Thursday, January 31, 2008
When Paul thought of the Corinthians he thought of them as they had become, not as they behaved. He lived by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), and that framed every view for Paul.
He knew that if they were acting in ways contrary to who they had become it was because they had forgotten who they had become! Paul’s first duty was not to the correction of their behavior (“Stop that, you cruddy Corinthians!”), but to the awakening of their faith in God, who had made them sons!
Paul approached the Corinthians not with a behavior curtailing whack but with an attempt to draw them back to worship. They needed revival more than they needed restraint! The Corinthian Christians looked and did ugly not because they were in fact ugly but because they had become ugly in their thinking. They had forgotten the majesty of God’s mercy to them in Christ – forgiven! – and the incredible change He had made for them - new creation! – and their behavior made it obvious. When faith is dormant or sickly, who looks particularly good? What’s needed is the truth that revives.
We find it also in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2 NIV, italics mine.)
Without the proper “view of God’s mercy,” nobody rightly offers their body and nobody has any particular reason to worship, no matter how we might scold or prod them.
The Corinthians’ behavior was awful, but it had not changed who they had become, so, in faith, Paul appealed to that. Instead of first giving them restrictions, he gave them revival. Instead of conforming them to a proper look, he built them up in Christ. His purpose was far higher than behavioral correction – how is that any different from what the world does? Because Paul believed the Corinthians had been made spiritual sons of God, his first target was transformation through the renewal of their minds, not by the correction of their behavior.
His focus was riveted upon the unseen because that’s where true life is understood, and from that focus Paul approached whatever he encountered. Because their behavior was so awful it was obvious to Paul that while his focus was secure, theirs wasn’t! So he directed their thoughts back to what God had done for them and what He thought of them, all in the unseen. With that in focus, with God’s opinion restored in their thinking, they could begin again to live by faith! And the ten could see what only the two once did.
I am not saying behavior is unimportant: I am saying that our way to behavior is vital. If, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1), then perhaps the worst thing we can do for the behaviorally ugly Christian is to curtail their freedom by introducing restrictions before reintroducing them to awe inspired worship and renewed faith. See to their heart first.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I have a fascination about the future.
I wonder what direction it will take me, what will happen in
It might be epitomized in this Saturday’s important event—Ground Hog Day. I mean, what will Punxsutawney Phil do? Will there be six more weeks of winter (please, no!), or are we moving into spring? I will pay attention to what goes on with Phil and his shadow, even if he doesn’t. Isn’t that weird?
But I’ve realized that in my mania about the future I can become paralyzed in the present. I mean, what if I make a move today that screws-up my future? What then? And if I screw-up, it’s no longer just me that suffers—I’ve got my family to think about.
Maybe Punxsutawney Phil and I will just stay in our holes on Saturday. See? Don’t move and that whole shadow thing doesn’t even come into play.
And I’m living life in order to avoid it.
Life for me is not about how I work it and what God will do as the result of my work. Life is really about God working me. I’m His workmanship, and the delight of His day is in what He does with me. (Eph 2:10) Really, I believe that I can run up a mountain or down a valley, pastor a church or make coffee, watch a movie with Emma on my lap, or write a blog, catch frogs with Ellen, or go on a date with Sarah, and God is pleased. He’s busy and He’s working in me.
I don’t mean there aren’t times when God’s direction and choice for my day isn’t clear and absolute—that happens. But I think what God’s doing today is me—might as well get going.
Shadow or not, that’s my future.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” (Phil 1:20-26 NIV)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Have you ever Googled yourself? A year ago, using only my name for a search parameter, I combed through twenty five pages of Ralph-the-comedian, Ralph-the-barrister, and Ralph-the-recently-deceased before giving up on myself. But this year, there I am—top of page four, number 31 out of a possible 221,000. Could #1 be far off? Ooooh. Like a rocket, I'm on my way to the top of the Ralph Harris heap!
This morning I felt like God drew me out of all the chaos and confusion of this world—like He personally Googled me. It felt like Google Earth, where the view on your monitor can take you from England to Colorado in about a second. Whoosh! Out of the teeming masses I was drawn to be alone with God, and immediately I felt my fit with Him. I knew I belonged.
I don’t know how He does that, but I’m delightfully glad He does.
I was newly reminded that in the midst of a ruined world filled with tragedy and turmoil, God is making for Himself a perfect bride—you and me. And I suppose that from His perspective (and that would be the right one), the church of the redeemed must look astonishing against the backdrop of madness and imperfection.
