Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mighty To Save

On the weekend we do things a bit differently. . .um, differently than we usually do things.

Here's a terrific song and video sent to me by a friend in Georgia. If you don't like it, something is wrong with you. But that's okay, because God will probably fix you by the time you finish the video.

It's by Laura Story. Have a look.

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Narnia


My family and I saw the new Narnia film yesterday, Prince Caspian. We thought it was very good.

In typical fashion, Hollywood played up a romantic angle not in the book, including a lengthy kiss at the end that made my daughters cringe and hide their eyes.

But apart from that, it is a well-crafted film. Could have used the stronger moral found in the book--that life is impossible without Aslan--but there was at least enough of it there to make the point.

Go see it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Get Snatched!


Ever think you’ve lost yourself? Note to self - you did. You were taken.

The movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was true. Heck, they made it twice--once when I was born (1956) and again in 1978--doesn’t that convince you? I think National Geographic made the film, and they don’t lie.

In the movie fatigue overwhelms you so you lay down to sleep. Big mistake. Right next to you a sinister, pretender you emerges, having managed to suck the life out of you, thank you very much. And then it shaves and gets dressed and out it goes into what was supposed to be your day. Only you don’t act like you used to--you sort of go through the motions without any real heart or zeal. Maybe a little better than a zombie. (Those are real, too. Think how many movies they’ve made of those. Evidence.)

What else explains the every day awareness you have that there might be two of you? That somehow in the night something or someone else took up residence and began acting like you, but not exactly. Not quite as on. Not much enthusiasm.

I have days where it seems like the real me, the focused and moving forward me gets hijacked and replaced by a cheap imitation, one which is slow and plodding--you know, a bit of a dim bulb, just light enough to get the job done...sort of. The apostle Paul had the same thing happen to him, too. His best defense was to write about it in such a way as to require other people to help him stop the invasion of the body snatchers. In that way together they could stop the whole thing.

To the constantly threatened Ephesians he wrote:

“Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Eph 4:21-25 NIV, italics mine.)

Many have told me that after we wrap up a seminar it’s not long before old thinking, old habits and old tendencies begin popping up. Body snatching begins. The flesh provides lovely sinful desires (Eph 2:3) to induce us to follow its leading. If we do, it’s then that it behaves through us, masquerading as us--and don’t we feel awful. (Gal 5:16-21)

For those who live in border states such as California, you might think of this in the context of illegal immigration. Something foreign sneaks through, begins to change things around you, and now something has to be done about it. The drain on you is finally becoming too much to bear.

The battle you face is for the real you, the new creation you, the new self created in Christ Jesus. Everyone faces this fight because everyone grows. We’re to put that new person on and we’ll need help. Paul says we’re to “speak truthfully” to one another, and that means we speak the truth, biblical truth, especially concerning how we’re doing with the war between the selves. That kind of speaking keeps the important struggle in the open--and that’s vital! If we don’t talk about it much we’re in danger. It won’t be long until the false self will wear us down, weary us out, and get us to abide by its desires. Even though it looks okay, we’ll know it isn’t. We’ve been snatched.

If we’re to not give place to the flesh we’ll need help. What can you do? Call a Christian friend, forward this email and talk about it. Ask how the battle of the body snatching goes--you may well save him loads of turmoil and grief. Besides, the truth revives, and who doesn’t need that?!

I know this is a chore, but isn’t it real? Isn’t it how we grow up in Christ? Wouldn’t this kind of work for each other help? Don’t wait for someone to call you--pick up the phone, or email me about it. You know this goes on every day, so in faith fight! Remind each other of what Christ did on the cross to make you a new person, a true son of God, now to live in an entirely new way. Tell each other that the foul desires and thoughts which sometimes plague us are from the flesh and not from ourselves. Tell each other to look to the Holy Spirit who lives in us, to listen for Him, to talk to Him, acting as though He were there because He is! That rescues believers and revives them.

You’ll be invaluable against the body snatchers and you’ll realize that you’re better off than you think.

Don't let Donald Sutherland get you!

(Having been body snatched himself, Donald Sutherland rats-out a real person. From “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Birth Of A Nation?

Is it just me, or does our media generally imply that America is generally responsible for all the bad things in the world?

Maybe it was all part of the plan. (Mu-ha-ha-ha!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bulldozing Mount Sinai


Just this morning I had a strong reminder that Jesus Himself is my hope and life. Sometimes I forget that.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should/could/might do in order to live the Christian life. I think about renewing my mind, praying, sowing to the Spirit, reading, calling someone to share our faith in Christ, and lots of other ways by which to live in Christ, reaping what He has earned and secured for me. These are all excellent for me.

