope you can understand why--it's not your fault--you're being identified with Jesus.

I am your very pleased dad, Emma. I see you! I know who you are. It pains me but sort of reassures me when I see the world misidentify and then mistreat you. Even in that way, you really are a lot like Jesus. It angers me when I see the devil throwing his lie at you, and I want to beat him up. The best way for me to do that is to pray for you (and I do) and to tell you who you really already are so you can withstand the misidentification and mistreatment you will go through.

When I look at you, I am proud of God! He has made you brilliantly and brilliant. You're obviously His, even while you're mine.

I'm yours, too.


Monday, December 22, 2008

A Very Close Saboteur

There’s a saboteur living in your midst, closer than you might think. And I don’t mean the devil. Usually this saboteur is a sniper, choosing a perfect hiding place from which to shoot at you while remaining safely hidden. Snipers can have an incredible affect.

When the battle for Stalingrad was almost lost during W.W.II, a few Russian soldiers concocted a plan to get so close to the enemy that while killing them, they would go undetected. Carrying a high-powered rifle and their daily ration of half a chocolate bar, the starving and desperate soldiers set out from their last remaining stronghold and crawled through the sewer system until they were well behind enemy lines. The Germans had not prepared for such an attack, so they hardly batted an eye when men they didn’t know walked past, even joining them in their own food lines. "Must be one of ours," they thought.

Two Russian snipers, Nikolay Yakovlevich and Ilyin Vasili Zaitsev (made famous by the movie, “Enemy At The Gates”), killed 896 men, many of them high-ranking officers. There were two other effects: 1) the Germans were demoralized, and began to distrust themselves since they didn’t know from where the attacks came; 2) the success of the Russian snipers invigorated the Russian army, which not long after mounted a successful counter-offensive and won the war.

Employing the same tactic, a five-foot Finnish man, Simo Häyhä (pictured at left), crept in amongst the unsuspecting and unprepared Germans and killed on average five men per day. He is credited by the Finnish government with almost one kill per hour of the short winter day, for a total of 542.

For a while the Germans didn’t know anything about this enemy that came from amongst them. It was months before they used the same strategy, and sent snipers after the snipers. For a while now, we haven’t known anything much about the enemy that comes from amongst us either.

You must know that the enemy that hinders you is not you—but it does hunt from within. Unless you know that you are not the flesh and take precautions against the flesh, you’ll be demoralized by your losses, you won’t trust yourself, and the enemy will be invigorated.

When God dropped the new-creation-you into your vessel, for the first time you were no longer found in the flesh—you’re outta there! You are now in the Spirit because you are now spirit! For you to live now means knowing God, and staying in step with the Spirit. It’s the new normal way for every born from above Christian.

If lately you’ve been thinking that you are your own worst enemy, or as though God’s biggest trial today is you, think again—and let the truth guide your thoughts. Up from the sewers, there’s an enemy in your midst—it’s the threat, it’s the problem—you’re not. Go for a revival this weekend. Get back to knowing and enjoying Him. Do some of the things you know will invigorate that. You’ll be living by the Spirit, and that will expose and disarm the sniper.

You’re not the problem and you’re not the flesh—you’re better off than you think.

Romans 8:9-14
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

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.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Misquote An Infamous Man

Awake at 2:30a.m., one of my useless thoughts was, "This will be the mother of all sore throats!"

At this point my head is flooded with far too much fluid, making my voice sound like it has been put through one of those machines that garble it and make it unrecognizable.  You can understand me with some effort.

The only good that might come from it is that I could make some prank calls today and no one would suspect me.  Hmm.  Pondering. . .

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

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.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Never Again 'Only Human'

David Needham writes, “The Holy Spirit is now installing in God’s people the actual, risen life of Jesus to the degree that His life is their life. To receive the Spirit is to receive Christ. Not simply accepting Him, but receiving Him. . .By His birthing act, the Holy Spirit actually changes us by placing in us the life of Jesus. We were once only flesh; we are now spirit." (John 3:6)

Christians will never again be only human, mere men, mere women; they've become the sons and daughters of God.  All of heaven recognizes us, to the glory of God.  Do you see it too?

Here's help.

One of my favorite books is Needham's--Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are?  I regularly dig into it all over again because it's like taking a bath, only far better--an inside bath.

Click here for more information.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Makin' Room For 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 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.