But I often get lost and caught up in the smallness of my view. That seems particularly easy right now when the usual noisy stuff of this world has been joined by all the political noisiness and nonsense. There is so much clamoring for my attention! So my need of God, who carries on with the sovereign plan for His glory, increases. When He Googles me, I can see what He sees, and I am stunned all over again.
When one day God Googles us for real, we will exchange perishable for imperishable, mortal for immortal, and we will be like Him. Raised in glory, when we cross over we will be like Him—and not a single angel will be surprised, having been looking at us for a long, long time already. (1 Cor 15:42-56; Eph 1:3-10)
Father, way to go! Glory to you! Google me again tomorrow?
“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 24-25 NIV)
Monday, January 28, 2008
Well, it’s Monday. Happy?
For many of us Monday means battle, so Sunday evening means preparation and probably, dreading anticipation. Sometimes we weary before battle.
In a favorite scene of mine from the second of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Two Towers,” Eowyn (Miranda Otto) anticipates a nearly hopeless and terrible battle with dark and ravenous forces converging upon them.
From a large trunk she draws a menacing sword and, grasping it with both hands and steeling her face, she begins to practice frightening blows to the yet invisible enemy. She is terrific and convincing.
Unknown to her, Aragon (Viggo Mortensen), who has from a distance recognized royalty and fortitude in Eowyn, has drawn up behind her. Continuing to slash and parry, Eowyn whirls about, bringing down her weapon in a full and powerful arc, only for it to be met by Aragon’s quickly drawn sword. Deflecting the blow brought by a suddenly startled Eowyn, their swords lock together.
And Aragon, frozen in battle stance along with Eowyn, says respectfully, “You’ve some skill with a blade.” Eowyn replies, “Women of this country learned long ago that those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain.” And as she returns the sword to the chest, Aragon asks, “What do you fear, my lady?” “A cage,” says Eowyn. “To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”
Sizing her up, Aragon says, “You’re a daughter of kings. . .I do not think that will be your fate.” Eowyn looks knowingly and appreciatively into his eyes, royalty recognizing royalty.
Aragon was right.
You, too, are the offspring of a King. My prayer and hope for you is that the Spirit will revive your hope for godly valor and strengthen you as you offer yourself to Him today. He knows who you are. Recognizing royalty, He will convince you about you. Perhaps you need a little of that right now. And if you’ve grown accustomed to worldly limitations and unseen bars on a cage, they’re not true and cannot stand against you.
Believe Him. That’s where your strength and life begins – by believing God about Himself and by believing God about you. Because your battle is primarily spiritual and unseen, look there. It is the most valuable and important arena of your life.
Thomas Merton wrote: “I consider that the spiritual life is the life of a man’s real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is so often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concern. The spiritual life is oriented toward God, rather than toward the immediate satisfaction of the material needs of life, but it is not, for all that, a life of unreality or a life of dreams. On the contrary, without a life of the Spirit, our whole existence becomes unsubstantial and illusory. The life of the Spirit, by integrating us in the real order established by God, puts us in the fullest possible contact with reality – not as we imagine it, but as it really is. It does so by making us aware of our own real selves, and placing them in the presence of God.” (From “No Man Is An Island.”)
When the unseen enemy whispers his deceptive drivel about your skills and future, tell him confidently that you know you’re royalty, whether he likes it or not. And you might add, “I know I am better off than you would have me think. I do not think that will be my fate.”
Friday, January 25, 2008
DO NOT SWALLOW CHEWING GUM!!
This is the very first bunch—from this point forward known as Alpha Group—to make use of the new video communication thing we’re doing through LifeCourse. And you know? It’s even better than I had hoped.
“Face To Face” lets me talk and interact with people from all over the world via live internet feed. Meeting at a home in San Diego, the Alpha Group passes their broadband connection to a large screen television so they can see me from anywhere in the room. A simple web cam feeds a live view of them to me, comfortably seated in my home in Colorado. All I do is open my laptop (a Macbook), which came fully equipped with everything I need, and there they are—magnificent. And it’s so easy and inexpensive and good and fun and rich!
While it is, indeed, a Bible study, we chat and pray and laugh together, just like a home group or home church would. I’m with them and they’re with me, and it’s delightful. They even posed for this picture toward the conclusion of our time together. See? They’ve survived an hour with me and look happy. In the above picture, you can see me with my camera phone in the lower right corner of the monitor.
Anyway, we’re making this available to just about everyone—church, small group, or just you. If you would like to know more about Face To Face, go to our web site (LifeCourse.org) and click on Face To Face, or simply click here. And if you would like to contact the Alpha Group, just ask—they’d be happy to tell you about it.