But sometimes I get jumped by a particular fleshly or spiritual thing, like covetousness (I want a new car/laptop/piano right now), fear (I have no money for a new car/laptop/piano), lust (I’ll get satisfaction some other way, then), or selfish ambition (I don’t have to wait on the Lord because there are lots of things I can do and really excel at, and get my car/laptop/piano). And I don’t mean a little covetousness or fear or lust or selfish ambition, I mean a mountain load—like all of Mt. Sinai is migrating on top of me, and I am unable to breathe.

After feeling the crushing weight of the assault, somehow I remember or am reminded to look to Jesus as the deliverer and antidote for all that stuff. I speak His name, I call for Him, I think about what He is like and that He lives right now in me, and things begin to change. He’s working.

Jesus is my prized possession who relieves me of covetousness, my confidence and love who drives away fear, my satisfaction who releases me from fleshly lust, my reward who delivers me from selfish ambition, and my bulldozer to push away my personal Mt. Sinai. He really is all that.

I don’t know about you, but I’m simply not able to remember enough about how to live the Christian life, what I should/could/might do, and need Him to do it for me. He’s really good at living in me and likes it when I give Him something to do.

It’s my best way to live—Christ in me.

Quite the Storm


Here in northern Colorado, this is an awful day of storms.

Just twenty miles to the northeast of us is the town of Windsor, and it was devastated by a tornado. You'll probably see it on the news tonight if your television is on.

Here in Longmont, we had a simple hail storm. However, it was the worst hail storm I have ever been in, including the largest hail (lime sized!) I have ever seen.

Have a look at the short video below. At the end there's a close up of the impressive hail.

video

Monday, May 19, 2008

Devotionally Single


Oh, the problem with marriage.

While I love being married to Sarah, marriage is fundamentally a big problem—it’s a devotion divider. The apostle Paul wants us to be free from concerning ourselves with it. In fact, he counsels married people to live as if they were not.

Impossible?

By the Spirit, Paul writes,

"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none;...For this world in its present form is passing away. 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." (1 Cor 7:29,31-34, NIV; bold italics mine.)

Keep in mind that this is not a grueling sacrifice, a cold, reasoned point of self-denial. Instead, it’s a command to our own fulfillment, even in marriage, and the highest development of our life in Christ.

Paul continues, "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor 7:35, NIV; bold italics mine.)

Paul isn’t on a marriage-ending crusade; that would be unbiblical and ridiculous. Obviously, he doesn't mean we should dump our spouses or mistreat them in any way, but that we should continue to keep our devotion to Jesus genuinely primary—no, our devotion to Jesus must be undivided. Why? Because our devotion to Jesus is the only relationship that will produce love.

God is love--He doesn't have love, His love doesn't ebb and flow, rise and fall. He is love, and intimacy with Him will produce it in you and me. No other relationship can do that. At best, all that other relationships can do is elicit love or provide a place for it to go, but they cannot produce love. Undivided devotion to Jesus means love with a capital L.

So, when we book and sermon and seminar ourselves nearly to death out of concern for marriage and how to have a good one, take loads of notes and make plenty of pledges and commitments about how we'll behave from now on, we're likely dividing our devotion--the very thing Paul warned against. We’ve got only so much devotion to go around. Five techniques to have a happy wife (make sure you've got them all!), six tips for a happy husband (don’t forget any!), plus assorted marital pitfalls to avoid, and our devotional pie is getting eaten up. How much is left for Jesus? No wonder we’re too tired to pray or read or worship or spend enjoyable time with God--we’re not devotionally single, we’re devotionally used up.

By focusing our concern and devotion upon marriage (or any worldly relationship, for that matter), we're unintentionally saying, "Here's how to mess up your marriage—be really concerned about it. Focus on it, work tirelessly on it, and pray about it unceasingly. Give it everything you’ve got."

Again, no one is suggesting you abandon your marriage! If you’re a klutz at loving your spouse, if you ignore him, if you demean her, if you have no idea that your wife likes flowers and chocolate, and that your husband likes gadgets, then take a class on marital manners—you need them! But if you want to truly love, then no amount of marital techniques will bring it about. The fount of love is God—growing devotion to knowing and loving Him will baptize you and everyone around you in love.

My wife knows that when I'm overwhelmingly devoted to Jesus, she is going to get love, love which is way better than anything I might cook up on my own. In fact, she and I believe that marriage provides a unique opportunity to grow in devotion to Jesus by being weaned away from the many lesser devotions of this life. And that's not easy! When everything says, "Think of the benefits of being deeply devoted to your spouse, and here’s how!" we're learning to put it under our devotion to Jesus. It's not difficult to imagine what a great step of faith that is.

But, oh, the benefits.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Southern Ponderings

Well, I've just been with some wonderful folks from Alabama, and I like to tell you, whenever I get around southern folk, I just have to talk like them. I love it! And, frankly, us English speakers from the western half of the U.S. sound plain boring alongside the glorious drawl of a southern man or woman.

So, since it's the weekend 'n all, here's an Aaron Wilburn video. You'll enjoy it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wonderful Croatia

What an amazing time it was in Croatia. And the people! They were and are wonderful.

I arrived in Zagreb via Lufthansa on Monday, April 28, and was soon picked up and added to a van packed with wonderful and outgoing people. And I mean packed. We were so overloaded that a truck hauling a double trailer loaded with lumber passed us! But it was a terrific way to get acquainted, as we climbed the mountains in order to get to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Once we arrived in Crikvenica, I was fortunate in that I didn’t speak until Wednesday night. That gave me time to recover and get to know people, including my roommate, Greg Smith, author of Dinner With A Perfect Stranger, and co-author of The Rest of The Gospel. He’s a great man, and if you haven’t read his books, I highly recommend them.

I spoke about 4 things: 1) Where is God?; 2) What’s He doing there?; 3) How can I let Him do whatever He wants?, and, 4) How can I help others to the same? (While videos will become available in the near future, you can get an idea about these topics by clicking here.)

Frankly, the first night was something of a wrestling match. Aside from the video not working and the translator having a difficult time with me (we were much better together thereafter), looking at the biblical truth of “Christ in you” was either an invigorating beginning, or it was an electric one. You were intrigued and challenged, or you were somewhat shocked. For some this was an entirely new concept. While by far the majority were delighted and excited, there were a few who had reservations and, perhaps, a bit of fear.

Fortunately, I was followed each time by Greg Smith the next morning. He is an outstanding teacher, who calmly and beautifully laid out the particular scriptures and passages to which I had referred the previous night. I loved listening to him, and could sense the lights coming on in the minds and hearts of the people. Greg and I were repeatedly struck by how well we worked together, and couldn’t imagine better teammates. What an orchestration it was.

After that, each meeting time was wonderful, even incredible, no matter who spoke. Although the conference was scheduled to conclude on Saturday afternoon, so many people told the conference leader that if I would speak again they would delay their departure, that that’s exactly what happened. And it was truly the capstone. Together we looked at a simple way in which to live by the Spirit. At various times people in the audience were encouraged to say what they were feeling and thinking, and this is some of what we heard: “I feel the presence of God.” “I’ve never felt such peace.” “I’m in awe.” “I didn’t know this could be so simple and so powerful.” “I am humbled.” I imagine the drive home for them was wonderful.

I have never been thanked so much and so deeply as I was in Croatia. It was overwhelming and humbling.

On Sunday, a bunch of us loaded up in the van again and drove to the coastal town of Pula. There we were amazed at the ancient Roman coliseum, as well as by what we found underneath it. And the extensive walk we took through the town was great. I’m always struck by how old things are in Europe, never more so than when seeing a satellite dish on the side of a two hundred year old building along an ancient cobblestone avenue. We were all impressed, even our Dutch friend, Carla. While America is a comparative infant to Europe, Holland is a teenager.

Finally, our conference organizer and tour guide, Vlado Hoblaj, deposited us in a small town outside Zagreb, where Greg and I stayed with an American missionary family. Roger Massey was one of the translators (Croatian to English) at the conference, and he always kept people relaxed and refreshed while brilliantly assisting us with the rigors of translation--he’s
a great guy. Erin (his wife) and their kids, Addie, Cameron and Ian, were wonderful to be around, as was Erin’s mother, Joyce. They were incredibly generous hosts, and I loved romping with their kids, who gave me a kind of fix while missing my own. They took us to a small sort of hamlet and a coffee house famous for desserts. It was fantastic, and the town was picturesque.

The following morning after a European style breakfast, we headed to the airport and our departures. As God would have it, I sat next to a fascinating family therapist who was returning to the States after counseling at the military base near Frankfurt, Germany. She was initially nervous with me after finding out who I am (I was, too!), but over several hours I learned of her spiritualistic, new age-y type of thinking. Actually, I often dislike those labels because they may provide a template sort of approach to conversation. She was a warm and kind and deceived sort, but we spent hours talking and comparing notes. It wasn’t long before she began asking about my beliefs, and before the end of our flight, I prayed with her about what lay ahead for her life. I fully enjoyed the trip.

And the welcome home! was better than ever.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Johnny Cash Glee Club


Sometimes I’m stunned alert to the intentions and efforts of God. This video (below) did that to me.