It’s pretty great.
I despise doubt and unbelief and how it creeps upon me, fogging my mind and weighing down my life.
But I’m recovering.
I was today reminded of a scene in my favorite trilogy of films, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In it, the marvelous King of Rohan, Theoden, has been under the terrible influence of a demonic spellbinder. While Theoden still sits on the throne, he no longer believes he is much of anything, and no longer understands the meaning of his own crown, nor wields the mighty sword of his kingdom. Instead, others of ignoble birth and evil intent direct a kingdom now in chaos.
As God would have it(!), a trio of valiant warriors break through to rescue him, along with Gandalf, who exposes and rebukes the spellbinder, releasing Theoden, King of Rohan. Rising slowly to his feet, his senses and eyes grow clearer. “Dark have been my dreams of late,” he says wistfully. Theoden looks at his hand and can scarcely move its fingers.
Gandalf, intent upon restoring the King, says, “Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword.”
The King’s second in command offers it to him, and, slowly taking it into his grasp, Theoden draws it from its scabbard. The evil, wormy spellbinder instantly squirms to get away, while the King looks at the sword somewhat in wonder. Suddenly, understanding lights his eyes and his face grows fierce. The recovering King glowers at the enemy and angrily hurls him out of the throne room.
“Hail! Theoden King!” comes the triumphant cry from all around, who look to him with renewed wonder, awe and thankfulness.
So, how are you, royal son? How are you, regal daughter? How have the thoughts playing in your head matched up to the dazzling crown on your head? Has The Spellbinder been whispering “dark dreams” to you, too?
“Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword.”
Remember what God has made of you, take Him at His word, and act like He meant it. He did! Throw off the contrary lies, and praise The King who shares His glory with you. You may remember your crown by singing a song to God, or by proclaiming a truth aloud, or by grasping your Bible and holding it up as the sword it is…and kick the evil one’s butt out the door. You’ll regain strength and stand again as the kingly son or daughter you are.
And The Spellbinder will scurry off, fearful of a recovered king.
You’re better off than you think…but you are thinking.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I hate worry. Sometimes, that’s my problem – hating worry. If I think worry is bad, if I think worry is my problem (“Oh, no! Worry is here!”), I get focused on worry and begin devising plans to get rid of it. I become my own counselor when The Counselor is already in me, and I give Him nothing to do. Duh.
I do best when I ask a question like, “Well, Holy Spirit, what’s going on?”
And even if I don’t hear a thing (and that’s about a 50/50 chance), simply by directing my thoughts toward God, something begins to change in me. Even if I don’t know what’s bothering me, by giving my attention to Him, He begins to do something in me. And I remember that I am not my own assembly line, and I’m not supposed to produce something for the glory of God. I live by faith in Him and He does the glory thing. Inner turmoil means that He wants to do something, whatever that is.
And the whatever that is initially bugs me. What if I have to say something to someone which I’d rather not? What if He wants me to get out of bed and pray with Him for awhile?
But I think worry is simply a sign that my flesh is in conflict with the Spirit because He wants to do something in me and/or through me, and the flesh is putting up its usual resistance.
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
(Gal 5:17 NAS)
I don’t think I’ll ever fully welcome worry, but I’m learning to turn to the Spirit when the drive-by happens.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
How do you navigate your days? And do you struggle to pre-navigate?
Perhaps you know that I like gadgets—particularly electronic gadgets. If you’re thinking of giving me a gift, a 12x digital camera (Canon or Nikon), a 24” iMac (4 GB of RAM, please), a 50” 1080p HDTV, and a pair of Sennheiser HD 595 headphones top the list of gifts that will secure my favor. Oh, wait. Sarah got the Sennheisers for me for Christmas. Good move on her part. (By the way, I’m still accepting gifts for my fortieth and forty-third birthdays, gifts for my marriage to Sarah, and gifts for the time I did 333 sit-ups without stopping.)
One of the most popular gifts this past Christmas was navigation devices. You know—those little things that sit in your car and tell you how to drive. I already have one, but I’m thinking of getting another one for the times when Sarah isn’t with me. (Drum roll and cymbal, please.) Actually, my new cell phone comes with navigation. And it has an English accent, too, making it sound exotic. “In three kee-lom-mittuhs, tun-roight.”