How can a large group of Hollywood celebrities and music industry chart-toppers sing of the coming wrath of God upon sinners? How?! But that’s what this video is. It’s a virtual sing-a-long to a Johnny Cash song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”

I know there are believers in those industries—whenever I breeze past a Grammy Awards or an Academy Awards show it seems like someone always gives glory to God. And I don’t know that person, so I can’t say what their life is like, or what the other evidence of their love of God is. But I’m skeptical. I’ve seen one too many crosses noosing the neck of a celebrity bad boy or girl to not be suspicious. But since I’m not swimming in that pool of people, I don’t know if praising God is only faddish or genuine.

And, so, this video. It’s crammed-full of bad boys and bad girls. But they’re not singing about the wonder of the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ—that I would love! Who better to picture the grace of God than those who already picture the need of it? Instead, they’re singing about His coming wrath! Like they’re warning us. They’re doing the very things they’re warning us about.

I don’t know. Maybe the likes of Chris Rock and Johnny Depp and Kanye and Kris Kristofferson and Justin Timberlake and Cheryl Crow and Woody Harrelson and the Dixie Chicks and Whoopie Goldberg and lots of other nasty looking boys and girls I don’t recognize know something…but I don’t know they know it. Seems like a stretch.

I do know that sometimes God’s love for the nasty looks ridiculous, like He’s misplaced it. I want to tell Him to take it back and put it somewhere else where a better reward is waiting. Oops. That would have meant bad news for me back in 1980…

But I sure would like to know what those in the video are thinking as they sing…It boggles my mind.

I don’t know. But He does—and He’s not worried. Have a look at the video.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Love Navigator


There are good reasons why I’m a love navigator.

As far back as I can remember, I recall what it felt like to be loved—to be desired and liked, spoken well of, highly regarded, treated well and sought out. For the most part, I learned the necessary moves to get more of it. Who wouldn’t? Besides, I figured out that being around love was invigorating for everyone. No one says, “Eee-yoo! I don’t like being in an arena where love is evident,” do they? So why not do my part and provide the necessary reason for love to be given? I’ll be lovable—everybody benefits.

But I also remember being lovable had its’ downside.

Sometimes my lovable crusade induced a response I didn’t want. Early on it meant a sticky kiss from my lipstick-encrusted grandma, or from some of my parent’s admiring friends. Since I’m an identical twin, sometimes people were just overwhelmed by our combined lovableness and had to give us big smacks on our kissers—double yuck. That kind of love always left a mark.

Later on, sometimes my lovableness wasn’t rewarded, or maybe it was rejected by someone I thought should have appreciated my lovable moves. Didn’t they want to love? What was wrong? Still other times my projected lovableness induced reactions I didn’t want. By openly broadcasting, “Love me” throughout the day, anybody, I mean anybody, might well respond, “Okay!” And that’s trouble. To make matters worse, most everybody else was doing their own version of The Love Crusade. What a loving mess.

(If Cupid exists, then my view of him in relation to his efforts is far from a lovely fairy tale…more like a dark comedy.)

Anyway, that’s when I discovered the need to navigate love. I’ll bet you have, too. I want this love, but not that. I want love here, but not there. I want love like this, but not like that.

Unfortunately, that has caused an awful, unintended result—I play navigator with God’s love, as well.

When He revealed the measure of His love for me in 1982, I became a love lunatic—and that was a good thing. Any verse that mentioned the love of God became poster material, and all I wanted was to remain in the knowledge of His love. In fact, the desire for His love was the greatest obedience motivator I have ever found. It was why I read my Bible, talked to my neighbor, stopped sinning, went into the ministry, why I prayed, and why I gave money. I did it for love. God’s love was my strength.

But over the years I haven’t always had time for God’s love. I was busy, I was bothered, I was building something, I was serving. No time for love just now—I’ll get to that when time permits. I navigated away from love, and the evidence was obvious. When sin or frustration or anger or failure popped up in my life, I went to stomping them out. Quit it! I didn’t recognize that it was all a result of a failure with love.

God’s love crusade is not out of need, as it was with mine. He means to display how incredible He is by lavishing it where it is least deserving, but most appreciated. And He has made us to need it beyond the need for anything else. What a deal.

I recognize that I have a learned problem with love—my history shows it. The navigational skills I once sought and used, I must drop before God. I want to find again the love of God that makes every other relationship an avenue for the glory of it.

Besides, when I first stand before Jesus on that day, I fully expect a smack on the kisser. I can’t wait.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I'm Baaack


What an incredible time it was--and I'm glad to be home.

Because I'm a fairly burned-out traveler, I'm taking a few days off to be with my family and to make my re-entry at least a little uncomplicated. In short, I'm thoroughly tired but satisfied.

If you were fortunate to have prayed for me and my family, thank you. God did strikingly wonderful things for all of us gathered in Crikvenica, Croatia. I know that what happened there will redound across Europe for a long time to come.

I will soon post a thorough account, but until then, I offer my deepest thanks.

-Ralph