It’s all the rage to get a Tom Tom, a Garmin, a Mio, or a Magellan—my favorite because the name makes me feel good. “No worries. Magellan is with me.” But I’ve noticed a hazard with all the navigational assistance we’re offered to get us where we’re going—the desire to pre-navigate. Do you know what I mean?
If you’re thinking of talking to someone with whom you’re a bit nervous, what do you do before the moment? Pre-navigate. A supposed road map is loaded up in your mind with all the possibilities you can foresee, and you imagine yourself responding to them. “Hello, Bob/Mary/Bill/Sue. I’m convinced that you should choose my product/agree to my terms/see that I’m right/go out to dinner with me for all the reasons I’ve given. Are we agreed?”
Does that make sense? You pre-navigate a situation in the hope that situation will go well, whatever “well” is. We all do it. But has pre-navigating kept you awake through the night? Has it dogged you through the day? Have you tried to turn off your personal pre-navigation device, only to have it re-boot on its’ own? “Shut up, Magellan!” “Negative, Sir Ralph. I won’t be silenced. You must be prepared for every imaginable situation, and I’m here to conjure them up for you. Ponder, fret and mull over the following scenario. . .”
Magellan navigated the oceans of the world. However, Magellan was killed by spear-wielding natives when he was 41!
Someone I know very, very well, recently received a gift from a law enforcement officer, following his insistence that she pull over to the side of the road. Not only is she now visited with fear during the driving moments of her day, but her inner Magellan now constantly offers imagined encounters which might happen in the future. “If a cop pulls you over because you didn’t signal/were going ten miles over the limit/made an unsafe lane change, here’s how to navigate your way out of another ticket. . .”
This person I know very, very well, told me that just this morning while in the car, she yelled, “Shut up!” at her pre-navigator, henceforth dubbed Amelia. (Her navigational skills fell short, too. Amelia Earhart didn’t even make it to her forty-first birthday.)
Pre-navigating, we believe, is a way to avoid failure—and sometimes, it is. However, it can also thrust God out of the picture by focusing upon you and what skills you have. And that’s not normal! It doesn’t work for us to have God anywhere but the center of the picture. When He’s not there, fully willing and fully capable, you’ll feel all alone in the ocean, subject to changing winds and tides.
Better get it together because the pressure’s on, navigator breath!
Sometimes we just have to pre-navigate, but always the best first choice is to know God. Since He’s living inside of you right now, there’s every likelihood that He wants to do something with you. You are His workmanship, so it’s a good bet He’d like something to work with!
Here’s what I do: I tell God that my navigational device is insufficient, and that I want to know what He thinks and feels about the situation up ahead. “Holy Spirit,” I might say, “What do you think about Bob/Mary/Bill/Sue? Do I have reason to worry? What do want me to know or feel about him/her/them?” And then I feel around a bit, listen or look into what I hear or feel next. I usually tell Him what my soul senses, my perceiver-expressor doing its’ thing.
Sometimes I feel caution. Sometimes I feel relief and peace. Sometimes I feel invigorated. Sometimes I see a picture or a scene in my mind that reveals something He wants me to know and is sure to comment on. Sometimes I get a scripture. Sometimes I hear something specific—“Go.” “Don’t go.” “Tell her this. . .” “Tell him that.” “Don’t say anything.” “This is what is really going on, Ralph.” “You are ready, for I have planned that you should talk with these people—fear not.”
In any case, I believe that God is in me. Because I am right now His vessel, He’s got a great place from which to impact a needy world, and to impart His grace and mercy and counsel and direction and love. If God is the Alpha and Omega, if He knows the very beginning to the very end before it happens, then He’s the perfect navigator.
I am confident that there will be plenty of adventures and mishaps and storms on our voyage, but I’ll be knowing and trusting the One who has no fear of the future. He’s with me and I’m with Him. He knows where we’re going—I'm counting on that, and that’s how I'm turning off Magellan.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Saturday, January 19, 2008
This new cell phone will put that debate to rest--no arguments, no debate. This will be my next cell phone. Grandma's face totally convinced me. You, too?
Friday, January 18, 2008
The facts are vital: I am not of this world—neither are you. The world I can see out my window is not the most real one—the invisible world is. And the world I see out the window, the passing away one, is shaped by the one I cannot see. I, too, am best seen in the invisible, spirit world. Looking there, I am revived.
But I find weariness and confusion blanket me when I am not living by faith. I suppose weariness and confusion are faithful alarms. “Wake up, Ralph. You’re not doing very well. You live by faith—remember? You’ll be revived when you look again at what God says is true.”
I live by faith, not by sight.
But, man! The temporary stuff sure lures my attention sometimes. I must look like a stupid trout, mouth agape, fining my way after the lure. “It’s so shiny, so desirable. I must have it.”
Knowing my lunatic pursuit, the Holy Spirit interrupts the danger. He’s good at interrupting. And He reminded me this morning that there is no condemnation for the trout of this world.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
January is slug month.
We’ve played and partied our way through the month of Christmas, but now it’s simply winter around here. It’s cold and brown, mixed with a whitish pile of snow here and there.
And my daughters are turning into slugs. They sort of slip and slime their way out of bed in the morning, slowly flowing their way toward the kitchen where they sort of slurp down breakfast.
“Okay, girls! We leave for school in ten minutes.” I say. “Ughhhhhhhhhhhh, daddy. I don’t know if I can get to the bathroom to brush my teeth and comb my hair. . .ughhhhh.” And with a mighty, albeit slow, heave out of their chair, they each slime their way toward the bathroom, too tired to argue over who gets it first. At least they’re sharing.
And because their minds are working with all the precision and speed of a slug, I make sure they’ve got everything for the day ahead—like their school backpack and lunch. “Planning on opening a book at school today, my little slug? Think you’ll want something to slurp at lunch time, slime breath?”
“Ughhhhhhhhhhhh.” they say.
Before fumbling their way into the car, I held each one and prayed. And I’ve noticed lately that my prayers aren’t so much about what they should do toward Jesus, but about what Jesus might like to do toward them. With Ellen’s head on my chest, I said, “Jesus, I know where you are today—you’re in my daughter. And I know you’re delighted to be there with her. Would you surprise her today? Would you do something—whatever you like—to show yourself to her? Whatever would be fun and pleasing for you, Jesus, would you do that for Ellen? I know she’ll like whatever that is. Have fun with my girl, Lord. . .” I later prayed something along the same line with Emma.
Both girls looked, well, expectant after I prayed, looking up into my eyes as if to thank me. And I’m pretty sure I saw the confidence of hope in there, too.
Around my house we talk a lot about where God is (in us) and how to find Him there by sowing to the Spirit. But I know that God is at all times very active, even without our prayers or sowing or motivation. He doesn’t have slug days. So I want to point my little slime balls toward His efforts and doings in their day, perhaps lifting the pressure of performance from them. They’re already tired, and really haven’t the strength anyway. If I tell them too much about what to do for God, I’ve set them up for failure. I’ve done the setting up! When they fail to do what I’ve instructed, how will they feel? Even though they’re not actually guilty with God, false guilt may well plague them because they violated my instruction. What happens then? They get sluggish, and disappointment enters and draws up a chair somewhere between them and God.
I think that accounts for a lot of sluggishness, don’t you?
In the middle of the slug days of January, you might ask God to surprise you. To sort of sneak up on you and do something fun, point out something funny, or to speak of something endearing. He will do it, you know. Perhaps His favorite thing to do is something to excite you or please you or fascinate you with Himself. It stirs and builds your faith, helping you to live by faith in Him. And that’s the game.
And it takes the slug out of January.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Normally I wouldn't post a short video of a guy playing the harmonica--that seems an obvious "No thanks, Ralph." But this guy (Buddy Greene) simply cooks the instrument in a way I've never seen. While he starts fairly slowly, he winds up with the William Tell Overature. And that's worth watching.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Yeah, I’m sick. Nasty sore throat, stuffed-up head, dizzy focus, and the general blahs. I don’t like it. That I haven’t been sick in a long time is little consolation right now. “Gee. I’m so happy that I haven’t felt this badly in a long time. . .” Nope.
When sickness takes its’ hold on me, it can be rough going in the Spirit. It’s like being immersed in mud—no, make that a pigsty. I despise where I am, and long to be free of it. Even though I know I won’t always be here, in the mud of sickness, still the emotion of despising it makes me a grump. A weakling. A do-nothing.
But maybe I’m also feeling more than usual the slop of this world. Isn’t most everything in this world comparative slop anyway? And maybe the pigsty of sickness points out that I’m not of this world, having been made the son of another. Maybe the mud is a reminder that not only will I get well soon enough, but that one day I will be entirely well, completely free of sickness. Forever. Always well, always perfect.
But I still don’t like being sick.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
With an exception or two, we pretty much lay about the house today, enjoying family time and watching college football games--exactly what we wanted to do. USC is currently throttling Illinois (Hooray!), so what's to complain about?
Happy New Year, friends!
Click on the video below for a rather unorthodox view of me and my family.